North Texas lost a game they “shouldn’t have” lost1. Miami loaded the box and that presented a choice to the coaching staff:continue to run, or take advantage of the man coverage outside. Littrell and company felt that Austin Aune could win by throwing the ball against single coverage. They were wrong. North Texas managed just 317 total yards, and of that only 89 were rush yards. This after being the league’s best attack on the ground. Austin Aune had 228 passing but his play was universally panned.
15/32 228 0 TD 2 INT 47% completion. It is bleak line. His two interceptions were basically inexcusable. One went to the defense because he was throwing high all day and was always coming. The second came where he did not see the robber safety sitting on the post throw. Both interceptions ended some promising drives.
Losing the bowl hurts — ask the players and you can feel their pain. That is what happens when you compete and play and care. Outside of the result accounts from Frisco were that it was a fun day. The parking lot was full of Mean Green fans, in what was essentially a home game and good times were had. There are worst things than finishing the season in Frisco and having a good time. North Texas were underdogs — a couple of points to the Redhawks — but the feeling was positive on the back of six straight wins to earn bowl eligibility. North Texas beat a ranked UTSA, and afterward I heard many versions of the following “I don’t even care who we play, North Texas did a great job getting here.” This was and is true, and winning or losing the bowl game ultimately doesn’t matter to any great extent. It has a long term effect that we will discuss in a moment, but the newly created Frisco Football Classic is no one’s idea of prestigious. Consider the logos on the field remaining from Tuesday’s Frisco Bowl.
MGN did not have a preview post 2 and in that podcast we mentioned that the goal of this game was to play well. The minimum is really competing. That is a subjective criteria so let us lay it plainly: Look like a competent team by playing good football, giving yourself a chance, and not embarrassing anyone wearing green.
North Texas did not really live up to that standard and so conversations need to be had. Is Seth Littrell the guy to lead his program going forward? He gets the squad to bowl games but he does not win them. He won one division title but was blown out by Lane Kiffin and FAUa second time. He seemingly “chokes” in the big games — either in play calling, game prep, or decision-making.
The question that we are really asking is if North Texas has peaked. Is there a higher ceiling than the a bowl game streak? Is it worth firing the head guy to get a bowl win at the Frisco Bowl? Should NT be happy with the current situation? The answer depends on the question. Wren Baker cannot make big time decisions without big time resources. The NT support system has demonstrated it will take the football program seriously — this was one criterion of the move to the AAC. Having a war-chest of funds, of donors, of fat-pocketed people willing to finance the costly moves for a new head coach is how these things get done.
*I* can be done with the coach but a little blog and the angry gmg.com board do not an important donor class make.
Besides, there is not a groundswell of unhappiness. That makes people take notice immediately. There is perhaps, however, a swell of apathy forming. It is harder to get people excited about NT football after the squad performs the same show every big game. The UTSA game combined with a bowl win were not going to spur a rush of new season ticket renewals, but a flat loss with poor QB play is not going to excite anyone either.
Good football sense says if the other team is stacking the box, you should throw the ball. Seth Littrell said as much and it made sense. Aune had some success early, as NT was unable to get gashing runs and there were WRs open. Ultimately, Miami was challenging NT’s commitment, and their patience. In one sequence, NT ran twice for five yards in total — not a bad output! — and then threw the ball and had a drop. That is exactly what Miami was hoping for. What if NT ran again on third down? What if they only got 3-yards and it was 4th and 2? Run it again, I say. If NT is averaging 3.5 yards per tote, then that is good enough for first downs. Make it happen. The circumstances of this particular NT team are that we have the least-productive passing QB in the league, and the normal rules of what is a good or bad look do not apply.
The service academies face stacked boxes all game, all year, and still manage to have an effective attack. It requires a little more thinking, a little more cleverness, and certainly more practice. There are ways to keep the defense honest without putting the ball in Aune’s hands to throw. He even had success on some QB runs, either reading the defense or scrambling. Those are good examples. That NT gave up on the run when there was plenty of time to still be patient was frustrating for everyone — fans, players, and coaches.
Conversations need to be had.
If you want to argue that the staff said “we are going to throw because we *should* be able to throw, and we will know for once and for all if we have a guy that can make the throws that need to be made when it is winning time next season.” I can believe that. The bright side is that we can say number 2 did not demonstrate a CUSA-winning set of skills out there. He has the tools, but they are misconfigured or something. One well-designed play to Jake Roberts saw Aune’s pass require a circus catch. There is no rhythm.
NT did not light up recruiting season, and the bowl game was a disappointment. There is a lot of ground to make up. We can be happy with the six-game win streak. We can be critical of the bowl game losing streak. We can encourage the search for a new QB. If that does not work out? It is time to find a new head coach who can do that.