North Texas came into this game limited. Tyreke Davis and KD Davis (no relation) were late scratches because of “medical reasons” 1. Whatever the game plan was for Shane Buechele and the Mustangs, it would have to be adjusted for both the ability and knowlege of the replacements Kevin Wood and Gabriel Murphy. NT ultimately had to go pretty deep into the roster because of injuries — Keelan Crosby went down on the first play also — and performance but we will get into that.
We expected some early blown assignments against a talented team, an experienced quarterback, and a great offensive mind. Lo, it came to pass. The manner in which this happened was infuriating, as NT looked looked disorganized and outmatched physically.
SMU was able to walk up and down the field with absolute ease. SMU scored Touchdowns on 8 of 16 drives, FG on three others, and ran the clock out on the final one. That means scores on 11 of 15 real drives on the way to 65 points and 710 total yards. The first play from scrimmage was a 50-yard bomb that came on busted coverage, then a 1-yard play, then a 7-yard rush, then a 15-yard TD.
The above encapsulates the entire game. North Texas was lost in coverage, blowing it at least once per drive early, or being run over or outran. We knew the talent on SMU’s roster would make a play, but NT did not put up a fight. Ulysses Bentley ran for 227 yards on 19 carries, including an 84-yarder late in which he slipped a tackle in the hole and sprinted past everyone else. There is not shame in getting beat in a footrace with the dude, there is plenty of shame in not touching him until 7-yards down the field and then whiffing.
For its part, the offense looked hesitant at first, and then found some kind of rhythm in the middle quarters on the way to 35 points and 517 yards. Seth Littrell relied heavily on the run game — 53 carries for 212 and 2 scores, sparing his inexperienced co-starters the burden of a lot of decision making. Jason Bean got frist crack at the game, but did not have the vision to find open guys when they were there. His throws were a little high — he only had nine, completing four for 29 yards and one score.
Austin Aune had a better time, throwing 13 of 25 for 276 and two scores against one interception. He was better, showing some nice touch and his arm strength at times, but also missed some receivers and threw the bad interception. It came on a nice early drive where he misread the coverage and did not give Darden a chance. Jaelon Dardon had two scores on 5 grabs for 66 yards, moving to second all-time at NT for receiving scores at 24. Ron Shanklin leads with 31.
North Texas was clearly second-best in this one. SMU is talented, and the much more physical team. This was a worry on defense, as we saw Houston Baptist run away from NT defenders in that game. We wrote in the preview that a big worry was that the HBU guys got 20 yards on those plays, but the Mustang dudes were going to get six points. That’s what happened. Early, Danny Gray took one 62 yards after finding himself in roughly the equivalent of a social distance venue and outran the defense. Rashee Rice had a 50-yarder.
Worst of all was that Shane Buechele shrugged off a dead-to-rights tackle from starting LB Larry Nixon III and scrambled his way for a first down early. He then threw his third TD of the game after that.
We mentioned the 710 yards of offense. That came on 344 passing and 366 rushing. NT could only manage the occasional tackle for loss, but those were mere moments in between big chucks of yardage coming from the SMU offense. Officially NT registered 6 TFLs.
Kyleb Howell stepped in and settled the defense for a bit at Mike LB, and we saw Javier Neal make an incredible open field tackle that saved another 50-yard score. There were few other bright spots. Dion Novil, the prospective NFL-er at Nose, missed a tackle that could have saved a TD. He was largely taken out of the game by the incredible SMU line.
CBs DeShawn Gaddie, Jordan Rucker, Qunn Whitlock were all burned badly or eaten up by WR blocks that sprung easy WR screens. The safeties Cam Johnson, Jaxon Gibbs, and Makyle Sanders were largely absent, amassing only 12 tackles between them (Gibbs had six). Kevin Wood had twelve tackles, but there was nothing here that is going on any highlight reels for NT.
Austin Aune showed flashes of why the staff like him. He can flick the ball down the field with seemingly little effort, and showed some nice touch on some deep passes. He still needs time and his processing of the defensive information is a little slower than ideal. He was helped by a potent run game, and good receivers.
Jaelon Darden is so good. He was nearly open every play, and helped pave the way for Aune’s bootleg score by putting the defender on skates with his footwork. Both Aune and Bean missed him often and that is a damned shame.
Both QBs missed golden opportunities for drive-continuing plays. Aune missed Shorter down the sideline. He overthrew him when he had two steps on his defender and was in the clear. Bean either did not see plays develop or he would simply misfire. He missed a couple of crossers wide open — like threw it short — and that caused him to be pulled.
Aune’s timing can be improved and Bean’s field recognition also. They just need more time. Unfortunately NT is limiting both by playing both. Someone needs to take the reigns and get the time to develop into a QB NT can use. It is a disservice to Darden, a senior, and the other talented WRs. I like both of these QBs, but if they are not ready to do this thing — then Littrell should have looked in the market for a veteran QB that was less talented but more ready to lead this offense.
As both QBs showed, just getting the ball into Darden’s hands is enough to make things happen. Darden took a short Bean pass and make a move and scored. He took another seam route from Aune and made two moves and scored.
Oscar Adaway III, DeAndre Torrey, and Isaiah Johnson looked nice in the run game. They were being force-fed a bit, and if the pass game was right the run game would have had more lanes to gallop. As it was, SMU was vulnerable in the areas they showed they would be on film, but it did not matter considering the score.
The WRs made plays, for the most part, but were limited by the QBs. Deonte Simpson scored, but he also muffed a punt return.
What It All Means
NT was always going to lose this game. This is a rebuilding year and it would have taken some self-harm by SMU to help NT along. As it was, the defense looked overmatched for this game mentally and physically. Next week, Houston will be quality, even if they are in a rebuilding season also. Last year they hurt this NT defense with a backup QB and so there will be no let-up coming.
I was bullish on the scheme, and NT made some glaring errors that are caused by lack of familiarity but adding to that was just a lack of physicality. We can probably blame a good chuck of this on the pandemic, as programs across the nation look poor when tackling. This was a different level, however. NT looked better when they played more man coverage and brought pressure. In a period spanning the second and very early third quarters, NT forced two punts, one field goal and forced a turnover on downs while allowing on one score.
That is the kind of defense NT needs to display. It could be NT just needed a nice dose of embarrassment and a kick in the teeth like this will do that.
Worryingly, NT committed a ridiculous 13 penalties for 97 yards. There were process errors — false starts — and frustration ones — unsportsmanlike etc — but all told it was a bad night.
Seth Littrell has done an incredible job for North Texas in his time. He also is one of the highest paid coaches in the league. He can take a little criticism.
In his time NT has produced some historic aggregate offenses, but has failed to produce offenses that get the important yards at important times. He is 0-3 in Bowl games, getting washed in two of them and dropping a tough one to Army in his first. He also is 0-1 in the league title game, getting washed in that game also. In a home game vs Tech two seasons ago, his team lost a huge game and later that same season blew a big lead to UAB on the road.
His 2019 team underperformed and he absolutely whiffed on OC Bodie Reeder and QB Coach Tate Wallis. His third defensive coordinator in five seasons is looking iffy.
Record: 28-26, 0-3 in Bowl Games, 0-1 in CUSA Title game.
This sure reads like COVID-19, but it officially is not COVID-19 likely for privacy reasons. That’s all fine but we can speculate. ↩