I mentioned in the Breakdown that the run game has been sneakily suspect. For a team with a pound the ball mentality, the run game has only been good against not-so-great run defenses. The game notes threw out the stats as well.
149 – The North Texas ground game is averaging only 149 yards a game this season, seventh in the C-USA. However after eight games in 2013, the Mean Green ground game was only averaging 157 yards a game on the ground, before finishing the year with a bang, and pounding out 217 yards a game in the final five games of the season. FAU has struggled against the run, allowing 212.7 yards a game on the ground, 12th in C-USA.
Full credit to the SID staff for being so positive. We were pretty mediocre last year, too! But we turned it around! Maybe we’ll do so this year! They were right, however. It isn’t a trend that anyone wants to see year-to-year but it is hard to not like the fact that the offense improved after a bye week. Antoinne Jimmerson looked explosive in his first handful of carries.1 He had two highlight plays in the first quarter. The first was him Barry Sanders-ing a run from left to right for about 15 yards. His second was the explosive 41-yard run where he showcased his speed on an inverted veer.
North Texas made liberal use of pulling lineman on both power and counter runs left and right. On first viewing they looked like power plays but McNulty’s movements suggest they could have been counter plays. There isn’t a marked difference between the two. It is just the difference between running weak side and running strong side.
So the run game was great. . . in the first and fourth quarters. In the middle it stagnated a bit, which we’ll credit to FAU of not taking the game lying down.
The running game produced 235 yards of offense. Antoinne Jimmerson ran for 111 in the first half alone. The offensive line was physical, after being challenged by pretty much everyone including Y’Barbo himself. The defense completely owned FAU for the most part. The Owls’ first half yardage total was something like 65 yards. They finished with just 197 yards and a good portion of that was garbage time when their fate was settled. Jaquez Johnson went 14/25 for 99 yards. That’s only 4 yards per attempt. Those are run game numbers. For a defense that has been suspect in these last four losses, this was a return to North Texas football.
McNulty did a good job driving the bus and making some solid throws when he needed to. He wasn’t called on for a ton of important passes but he completed some big drive-sustaining ones. He floated a few passes that were lucky to avoid interception, but he also threw a score and ran for another.
FAU isn’t very good. They’ve been salty in some of their games — with some close losses to WKU and even UAB. They gave Marshall some kind of game a few weeks back by holding them under 40 points for the first time all season. The run game’s return was great for about two quarters and gone for the middle two. The explosive first quarter set up some potential easy passes for McNulty, but he was a bit slow in getting the ball to his guys. Given that the season goals have changed to “get better” instead of “win the conference/make a bowl” this is not a huge deal. Still, you’d like to see the offense develop a bit beyond quick screens complimenting the run game. There were few, if any, deep shots down the field to take advantage of the successful run game. The one shot was intercepted in the end zone.
For the most part this game was wrapped up some time in the third quarter. FAU didn’t really look threatening at all. Most fans on twitter (from what I could tell) were hoping for the offense to step on the throat and win the game with a big touchdown drive. That didn’t happen. McNulty’s pass was intercepted.
This game is a positive note in an otherwise disappointing season. That much is obvious. It is great to see the defense return to form, and for the running game to show signs of dominance. Antoinne Jimmerson is quietly having a really nice season. He’s on pace to set career highs in yardage, carries, and scores running the ball. He very well could have a 1000 yard season if he things break right.
There is an outside shot at bowl-eligibility. If North Texas wins out, they’ll end with 6 wins. Will that be enough to garner a bowl invite? Who knows. It would be an incredible end to a bad start and might just recapture the lost momentum of 2014. While UTSA isn’t nearly as good as they were last year, and FIU is about as good as FAU, UTEP is scary. They can run the ball2 and play much better defense than they did last season. UNT handled the Miners pretty easily last season. That won’t be the case in El Paso.
In a perfect world, we’d have seen some improvement in the pass game as the offense exploited the defensive performance. Alas that was’t the case.