Familiar Things: NT 21 SMU 34

The play of the game — the one that encapsulated the night — was Matt Davis rolling left on 3rd and 45 from the NT 46 and chucking up a bomb toward Courtland Sutton in the end zone. He was guarded by SR corner Chad Davis and he out-leaped Davis and the safeties that came over and caught it. That made the score 21-7.

It was a frustratingly familiar sight for long-time North Texas fans. Right when the Mean Green had something good they blew it.

After making up for the previous lengthy pass play that beat Nate Brooks, the defense battled Matt Davis and forced him into scrambles, forced a couple of holding calls and pushed SMU back further. Then they gave it all back.

That said, I came away from this game disappointed but not demoralized. Sure, any new coach gets a measure of slack before the criticism reigns down upon him. Section 109 was relatively forgiving. “At least they are competing”, said a guy.

MGN will have a more intensive recap thing as we all get nerdy and overanalyze this opening college football game. Right now, let us just jot down some thoughts about the game as we settle in for the night.

In no particular order:

  1. Alec Morris still has a lot of rust on him. He threw wobbly interceptions and missed wide open receivers.
  2. Mason Fine had his redshirt burned. While it was a possibility, it was a bit unexpected at the point in the game it occurred – when the game was long decided.
  3. Jeffery Wilson is still the best player on the squad.
  4. Kelvin Smith did pretty much exactly what he did in the spring game – take short passes and run.
  5. Six guys caught passes and none of them were Kenny Buyers. He wasn’t obviously open often from what I could see, but Morris did miss him a few times before getting sacked. Buyers also was running deeper routes that I expected him to.
  6. The defense was able to get to Davis but Davis was able to dance away. It was exactly as we feared.
  7. In the first half the defense gave up 369 yards of offense. But three of those plays totaled about 150. It is encouraging to see the defense not get blasted off the ball and give up chunks of 15 yards at a time. Still, you don’t like to see so many huge plays –especially in the pass game.
  8. It was hot.
  9. Mason Fine had his shirt burned. I’m intrigued as he was way more decisive than Morris was — especially after AM got hit hard a few times. Fine is well-thought of and mobile. He led a TD drive that made the score more respectable but was ineffective on the next.
  10. That O-Line was exposed late, when the pass was obvious. This is where we expected them to struggle. More screens/short stuff to take advantage of the rush is absolutely necessary. Wilson got loads of yardage on these things.
  11. The line nearly killed Morris.

I went back to my hotel, ate pizza and slept the sleep of a guy who spent a lot of time in the North Texas late afternoon summer sun. I am awake, making plans to see friends today before heading back to MGN HQ, and so I have a clearish head.1

I absolutely do not want a Mason Fine / Alex Morris controversy. Littrell and Harrell did not help matters by pulling the latter for the former. They were not happy with Morris’ play, and made mention of Fine getting playing time early helping his development. I also believe his development is important, but I also know how important this season is going to be for the development of the program.

That said, I cannot defend three first half interceptions, of the type that reminded the Apogee faithful of the terrible past (last season). What is that? A QB wearing #5 tossing wobbly interceptions?! Holy 2015 Batman!

Let us break out the organizing HTML elements:

Offense

It was hyped. It had a slogan. It was supposed to be fast and aggressive and score points. It sputtered. It accumulated 394 yards. That was the most since DaMarcus Smith’s breakout game against WKU last October. The 311 passing was the most since McNulty’s 303 against Rice last September. The 32 completions were more than any game last season and the 50 attempts were the most since 45 against La Tech.

What does it all mean? We knew it was going to happen this way. We thought and hoped it would be a little more effective. The quick game and the screen game were really effective. Morris (and later Fine) were able to get the ball to Goree and Willie Robinson outside quick and for some nice gains. When the pressure came, the screens to Wilson especially were effective. In fact, he had 6 catches for 55 yards.

We saw glimpses of a fully functioning offense. There is reason to believe that it will improve as the season goes on. Goree and Robinson had their men beat deep and Morris simply missed them (throwing picks or did not see them).

The run game was not racking up yards, but that had to do with the pass game not really threatening early. The philosophy is to set up the run with the pass. As the pass was not being really set up, we did not see many effective runs early. This is fine. Jeffery Wilson was the most effective back, as expected. Anthony Wyche looked okay at times, but had a hard time finding the holes Wilson did, was not able to use the blockers in the screen game that Wilson was, and muffed a return. Not the best start for him, but he will improve.

The offensive line was getting destroyed early. The quick and screen games are very important to this offense, as the 3rd and long situations are the weakest for this team. An immobile QB and a shaky offensive line is the worst combination to have. Staying on schedule early is vital. Sure, these are all important to every offense, but this team has an even lower percentage change of success in those situations.

Defense

I said on the podcast that we should be okay if we saw a squad that played well but gave up the occasional big play. That was the case against SMU, but man was that ‘feeling okay’ tested. It is hard to feel good about a converted 3rd and 45 with a 46 yard TD. It is hard to feel okay with a 88-yard TD on 3rd and 11.

Still, the attacking scheme was able to get to the QB. Matt Davis was just able to extend plays and get the ball to Courtland Sutton, another all-conference type player.

Scheme is about putting players in position to succeed. Chad Morris had Sutton on Jameel Moore — our freshman corner — on 3rd-and-11 and he will take that match up all day every day. Sutton had his two other scores against Chad Davis (46 yard bomb) and Nate Brooks (lob). Great players make scheming easy sometimes.

Against the lesser lights of the year,2 the defense will gel and play better. Matt Davis has been difficult to tackle for every squad he has faced, and so I do not think we can reasonably hold our squad to different standards.

That said, there was some poor tackling on display. Kishawn McClain nearly allowed another TD when SMU’s running back pulled up lame after dancing past him in the open field. There were a couple of spin moves that led to slightly more yards than we would want.

The poor tackles are easy to spot because there were not many green shirts around the white shirts so often. Chad Morris’ offense is designed to get you going one way, and then hitting you the other. To be fair, so is every offense ever. Still, the dives opened up the sideline passes which opened up the deep stuff which opened up the dives. When an offense works as designed it is beautiful. Unless you are rooting for the defense.

All that sideline-to-sideline running by SMU was what led to the two big runs up the middle.

Special Teams

The punt team punted and covered well enough. The kicking team was only there for extra points and kick offs. Nothing really special to note here. If you are a special teams buff, then feel free to expound in the comments.

One complaint — Anthony Wyche muffed a punt. Something about those who wear #4 and muffing kicks &hellipse;

Implications For The Season

There are games in which the score doesn’t represent how close the game was and vice versa. This was somewhere in between. The score and yardage represented the game by the end. But you had to watch to see it fully for what it was. SMU played about as well as they could hope and really leaned on their talent advantage at QB and WR to win this game. North Texas played poorly — some of that was pressing to impress, some just talent disadvantage — and really suffered from some matchup disadvantages. Alex Morris needs to play better — nearly perfect — for this team to compete better. That isn’t because he is the best player on the field, that is just because he’s the quarterback of a quarterback-heavy system.

Mason Fine’s best quality is his decisiveness. Alec Morris could use a little of that. His poise in the pocket was shaken, once he came under pressure. Quicker, more accurate throws will relieve pressure and make up for his inability to run after the play breaks down. To really back up the QB pressure, he absolutely has to hit the deep stuff. Goree, Robinson were open a few times and the passes were ducks. The good news is that he can make throws on the run. The pass to Kelvin Smith was great.

I predicted a close one. This could have been closer if SMU did not get most of the breaks — that bomb, the Jameel Moore thing, Morris tossing terrible picks but SMU deserved to win. That is how football go.

Next Time

Bethune Cookman is a good team. They are FCS and we lost to a good FCS squad last year in horrible fashion. In the season preview I said we should win this fairly easily but that it probably will not be by as much as we want it to be. I still stick by that.


  1. Less beer is in me now. 
  2. The less mobile, and the ones who can’t just chuck it up to NFL caliber WRs.