Jason Bean was the last minute choice to start the pandemic season opener and did about all he could to win the job permanently. In split action with co-starter (according to the depth chart) Austin Aune, he put up a nice line: 11 of 18 for 217 yards and 3 touchdown passes against one interception. He also added three carries for 48 yards and a score on a 37-yard sprint.
North Texas dominated when on offense, putting up a school record 721 yards. Oscar Adaway added 118 on just five carries scored on his first touch as the third option at running back behind Tre Siggers and DeAndre Torrey. Defensively, under new coordinator Clint Bowen, North Texas struggled. Houston Baptist is a nice squad led by QB Bailey Zappe, and they moved the ball really well early. They were unlucky to be down at all in the first quarter. In the first half they had scored 10 and put up 280 yards including 250 in the air.
Zappe confused the new defense by moving well in the pocket and finding his receivers with deft tosses that floated over rotating linebackers and defensive backs. Against the backups later, he padded the stats en route to 480 yards and 3 scores on 39 of 62 passing.
North Texas won by net talent and that was always going to be the case. They were not necessarily the better football playing team in the first half, however.
Bean was a little off early, looking great on approximately three-quarters of his early throws but misfiring on occasion. Jyaire Shorter, Greg White, and Deonte Simpson looked like too much receiver for their defensive counterparts and won one-on-one battles deep. Bean tossed up some easy jump balls for this guys to win. Austin Aune stepped in for a series and showed his arm strength and mobility. Later he threw a TD to Darden but overall he did not impress as much as Bean.
Jaelon Darden, the team’s literal number one receiver had a nice day, scoring three times with relative ease. We wrote in the season preview that a big question would be the ability of the pass game to challenge the vertical game to allow Darden to operate underneath. In this one, the worked and he did.
Barring some ridiculous breakdown, NT was always going to win this in a rout, but the question was how impressive that was going to be. Marshall won 59-0 earlier in the day and that was the standard for the opener. NT fell short of that, only piling on late with their depth and fans can be happy about the win, the potential, and also concerned about the defense, and the execution early.
North Texas put up huge numbers offensively, and the run game was explosive. Freshman Isaiah Johnson scored from 16 on his first touch, Oscar Adaway impressed on each of his five carries on the way to a couple of scores. DeAndre Torrey ran physically and Tre Siggers was physical.
The new-look defense could not generate much of a pass rush and Bailey Zappe had lots of time to find his players. He picked apart the zone-based defense often, finding crossers by floating the ball over the hands of defenders.
Ultimately, NT had too much talent and depth and Zappe and his solid corps of pass-catchers were not enough to break down the team for more points. It is concerning because the same old problem reared its head: NT couldn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback on any down let alone passing downs. The Bowen defense is supposed to produce coverage sacks — there are a lot of defenders sitting back in coverage compared to the Reffett looks — and they made mistakes. Early in the game when NT was up 14-0, HBU converted a 2nd and 10 to Josh Alfaro up the seam. Jaxon Gibbs simply misread his assignment, taking the RB int the flat before realizing he was responsible for the seam.
It’s an easy enough mistake to make early in the season and early in the scheme. HBU motioned their back from right to left, and you can see Larry Nixon signal to his teammates that he was taking responsibility for the motioning back. Typically, the safety is responsible for all vertical routes from the “#2” receiver. That would be the TE Alfaro in this case. It looks as if Gibbs read the back as being the 2nd guy and that is how you get busted coverage.
This kind of thing can and will be fixed. It is a repetition thing, and the players have been short of repetitions during the pandemic. SMU will be a tougher challenge but the two weeks allows for more preparation, and learning from this experience.
The benefit of playing a team like HBU is that there is room for error. NT had that and got a win, learned some things about themselves and hopefully came away from the entire thing without anyone getting COVID.
MGN Player of the Game: Jason Bean 11 of 18 217 yards 3 TDs 1 INT, 3 carries 48 yards 1 TD
MGN Big Disappointment: Defense — 569 yards allowed. Most since La Tech last year (a season in which NT allowed 500+ four times).
- ESPN3 always sounds muddy.
- Dave Anderson always loses his voice in the second half.
- Seth Littrell is an under-nose mask wearer?
- SMU escaped Texas State today
- Middle Tennessee played Army, and I wonder if NT would have gotten eaten up the same way with this performance. That is the benefit of going FCS in the first game.
- The defense saw the “Rush” guy drop into coverage a lot. The idea was the flood the field with defenders and make it difficult for Zappe to find people. That didn’t work as well as hoped.