That should have been a blowout.
It was a win.
Everyone will take the win.
North Texas is 9-3 and that means back-to-back 9-win seasons for the first time since 1978 and NT is near 10-wins for the first time in their FBS history.
Beating UTSA has always been an exercise in drama, as we wrote in the game preview: only one game in this series has not come down to the final possession.
This was no different and I suppose we can chalk it up to the pull of fate rather than the odd pattern of games North Texas has fell into.
Yet again, this football team went up by double digits and yet again that lead evaporated. Here, owing partly to the struggle fest that was the UTSA offense, NT never trailed in this game but almost lost the game at the end.
The game set up just like the Old Dominion game, where the NT offense could not seal the game and the defense allowed one too many conversions on the way to losing it. There again was Tyreke Davis, who has been targeted. In Hampton Roads it was Jonathan Duhart against Davis, against UTSA it was Greg Campbell Jr. against him.
EJ Ejiya came up big, however, and sacked Bryce Rivers to put the Roadrunners out of field goal position. The subsequent kick was way wide left and that was that.
The Game and Its Parts
We can recite these scores like Arya recites her revenge list in Game of Thrones: 21-6 over LT but lose 29-27, 21-10 over UAB but lose 29-21, 28-0 over ODU but lose 34-31, 17-0 over FAU but lose the lead 21-20 at half.
Here, 17-0 lead and UTSA cut it to 17-14 and 24-21 and had the ball just 12 yards from the end zone.
There were enough mistakes spread around the various subgroups that we can point to any handful and say “there is the problem.” The truth is that again, they all add up and they all contribute to that issue.
North Texas put up 515 yards of offense — hardly the stuff of struggles — but did fail on three straight 3rd-and-goal attempts from the one. Also, Mason Fine threw a bad interception in the endzone. Those were the obvious missed opportunities here. In previous games it was a missed field goal or a failed fourth-down conversion.
Maybe you think it is the play call? Well we have a candidate: that 4th and 1 call to hand it to DeAndre Torrey wherein he was stuffed deep in the backfield. Why not keep the ball in Mason Fine’s hands? Why not go with your best player?
Well, even that can be answered: Torrey had 155 on the day and proved adept at getting yards. Did he get short yards? No.
We’ll conclude this section by noting this: getting one yard in football when the other team absolutely knows you need to get that yard is the essence of this game itself. North Texas has not been very good at getting that one yard this season and it has cost the team three wins and at least a couple of comfortable wins, this one included.
Its a Rivalry
Seth Littrell called it a rivalry and as we wrote above, every game between these two has been an exercise in drama. There is something to the final game of the season that brings about apathy or renewed vigor in a team. North Texas mostly played the kind of game they have played all season, which is a testament — in a positive sense — to the coaching staff. You can’t say they dipped in form, since this was the way they played last week and the week before etc.
On the other hand, UTSA played its best game of the season, on the final day of the season, on senior day in the final home game of the year.
If there was a time to step it up and meet the challenge this was it. Credit Bryce Rivers, who threw for 269 yards — a UTSA season best. UTSA’s Greg Campbell Jr. also played ridiculously well, catching 11 for 186.
UTSA put up 400 yards of offense on the day, their best of the season.
You might recall that in 2014, both teams came in with awful offenses and proceeded to engage in a shootout, with both QBs playing well above their season average. Andy McNulty threw for near a career best, and UTSA’s Tucker Carter had one of his career best games. It was odd and an outlier just like this weird game from UTSA.
Its a rivalry.
Offense is Still Good
There were 516 yards gained by the Mean Green, 320 by the arm of Mason Fine, and 196 on the ground, with 155 by DeAndre Torrey. The efficiency is not where we want it, but there is enough explosion creeping into the offense that we can be hopeful in the bowl game.
Mason Fine lost his number one receiver Rico Bussey midway through the game and there was a noticeable effect. There were a few occasions where Fine had no one to throw to. He found space, and made plays. North Texas drained most of the clock late, and Keegan Brewer came up clutch in the pass game.
The Defense Came Through
If our hope was that the defense would be good enough then we can be satisfied. EJ Ejiya sacked Rivers in a clutch scenario and that helped the team win the game. Earlier, Kemon Hall picked off a floating pass in the endzone that killed a promising UTSA drive.
Those are winning plays and NT made them. There were big stops by the defense throughout the game. Nate Brooks, Ejiya, Brandon Garner, TJ Tauaalo all game up with big stops in this one.
Cole Hedlund made a kick and they did not.
This game was screaming for a special teams miscue and well, it happened. NT had one punt blocked and UTSA turned that into 7. They had another kick-catch interference that gifted UTSA 15 yards.
Mistakes on Offense
Jordan Murray was called for three holding penalties. NT dropped a couple of passes. Mason Fine badly overthrew his target on the interception. Graham Harrell’s call on 4th and 1 was so very disagreeable with my own thought process and then the blocking for that play compounded it.
Kemon Hall got beat by Campbell Jr, and that dude made a circus catch to get 42-yards. Understandable. Happens. The next play he gets 30+ on a deep crossing route. Not understandable.
The NT pass rush has been gone, especially if it has to be produced by the front three + whoever is rushing. Bryce Rivers had so much time to go through his reads when he wasn’t sacked. That makes those sacks that did happen less impactful (final one notwithstanding).
It is not a big deal to get a sack if on the next play you allow the QB all day to pick out a throw.
UTSA had too much running room, and everyone seemed surprised at the UTSA skillset on offense.
UTSA played much better than in the previous month, but still, UNT looked to be waiting for UTSA to make a mistake than you know, playing. Happens.
Searching For Meaning
After everything, both teams came out feeling positively. UTSA players were liking tweets and talking happily about playing well.
UNT players were feeling good after a win and closing out the regular season the right way. That is a bit odd but it happens when you play a bad team.
These kinds of games happen in college football and really, winning these ugly conference games is the difference between good and mediocre seasons and being hired or fired. If NT wins this same exact game against ODU — really, so similar in both — then we feel even better after getting ten wins, while Bobby Wilder is perhaps not on “solid ground” as the ODU AD put it today.
Last year NT was fortunate to win more than their share of these close ones. It is all fine.
Notes From The Field
MGN and family tailgated in Lot B. It was empty, but not as much as Lot C. MGN and company went to the Alumni tailgate. It was not as fun as the 2016 Halloween version, and there was something like a muted feeling there.
NT Football is in a weird spot in that it has won enough to condition the fan base to be used to winning and so 8-win seasons are not going to blow anyone away. Also, not having the league title on the horizon is putting everyone in a position to search for motivation.
“What am I rooting for?” they say.
That’s the eternal question, folks.
Scrappy and Rowdy the Roadrunner had some mascot bits that were sort of fun … the NT travelling crew tried some North / Texas chant … I could not hear the fake cannon from 143, but it still exists, box and all … that flag bit at the 4th quarter is such a beating … not as much of a beating as the arena-music that is overbearing and drowns out any and all collegiate-like atmosphere. Also, if the PA announcer has to scream YOUUU–TEEE–ESSS–AAYYY at everyone to get their participation, it may be forcing it a bit … Our group was treated well, and we treated others well. We had kids with us so we have to. … NT fans took advantage of UTSA allowing fans to come on the field and sign autographs. They went down and took picstures with NT players.
It’s Bowl Season time. All of CUSA is going to watch Middle Tennessee host UAB in the championship game — what? Yes, today FIU lost to Marshall and Middle whooped UAB to set up a rematch of that Middle-UAB game in Murfreesboro. It is so weird, but that is the league.
After we watch that, we will know who is going where. The winner of the league will get their preferences considered first, followed by everyone else sort-of.
Everyone wants a P5 matchup but I don’t see an easy matchup for that. My gut tells me NT will play at the former HOD, now First Responder Bowl against someone.