It is game day in Denton, America. The North Texas Mean Green prepare to play the fourth game in the pandemic season. Each has been at home, but only one mark is in the win column. There are changes, as there are inevitably in any college football season — pandemic or no. Austin Aune is the starting quarterback after his solid outing in the loss to Southern Miss last week.
Charlotte is no pushover. You might remember they rallied from 14-points down Queen City. They have a good junior QB in Chris Reynolds, a talented wideout in Victor Tucker, and RB Tre Harbison is quality, even though he is not Benny LeMay.
Last year NT lost to Charlotte but showed some good things offensively. It was the debut of a more down-field oriented passing attack that saw Jyaire Shorter grab three scores on three catches for 116 yards. Jaelon Darden had a good game and there were a couple of if-onlys that might have won the thing and padded his stats a bit more.
The short version of this post is that Charlotte is beatable — but so is North Texas.
Defending Charlotte’s Offense
Head Coach Will Healy brought a dynamic offense to Charlotte last season. For a time they were the league’s leading scoring team. They rely on the run game but not simply turning it around and handing it off. QB Chris Reynolds ran for 700+ last year, and they like to do a little option from many different looks. It is very much like a Tulane or even a LA Rams style — the same looks, different destination.
Against App St, both the QB and team struggled. Against FAU they got up 10, but struggled throughout until late when they finally managed another seven points. The final drive was snuffed out, but they moved the ball well. It was inconsistent but you have to respect their potential.
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In these clips you can get the gist of their offense: they threaten the run — always a good idea — but preface that with some pre-snap motion. They run their offense with speed and quality execution. North Texas has struggled with this kind of thing — see this post for how NT struggled against Houston Baptist — and Charlotte will present some problems. FAU and App State have much better defenses than the one we will see in Mean Green later today. The defensive lines of both disrupted things in important moments.
The pre-snap motion:
These next two plays are the same formation, but with slight variations in execution. Quality.
The run game is a mix of zone and power stuff. That is you will see the line step and reach and try to run the zone runs that are typical of modern college football, but you will also see them pull lineman and smash them at you. This part is the concern for North Texas, as they were pushed back by the likes of SMU and USM. More on struggles in the preview of USM we wrote here.
For the casual observer, this is a fun Charlotte offense. They got in trouble because of the quality of opponent and Chris Reynolds can get a little wild with his throws. He doesn’t always set his feet and the tosses can be off. Its a blessing and a curse — because he good moving around and finding his teammates or running into space himself.
The hope is that NT’s defense is a little more solid in their understanding of the requirements and reads. That they get pressure with their front three+1 and we see some of the quality of the group that played mid-second quarter–to mid third quarter against USM.
They were deflecting passes and got an interception. Chris Reynolds will be a little adventurous and North Texas will have opportunities, but he will make plays.
Attacking Charlotte’s Defense
Charlotte’s defense is not particularly fast or strong but they play well. They did a good job taking on blocks and tackling in space — this season (and last) they have allowed points in spurts. Typically it is simply getting beat one-on-one. Tyriq Harris is the star DE, but Tyler Murray won league defensive player of the week for his 14-tackle performance vs FAU.
Charlotte was able to get to FAU QB Tronti with some delayed pass-rushes. They read the play well and tackled well. They did benefit from some terrible passes by Tronti early, where he just threw it to no-one. Austin Aune is the clear number one and he has been getting first-team repetitions so those wayward throws should be fewer this time.
Tronti was also able to get free on some designed QB runs — including a big one on FAU’s first score in the third quarter.
FAU Head Coach Willie Taggart said his play calling was the weak spot for the FAU offense in the first half. The video shows some execution was to blame also. 1. Charlotte was not able to deal with North Texas last year and I do not expect much of a difference this year.
For all the self-inflicted wounds (read: false-starts), NT has been able to move the ball well. Charlotte will bring some physicality to the game, but even without Jyaire Shorter (out for 3 months with an ankle injury) the team has enough speed to get open for Aune. The running back crew should be able to take advantage of any situation.
North Texas’s defense is still improving and that doesn’t come at a smooth incline. It is a start-and-stop affair. NT played fairly well in spots vs Southern Miss. They’ll need a couple of good quarters to be in this one.
The Special Teams was awful last week. The blown kick off return, muffed punt return, blocked field goal and blocked punt were all contributors to the loss. The three phases of the game is an important talking point for the head coach and it was a bad performance for phase three.
I wonder if the home games are hurting North Texas in preparation, as the mistakes we have seen have come from being a little too lax and loose. That is one reason why coaches like to put their players in a hotel room the night before a home game — in part to keep focus the night before the game.
Everyone is fortunate to still be competing in this game during this pandemic. North Texas has been hit with some cases recently but no one has been hospitalized or suffered anything beyond the two week quarantine. That’s good. People are dying of this virus and even though we are a good month into this pandemic season we should keep that top-of-mind.
All that said and acknowledged, North Texas has had three home games and produced one win, one humiliation, and one poor loss. This Charlotte team is very beatable but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come in here and put NT to shame.
Seth Littrell got some heat last week after two subpar performances, and could really use a little pick-me-up.
Prediction: North Texas 41 Charlotte 33
That’s just that coach-protecting-his-player ↩