Editor’s Note: This was written prior to the UTEP game and the laziness on the part of the editor means that this is late.
Earlier in the season, we wrote about the North Texas defense and their early downs success. That was unfortunately written prior to the evisceration by FAU. No matter. Against the conference, the defense has done enough to keep the offense within striking distance, and has been great in the fourth quarter.
The Defense is Alright
I’m here to tell you that the rush defense ain’t bad. Both the advanced stats and actual play on the field have shown this defense has plenty of fight in it. Of course, this defense does have its fair share of weaknesses. Scores and yards allowed this season are certainly key indicators of those weaknesses.
While the offense has struggled through the last few games, however, the defense has kept them in the game. In our two “worst” defensive performances (vs conference) against UAB and FAU earlier this season, we allowed over 50 points per game in offensive scoring. Yes, that’s not good. In North Texas’ four other conference games, the defense allowed 25 ppg in offensive points. That’s much more like it.
North Texas isn’t perfect against the run, despite elite advanced stats numbers. During critical situations, the attacking defense is known to expose itself over the middle against rushers, or long pass plays against mobile QBs. Over the rest of the regular season, we’ll be facing teams with mobile quarterbacks that like to run it.
We’ll take a look at a few plays against Louisiana Tech where we struggled.
In the following play, LaTech lines up in an inverted wishbone. So far in the game, LaTech has been executing on run option and run-pass option plays. North Texas essentially gets set up to be misdirected, and overpursues the direction of the blocks. The LBs Garner and Ejiya get sucked into the direction of the blocks. While the outside linebacker covers the QB Smith, the RB Scott is left uncovered by the safety who also bites on the fake handoff up the middle.
Discipline will be needed against what will be running quarterbacks the rest of the season.
The play below is a simple flood. All the receivers are immediately covered. So well covered, in fact, that a running lane is created for J’Mar Smith while four defenders cover two receivers. Garner moves out into coverage, and stays in coverage on the same guy the safety rolls into coverage. Ejiya is left coming across the field to try and make a play on Smith on the sideline, whiffs, and no one else steps up in time.
Later in the second quarter, Jared Craft gets a big run on nearly the same set up as the first GIF. In the inverted wishbone, the tailback runs out to the flat, taking the OLB Ozougwu with him. The H-back doubles Wheeler on the backside play, and the split end eats up both CB Jenkins and S Muhammad. Even though Muhammad releases after recognizing the play, DE Flusche bites hard to the inside and the right tackle takes advantage and seals a gigantic hole for Craft. On top of everything else, Garner and Ejiya bite hard on the misdirection and get sealed off by the right guard. The right guard. That’s a broken play due to not keeping eyes on the backfield.
While North Texas was struggling to stay on assignment in the first half, the second half was a different story. North Texas allowed 123 yards rushing in the first half; only 24 yards were allowed in the second half (if my tallies are correct). That’s a major adjustment and a signal that the coaches are both identifying and communicating issues to the players.
We’ll leave you with this play where LaTech runs the run option out of the shotgun late in the fourth. Ejiya covers his gap well, forcing the runner into the waiting arms of Garner. More discipline, quicker identification, and keeping eyes in the backfield turned up the heat and shut down the LaTech rush game in the second half. This will be needed against UTEP, most definitely Army, and Rice in order to turn close games into comfortable wins.