If you feel like the season has already ended, I do not blame you.
North Texas was spanked twice in consecutive weeks and now faces a bottom-dweller that has the potential to add to the misery of the on-field 2020 season.
The brightest spot has been Jaelon Darden, who has climbed to the top of a handful of receiving records at the program this season and in the discussion for end-of-season national awards. He is just seven receptions short of the career mark ( so watch for that ) and already at 34 TDs for the career mark, 15 single-season TDs (top). A huge game by him would put him within striking distance of the single season yards mark (currently 1,322 to Darden’s 1,017).
We are looking for consistency in the program tonight. UTEP is not a good defense, and while NT likely will have opportunities to hit on big plays, that is not indicative of an offense that can execute on longer drives. We can gauge that by the number of opportunities that are taken advantage of. If NT hits on three long TDs but dropped opportunities for two others than we can say the consistency was not displayed.
Jaelon Darden has been outstanding but even he has dropped a couple of sure things. Deonte Simpson is a talent, but has a case of the dropsies early in his career. The rest of the offense is in that same boat. Seth Littrell has gone through some of the depth chart looking for consistency and the number of backs that have touched the ball this season is an indicator of that inconsistency.
Of course, the staff calls it the ‘hot-hand’ strategy. Whoever is playing best gets the most time. The problem is that mistakes are required to get to the “best” version. Aside from that, NT has been overall good on offense but couldn’t do much against an attacking, prepared defense in UTSA, and Jason Bean has struggled throwing the ball consistently.
Everyone knows Bean can run the ball. They load up to force him to stand tall and pick out his targets. Louisiana Tech stopped NT enough to get the win, and was helped by an undisciplined defense.
The Miners have had a struggle-season like nearly everyone else in this league. While this team has three wins on the year, they have come against SFA, ACU, and ULM. Not quite the SEC. They have been blown out in the other games (Texas, CLT, UTSA) with the exception of the Tech game (4-point loss).
The transitive property of football is a weak one in normal times and an even more questionable tenet in pandemic times. El Paso the city has been inundated with COVID cases and the game was moved to Denton even though this is technically a UTEP “home” game.
NT has won three-straight against the Miners and the last two in Denton were in blow-out fashion. This follows a three-game run by UTEP from 2014-2016 in which the Miners put up two blowout wins. NT leads the overall series 17-8-3, and the bulk of those wins (11) have come in Denton.
The team is coached by Dana Dimel, a former K-State man, who moved up the ranks to be the head coach at Wyoming (97-99) and Houston (00-02) before becoming the OC at his alma mater for six years. The project at UTEP has been middling thus far. The early success in the program was due to some existing players on the defense. This season three secondary players transferred — all major contributors this season.
The team has not played since being beat badly in the second half against UTSA on the road.
UTEP has the second-worst offense in the league at 22 per game scoring. They are the worst in per-game yards average (295, while the rest of the league is 300+ or better).
The offense is led by Gavin Harrison at QB, but he has managed only 5 scores and 202 per game through the air. Justin Garret and Jacob Cowing lead the way for the Miners at pass-catching and have combined for four scores.
Deion Hankins (Tankin’) has showed some things on the ground but the overall Miner rush attack is fairly middling.
Defensively, we are looking at the second-worst defense in the league (NT is the worst). The Miners have the 10th best (of 13) yard per play against average (5.58). They held the Bulldogs to 3 yard per play but got roasted by Texas, Charlotte, and UTSA.
Seth Littrell’s offense is still ranked the best in the league statistically. This is the kind of game where the Mean Green should shine a bit. For Texas, Charlotte, and UTSA playing the Miners was their 2nd-best yardage-per-play output of the season. Yes, for UTSA and Charlotte the number-one was against our Mean Green.
We have good reason to expect big offensive number from tonight’s game. The confounding factors are of course:
Apathy — it is the final game of the season and a good portion of the team maybe wants to shut it down. Football is a hard, tough game, and it would not be the first time we saw a limp performance in the final outing.
Time — UTEP has not played for a while, and NT was beat up a bit. UTEP might just be ready to unload a lot of frustration and energy.
Performance — NT might just lay another egg white trying real hard to play well.
More likely, however, is a blow out. NT opened as -7 point favorites and have since moved to -10. I have missed big on this year’s NT team, as they have not done the small things in the important moments and have cost themselves games.
Last week we discussed the play calls — I am sure they made good sense and fit in with the overall coaching philosophy — but they still demoralize the fan base. While Building Leaders and Honest Men 1 is the goal of the program, you and I know the real thing on display here is entertainment. It is like the marching band. They may want to produce disciplined, hard-working citizens with lifelong memories and what-have-you, but if the Tuba is playing flat it ruins the show and no one is happy.
To shorten it up a bit: NT has not been very entertaining this last month. No one expects perfection but it is hard to ask for our attention (let alone our money) when watching NT is a bit depressing.
That said, we who watch should note remember that this is a pandemic and people are dying and there is only so much that can be asked of people putting on some entertainment for you. That is to say, there is a reasonable amount of complaining that is acceptable from us. Everything beyond that amount is disgusting and unbecoming.
Guide For Enjoying This Game
Well I already mentioned the thing to watch: Consistency!
If NT starts getting blown out in this one, there will be lots of hot sports opinions fired off on the internet. I know a handful of big money donors will fire off emails to those in power asking for change — if they have not already. I think Seth Littrell is going to get another year at minimum — and deservedly so.
If NT blows this one out it will likely have a lot to do with Bean and Darden. I want too see JD do his thing and get all the hype and publicity that is due him now. Feed him, and let him get 400 yards receiving or something ridiculous.
You could always put money down and root accordingly. That’s the oldest way to spice things up.
I forget the slogans, but they are all something like this, yes?↩