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North Texas vs Rice 2020 — Probably?

Last week we discussed the UAB game that eventually was postponed. North Texas went into that one as huge underdogs. They are schedule to face Rice this weekend as pick ’ems. We do not know much about Rice — they are 1-1 after playing USM and MTSU– and while we know much more about NT, we also know that the Mean Green defense is bad.

The last time these two teams played, Rice won as North Texas was bottoming out in the worst season of the Littrell period. Rice has been steadily, if imperceptibly, improving with their Intellectual Brutality plan. If that sounds familiar, it is because that is what Stanford calls their philosophy. Head Coach Mike Bloomgren had the best worst team in the nation for a good while last season. They competed, and seemed to be perpetually the “about-to-break-through” team.

The pandemic has put a delay on their development and it is unclear whether it will help or hurt their style. They dropped a double-overtime game to lowly Middle Tennessee, but were extremely unlucky with the field goal miss that went viral.

You may remember that North Texas destroyed Middle in Murfreesboro the last time (so long ago) that the Mean Green played. But, Rice also blew out Southern Miss. You may remember the Golden Eagles scored lots of points and seemed nigh unstoppable in Denton when they got a win for their interim coach who left soon after for Austin Peay’s job.

Count me among those who think that Southern Miss was in a free fall and were still something approaching dangerous when they played NT. Also, count me among those who think NT has more than a real shot at Rice this time, but like we said in last week’s preview, it all depends on what version of NT we get.

While we may have visions of Jason Bean dancing through the Middle secondary, the Rice team is a little more disciplined than that, and Jason Bean has had a long stretch where he has not played football in a real game. That can and will mess with his rhythm, and that pass attack will be key. Bean was able to run free vs MTSU, but Rice will have a plan for that.

Meanwhile Rice likes to line up and run at you. They bring in heavy sets and believe in what they do. Unfortunately (as in last week’s preview) NT is weak at this point. There is little to add beyond what we wrote last week, as nothing has changed but the dates, venue, and opponent.

We could look at the conference rankings at this point, but that wouldn’t tell us much. Rice has played two bad teams, split against both, and that is that. For me, the real question is about Seth Littrell. Last week I noted that it was a major test for him, as it was a relatively winnable game but one he was a major underdog in. He needs to pull out a couple of those “shouldn’t” games here and there to keep the faith of the increasingly faithless. Beating Rice would not nearly be as impressive but it is a matchup of two relatively evenly matched teams and that means the coaching and game preparation needs to make the difference.

NT is entering a stretch of games that may well be cancelled 1 They are all eminently winnable. No team is so much better than NT that we can simply pencil in a loss. NT is not a balanced team right now, and the varying play at QB means we do not know what we are going to get every time.

So, again, we are looking for consistency on offense — not perfection, but consistency — and improvement defensively. Fewer glaring mistakes, and about three-or-four quality stops per game should be enough to put the team in a winning situation. On Special Teams, that means less self-sabotage and more helping the team to win.

All of the above translates to coaching and game-preparation. Show us something, Seth.

  1. With a surge of cases after Halloween, I imagine we will see something similar post-Thanksgiving holiday. Playing at UTEP still seems like a stretch even though it is on the schedule in December. Louisiana Tech was thin, but they should be on the road to recovery. They are one injury or contact-tracing report away from re-cancelling, however.

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