MEMPHIS, TN — On a hot, sun-soaked day in the mid-south, in old Liberty Stadium, North Texas dropped a game to future AAC competition. To Seth Littrell, it was a sign of hope. In the post-game discussion, he mentioned feeling like NT proved it can compete with the AAC, something that we all hoped was self-evident and should not have to have been proven to anyone. Certainly, beating those teams is better than simply competing with them. I see James Madison hitting the Sun Belt running, steam rolling newly interesting Middle Tennessee on the way to doing so.
MGN was not happy to hear “we can play with those guys”.
For new readers, the fuller context of this dispatch is that MGN HQ is in the Midwest as of 2022. Memphis is a do-able 6+ hour drive from Denton, but only a 4-hour drive from MGN HQ in St. Louis, MO. We were able to take the kids to practice in the morning and make it at kickoff. There were better seats, but as with all old stadiums, there wasn’t a bad seat to be had.
North Texas’ defense had a great day. After the Events In Vegas, questioning the defense and the starters and recruiting decisions and basically everything associated with the defense was fair game. A mediocre UNLV looked unstoppable and were in the second half at Allegiant. In this one, NT bucked up, forced a turnover, stuck close to receivers, and forced Memphis’ very good punter to show his quality. All told, North Texas outplayed Memphis in two of three phases, and played to a stalemate in the other. The deciding factor was turnovers. Two interceptions from Austin Aune –both returned for six. Both were ridiculously bad poor throws that came from poor decisions and poor executions. It does not matter. The third turnover was late after Memphis pinned NT back on another of those amazing punts inside the ten. The snap was poor, or the communication was bad, or something. The ball looked like it was headed for the running back’s face instead of the QB. Aune looked like he was trying to catch the ball, so it smelled of a fudge-up.
Bad teams make these kind of mistakes. UTEP, being a bad team, found ways in week one to throw away good positions on the NT side. They misfired passes, or missed field goals. We knew it would be that way because they are a bad team. Bad teams have good days, so you can keep your “But Boise!” comments packed away. Bad teams can beat other bad teams and sometimes they can jump up and beat good teams. I mean, consider that last year a very poor NT team jumped up and bit a good UTSA squad in Denton. College football is funny, and played by something like thirty college dudes so it will lack consistency week-to-week.
We are unsurprised that NT played much better after breaking down last week. They got a week better, their pride helped them tackle better, and defend better, and own the line of scrimmage for a good portion of the game. Austin Aune looked comfortable finding his dudes, he was dotting guys and making plays until he wasn’t. We noted that he might have something like a pitch count. After a certain number of throws he looks like a different quarterback.
After Memphis scored to make it 41-20, it was glaringly obvious that the difference was simply in the quarterback play. The good that Aune brought was outweighed by the bad. The defense was holding Memphis to just 334 yards total — even if 219 came on the ground, it was later as they were grinding the clock and NT was trying to get a turnover. They did not get a turnover beyond the early interception and the 4th-down stop. It was a case of NT losing the turnover battle and paying for it.
This game was otherwise entertaining. It is fun to watch your favorite team score touchdowns, and get stops, and do good things. It is fun to hear the silence of the stadium as J’yaire Shorter bullies his defender.
If we can find a way to consistently unlock Maclin, Ward, Shorter, and Roberts we have the makings of a very good offense.
Memphis is a good town, with good food and a lot of culture to take in. It will make a nice biannual destination for those so-inclined and able. For MGN, this was something like a spur-of-the-moment decision, dealing with some other scheduling items. The family made it work and had a good time. We had barbecue, rested, and made it back on Sunday for previously scheduled obligations. Next time, we’ll do some of the civil rights museums and more of Beale Street. We saw some Mean Green fans under the influence and had some Littrell talk while out and about. Good times.
Fun facts about Memphis and other things I learned or re-learned while traveling:
- Yellow fever decimated the population twice, and it was all but abandoned by the upper and middle classes and rebuilt by the lower (black, and Irish) populations. In a tale as old as America, black people were then disenfranchised from about 1900 to the 1960s.
- The Liberty Bowl started in Philly (the Liberty Bell, etc) and moved to Memphis because no one wanted to be in Philly during the cold.
- The mid-south arena nearby was where they did a lot of Wrasslin’ (Mid South Arena is also known as the house that Lawler built). The whole complex hosted fairs and things but now is mostly just the Memphis football team. They are planning a big redevelopment that would make it better/nicer. You can see the outlines of a nice mid-century fairground while there. Otherwise it is a sea of parking lots which is not good.
- The stadium steps are fairly steep
- I wanted nachos and asked for jalapeños. The staff was confused and asked if I meant ‘chili’. Then they asked if I meant ‘peppers’. “Sure,” I said. “I call them jalapeños but yeah.” We had a laugh.
- My wife said the stadium reminded her of DKR, Rice Stadium, the Cotton Bowl, Neyland, and even the Benito Villamarín in Seville. I thought the same, but it is clearly newer as it doesn’t have that old “just urinate into a gigantic concrete well” thinking the old ones have.
- I saw the trolleys in action on South Main. I was underwhelmed. I wanted to hop on, but like, I could just drive, also. Not nearly as fun-looking as the ones in San Francisco.
- I think I am a Texas BBQ snob. The ribs were good, but not a lot of meat on there, and it was just dry. The brisket was tasty, but it weren’t no Texas brisket. I have had better from my backyard, and the best ribs I have had are still from a brewery in Little Rock, AK. The place we went is highly rated, though, and it was good. Just not mind-blowing. Mind not blown.
- I heard a lot more talk about ‘the Delta’ and I learned that the Mississippi Delta and Mississippi River Delta are two different things. Fun times. I also learned that the river actually met up with the Red River (of Texas-Oklahoma border fame) in the 15th century and because of clearing of a logjam, the US Army Corps of Engineers spent a billion dollars building a system to keep the Mississippi, Red, and Atchafalaya rivers flowing as they are.