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MGN Film Room: SMU 2016

SMU is better than the team NT destroyed 43-6 in 2014. They expect to be better than the team that rode Matt Davis to a 31-13 win last year. I do not expect a well-put-together powerhouse.

Their defense was about as bad as ours without the excuse of demoralization. The situations from lsat year are nearly exactly flipped. Dan McCarney’s crew had only an idea of what SMU was going to look like offensively, based on film of Chad Morris’ ACC powerhouse. This year that same Chad Morris has to look at some UNC film to figure out what to expect.

What about us? We do not have ready access to film nor do our jobs pay us to sit through hours of coach film. No worries. I took a quick look at some SMU games, and came away with some thoughts.

The first of which is that I do not want to spend a lot of time showing you SMU being destroyed by everyone. Suffice it to say that lots of teams spread them out, out ran, out executed, and out performed the SMU defense.

SMU allowed 6026 yards of offense on 853 plays, or 7.1 yards per play. North Texas’ terrible defense allowed 6029 yards on 903 plays or 6.8 yards per play.

Short Passes

I will show you a clip of the TCU game. For Pony fans, it is something like a moral victory, scoring 37 against the then-3rd ranked team in the nation. TCU never really was threatened. Trevone Boykin missed some early wide-open receivers early but his guys made enough catch-and-run plays to destroy SMU.

Here is an example:

Anthony Wyche, Nic Smith, maybe Tee Goree have the talent to take a short pass and run away from the SMU defense. The key will be in executing. TCU was in year two of Doug Meacham’s Air Raid and so they were a little ahead of the learning curve. I do not expect such crisp execution right out of the gate but I will not be surprised if it pops up from time to time.

I have not seen (nor heard) about a lot of 5-wide looks for us. However, I imagine North Texas can reduce the pressure on the offensive line that is full of questions by doing a little of the following:

The above is from the spring game. The effect on SMU hopefully will be the same. A quick pass that allows a playmaker to get the ball in space. Last year, North Texas QBs completed 16 of 34 passes (47.1%) for 128 yards against SMU’s iffy defense. My gut feeling is that Alec Morris will do much better than that. I do not expect Boykin-like 21 of 30 for 454, but something productive sounds reasonable.

That NT’s offense sputtered against SMU says more about Mike Canales’ bunch than anything about SMU. Given that our biggest transformation — in coaching and talent — came on the offensive side, I feel confident in NT’s chances to at least complete short routes to playmakers in space.

MGN has discussed some Air Raid items we saw in the spring game. The good news is that Cal — which runs a version also — just played the first game of the 2016 season last night against Hawaii. While, they do some things differently than the Mike Leach-Seth Littrell line, do not be surprised if there is more alike than different.

Run Game

In the season preview I mentioned that the threat of successful passes to the edges will open up the run game for Jeffery Wilson. In previous additions MGN Film Room I highlighted how Wilson and Ivery were able to attack the second level when they had space to run.

Cal runs this out of a set very different from what we will see in Denton next week, as they have a big body at the H, as a lead blocker. This is not very different from what NT ran last season under Canales, and so this caught my eye.

In the clip above, Cal had some great blocks and Hawaii had some bad run fits. After that, the back simply made a play and outran the last man. I expect the biggest runs from NT to come like this. Jeff Wilson is perfectly capable of hitting the second level with speed and can outrun or at least break through a tackle in the secondary.

The play required a couple of things to be as successful. The pulling guard erased the DE, and the frontside tackle was able to get to the LB. Hawaii’s other LB fell for the pulling action and overplayed the run, leaving the cutback open. He should have trusted the safety to make that play. Instead both the safety and the LB were out of position. The secondary was focussed on the run — especially the nickel corner1.

Will we see this vs SMU? A version of it. Our offensive line has some questions but they should be good enough to pull this kind of blocking off well enough to allow Jeff Wilson (or anyone) to get some yardage. If SMU’s defense is still iffy, then it might go for 6 from anywhere on the field.


If you watched the clips from that Marshall game you saw an example of how teams totally disrespected the NT pass game. Jeff Wilson moved in motion and no one guarded him. Alec Morris should be able to hit those short passes at least as well as McNulty, but with a little more zip and accuracy, allowing yards after catch.

Here is Kelvin Smith’s TD from the spring game and a jailbreak screen from the Cal game to illustrate two different types of catch-and-runs.

Once the defense begins looking for the bubble routes, jailbreak screens, and short routes you do something like this:

These are obviously the successful plays, and it is easy to show them and say ‘just do this’. When executed perfectly, a lot of offenses look unstoppable — especially the Air Raid. When run poorly it looks ridiculous. You can glimpse a bit of this in the NT spring game, where Morris was off. Passes were intercepted or looked lofted, and purposeless. If that is the case this game will look a lot like the one last year.

Note About Defense

Defensively, NT is probably looking at a similar year. Although I think the unit will be better under Ekeler and Ruffet, and benefit from an offense that scores points, I am in the minority. Even if the defense plays well — like they did for part of last year’s match up — Matt Davis is great at dancing around and making plays.

Really, he is their entire offense. We all remember what he did to North Texas last season, so I will not make you watch that again. Instead, watch this play from the first quarter of that TCU game I mentioned:

TCU often had him half-tacked throughout the game before he would make a play. Outside of his ability to make a play with his feet, he is fairly average of a quarterback in this era. He completed only 54.2% of his passes, but ran for 761.

Aside from this much of what I wrote here applies. SMU threatens to take the top off the defense with Courtland Sutton, runs the ball with power, and has Matt Davis extend plays and threaten the edges.

  1. There might have been a holding there. It did not effect the play, though. Meh. 

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