Austin Aune finished the game 16 of 29 passing (55%), for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. In 20U22, that kind of line doesn’t turn heads, but it was enough good quarterback play to help the Mean Green win in the sold-out Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX. There are 637 miles separating the two programs, including a vast desert like landscape. If you drive that distance, it takes about nine hours and you will see the same view for many of those miles. Same view, different mile.
This game represented an opportunity for both teams to show something different. UTEP had a decent season in 21, but had clear areas of improvement. They came into this new year with renewed hope and energy. North Texas fell flat to start 21, but revived their season and perhaps Seth Littrell’s job with a five game win streak that included a big win at home over eventual league champion and rival UTSA. Both teams stumbled in the bowl games that followed the season. Same view, different mile.
Aune winning the job did not bring a lot of cheers or enthusiasm. The joke is that he’s old — 28 isn’t old! — and everyone can see the athletic frame, the big arm, and the poise in the pocket ever so often that you can see why Seth Littrell named him QB1 yet again. Too often what follows is a backfoot overthrow of a streaking NT player and frustration. Same view, different mile.
On this night, there was sneaky good behind the same view, however. North Texas did not lose any quarter in this game. They started slowly, yes, something that has happened too often in the Littrell era, but the first quarter finished 0-0. NT won the second 14-13, even if it included a stupid fumble with :32 left in the half. The third ended 14-0 in favor of the good guys. NT won the final quarter 3-0. That’s good stuff. That’s winning football. Maybe the view is a little different, after all.
MGN watched this game on Stadium on FuboTV, so there was a delay. The cameras looked like discount gear, with that fuzzy glaze and weird coloration. Forget it, Adam. It’s El Paso. The broadcast was fine, even if Bob Davie was falling over himself to tell the same KD Davis story again and again. “He turned down A&M!” Some people can watch it over the air or on cable, and so we had a little disconnect. There was at least one guy in the group chat who was a play or two ahead.
We saw a lot of the same old problems that concern us. KD Davis, Kevin Wood both earned silly roughing penalties. There were some questionable secondary plays, and wide open UTEP Miners running through the secondary. We saw UTEP hurt themselves1 and help North Texas a ton, making us think about what will happy happen when we face a better team. The good news is that SMU is probably the best team on the schedule. UAB and UTSA are solid, but I don’t know if they are top-to-bottom as good as they were last season. Ditto that about WKU.
The run game is the identity, but that does not mean the pass game is not potent. You can see a world wherein Aune puts the ball on time and on target and Bush or Ward or Burns can get loose for big yards after the catch. UTEP’s defensive line got tired and NT was putting it on them. They ground out yards and owned the game late.
Now, the problem is that UTEP wants to do the same thing and they looked out of sorts when NT went up big. North Texas will have as similar problem if they find themselves chasing the game. It’s a classic football problem. Shortening the game with the run and relying on defense is all well and good until you need more time and the pass game to win.
Jake Roberts had four grabs on five targets for 54 yards and a score. That is not an eye-popping stat, but NT only threw the ball 29 times, and he came up with crucial catches. Three of his four grabs were for first or touchdowns and came on third down. His other catch went for 23 yards on a first down play. Just big time grabs from that guy. NT was missing a chain-mover last year, and he looks like the guy that can do that. Now one of the wideouts just needs to open up the top of the defense and I like the opportunity in front of them.
Defensively, there was less front-four penetration than we got last year with the Murphy twins. That is to be expected in some respects, but the second half saw more pressure come at Hardison. UTEP likes to max-protect and let the QB show off the arm. He found a guy on a deep cross and had all game plus a lightning delay to find him. That’s obviously not good, but something that can be worked on.
UTEP puts a little scare in everyone because they have talent and good coaching. They lose because they always find a way to lose. The drop, the missed FG, etc are just part of the culture. UTEP needs everything to go perfectly to get a win. NT is better than UTEP. We knew that coming in but I will admit that somewhere in the first quarter my belief was a little shaken.
This is the year of the Practical North Texas. I want to see kneel downs with :32 left in the half. I want more running of the ball always and forever.
Its a bit late in the game for Aune to turn into a 65% passer, but I think there was some improvement in this one. He found guys on third and long. His touchdowns weren’t on long passes to open receivers, but required a little touch and accuracy. I think Mason Fine’s records are plenty safe for now. I just want an Effective and Practical Austin Aune.
SMU in Denton, Texas. MGN has booked tickets and bothered a friend about lodging, and will be in the stadium cheering in the Mean Green in person. If this frightens you or if you are feeling unwell at this news, please consult your doctor.
Hey, Kid. The Next One Is On Me.
The MGN Beer Is On Me Player of the Game Brought To You By MGN is: Austin Aune.
Missed FG, dropped TD, FG drives, and failed 4th down↩