“We are going to play a team that just basically stomped a mud hole in SMU.”
MGN HQ is in San Antonio, Texas. That always confuses a few people but it has its advantages. This week, we were able to visit with the new Incarnate Word head coach Eric Morris after his Thursday practice to talk about all manner of things related to his team and this week’s game against his former coach and former teammates.
Incarnate Word, for those unfamiliar, is nestled just north of downtown San Antonio.
UIW made a splash hire when they signed the former Red Raider OC, getting him to make a move down to San Antonio and bring offense, wins, and a little attention to the small Catholic university.
So who did he call when he took the job?
“The first guy I needed to call and I have talked to him a ton in this process is Seth Littrell. I have called Seth a ton since I got this job just to ask questions.”
Littrell, Eric Morris, Graham Harrell, and Joel Filani all spent time at Texas Tech — Littrell the running backs coach and everyone else as players.
They had those boys flying around hitting
“I know all of these guys on staff. Coach Littrell was my running backs coach in college. We have a great relationship and still do to this day. Great human being, great leader of men. Couldn’t be more proud. He has an awesome wife in Becca, great family. He’s a superstar everybody knows it. North Texas is lucky to have him and the AD was really smart for paying him already and extending the contract.”
Incarnate Word was impressive in the box score against New Mexico, but lost big 62-30 — in Albuquerque. True freshman Jon Copeland, out of Argyle, is not afraid to sling the ball.
“You can’t make a quarterback do anything. I let him check at the line of scrimmage and he saw some stuff that he wasn’t scared to pull the trigger [on]. I’ve been around gun-shy quarterbacks before he is definitely not gun-shy.”
Copeland threw for 328 yards in his first collegiate game.
“If you give him those opportunities he likes to take it down the field. It ends up helping our run game because it backs everybody out of there. We start hitting a couple of them and everybody is like ‘holy crap let’s get out of there’. So that part is good.”
The North Texas defense was outstanding against SMU, surprising most observers with the way the held that prolific Pony offense to 0 through much of the game.
Morris: “I turned on the film on Sunday morning and started watching it and boy they had those boys flying around hitting, didn’t give up any big balls, great on third downs, D-line was relentless in pass rush, DBs make plays in the back end.”
“SMU only ran 46 plays which is shockingly low. I thought the tape was messed up when I got it I had to really study it, go through, make sure it was right. Anytime you can hold an offense these days to 46 plays in Texas means you are getting 3-and-outs and getting turnovers.”
Through three and a half quarters North Texas held SMU to below 100 yards and a single first down. NT corner Kemon Hall had a pick-six. SMU was 2/10 on 3rd downs.
The Cardinals will have to deal with a big crowd — one of the biggest in their history if NT can pack Apogee again — while adapting to a new culture and staff. Morris sounds a lot like Littrell did in 2016.
“For us to change the narrative on what has happened here, is not a one day thing I think its us having the ability to be focused every day as coaches and lead by example and have our thumb on them, and not let the little stuff slide. It gets easy to do in the course of — you know everyone gets tired, we work long hours, its tough, its a grind whatever whatever — but if you are mentally strong enough to show these kids every day as coaches and be a good example and ‘this is the way you do it’ you are going to have a chance to be successful. We are in the beginning stages of it, I think our culture has changed — I know it has changed but at some point those results got to show on the field. I mean, the kids are playing hard for each other they are fighting for one another. They believe in one another. So it’s up to them to be able to put it all together and show that on Saturday nights.”
The start for Morris’s Cardinals, at least on offense, was much more impressive than in Denton. The NT offense in 2016 was improved (+6 from 2015), but still relatively anemic (97th nationally) before improving in 2017 (19th nationally).
Morris’ group had 30-points and 566 yards on a Bob Davie, senior-laden New Mexico team that returned a good defense.
“[UNM] had a bunch of seniors back, whole secondary’s back. Didn’t think we’d be able to attack them vertically.”
How did that happen?
“I think it’s just a culmination of execution. Those are plays we ran a thousand times in practice and we went out and executed. There wasn’t nothing special, no gimmicks, not anything crazy. We ran the ball extremely well, we had 255 yards rushing. And we threw the ball extremely well — 300 and something yards.”
“I tell the guys all the time, I’m not going to come here and call magic football plays. I’m not like some genius that’s going to reinvent the wheel and do some scheme that no one has seen before. Everybody knows what scheme we run. Everybody knows what we like to do an we are going to rep these plays over and over so we can be consistently good at them and do it against any look.”
I know they want to beat the crap out of me
Still, after all that yardage and 30-points on the board, it was a loss. “Throw those yards out the window. Doesn’t matter. This is about wins and losses and that’s all I care about. It’s a good starting point offensively. Now if we can just convert on a couple more things and take some of those key opportunities — we broke it up to them on film — you know there’s about five different opportunities where we had chances to really make it a ball game and we weren’t successful on those. ”
This Saturday, a good number of UIW will be making a return to their home town. “Overrated in my opinion.”
“I think that turns into a distraction. They want to play different than how they did in practice because their family is there. Naturally, adrenaline is flowing, we are playing an FBS School. That’s going to be all there. That stuff should be there. If it isn’t you shouldn’t be playing football.”
“Everyone wants to represent their city — lalala. Just because I think it causes them to focus on something besides what their task is. And so we’ve been big on tasks this week — focusing on their tasks — just because that’s what we did bad last week. For a sustained amount of time. Haven’t played it up. Played up the fact that A) we are going to play a team that just basically stomped a mud hole in SMU in the first game of the year. That’s a great opportunity for us to go out on national TV and prove that you do belong.”
Saturday night, UIW will get their chance.
“Hopefully, as the season keeps going, they say you make the biggest improvements from week 1 to week 2 in football and hopefully we make that jump and hopefully North Texas doesn’t make that jump, right?”
Seth Littrell will have an opportunity to give the Cardinals and Morris a show of what year three can be. For Morris, that will be a lesson, but also part and parcel of competing in this business.
“I know they aren’t going to take it lightly on us just because I know they want to beat the crap out of me [laughs] and that goes both ways and after the game we’ll give each other a hug and tell each other we love each other because we do. But anytime you are playing your big brother you want to win, you know.”
For access to the full audio of the interview, consider subscribing to MGN. Eric Morris details his ‘focus’ drill of choice: Log Rolling. It was something he picked up from Mike Leach. Also, a discussion about FCS vs FBS.