I have an unofficial rule that when two teams are evenly matched it will result in a blowout. SMU came in with talent and depth in certain positions, and NT with talent and depth in others.
What happened was that their best players played better than the Mean Green versions. It is no more complicated than that. SMU’s Shane Buechele finished with big numbers, but his totals came in bunches in a very specific area: max-protecting and throwing lobs to James Proche or one of his colleagues at WR.
North Texas is young and/or inexperienced at nearly every position across the defense and a few busted plays are to be expected. We saw that tonight, as the pass rush — aided by extra LBs and occasionally DBs — was slow in execution and Buechele was left to throw to his talented WRs who were in single coverage.
NT occasionally won those battles, but too infrequently. Jameel Moore was called for 4 pass interference calls. Some were iffy, but some were right on.
All told, NT gave up too much too often and did not help the cause on that side of the ball.
Again, this was to be expected or at least be unsurprising to the knowledgable fan. SMU has a great offensive head coach who has had teams that produced big numbers and tons of yards at every stop in his career.
The thinking was that NT would be able to go toe-to-toe given the personnel on the Mean Green roster: Mason Fine, Rico Bussey, Mike Lawrence, Jaelon Darden, DeAndre Torrey and the like.
SMU came out aggressively, and NT looked like they wanted to finesse their way down the field to little success. Mason Fine was under pressure, and SMU was able to get three scores up quickly — 21-0.
NT found yet another bright spot on the running back depth chart in converted safety Tre Siggers (he played RB in HS). He brought the physicality that was lacking and trucked his way through multiple Ponies. Siggers finished with 164 yards on 18 carries (he had 9 for 124 at the half).
What success NT had on offense came in a spread-and-shred situation — going wide and letting Tre run through dudes. This was a nice change from the first quarter when NT could not convert on short yardage — and issue that has been present throughout Littrell’s tenure.
NT was within two scores but couldn’t hold off SMU in the second half. The Mean Green managed two field goals to start the third, while SMU got touchdowns. That is emblematic of the game.
NT’s offense needs to be a TD-a-possession type unit, and they were not. The NT defense has to come up big in some moments where they should not, but they did not do so early.
Seth Littrell is in a tough situation, and he and Bodie Reeder probably got a little to clever to start things out. NT did not match the physicality early, and they paid for it. Aggression is more than just going for it on 4th down.
They did well to adjust and get Tre Siggers in to change the game. Troy Reffett’s defense got a little bit better, and if you squinted, you could see how the plan would work if everything was clicking.
I am not a fan of running Mason Fine in a keeper pretty much ever any more. Also, Fine played about one series too long .Bean did come in and throw a TD when the white flag was a-wavin’.
I mentioned aggression earlier and North Texas is sorely lacking in that department. There is talent all over the roster but precious little bully-ball on the outside. Deion Hair-Griffin is a burner but he did not challenge for one ball that was intercepted.
Jaelon Darden dropped three passes while he otherwise played fine. No one else could get open or make tough catches that require some fighting. Contrast that with SMU’s Roberson and Proche making some tough grabs while fighting some good coverage. They either won their matchups or made tough catches.
The bullying that Tre Siggers was doing to the SMU defense was invigorating. He got yards that should not be gotten — breaking a tackle and running through guys. For all the benefit of out running, out faking, out scheming the opponent there is much benefit to being stronger than the guy in front of you.
This is football, after all.
Bussey was held without a catch and Mason Fine managed just 152 yards on 17/32 throwing. There were too few NT guys open and when they were, they did not do much with it.
No one group wins or loses the game but this group had the ball 35 minutes and produced only 20 points in the competitive portion of the game. That is about 20 points fewer than the defense needs to keep in this thing.
We knew they would struggle this season but it was not fun to watch it happen. The pass rush was nullified early by some tempo, some good pass blocking, and some good scheming. Eventually LaDarius Hamilton and company were able to get to Buechele.
Sonny Dykes and Rashee Lashlee made some great adjustments — calling for a tunnel screen right after Buechele was laid out by Hambone. The defense is most vulnerable to screens after a sack, after all.
The execution of said screen was amazing and Proche was off into NT territory. The Ponies dialed up great plays to put their guys into winning positions and they won their battles. NT corners Nick Harvey and Cam Johnson had tough matchups and came in 2nd best all night — that is not a knock, just the facts.
Tyreke and KD Davis were able to show their speed at times and overall NT was aggressive in pursuit of the ball. The tackling was not always so amazing and NT had a handful of missed gap assignments that led to big runs for SMU’s Xavier Jones.
Overall this group struggled and missed some golden opportunities to get the ball back to the offense.
NT was 2/2 from field goal range and there was a blocked SMU kick. The punt game flipped the field a couple of times and pinned SMU back deep. Solid, winning football from this group even if it wasn’t in a winning effort.
Next up: California at Berkeley. The Golden Bears have a good defense and a questionable offense, but they have talent enough to take advantage of a young defense.