In overtime, Ayo Adeyi scooted into the end zone and North Texas won a tough game in Houston to move to 2-5 on the year. For whatever reason, playing at historic Rice Stadium is tough for Seth Littrell. Back in 2016, it took OT to beat the Owls in Littrell’s first season in a game that included a big throw that ended a five quarter streak of shutout for NT. There has been a loss, and a tougher-than-expected game that saw Mason Fine sacked a bunch.
This was another ugly game in a season full of them. Rice under Mike Bloomgren likes to huddle and that slowed the game tremendously. NT under Littrell likes to commit penalties, and that extended drives. Both teams pulled out enough offense to score when it mattered and keep things close — all the way to overtime — but there was a lot of meat left on the bone.
There were a lot of seats left empty as well. The announced crowd was something like 17K and I only felt a little silly shelling out full price for the seats ($185 for four!)1 when it seems I could have saved so much more if I just bothered to hustle a bit. I didn’t want to do that, so its fine.
These games should be more well-attended given a number of factors, and both programs’ move to the AAC is premised on the possibility of great support being possible. This weekend, it is hard to blame anyone for the middling attendance, given the poor state of both programs and all of the other options available.
The entertainment on offer was less than compelling. Both teams relied on the run game, not because they believe in it, but because they don’t believe in their passers. Sure, Rice had Jake Constantine throw the ball for 242 but on 16 of 30 passing with more than a little of that coming on hopefully tosses against North Texas’ corners. Ridge Texada, former McNeese State guy, got a lot of time on defense and had a long day. He was targeted, and committed penalties 2 but competed well.
North Texas had a lot of struggles out there. Austin Aune struggled again — 11 of 22 for 121 yards. He threw some almost-interceptions but found his targets enough — Bryson Jackson 3 for 50, including a clutch 38-yarder on the final drive of regulation — to get NT enough offense.
I got a mini-applause from the immediate (this is like, broadly speaking) fellow fandom when I shouted “Hey at least we are winning!” after the end of the first quarter. Somewhere else in Houston, U of H beat SMU in far more entertaining fashion. There were some people in U of H gear at the game, for some reason. Maybe to support friends and or family on the two squads in the game.
Houston is a big recruiting ground for everyone in college football and not least of all for North Texas as well. NT did not bring any band for the contingent that traveled — again, understandable, as that is costly and we are still in a pandemic — and the entire thing felt forgotten and sort of wasteful.
I have watched more than my share of sparsely populated playing-out-the-string North Texas games. This was very similar. The NT squad looked a bit lifeless to start. They stood on the sidelines, but didn’t look like they were ready to play by any definition other than wearing the clothes. Rice looked like they were overacting with their pre-game hype dance, something confirmed on the broadcast later when the announcers (including former Rice QB Taylor McHargue) said Bloomgren wanted them to look like they were having more fun. NT was inspired a bit, and at least a couple sections of the squad started getting a little of that type as well.
All in all, NT scored every other drive, roughly speaking. That is good, but again, it was mostly because Rice had a terrible run defense. Aune hit the big pass late when he needed it, but gone are the days when NT feels comfortable airing it out. Aune’s play, and the hit the WR depth chart has taken has meant that NT is an option team in all but name. 3. The league is unwindable at this stage, and *maybe* bowl eligibility awaits.
Unfortunately for the program’s marketing team, even if such a long shot happening would occur, the fanbase seems unwilling to shell out the cash to watch this team (likely) get blown off the field in an exhibition game to cap the year in December.
All that stated, my children had a good time. After the OT win, I explained that we won, and my eldest excitedly asked “Did Scrappy see the end of it? I want to make sure he saw that.” I explained that yes, Scrappy is well aware of the goings-on.
The kids had fun. After a week (and pandemic) of telling the kids to keep it down and stop making so much noise, it is refreshing to tell them they can yell as loud as they want. My favorite moment was not them yelling, but my youngest daughter’s question about something I asked.
Me: “Dial up something good, Seth, and don’t look at Mike Bloesch for answers”
Her: “Daddy, why is he looking at your butt”
At this, I was practically dead from laughter.
Winning, is much more fun than eating nachos on a bright sunny day 4
So how much of this win was a blip in time? Practically all of it. Rice is not a good team at the moment, and neither are FIU or Southern Miss. UTSA is now ranked 16th and UTEP, although just losing to FAU on the road, is playing much better.
North Texas does not have the firepower to really think they can blow anyone out, but there are worse programs in this league. It doesn’t mean NT is in a good spot overall, something that Seth-skeptical fans have repeated even during the winning years. That was always a fair assessment. CUSA, as we have seen after this realignment, is a weak league with poorly-supported programs subject to the whims and tide of the Power Five schools. That is an opportunity for the right coach — both Jeff Brohm and Lane Kiffin turned a couple of league titles into better jobs — and a curse for the unlucky, and unprepared — looking at Frank Wilson, Seth Littrell, Butch Davis, and others who have came in, won briefly and then looked overmatched.
What is most important here is that I had fun. My kids had a great time. I saw at least one old friend. College football is never really about the wins and losses on the field. It is about making memories with your friends and family.
Also we need to play better if we want to win anything.
I normally look for a good deal but given we woke up at about 7am and packed up three tiny children under 6 for the trip, convenience was most important. I bought the tickets on Ticketmaster (gasp!) and took what was available ↩
the new focus on unsportsmanlike conduct has meant that no one can seemingly celebrate a good play, which is stupid↩
Austin Aune had 65 yards rushing on 6 totes↩
Another fun fact: I got something like a tan on my face except for the part where I painted the diving eagle logo↩