North Texas vs Louisiana Tech 11.5.16 Preview

I am wrong about Skip Holtz. He has a great program, and since he has been calling the plays the offense has bloomed.

North Texas takes on Louisiana Tech for homecoming this weekend. In recent years each LaTech matchup has been pivotal — even more so than the typical inter division game. In 2013, NT went to Ruston on homecoming and won 28-17, the first back-to-back game in ages. It was a signal that things had changed and NT went on to continue that streak to five wins on the way to a bowl season.

In 2014, NT hosted La Tech on a Thursday night. There were questions about the offense, including the QB, but we all had high hopes in an important division matchup that would determine which team had the best Graduate Transfer QB. Louisiana Tech won 42-21. LT’s Cody Sokol would have a great season; Josh Greer would eventually be benched.

Last year Kenneth Dixon ran for six touchdowns and the defense looked completely overmatched. The DL in particular was pushed back 5-6 yards every play as Dixon and company ran right up the middle on them. If there was any hope for second-time interim coach Chico, it was all gone after this performance.

This year a good performance would do a lot of good for the hopes of the fans. There are not many of them, but the disappointment after losing a relatively important game last week — in such a fashion — slowed the momentum of #newDenton. Really, those easy narratives are the simplistic versions of the real story.

The Bulldogs are really good but can be beat. They are explosive but not so talented that a well-prepared team with some luck cannot jump up and bite them. North Texas’ defense is probably due for a bad game, but what does that mean really?

Littrell’s charges have played hard each and every game and that gives the Mean Green a chance. That is all we can reasonably ask for, ladies and gentleman.

Predictions

Line: As of this writing, NT is +20 with the over/under at 65.5
SRS: #98 North Texas #51 Louisiana Tech
S&P+: #100 North Texas 25.3 – 38.7 # 40 Louisiana Tech, with NT win probability at 22%.
ESPN FPI: ##97 North Texas 16.6% win probability against #57 LaTech.
Sagarin #130 North Texas 26.01 – 40.77 #68 Louisiana Tech
FEI North Texas 26 – Louisiana Tech 35. North Texas win probability 0.291.
Massey #130 North Texas 26 – 40 #65 Louisiana Tech. North Texas win probability 16%.

Well then. Our favorite little football team is not expected to win, or even keep this thing competitive. I do not know how much stock I put into the point spread spurring on this particular team, but whatever motivation they can use is good motivation.

LaTech

They can score. The offense is ranked 8th in S&P+. The only way to stop Ryan Higgins and company is probably to control the clock. Arkansas won by a point because of defense and ball control. Higgins was out that game, and Bulldog turnovers stymied the upset. UTEP managed to only allow 28, but only scored 7. NT is more like UTEP than I probably want to admit in that the offense is largely one-dimensional right now.

I have only watched highlights of this squad and so this preview will rely heavily on numbers to determine things. I cannot bring myself to watch them destroy Rice so completely, as I figure I will see more bad by Rice than anything. No one outside of Houston should experience that much Rice.

They are explosive, efficient, and finish drives. That is a recipe for winning football. Jarred Craft is their leading rusher and his numbers compare favorably with our own Jeff Wilson.

Their rushing success rate is 51.1%, good for 11th in the nation. Our defensive rush success rate is 45%, good for 92nd in the country. We probably will see more successful rushes against our defense than we did last week, or against Marshall.

As you might expect, their pass game is ranked highly. Passing S&P+ is 115.3, good for 33rd. Passing success rate is 55.6%, good for 2nd, and Passing IsoPPP 1.46 which is ranked 72nd. You do not need to be so explosive passing when your run game is, or when your pass game moves the chains easily.

NT’s pass defense is its strength, but this unit is probably not strong enough to slow them down. NT is ranked 51 in passing defense S&P+, 28th in passing success rate, and 52nd in Passing IsoPPP. Some of those numbers are helped by Army throwing so many INTs and for so few yards.

Ryan Higgins will complete lots of passes to Trent Taylor, who just broke the all-time receiving mark at La Tech previously held by Troy Edwards.

Eric Jenkins and Nate Brooks are good CUSA corners and do not allow anything easy, but they need help in the form of a pass rush. While NT has been good at creating some pressure, if the La Tech run game performs as expected, we will likely see an extreme version of the UTSA performance in the 4th quarter.

La Tech Offense:

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
09/03/16 @ Arkansas Turf L 20-21 79 212 54 291 5.39
09/10/16 South Carolina St. Turf W 53-24 209 518 90 727 8.08
09/17/16 @ Texas Tech Turf L 45-59 261 311 68 572 8.41
09/24/16 @ Middle Tenn. St. Turf L 34-38 118 504 96 622 6.48
10/01/16 UTEP Turf W 28-7 196 191 50 387 7.74
10/06/16 Western Ky. Turf W 55-52 107 454 72 561 7.79
10/15/16 @ Massachusetts Turf W 56-28 199 491 69 690 10.00
10/22/16 @ Florida Int’l Turf W 44-24 142 269 57 411 7.21
10/29/16 Rice Turf W 61-16 301 434 70 735 10.50
Totals 1612 3384 626 4996 7.98

North Texas

For all the platooning and specialization involved in this sport, all the parts are interconnected and related. Ideally the defense will slow down the Bulldogs enough to allow the offense to keep pace. That is what MTSU did in their victory. Texas Tech, which has a terrible defense, was too powerful offensively. Arkansas benefited from Higgins being suspended, and superior talent and a quality run game.

Louisiana Tech’s defense is not great. They rank below our defenses in every advanced statistical category except RushingIsoPPP. The NT offense is not good enough to take advantage. The best hope is that Jeff Wilson has another ridiculous game, Mason Fine makes enough plays in the pass game to overcome the OL, and NT gets lucky defensively with some turnovers and enough successful LB blitzes on Higgins to slow down that offense. That is a whole lot of luck.

Reason for optimism: NT moved the ball fairly well against UTSA, which has a slightly better defense than La Tech. NT is at home.

Bad news: La Tech travels well.

Look at their defensive game logs below. UTEP managed 6.01 yards per play against them and our squad is averaging only 5.02 for the season.

Honestly, I have a hard time figuring out what this La Tech team is. The Arkansas, MTSU, and WKU games suggest a good team with a capable defense and an explosive offense. The SCST, Rice, and UMass games suggest an explosive offense with a defense that allows more points than necessary.

The unquestioned aspect is their ability to score. Their lowest YPP was against that MTSU defense that shut down our run game and held the offense in check for most of the game. That defense barely slowed La Tech.

These defensive logs are not bad. If there is a key to this game, it would be running the ball (when is that not a key though?). The teams with the most success running, had the most success against La Tech with the notable exception of Rice, because they suck.

La Tech Defense:

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
09/03/16 @ Arkansas Turf L 20-21 106 191 69 297 4.30
09/10/16 South Carolina St. Turf W 53-24 156 137 70 293 4.19
09/17/16 @ Texas Tech Turf L 45-59 196 470 79 666 8.43
09/24/16 @ Middle Tenn. St. Turf L 34-38 197 356 79 553 7.00
10/01/16 UTEP Turf W 28-7 122 293 69 415 6.01
10/06/16 Western Ky. Turf W 55-52 87 340 73 427 5.85
10/15/16 @ Massachusetts Turf W 56-28 131 268 73 399 5.47
10/22/16 @ Florida Int’l Turf W 44-24 67 331 78 398 5.10
10/29/16 Rice Turf W 61-16 153 152 70 305 4.36
Totals 1215 2538 660 3753 5.69

Season Implications

This is Homecoming week. Of the next three CUSA contenders, I would rather Southern Miss be the homecoming opponent, just because NT has a better chance in that one. The most realistic positive scenario is that NT plays well against a La Tech team that is too much offensively. This game is one that will spark some angry posts, or some Same Old North Texas tweets that would not have come were NT to have won last week. Such was the missed opportunity.

If we are honest with ourselves and think back to the preseason, this was always going to be a game in which we were primarily concerned with incremental improvement. Seth Littrell calls it “getting a week better”. And so we will watch and see if that is true.

Signs of A Week Better

Mason Fine does less of this:

Offensive Line creates more room than this:

TLDW; get better push in short yardage run game. Football is a simple game, after all.