Last year North Texas traveled to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. I wrote about the time here. It was good times. This game seemed like it was well on its way to being a ho-hum game like that one was until Josh Wheeler hit Jake Del Rio on his plant leg, knocking him out for the game and probably longer.
That incident caused Florida coach Jim McElwain to walk out to midfield and scream at the NT sideline. Seth Littrell yelled back. From then on the game was chippy, the fans were furious, and Florida piled it on a bit.
“It got a little gritty after that went down,” Florida left tackle David Sharpe said.
In between there were some good things. The defense, much maligned after giving up 574 yards to SMU in the opener, including ridiculous chunks of yardage that seemingly portended more of worst of 2015 would bleed into Littrell’s 2016. Instead Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett’s defense was stout. Two fourth down stops, an interception, and getting stops against a talented Florida is nice work.
The offense was terrible. For all the praise of Littrell’s side of the ball in the first two weeks — 300 yards passing in the first and 300 in the second — the offense was anemic. In no universe is anyone impressed with 53 total yards, -12 rushing, seven sacks, and only converting 2-13 on third down from an FBS squad.
When you put it all in context the 471 yards Florida gained do not look so impressive. The pass game’s anemic production is slightly more understandable when you consider the circumstances: a freshman QB, a line that is not suited to 1v1 pass blocking, a young receiver corps, and an entirely new offense.
I realize that like children and puppies, fans want a comfortable routine. They want something they can know. Our little football team has swung wildly in these last three weeks from pass-heavy, to run-first, to anemic. The defense was The Problem, then pretty good, then Amazing.
The good news is that the team is going to face more similar competition, and outside of one or two teams, there are glaring weaknesses on each squad that even out any strengths. Before we look ahead in later posts, let’s get overly detailed.
*Taps Mic*: Seth Littrell is an offensive coach right? Fifty-three yards of offense is terrible. The worst of it might have been the aggression in play calling. Never have I been the fan wanting a more conservative play call list. Thanks Graham Harrell, you made me wish for Dickey-ball however briefly.
Seriously, I appreciate the fact that Harrell encouraged his offense at half, made some adjustments to the protections –bringing in a H-back to block– and attempted to make plays.
His play calling from inside his own ten put Mason Fine in a tough position early, and at no time in the first handful of possessions did he give him many easy throws.
The offensive line was completely destroyed, with four guys pushed into Fine’s lap repeatedly. Florida shed their blockers repeatedly on runs and passes. When Mason Fine managed to escape pressure and attempt a pass, there were penalties, drops, and bad luck.
The run game was similarly anemic, but did manage to find some space on occasion. There was not much there, so we cannot and should not play Why Did They Not Run More?. Wilson, Ivery, Tucker, and Wyche found some creases, but more often were stuffed at the line or right about it.
Football is a simple game, folks. The five dudes up front are the key to everything. Our OL were the biggest question coming into the season. It was patchwork and the new scheme required new skills that were as yet unproven. In three games thus far, NT has a serious problem pass-blocking for any length of time. It obviously does not stand up to national top-20 defense on the road, but maybe it will be enough for the sieves that comprise CUSA.
We shall see.
*Taps Mic*: Wait, a North Texas defense plays well while the offense *Derps* its way through? What year is this?
I feel slightly vindicated. Last year the hopeful start to the season — defensively — devolved quickly in the Iowa match up and NT was getting blown off the ball with regularity. It was nice to see the defensive line play well. Demonte Hood and Rod Young made plays at the DT position. After last year, that is very encouraging even though Florida is not a high powered offense. They do like to try to run between the tackles, however, and have speed at the edges.
The scary thing is that NT’s defense played relatively well against Tennessee last season. I am encouraged by what I saw. After three games the offense has more question marks but the defense has steadily improved. Florida likes power football with play-action, and NT will see something like that against both Louisiana Tech and UTEP.
The defensive backs played really well, particularly Nate Brooks. He was gifted an INT but played well in coverage. Kishawn McClain, Dee Baulkman, Ashton Preston all played well. While the group was beat over the top in play-action, they were step-for-step and made the Florida WRs make a play.
There were no blocked punts and no long returns. The coverage units played well, but nothing outstanding. In the pregame we said this would be where we could hope for some game-changing plays and that did not happen. Expected
If Seth Littrell sat down and told me that he wanted to see Mason Fine in the fire against a tough opponent on the road and that would do more for his development than running Alec Morris out there and maybe improving the odds for making the scoreboard look decent, I would buy it.
It would have to be convincing. I may be giving the coach too much credit, but I am talking myself into that argument. Else, why would you run the true freshman out there with an offensive line that cannot win 1v1 battles in pass protection? Littrell said the line was dominated, but surely we did not need the entire game to determine this.
Coming into the year I figured the combination of a first-time offensive coordinator with an experienced play-caller would smooth out the problems that happen with the former. Last night — even considering the circumstances — Harrell did not help his team with his game plan.
That said, if this little trail by Swamp helps develop this team into a CUSA contender? Well, we would learn exactly why they are paid to do what they do and I am just sitting at my computer.
Rice, who has not impressed in three weeks of football hosts North Texas in the first CUSA matchup for both teams. Rice was blown apart by WKU, manhandled by Army, and overpowered by Baylor. While I do not think NT would have fared much better against that schedule, Rice has not looked very good at all where North Texas has shown flashes of competence.
I have no doubt the Rice staff is looking at this game as a chance to turn their season around in their most winnable game before playing Prairie View A&M in Week 8. Yes, the 2013 CUSA champs could be 0-7 to start 2016 if they drop one to our guys in green.
Seth Littrell on the hit:
“He was trying to make a play and didn’t mean to do it,” North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. “We are not trying to take cheap shots here.”
On the offense:
“We have to do much better on offense,” Littrell said. “We got dominated up front. There is a reason they are one of the best defenses in the country. Overall, we just didn’t execute and get through the adversity on offense.”