For any shot at a division title or a reasonable bowl appearance, North Texas had to beat Tech in Ruston. They accomplished that feat two seasons ago in a tough game that ended with a missed field goal.
This season, they were beat up, but feeling good after two incredible offensive performances against two of the worst defensive teams in the league in UTEP and Charlotte. It was always going to be tough in this one, but there was hope.
That hope was quickly eradicated and stomped and choked and buried. Then it was dug up and beat some more for good measure.
Mason Fine left the game with a concussion near the end of the first half. NT had struggled, but was within 14 points at the end of the first two quarters. From then on, it was all Tech. They took full advantage of Jason Bean as their playmaking defense stepped up and made huge plays.
Bean struggled, but showed some promise here and there. He could not drive his team to a score, however and NT stayed at three points even after intercepting J’Mar Smith once and setting up the offense for a score.
Austin Aune made an appearance and immediately tossed a score to Mike Lawrence, lending speculation that we may see a depth chart reshuffle.
While frustrating to those that expected much more — the oft-repeated league favorite thing — this was always a possibility. The offense needed to be great and it was not to start this game against a quality defense. After the QB switch, the chances of scoring lots of points dropped dramatically.
Jason Bean has talent but is clearly not the QB that Mason Fine is. That acknowledged, Fine amounted only 48 yards in the first half and the offense could not muster more than the three points even while starting in quality positions.
North Texas has a bye week before traveling to Rice to take on the Owls in a game that is needed to reach six wins. NT is 4-6 with two to play, and a bowl game invite is looking dicey, even with six. Meanwhile, Tech controls their destiny at 8-1 on the season, and with UAB getting drilled by USM, they would have to drop two games for USM to make up the difference the rest of the way.
This was — again — an unbalanced team taking on a good one. There have been some criticisms of the experience level on the defense, and with good reason, but NT has largely made defendable choices. The offense, despite recent events, is record setting. The defense was pretty good last season all things considered. This season has been a disappointment, but there is young talent on both sides of the ball and good reason to think they will develop into a quality team in the coming seasons.
The one issue that is difficult to address is the quarterback position. Ideally, a QB that could learn with the rest of the young talent would get reps but that would mean pulling the best QB in the league. That is a non-starter and so Fine has got the majority of repetitions in the game.
There are a ton of quality graduate transfer QBs out there if North Texas feels they cannot reasonably compete with the current group. The future of the roster is bright.
The other question is the staff. After a 4-win season Seth Littrell is not as hot of a coaching candidate as he was last season, but he is still respected and injuries and roster turnover have been a big factor in the decline this year. If he were to leave, NT would have a big coaching search decision on their hands.
It is easy to get dramatic at a loss like this. This margin of loss makes everyone question everything, but making big decisions after one or two outstanding results is generally not good practice. NT had a set back but is overall trending upward compared to the last time they were under .500.