Much was made of the Rice team’s ability to run the ball. North Texas’ defense did a hell of a job corralling that phase of the game, and despite allowing Charles Ross 101 yards, Rice’s run game wasn’t much of a factor. They couldn’t run when they needed to (ahem, goal line?) and most of their yardage came between the 30 yard lines, where it looks good on paper, but didn’t have much effect on the game.
Here is an example of Rice trying to get a little counter going and run to the edge with Ross. The biggest asset to NT’s defense has been the tremendous play by the defensive line. Here, Sarge and Richard Abbe get into the backfield, forcing Chuck Ross outside. Will Wright has been tremendous this year in shedding blocks or avoiding them altogether. Here the H-back is supposed to stick Wright and spring Ross outside the hash marks. Will Wright instead avoids the block, gets contain (that’s what they teach you!) to force Ross to cut back. That normally would be fine with Rice except the defensive line got so far upfield that Ross already had to take the long way. His cut back is right into the the waiting arms of Aaron Bellazin who does a great job flowing down the line to the ball.
Here is an example of Rice trying to get something going inside after failing to go East-West. Fortunately, James Jones was running a corner blitz that forced Ross inside into the waiting arms of Derek Akkune. Notice Will Wright and Bellazin have McHargue accounted for (which is why he optioned to Ross). Rice did have some success on these plays, which is why Ross got up to 101, but not much. Even when NT didn’t have a CB Blitz on, Ross was wrangled by Jones and Buyers. Marcus Trice and Lairamie Lee also did a good job flying up to make tackles on the edge. The fumble that Zach Orr ran in for a TD is an excellent example of that.
Finally, take a look at the sheer bravado of Skladany and company for having the defense line up in basically a 4-4 look. This play had no chance from a numbers perspective. Offenses try to discourage this by taking advantage of the soft coverage behind such a run-defensive look. The problem? Well the great tackling by the corners. All that soft coverage looks tempting for a quick throw, but when the corners come up, stick the WRs and hold them to a three yard gain? Well there is no incentive for the defensive to get less aggressive. Rice did find some success play-actioning off of this action. Zach Orr did mess up one where he was clearly beat — he recovered and tipped the ball that led to that interception. That is Brian Urlacher-type stuff there. Last year Arkansas State ate the defense up with that play-action type stuff. Also, the tackling on the edges wasn’t nearly as good and so the interior wasn’t able to do the aggressive things they are doing now.