It is okay to acknowledge that UTEP is not a good football team. The casual fans were probably wondering how NT could be favored at 3-6, against a team that was already bowl-eligible at 6-3. The reason is that UTEP is not good, but has gotten some wins over some worse teams. Mix in a big win at home against a La Tech team that had potential but whose wheels fell off the wagon, and you have the UTEP Miners football team.
NT controlled the game from start to almost-finish, had a scare, but ultimately squeezed a win out of the day and moved to 4-6 on the season. Two more wins in the final two games and NT is at least bowl eligible. We have written in all the post-game wraps that NT had a reasonable shot at winning out up to the UTSA finale. There is no telling whether or not NT will be attractive to the various bowl committees (ahem, ESPN Events) but we know that winning five straight is better than otherwise.
To be fair, NT is just on a three-game win streak and cannot talk internally about beating UTSA until they take care of FIU next week on the road. They are a bad team that basically has quit on their coach. It really should be a four game win streak we are writing about next Sunday.
All that said, beating Rice, Southern Miss, and UTEP is not impressive in 202.1 Rice is awful, USM is terrible1 and UTEP, as I mentioned, is a paper tiger.
So what does it mean, then, if NT required overtime again Rice and nearly below the game vs UTEP? Not much. Bad teams beating worse teams is all. What we want in this scenario is the opportunity to get in the right position to upset UTSA. If there is no bowl game it does not matter. What bowl would provide the opportunity to beat a ranked team having the season of their short history, and a rival and conference mate to boot?
That, folks, is the magic of college football. The season’s goals, and coaching-conference derived motivational tactics fall away in the light of reality, and the reality is NT has a bad team.
What Do You Mean ‘Bad Team?’
The offense managed just the 423 yards, just the 20 points, and while they did march 98 yards they could not get the 1-yard to score at the end of it or get the first down that would have reduced the drama at the end. Austin Aune threw for 240 yards, but only on 45% completion rate. Deandre Torrey and company managed just the 183 on 49 totes or 3.7 yards per carry. This is an offense that has struggled to entertain us. The run game is the only consistent offensive aspect and that includes Aune scrambling for his life. Littrell and Bloesch mix in some long tosses and tonight that made all the difference in the final seconds.
While we can see the outline of how this offense should work, and how on paper it would be amazing, the practical reality is that the result disappointing.
Meanwhile, Phil Bennett, the defensive coordinator, has worked some magic and turned the worst defense in the nation into something approaching a reasonable unit. Again, UTEP is non-good, but they can get a little offense going. NT held them to 382 yards and just 17 points. HOWEVER —> they allowed a 99-yard score to make it 14-17. Then they allowed a 49-yard drive to make it 17-all. To start the game they allowed a 76-yard score.
Those are losing plays. A good team takes full advantage of those and the good teams NT played in the 1-5 start did just that. It is not okay that NT is a bad team, but we know they are and there is still something to play for.
Let’s Be Positive
Winning is fun and I do not want to dismiss it or not appreciate it. Losing to the slate of teams these past three weeks would be depressing. Being “Not As Bad” is not a terrible place to be. Let us leave aside the endless discussion of hiring and firing as that is not always a salve. Look over at Texas, who lost to Kansas (again), just like they did with Charlie Strong and Tom Herman and now Sark and with just a bigger debt to pay while so doing.
Winning makes the hard work easier. The preparation and the workouts and the sprints and the difficult practice sessions are easier to endure when the glow of a win is lighting the day. Right now a three-game win streak is making it more fun to be a part of the Mean Green program. That makes it easier to continue winning.
Next up is a team that used to be good, but now is awful. FIU under Butch Davis had the recruits, the hype, and the momentum. They even had a couple of NFL QBs (sort of) and were a win away from getting to the title game. Their QB even beat out Mason Fine for the player of the year! What happened? Losing, the pandemic, recruiting falling off. College football programs have to be sharks, and not jelly fish. That is they need to be in constant motion or else they drown.
North Texas was hit with a whiplash because of the defensive coordinator hire, and the failure to find a good QB. They’ve addressed the former (for the most part) but are still working through the latter. FIU shouldn’t pose much of a threat as I don’t think they have the ability to be creative like Southern Miss’ Will Hall.
If you are confused by the above statement consider that USM, struggling at QB (we saw that first hand) and needing a spark, put RB Frank Gore, Jr, and WR Antivirus Willis at QB in a rotation system. It was enough to hold a 17-10 lead over UTSA for a good while before Gore went down and UTSA figured out they didn’t really need to defend the pass game much. All told, it was a solid effort that requires a coach to be creative, and get enough buy-in from his players to execute such a strategy. The WRs had to block all game — not something they necessarily are excited to do. But they did it.
Can FIU do the same? Sure, but the writing is on the wall. North Texas, by all that is good and green in this world, should handle their business in Miami but there are no guarantees in this game.
Assuming Littrell can coach up another victory from this group, then NT will host UTSA in the final week, a possible 12-0 squad. It ain’t the conference championship but it is as close to it as North Texas can get. And for all of those on the Fire Littrell Train, these two weeks are more documentation for the firing process. Beating FIU, and competing against UTSA are simply table stakes for a program of the stature we want North Texas to be.
USM did a better job this week vs UTSA because they abandoned the idea of playing a QB who has been terrible and embraced the idea of putting their best players in the spot. It was quite hilarious to see Willis run over to Will Hall, get the call, and sprint back on the field to run a QB draw, and then run back to get the next call. ↩