A few things stand out from that epic comeback against formerly 2-0 Ball State. Some of those things are Derek Thompson running for the go-ahead TD, Laramie Lee putting the hurt on everyone on the Cardinals WR corps, and the 92 freaking plays we ran.
The latter was indicative of our newly effective offense. UNT came out throwing early and often. It wasn’t immediately more successful than our previous run-first approach but it did show a complete commitment to being more diverse on offense. It paid dividends later in the game. We weren’t exactly running no-huddle out there, but we were converting 3rd downs, which does a whole hell of a lot for your total plays statistic.
UNT wasn’t just throwing more from those two TE sets either. At times the offense lined up in 5-wide, a ton in 4-wide. The great thing? It opened up huge lanes for Byrd and Pegram. Both of their longest came in single back sets out of shotgun. That 3.5 ypc coming into this game? Today that finished at 5.1.
That said, the offense still has much work to do. Despite running more plays and having more first downs, the offense only outscored BSU by a TD.
He was rightly named the player of the game. Often criticized for his inconsistency , Derek was money all day and showed off some ability to scramble for some crucial yardage, including the go-ahead score from 26-yards out. His best stuff came when he was avoiding the rush and finding his receivers. Football situations are never perfect and a guy that can make something of nothing, or something less bad than it could have been — is valuable. His toughness — recovering from a dislocated thumb, taking hits after runs, leading the team to the comeback — was incredible. What make the offense move, however, was his accuracy on those 5-yard stops. Whether you like that kind of offense or not, it can be effective if you can throw accurately. Getting the ball to Brelan Chancellor and Carlos Harris on short stuff and letting them work afterward is what the spread and all it’s myriad variations are based on. You want your play makers in space
Lairamie Lee & Marcus Trice
Lairamie Lee was a monster out there. Marcus Trice was all over the field. Brian Baldinger called the pair the hardest hitting secondary he’s seen all year. The two combined for 12 tackles, and of course Hitstick Lee forced a fumble, knocked the hell out of two guys, and got an interception. Marcus Trice had a couple big pass defenses, recovered a fumble. One of his pass defenses was guarding Connor Ryan, who was looking like Jason Witten out there.
The defense fas a unit forced four turnovers in the first half, which served to keep North Texas in the game by preventing Ball State from running away with it. Still, the lead was 18 points after North Texas allowed a defensive TD and a long TD for the second consecutive game. Banks’ 77-yard score was 54% of his total, however. The defense bottled him up for the duration. Ball State’s Keith Wenning threw for 333 yards and two scores but the Cardinals didn’t score in the second half, thanks to Sarge, Abbe, and the defensive backs getting pressure and staying with the receivers, respectively.
In short, everyone did what was needed to make the first 18-point comeback in UNT history since 1988.
It was great and scary and frustrating and amazing. Ball State is a good squad, but by no means a team that should jump up 20-3 on us, at Apogee. Looking back at some of their lowlights, Ball State will see that they played right into our hands offensively. A few times Wenning, despite putting up some good numbers, didn’t make the right read (or the offensive coordinator didn’t make the right call) and so NT was let off the hook. Other CUSA teams (not to mention Georgia next week) will not be so lenient.
Offensively, despite the scoring output and the yardage totals, the unit can be better. The passing game relies too heavily on methodically moving down the field. The longest pass of the day was 25 yards — good but not great. If the big plays will only come from the run game — that 32 yarded from Pegram or the 25 yarded from Byrd — then we’ll need to rely on Derek consistently hitting the intermediate stuff. That is incredibly hard to do. Derek’s 31 completions only went for 247 yards, whereas Keith Wenning’s 27 went for 333.
All that reads as if I’m nitpicking. I’m not. There is definite room for improvement and no reason we won’t see it. Mike Canales (no doubt with Dan McCarney’s blessing) opened up the offense in the wake of yet another very predictable, anemic offensive performance. If the opposition is going to give us 5, 10, 15 yards every play and leave acres of space for Derek to scamper in we should take it. They won’t, however, and this group needs to have an answer for it. I think they will.
Next week: Between the Hedges at Georgia where UNT is a 36.5 point underdog.
I’m already day dreaming of an epic upset where the local Dallas media is forced to acknowledge Denton.