It is hot seat time.
No, Seth Littrell is not about to be fired or anything like that. All indications are that the head man has a firm grip on his job and that is fine. MGN is not, by any means, calling for his job. In fact, on the podcast we have been consistent that there must be something beyond the extreme in the toolkit.
The common coach-defender talks about how we all love the coach when he is winning and hate him when he is losing. In a word, yes. Hate is an extreme description but we don’t root for NT to lose.
The entire point of this site — outside of hubris — is to have the nuanced discussions that cannot be had on a message board. Seth Littrell is a good coach who has a winning record 1. While we frequently mention that this conference is not filled with juggernauts, that also means that it is hard to build a juggernaut in this league.
We have seen some powerhouse teams in CUSA recently. Brohm’s WKU, Holliday’s Marshall, Kiffin’s FAU, Clark’s UAB, and to an extent, Holtz’ Tech.
It can be done.
Taking NT to a conference title game, and then following that up with a reasonable effort was fine. We all knew that the post-Fine season would be a questionable one. We were prepared for struggles. The middle season of Kiffin’s three year stay had a lot of bad losses, mistakes from the QB, and an overall losing season (5-7). He followed that up with another 11-win year and another title+bowl win. Not bad.
Kiffin has been a head coach longer, and at a higher level, and has coached under a legend who has won multiple national titles. Littrell has won the one national title as a player, and coached under an offensive genius who has never won a thing. He spent time at other places competing at a mid-level and prior to his departure from UNC, his Tar-Heels lost in the league championship game.
Given those comparisons, it is reasonable to think that Kiffin just had the requisite experience to produce a league championship and Littrell is still trying to figure it out.
This site and the podcast have hot takes that really amount to amateurs shouting “do it better!” It could be that the real solution to Seth’s struggles right now is to find an expert (mentor) to join the staff. Someone who knows more but doesn’t want the headache of being a head coach.
In any case, NT takes on Louisiana Tech on Thursday (or so it is scheduled)
Normally we talk about Louisiana Tech here and discuss the challenges facing the offense. Instead of that, we will discuss the offense itself. There were opportunities against UTSA and they were missed. It is a theme at NT this season, and one we have seen since that 2018 NT version. Seth Littrell tried to fix that inconsistency through a change in play calling 2 and has not done so.
The high-level plan for NT every week is to attack the defense vertically (down the field) and in the run game, and putting support players in conflict. Typically a defense has a few players who “flex” in their responsibilities depending on the play — run or pass. While everyone is ultimately has a job to stop whatever play is called, the corners are not on the field to do any big time run stuffing, although they need to be able to set the edge and make a tackle if it is asked of them.
The safeties, and edge players are usually the “flex” guys, who have to do both and are vital in run support or helping provide some cover for the corners.
The package-plays, and run-pass-option plays are designed to use a defender’s keys against him. If he “reads” run, then we throw. If he “reads” pass, then we run. The idea is to make him wrong every time. Like most things, in theory it sounds great and in practice it is much more difficult to execute.
North Texas has generally been successful in executing this. When it has worked, it has been tremendous. At its peak, the Baylor offense was putting up something like 700+ yards per game. NT has twice exceeded 700 and has been ridiculous. Except when they haven’t.
I suppose predicating your offense on the ability to throw the ball deep means your offense has the same binary outcome: success or fail.
NT missed on its opportunities throwing to Deonte Simpson and Jaelon Darden against UTSA on Saturday. Credit UTSA for limiting those opportunities, but they were there. The run game that is supposed to put the flex players in conflict was not always successful. While it may seem that NT is simply diving into the line, in reality it is trying to gain leverage with an inside zone. UTSA’s Jaylon Haynes did well to stop NT up the middle. The pas rush against NT chased both QBs out of the pocket early. The secondary were ready to take full advantage of poor reads and passes.
To my eyes, there was a need for something a little less aggressive, especially early. Seth Littrell blamed “execution” as the issue. I said on this week’s podcast that level of difficulty can be reduced to increase the likelihood of execution. In simpler words: “call some short passes so Bean can get some rhythm”.
I like the overall philosophy of pushing the ball downfield. Yes, it means that there will be more interceptions, more 3rd and longs, and generally, more “strikeouts”. The risk is worth it. Football is a situational sport, it is not discrete, man-vs-man scenarios like in baseball, where you can accumulate the interactions and get an outcome.
When your defense is tired, throwing the ball deep increases the likelihood the the defense will have to come back on to the field — either because you scored quickly or you turned the ball over quickly.
You can still show aggression and be true to your philosophy with a modified approach. Throw the ball! But throw it shorter, in a higher percentage throw.
The Bulldogs are well-coached, tough, and lacking a lot of good players. For much of this season Tech has been missing some or all of its offensive line. That has meant the run game has not been as prolific as in recent seasons. Head coach Skip Holtz is doing the QB two-step also, with all that comes with it.
Tech will be without Adrian Hardy, who is foregoing the rest of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft. There is no player-of-the-year to content with but that doesn’t mean NT will be shutting anything down, necessarily.
The defense was torched (again) for big yards in the run game last week. Sincere McCormick ran for 251, and a good chunk of those were dashes into open space. The same happened with QB Frank Harris, who found himself with acres of space in which to gallop.
There were some good things in there. The tackling has improved since week one, but there are too many instances of the NT secondary chasing the ball carriers with no hope of catching up. It seems we have a speed issue in a crucial area. That is largely unfixable in a week’s time.
The Murphy twins are still crucial, but they were largely kept quiet by the UTSA line. In addition to blocking well, the Runners made sure to throw quickly and thus eliminate the pass rush for large portions of the game. Dion Novil was put in space, where he does not excel, and that was basically that.
John Brown played well at corner, and there was good tackling overall in the first half. With the addition of a few more pieces I can see this defense becoming something approaching formidable. Right now, it gives up too much, too easily. There are a lot of effort mistakes, but still are discipline issues. Players are in the right spots, only to abandon those spots for a seemingly “better” area.
I wrote above about putting players in conflict — well, when NT displays this indiscipline it means that the offense does not have to work so hard to execute and put them in conflict. They are putting themselves there.
Skip Holtz has the advantage in this one. Last week, NT decided to go for it down 7-0 on 4th and 2 inside UTSA territory. This is fine and even great. Aggression! Early in the second half, NT was inside UTSA territory and down 28-7 and kicked a field goal. Why?
Even if the rationale is “I thought our offense in the first half could get it, but after seeing everyone play for a half, I thought they weren’t able to get it” I do not buy it. Your impression of the capabilities of the offense cannot possible change that drastically over a quarter, unless you had incredible miscalculation to begin with.
If you saw “we are a team that goes for it” you need to go for it. The time to kick the field goal was early, the time to throw caution to the wind was later. The head coach flipped those scenarios and should be criticized for it.
North Texas has had slow starts to every game this year. I can see the relation to the play calls and overall offensive philosophy — the inside runs are more likely to be stopped early than later. Deep passes are likely to be overthrown on the first drive than later ones. It stands to reason to build some rhythm before trying to do the normal stuff later.
Else, it seems like stubbornness for its own sake. I think we can still be team that sticks to its philosophy next season but for now, when we know this version of North Texas is unlikely to break a 30-yard run on the very first inside zone run of the game, we can start with something else and not be accused of abandoning the soul of the program.
NT opened as -2 point dogs and is now a -1 favorite. Call it a pick ’em. It really depends on the which team shows up — again with the inconsistency. I thought NT had turned a corner in the last two games. It could be that they have and were simply outplayed by a superior team last week. It could be that or that they regressed a little after believing some of the hype. That would not be unusual in Denton under this regime.
Whatever the case, we wrote last week that Seth Littrell needs to win a shouldn’t game and this sort-of qualifies as one. Whereas NT got the win over Rice in a game between two evenly-matched squads, he was embarrassed last week in a game of roughly equals.
So here we go again. Tech is down a lot of players, but is well coached. North Texas has the players, but are inconsistent.
NT 31 – Tech 27
Just barely. If he drops this one to Tech he will be at .500 ↩
I have mentioned before that he told me before Mason Fine’s senior season that he had planned more downfield passing and being more aggressive. Harrell leaving just sped up that transition. He brought in Reeder because he thought he meshed with Littrell’s philosophy. That failed, and Seth is calling the plays himself and “having a blast”. ↩