It Got Worse: Charlotte 49 North Texas 21

Charlotte came into this game as 4-point road favorites. Club LIT getting hyped in the visiting Apogee locker room was always in play. Head coach Will Healy has his 49er program steered in the right direction, with an exciting offense, and some quality players on either side of the ball.

Still, it was not supposed to be an embarrassment at home. North Texas is now 1-3, getting humiliated three straight at home. Southern Methodist put up 65, but NT could point to a bad start and some QB questions. Southern Miss put up 41 and North Texas could point to COVID and a depleted defense. Charlotte came in and put up 49 and what? More pointing at circumstances?

College football by nature, is difficult to predict. The players are young — ranging in age from (sometimes) 17 to (usually) 22. Mix in some Mormons and the occasional baseball prospect (Aune) and you can push that range out a bit. That youth means variability. Some kids were recruited for potential that is not fulfilled. Some kids weren’t because of a spurt in talent and maturity that did not seem possible to the watchful eye of talent scouts.

We are also in a pandemic, and nothing is normal. It is difficult to practice and find bodies to fill in roster spots and it can be tough to coach the normal way. I am sure NT would have prepared differently for this season if they had a normal ramp to the season.

That does not matter.

The games are being played and the rules are the same. It is still 11-against-11 for an hour.

North Texas is a bad team. Most saw this team as trending that way. The league does not require good teams to get to the championship game — just winning teams. Seth Littrell’s first bowl visit in charge was with a bad North Texas team that did just enough. It is okay and even normal to be bad given the nature of the sport.

It is not okay to be awful. Not like this.

North Texas was dominated in two phases of the three and only half-competed in the third. The strength of this team — that Seth Littrell offense — looked second-best to Healy’s motion-power-misdirection brigade. The defense looked okay sometimes, but downright clownish at others. And the special teams was the worst unit for the second-straight week.

Stats and Reviews

StatCharlotteNorth Texas
Total Yards599479
Pass308382
Rush29197
Penalties12-754-35
1st Downs2422
3rd Downs8-163-13
4th Downs0-00-2
Total Plays7070
Avg Yds/Play8.66.8
Avg Rush6.23.6
Red Zone5-51-4

This game marked the fourth straight game that NT has given up 400+ yards, the third out of four that it has given up 500+ in all four.

TeamPass YardsRush YardsTotalTDs
HBU480895694
SMU3443667108
USM2352024375
CLT3082915997

It is bad.

Tonight we saw more injuries, more mistakes, and more missed tackles. North Texas absolutely could not defend the deep passes, and were abused and embarrassed in the run game. Whatever good there was — and there was some — was thrown away by a wasteful offense. Littrell’s group were an an awful 3/13 on third downs.

Here is the deal on those important downs: NT was just bad. NT’s average distance to go on third was 6.5 yards. Charlotte’s was 7.6. They converted 50% of their attempts. The real difference was not those third-and-longs. NT was 0-2, while CLT was 0-4 then. The difference was on third and short — 1-to-4 yards. There, NT was just 1-4, while Charlotte was 5-7. Charlotte ran 11 times for 117 yards on the thirds. NT ran four times for just SIX.

You could simply point to that number and say that is where the rest of the thing falls apart. NT got some timely stops but wasted them. The team had a chance to tie the game in the middle of the second quarter and instead blew it. NT moved the ball well until it came time to make something happen. The run game in short yardage is short too often. The play-calling is uninspired. The execution is underwhelming. It is not working.

Whereas in previous years a failed red-zone touchdown trip would still mean three points, things are less-than-automatic now. Well, in the positive sense. Evan Mooney shanked his first FG attempt wide left — and I mean wide. The next went wide right. The final attempt — yes there were incredibly three of them! — hit the left upright bar and bounced out.

There was only one bright spot in this game: Jaelon Darden. He put up a 13-catch, 244-yard, 3-score performance that was marred by 1) his not getting more targets and 2) his own drops. He had 19 targets and was open a lot more.

It is hard to criticize Darden for his drops when Roderic Burns had two awful drops that would have kept two drives going. Greg White’s tendency to attempt catches with his body instead of his hands put him at two drops — one of which was a sure TD.

Deonte Simpson showed some nice things but Darden had 244 of Austin Aune’s 382 and all three scores. He even was the one targeted on the desperation forced pass that was intercepted late.

We could go on. It is difficult to list the same mistakes again: poor tackling, confusion in the secondary, missed execution, self-inflicted woulds, bad defense. You and I are not going to learn anything new from saying the same things.

The execution of the details is lacking. NT has not been able to get the final yard in crucial short-yardage scenarios for years. North Texas’s special teams have been hit-and-miss for years, but now they have a kicking issue to add to the questionable return games. The defense is bad again, but without the hope of improvement. The most telling number was the scoreline:

1Q2Q3Q4QF
Charlotte714141449
North Texas077721
Scoreline

North Texas was one touchdown short in every quarter. That sums up this team and this season four games in.