This game review requires more nuance that the readers of the recap, and the viewers of the game probably can muster up. Sports are funny that way. They don’t matter in comparison to a lot of other aspects of life but they can inspire emotions that are more powerful than almost anything else. It is fun until it isn’t because it hurts so hard.
North Texas went on the road in a big-ish game. Reasonable people can disagree on how big this game was. Certainly, NT wanted to beat UAB and given the results elsewhere, NT had a chance to clinch a berth in the championship game. That said, we all knew that UAB was going to be a tough trip, and NT still would be the favorite for the title game berth even with a loss. Add to the situation the facts that it was senior day and it was cold, and you have some ready-made excuses.
None of that is to say that NT didn’t play hard, or give a good effort. Sometimes getting beat looks like bad effort when it simply means you were beat. North Texas came out with some aggression, looking to throw the ball deep. UAB countered that with their league-leading defense and forced a fumble and then scored with their powerful run game.
NT came out aggressive and moved the ball before Lou Groza semifinalist Ethan Mooney shanked a field goal. UAB drove and scored again. Then NT went on a tear, scoring three straight TDs and taking the ball away from UAB twice (once on downs, the other on a fumble recovery). Close watchers of this program might notice that this was a step in the right direction from previous versions of this program. Instead of folding up, this team punched back.
NT punted right before half, in a move to just kill clock and get to halftime. Not bad. NT up 21-17 at half was not a bad outcome.
The second half saw UAB drive for another field goal — another defensive win. The offense punted on their first possession of the second half.
1st and 10 — Ragsdale power run for 4 yards
2nd and 10 — Ragsdale counter for 4 yards — Aune changed the play on this one. UAB was in a 3-man front, and NT in 11-personnel. Good call.
3rd and 2 — NT inside zone, blown up by the NT.
On its face, it was not terrible. My concern was that NT simply rushed to the line to quickly run for the 3rd down play. Littrell and Bloesch like to do this — it creates a little bit of uncertainty for the defense. The idea is to catch the defense off guard with som tempo and sneak away with a couple of yards when they are unaware. The problem was that UAB was plenty aware. NT could have paused, audible to another play — even another run play — or simply thought about it for a little longer. They ran it quickly, and it was stuffed.
For me, this was a huge situation. UAB had scored two field goals and even another one would mean they take the lead. I think you play this as you needing to get these 2-yards to at least keep the defense resting a bit. Instead it was a quick punt.
After this was the infamous 77-yard pass play. NT had UAB locked up on 3rd and 8 and Hopkins found and Palmer outran everyone. UAB scores to go ahead and never looked back.
NT’s next possession was their best since the 2nd quarter, but didn’t feel like it. It saw that Aune throw-away to Horton — but did see the second appearance of that Aune run for the first down. It also saw Shorter’s awful drop on 2nd and 8 from the 45. Ward followed that drop up with a hell-of-a-catch coming back to the ball and grabbing it with just his hands. The quarter ended, NT flipped sides, and faced a 2nd and 5 or so. Ragsdale was stuffed. NT tried a little gap run again, but UAB set the edge, the nose tackle moved his block into the hole, and Ragsdale did well to just get a yard.
The NT had a false start (Ward, the first of the day) and then that little flip to Ragsdale that hit his face and ended the drive.
As far as NT drives go, those weren’t completely outside of the realm of normalcy. NT has had some awful stuff this season, even while averaging 500-yards per game. Even against WKU, the last time NT went on the road against a good squad, there were some questionable drives. Remember that NT was forced to punt in that one, and WKU muffed it, setting up NT for a FG (after Aune misfired in the end zone).
This UAB defense is even better than the WKU one, which is good statistically. It is even better than the UTSA one, which held down the UNT run game. UAB didn’t need to sell out to stop the run, as they got crucial stops when they needed through superior individual play — Fish Wiliams balled out. North Texas didn’t help themselves a ton, and I thought the coaches could probably have helped things by pausing to scheme up something a little different at times.
As it was, the NT defense got sliced up in the second half, not getting the ball back for their offense, and getting gashed in the run game in the fourth. They allowed too many 3rd down conversions — also a 1st-and-15 conversion as well — that did not help the offense get a rhythm. But lets credit the UAB squad — we knew they were going to be tough and good, and NT had to play at the highest level they could to do their thing. As it was, they only had about a quarter of that before getting shut down.
The defense put up one-and-a-half good quarters of football, but allowed two guys to get 100+ rushing and 505 yard of offense.
The offense managed just the 264, with neither Aune or the run game looking explosive. The run game had some nice spots but was stymied in important situations. The pass game had some chances, but couldn’t get the game breakers they had relied on. Aune didn’t complete his passes at a high percentage, something both on him and his WRs.
Seth Littrell fell back to .500 in his coaching career. That about says all you need to know about him. There is good, and there is bad. This was both in the same game, against a beatable opponent. The good news is that this wasn’t for the league title. If there is a positive takeaway, it is that North Texas still controls the destiny in front of them. There is a bye week ahead, which allows all the small injuries a week to heal, and then Rice at home, on senior day, for the right to play in San Antonio again.
North Texas got a taste again of a good team — that should help prepare everyone’s mindset, and allow the coaching staff to scheme up some counters to the counters that UTSA will have in San Antonio.
NT earned the right to have a little room for error, and that room was taken now. UAB has won its fourth straight against NT — 1-6 is the NT record overall. This was the seventh loss (33-7) when leading at the half. UAB has won two of those seven.
Aune’s 2022 is now second all-time on the single season TD pass list (29 tie with Fine). The record is Fine’s 2017 season with 31.
NT was held to 264 total yards. This after the 600+ against FIU. Sometimes playing bad teams is bad for your health. Or at least your rhythm.
North Texas fell to 5-2 in the league, tied with WKU. By virtue of the win in Bowling Green, NT has the head-to-head tiebreaker. FAU also has just two-losses but NT has the head-to-head there as well.
By virtue of this NT loss, UTSA has clinched a berth in the title game. NT can clinch with a win in two weeks vs Rice on the final game of the season. Championship game is Friday, December 2nd.