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Friday Night Fight: North Texas vs Marshall 2021

This afternoon USAToday released their annual coaching salary tracker. Seth Littrell is the highest paid coach in the league. Right now North Texas is 6th of 7 in the division, and staring down a sub .500 season if it continues along this trend.

This is the backdrop to this game. Marshall fired Doc Holliday after a tremendous season that saw the Herd collapse late. They hired Saban acolyte Charles Huff, and have crumbled a bit earlier than usual. Marshall is coming off an OT game against ODU, a team that did not play last year, and has a first year coach.

The List

69 Seth Littrell NT 1.9 MM
71 Bill Clark UAB 1.6MM
84 Butch Davis FIU 1.1 MM
87 Mike Bloomgren Rice 934K
88 Rick Stockstill MTSU 910K
91 Jef Traylor UTSA 830K
94 Will Hall USM 800K
96 Will Healy CLT 793K
98 Skip Holtz LT 779K
100 Willie Taggart FAU 775K
101 Ricky Rahne ODU 762K
102 Charles Huff Marshall 755K
103 Tyson Helton WKU 751K
105 Dana Dimel UTEP 748K

Deonte Simpson is off the team. Jyaire Shorter is still iffy. The running back depth chart is short. There is good reason why NT has not been explosive. An easy answer is “talent is injured” but that is not all of it. The QB play has been abhorrent in quarters not coming at the end of games in Missouri.

Last week, Austin Aune played well in the fourth quarter, finding guys wide open on scrambles and NT scored 21 in the final frame. It was a cool glass of green Kool-Aid after a sweltering season thus far.

Can we keep that going? Eh. That is hard to say. Signs are encouraging. Marshall is not the defensive monster they were under Holiday and they have a tendency to give up the ball a ton. That cost them vs MTSU

NT is best when they can run the ball first and throw the ball third. You read that right. There was one drive vs Mizzou that demonstrated the ideal form of this offense given its personnel and standing: that 15-play scoring drive in the first half. It had runs, and counters, RPOs, and just enough passing from Aune to keep the defense honest.

That is about what we need to have in order to see an NT win. We said on the podcast that NT is just about out of contention for a division title given the two losses to Tech and UAB — two major contenders the rest of the way. Nothing is settled, but the right kind of combination of losses by Tech, UAB, UTSA, and yes, even UTEP would have to happen in the right order. It is nearly not worth thinking about at this point.

There is a chance at a bowl game. There are wins to be had, but they are not guaranteed. The defense has looked solid, but by no means can win a game all by their lonesome.

Attacking Marshall

Marshall cannot stop the run. In five games against G5 competition, they have allowed 240 per game on the ground, and 4.47 per tote. Both MTSU and ODU put up 200+ games against this unit. Deandre Torrey should have something like the day he had against Missouri, which was decent. That is the thing: NT’s best aspect of offensive football — meaning most consistent and reliable — is the run game. But the run game is not super great. Against G5 competition, NT has had one good game in three (vs Tech, aided by Aune scrambling). Against Missouri, one of the nation’s poorest run defenses, NT managed 188 on 49 runs (3.88).

The run game needs to move the ball on about four or five scoring drives. After that, we will need Aune to play with confidence and throw the ball accurately down the field. He isn’t asked to be Peyton Manning out here. He just needs to hit the open guys.

Outside of that NT will need some creative play calling. Last week vs Mizzou they called some gems … after some duds.

A gem

NT needs its coaching staff to help it succeed.

Best case scenario: NT is able to run well and often, putting Marshall on the field for a while.

Worst case scenario: NT struggles to run, and we get a little bit of the same situation they had vs Tech/SMU

Defending Marshall

Last year Grant Wells looked like the future of this Marshall team, a savior to unlock the full potential of a team with good bones. He played well in big moments, until he was awful vs Rice and then through most of the title game against UAB. He broke out in the second half of that game (at home!) and Marshall nearly pulled it out.

This year he has mostly played the same level, but for the number of interceptions. He threw 91 all season in ’20, and is at 9 already through this one. The attack is much more focused on getting yards downfield than it was last year. That has come with more turnovers. Wells has thrown at least 2 picks in four of six games, and at least one in five of six.

Marshall is also fumbling the ball all over. They lost four to MTSU, and have a -6 turnover margin for the season. NT is at -0-. All this to say that Marshall will likely give the ball up to NT at least once. That helps the cause a bit.

The Herd are otherwise a yard-chomping machine. They are up to about 514/game which is 100+ over their average last season. Some of that is need to as they are behind or engaged in a shootout. They are much less conservative than the Doc Holiday teams of yesteryear. Put all together, it makes sense. They are risking more and getting the reward, but at the expense of a couple of interceptions. The fumbles are unforgivable, but that happens.

NT will need to stay in their lanes, stay hungry, and get after Grant Wells. They were not able to compete with some of the talent on Mizzou last week, as Badie had a career day running. They missed an opportunity to really challenge Bazelak. This Marshall team is talented, but can be ruffled.

Best case scenario: NT gets in on the party and takes the ball away three times, getting to Grant Wells a bunch and making Marshall look poor.

Worst case scenario: There are no gifts from the Marshall backs, and instead Wells and his teammates are able to gash NT for big runs and big throws downfield.

Big Concern: Seth Littrell

Littrell once said he lets himself get a little too hyped for games, sometimes, and needs to do a better job of seeing the bigger picture. That is decent self-criticism, but want to point out the danger of that reappearing in this game. Seth Littrell is going to have some attention on Friday, as everyone will not a couple of facts: 1) he is the highest paid coach in the league and 2) right now it doesn’t not look like he’s earning every dollar of that paycheck.

This game is a season-defining one. Here, on (something like) national television, Littrell can coach his team up to a big win over a name CUSA program at home. Win, and the Mean Green suddenly feel good about their chances for a bowl game (that is a whole other can of worms) and something like a salvage job on this season. Lose, and the already-antsy fans will get even more outraged.

Littrell is now 32-35 as head coach, a .478 record and in his third-straight losing season. There is only so much good will you can build burn through in a short time. 2 and he has gone right up against burning through all that he has left.

We want a well-prepared team on Friday, not a team over-excited and making mistakes because the coach is trying to save his job.

Prediction

It could be the good vibes I am getting from having taken a day off the day-job. I feel good about this game, and at least better than I did on Sunday.

Line is NT +12.

MGN Pick: NT 31 Marshall 30


  1. Five of them came against Rice in the 8th of 10 games

  2. I have written previously of how a “good season” has a half-life. And subsequent “good” seasons’s half-life is worth less than the original