Lucky Seven: North Texas 35 Army West Point 18

Ladies and gentleman your North Texas Mean Green went into West Point as 18 point underdogs and came out with a 17 point win over Army. Spurred by a ridiculous 2nd half run game featuring North Texas’ best offensive player Jeff Wilson rushing for three TDs and a defense that forced SEVEN turnovers!

By my rough count, there are three miracle passes this season. The first came against Rice when Mason Fine floated a fade pass to O’Keeron Rutherford into double coverage. Both defenders fell down, and Rutherford made the catch.

The second was today against Army to Tee Goree for the opening touchdown of the game for NT. The ball was a bit under thrown, the defender slipped, Goree grabbed it for the score.

The third and most recent was again against Army. Mason Fine floated a pass to Willie Robinson along the sideline. The corner — eyeing a sure interception — slipped and fell. Willie Robinson got down to the one-yard line.

Given the choice, I would rather be lucky than good. Army came into this game as favorites because they are good. They move the ball and defend well. On another day when Army better protects the ball, maybe it turns out like it “should” have. This is why coaches obsess about details and possibilities, however. It is cliché to say any given Saturday anything can happen but it is cliché because it is true.

Last week North Texas were 10 point underdogs at home and 18 point underdogs on the road this week. They won both games convincingly through the strength of the defense. That and running the ball with Jeffrey Wilson. He was quiet in the first half as North Texas struggled but managed to end the game with 160 yards. In the last two games he has totalled 348 yards and 5 TDs on 41 carries. That is a little under 8.5 per tote. He has been ridiculous.

In the second half of this game NT totalled 197 yards on 26 carries including a blistering third quarter with 10 rushes for 110 yards. Most of that was Jeffrey Wilson.

All Hail Jeff Wilson.

As usual, let us go through this game in detail for posterity.

Offense

Once again this unit was led by the run game. North Texas debuted a slightly different look — a Pistol set with the FB offset to the left and Jeff Wilson directly behind the QB. The Pistol set was ‘invented’ by Chris Ault at Nevada precicesly so he could get better angles in the run game. It seems NT’s move was to do exactly this. The first play came on an outside zone stretch play that sprung Jeff Wilson for six from 41 yards out.

The run game gained most of the yardage from this look, as Graham Harrell mixed in the inside zone after scorching Army with the outside variety. It was great play calling and exactly what is required from the offensive coordinator.

One of these days both the pass and the run game will click. Today was not that day. Despite Mason Fine’s two long throws to Goree and Robinson, there was little else to be excited about. Fine was uncharacteristically over throwing his targets who were running free. The front five were not especially poor in pass protection, but again put Fine in danger often. Still, they allowed only 2 sacks, down from te 4.5 season average. That is helped by Mason Fine’s ability to scramble and he was able to make some clutch plays. Late in the game he had a 3rd down conversion that was reminiscent of the Rice run on the Miracle Drive that kickstarted that comeback. In this case it allowed NT to keep hold of the lead for just a little bit longer.

Seth Littrell talks often about consistency between plays let alone games. This game was a great example of that inconsistency as the first half NT squad was the one oddsmakers thought of when they created the spread. The second half version was the one that is blowing up those predictions.

Each TD run from Jeff Wilson is a glimpse into what this offense can be when it is not in its own way. Each confident throw from Fine is a glimpse at the future. Each penalty, sack, and fluttered pass is a reminder that NT is not quite there yet.

Littrell mentions getting a week better. Can we say the offense did that today? Yes. They did. The weeks ahead will involve more inclement weather games and the confidence gained by beating a good Army team on the road in poor conditions is huge. Bigly.

Defense

Stars of the show: Eric Jenkins, Brandon Garner, Kishawn McClain. Really the list can and should include every member of the defense. Before the game this blog mentioned the importance of being disciplined. As a whole the defense was not gashed. Army, being a good offense this season, was able to score and move the ball on occasion. North Texas took away the FB dive and force Army QB Bradshaw to make a living on edges. There, Kishawn McClain flew up to make tackles. The NT linebacking corps were able to set the edges and force the action inside.

Yes, Army helped out by being loose with the ball. It was gift-wrapped but NT was ready to pounce. This defense hits hard — that causes fumbles. This defense has active hands — Jenkins stripped a receiver after he caught a pass for a long gain. This defense swarms to the ball — recovering fumbles is random, but NT improves those chances by being around the ball.

Oh yeah and the interceptions. INTs are not random, and somewhat a function of getting to the QB, and putting the opposition in obvious passing downs. North Texas’ streak of games with an interception this season was at six — every game — looked to be in danger as Army does not pass. The stout defense against the option, and the lead the offense provided, forced Army to put the ball in the air. NT capitalized.

The first was fortune. Bradshaw threw the ball too high and Army’s WR only managed to tip it. Eric Jenkins jumped on it and took it to the house. Sure, it was a gift, but Jenkins did the rest.

That aggression and confidence in the scheme is infectious. North Texas is playing with the confidence of a team that has seen Florida, Army, and MTSU and come away with solid performances against them all.

Another INT:

If you have not paid attention to North Texas football since last season’s debacle against Portland State (I do not blame you) you may not appreciate how awesome it has been to see the defense not get pushed off the ball on run plays this season. Last year Iowa, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Portland State, Southern Miss, Marshall and really anyone else all ran with success right through the A gaps. This season the defense boasts some of the same names on the line and has looked light-years better. While somewhat expected — again, the team had zero belief in the coaching staff — it is nonetheless amazing to watch. Army boasted a good offense with a scheme that is difficult to prepare for mentally and physically.

The defense handled it beautifully.

Without the benefit of a second watch, here is a quick list of things I liked:

  • Defensive line stuffing the dive
  • Linebackers, DL getting off blocks — Josh Wheeler, Garner, E.J. Ejiya
  • Defensive backs making tackles — everyone — Dee Baulkman, Nate Brooks, Eric Jenkins, James Gray
  • Staying disciplined with trust in teammates to make the plays
  • Teammates making plays

Coaching

I mentioned Graham Harrell’s switch to the pistol look. We can praise Ekeler for days for his staff’s preparation for this triple option. The MGN Slack took issue with the play calling right before the missed field goals. The rationale there was questionable. Trevor Moore was not put in a good position to succeed.

The pass game struggled again. While I appreciate the desire to hit 15-17 yard gains, the screen game is absent. We see more swing passes than anything and even those are poorly executed. More quick pass game to Buyers, et al would help Mason Fine get a better rhythm. Whatever the rationale I am not seeing it. It very well could be that this squad is so poor at this in practice that they scrap it altogether. It also could be that Army took those looks away. Going forward, something else besides the boom or bust nature would help things some.

Defensively, the penalties hurt. Offside calls are still a problem although they have not been as bad as they were against Rice. The defense does not have to be quite perfect for this team to manage wins in the coming weeks, but it would help a ton.

Next

North Texas travels to UTSA, where the Runners play well. Last time these teams played at the Alamodome Andy McNulty had himself a great game passing but North Texas lost the game on a muffed punt in the closing minutes. NT managed its lone win against this UTSA squad last season and there is no doubt the UTSA guys want a measure of revenge. Depending on how UTSA-UTEP shakes out, UTSA and NT could be playing for a fifth win.