NT Pulls Shocking Come Back Miracle, Wins 29-26 Over UTSA

North Texas won 29-26 on a miracle 98-yard, 7-play drive that included a 49-yard bomb to Mike Lawrence in double coverage.

https://twitter.com/ConferenceUSA/status/919428180838047744

Mason Fine had Mesh and found Rico Bussey on the crossing route as UTSA brought everyone on 3rd and 1 from the UTSA 22. He waited for the absolute last second to fire the pass just beyond the dropping defensive Tackle Banks, into the hands of Rico Bussey on the move.

Bussey got a block, found the edge, evaded Devron Davis and tightroped the line sideline for the score.

I jumped for joy and ran accross my living room. My wife screamed.

This was hyped as the biggest game in Apogee history with 3-2 (2-0) North Texas taking on 3-1 (0-1) UTSA in a battle that UNT President called “the CUSA West championship”. North Texas jumped out quickly faded in the middle quarters, and finished strong. UTSA and UNT were evenly matched teams, but NT had the rest and the home field advantage.

North Texas came out and scored on the first three drives — two TDs and a FG. They started 6/6 on 3rd down conversion and then failed on 3rd and goal and kicked a FG. That, in case you hadn’t realized, is how you want your offense to produce.

By the end of the first NT had a 16-7 lead and had dominated time of possession approximately 12 minutes to 3. Mason Fine found Jalen Guyton for 77 yards and a score and things looked great for the green (and black). The explosive offense so talked about was producing as expected and UTSA’s secondary did not have the footspeed. The NT offensive line was holding off the pass rush long enough to allow Mason Fine time to make plays on the ground and through the air.

Still, UTSA managed to hit Fine often, even on the 77-yarder. Mason was able to complete passes in the face of pressure and keep things moving. That would prove to be the difference later.

The second quarter and third quarter were all UTSA as they played their game and found a way to shutter the explosive NT offense by hitting Fine. NT helped things by two poor snaps. One came on the extra point to keep things at 13 instead of 14. The other came with the offense in a groove. The snap flew over Mason Fine’s head for a loss of 17. The drive was stalled and NT would punt.

UTSA had found success getting into the backfield. The next drive was awful for NT as Marcus Davenport sacked Fine twice. Meanwhile UTSA was controlling the ball and moving it enough to manage field goal attempts. By the end of the quarter the score was 17-16 but two TDs and a FG for both sides.

The third quarter was ugly if you were looking for offense. UTSA had 63 yards on 18 plays and NT had 19 yards on 11.

Yuck.

Still, NT came up with two big stops after 1) a Mason Fine INT and 2) a short punt. After everything UTSA was only up 20-16 and NT had the ball near the end of the quarter.

Then came another huge drive were NT finally got unstuck. Guyton got free after a couple of 3rd down conversions and scored his second TD of the game — a 32-yard TD to cap a 10-play 80 yard scoring drive over 4:25.

NT was up. I dont know what happened with the conversion attempt but it was intercepted. NT was up 22-20 and things were not looking so dire. NT finally found running and passing room.

The defense put up yet another great stop on the UTSA offense, helped by the crowd (whatt??) for a couple of penalties — a delay and a false start.

Then NT got stuck again. A three-and-out with a chance to take control of the game was costly. UTSA scored on the next possession.

NT had to that point put up a good fight defensively and the touchdown was terrible but the previous work meant that NT did not have an insurmountable deficit in front of them.

On the next possession, NT went four-and-out and had the worst couple of play-call combinations. NT tried the QB run that worked successfully in the first quarter and was stuff. They followed that with a read with Jeff Wilson that lost two. The majority of the fandom considered this to be poor play calling.

Generally speaking, getting the ball to Jeff Wilson on third down would have been the preferred option.

UTSA took over with 1:29 left at the NT 45. Three rush plays — three, four, no gain — brought up 4th and 3. Rod Young stopped UTSA RB Jalen Rhodes on 3rd and 3 for no gain in a huge stop that saved the game. While most thought UTSA would go for it and try to seal the game, they instead punted and seemingly got a perfect scenario: North Texas pinned at the 2 with no timeouts and just over a minute left.

Then came the drive.

NT had two completions for a first down. Then Mason Fine rolled left — Jeff Wilson got a huge chip block on Marcus Davenport that saved a sack — and fired out of bounds to Rico Bussey. On the next play Fine escaped a rush, set up and found Mike Lawrence for 49-yards. The play looked similar to the INT except Fine managed to get enough air under the ball.

There was some question as to whether Lawrence pushed the defender but the replay showed it was just a great play. Then Fine found Darden for 9 yards and spiked it.

Then came the score.

Mason Fine stood tall and completed the play, allowing Rico Bussey to catch the ball in stride and score. By then there was just :10 left on the clock and a miracle greater than the one we just saw would have been required.

Let’s go through some groups:

Offense

The first and fourth quarter NT offenses were great. The middle two quarters were less good.

Quarter Yards
1 239
2 8
3 19
4 175
total 441

Mason Fine ended the day with 354 passing on 20/34 for 3 TDs and 1 Int. Good stuff. Jalen Guyton had 8 receptions for 182 and 2 scores in his second straight dominant game. He torched Devron Davis for the 77-yarder where he was open by about 15-yards. We speculated he would really dominate this league and it that has been the case.

Guyton also added 12 yards rushing including a long of 9. Jeff Wilson was good in spots but was bottled up by the play-calling and second and third quarter slumps. He finished with 16 for 83 including a long of 35. He was outstanding in pass protection, which is an underrated part of his game. The team finished with 87 yards rushing total, but that includes -17 on the bad snap.

NT did well to use misdirection against UTSA’s aggression and jump out to an early 13-0 lead. The middle quarters had more frustration as NT could not deal with Marcus Davenport adequately. He was a handful and UTSA’s DC moved him all over.

NT converted 9/16 3rd downs (56.3 %) in part because of the success on standard downs (3/6 on 3rd and shorts). During NT’s lull they went 0/5 on thirds.

In the opening quarter NT had 6 chunk plays (passes over 15 and runs over 10). They finished the game with 12 (8 passes, 4 runs).

Ultimately the luck on the final drive was earned. NT is an explosive offense and has made big plays all season. While the circumstances were unlikely, the team battled through and executed. That was just great offense down the stretch. Execution and calm. No holding calls and blocks down the field and in the backfield. That’s a dream scenario.

Defense

The defense was outstanding.

NT came in averaging 400 yards allowed per game and held UTSA to 389, and 5.9 per play. UTSA came in averaging 6.84 per play. UTSA managed only 4.2 yard per carry, and while good, that did not establish enough of a run game to really control the game. Instead, UTSA resorted to long conversions at best. Even then NT held UTSA to 4/14 on third down conversions and forced 6 3rd and longs.

UTSA managed nine chunk plays (5 15+ passes, 4 10+ runs). The two TDs were on 40+ yard passes to RBs off of play action.

Dalton Sturm’s 19 yard rush on 3rd and 17 was both the longest and most frustrating. UTSA did exert their will on NT in the middle quarters but still managed only a four point lead. Credit the defense for the effort.

Reffett’s group gave Mason Fine one more chance to win the thing and were rewarded.

Andy Flusche had two TFLs, McClain, Muhammad, Ejiya, TJ Tauaalo, Wheeler, Preston, Hamilton, Tillman Johnson all had part in others. NT totalled 9 TFLs for the game. This all without Sid Moore and Bryce English.

The defense hurried Sturm 3 times and nearly were rewarded with big plays. Instead Ashton Preston was called for interference (questionable) on one, and the other fell to Josh Steward for a big gain instead of an INT.

Eric Jenkins again put up 2 pass deflections including an incredible break on the ball early in the game to shut down a drive. This defense that has been much maligned held an offense that averaged 35 a game to only 26 points. They gave their offense a chance to win.

Great job by this group.

Coaching

Seth Littrell has changed the culture of this team. So many tweets ambled through the timeline with some version of “This is the same old North Texas” and they ultimately were wrong.

While some luck played a part — that toss to Lawrence! — luck is made. The defense is improving week to week, and the offense remains explosive and the league’s best. Littrell came in saying that he will find players and develop them. Now his guys — Fine, Guyton, Darden, Jenkins — are all rapidly developing and big parts of the success.

Mason Fine went from an undersized freshman who made too many turnovers in this game last year to the hero showing flashes of Aaron Rodgers. That’s development.

Graham Harrell had a good game but a glaring question mark. Reffett squeezed everything from a defense that is now missing two defensive line players against an offense that outweighs them and wants to run the ball down the middle. Late in last year’s game UTSA ran the ball down the throat of the defense to seal the game in a similar situation. This season they were forced to punt.

That kind of effort wins games.

Other

Darden and Johnson did not have much to work with returning. The bad snap on the PAT nearly cost the game. Trevor Moore was money on his one kick. North Texas

What It Means

North Texas won the most thrilling game in recent memory (ever?) and leads the division with a 3-0 record. UAB won against MTSU, while USM did the same against UTEP which means NT does have a bit of room for error but not much. FAU and Lane Kiffin’s powerful run game away in Boca Raton, fresh off a bye week and ready to take advantage of NT’s beat-up Defensive line.

NT had the first 3-game win stream since 2013 and 4-2 for the first time in forever. FAU is a really good and impressive squad and a win in Boca would be huge. The best thing about winning is that it brings bigger and more important games.

Else

The attendance was something like 23K and a little short of the goal. Considering the circumstances, it was understandable. Texas-OU is a 100-year old rivalry and will draw the bulk of the attention of the Metroplex for a long time. Marketing at NT is much harder than anyone wants to realize. The efforts of the administration were amazing, and that kind of work and this kind of game will produce bigger better crowds in future years — and maybe even this year.