NT Spring Game 2017

Saturday April 8th, the North Texas Mean Green lined up for the final scrimmage of spring practice. The team has been recovering, (from injuries – Fine, Wilson) reloading (Nic Smith, Pearson, Guyton), and adjusting (all those new coaches). Once more we are afforded the opportunity to overreact to a scrimmage months away from the real thing. So much can happen from now until the final game of the season and we all would do very well to remember last season’s example. Rico Bussey did not show the things we wanted until the bowl game, Tee Goree had a fine spring game only to get the boot halfway through the season. Turner Smiley did not make waves until the last two or three games of the year as well.

The storyline coming in is this: Year 2 of the Surprising Seth Littrell Experiment. The staff was poached of the offensive line coach, one of the co-defensive coordinators, and a special teams coach. Seth Littrell is taking more of a hand in coaching the running backs, also. Mason Fine is out here attempting to hold onto his job, after a solid freshman campaign. Oh and we need to figure out the offensive line again.

Defensively, Troy Reffet is going with a true 3-3 stack and some new toys — including Bryce English, the big nose tackle. The line was shuffled a bit to get bigger on the edges, and the linebacking corps is not helmed by Brandon Garner, who is coming off a stellar campaign. NT has had traditionally had little trouble reloading in the linebacking spot, with the exception of one or two seasons in the recent past.

Here we watch the Spring Game replay and give our running thoughts:

Deion Hair-Griffin wears 82

Kam Duhon juggles the first pass from Cade Pearson

Andrew Tucker with a 40-yard pickup, showed shiftiness, and burst. It was the kind of run that Jeff Wilson gets a crack at often and one we will hope to see more of this season as teams respect the pass more.

They call Kelvin Smith a TE, and I imagine he’s going to be used in the H/Wing back role. Modern football requires versatility, and this is what he brings.

The scoring system for this game is displayed, and I really am not interested enough to pause it and transcribe it here.

We get our first (recorded) view of Nic Smith, wearing 21 out here. He catches a flare pass and goes down immediately. That play will be featured this year as it was last.

Jalen Guyton grabbed a quick dig for a first down. That’s a play we had struggled with, as our WRs could not get the seperation, or couldn’t grab it often enough (Thad Thompson excluded).

Christian Hosley (46) was on the roster last season, and is making an appearance here. This prompts more talk of the H-back, even though we had lots of H-back last year. If they mean it will be more prominent, then they are more right than they sound here.

Rico Bussey drops the pass off a nice skinny post. He was the single WR in the trips formation and beat his man. Obviously we do not want him to drop the ball so easily, but Brandon Garner got some credit for this, and that’s good too, I suppose.

Nic Smith came over and made a good pass protection block in Shanbour’s series in the first. Caleb Chumley dropped a pass (if it hits your hands, it should have been caught) and the series ended.

Chumley was always going to be a TE, even if they gave him the shot to be a QB.

Tillman Johnson is hard for this line to handle. It is a little difficult to keep up with any and all offensive line rotations, with the camera moving quickly (or poorly).

Speaking of the defense, Nate Brooks is still a good cover corner y’all.

Missed field goal means we get ‘wind’ talk, but it is useful. We want our kickers to be used to the vagaries of the stadium here.

At this point it is 14-4 White.

Pearson is sacked. There is a lot more of a 3-3 stack look from the defense — as expected — and they are having their way with the offensive line that is in transition again. The five up front will be the key to this thing yet again. This is the way of football.

Rico Bussey showed again why we are excited about him, breaking a tackle on a 15-yard dig that turns into a 68-yard TD. So much of this offense is designed around getting the ball into playmakers’ hands, and that means Rico Bussey — or someone — needs to make plays. He did there.

Eric Jenkins makes a play on Turner Smiley’s button hook out here. Jenkins was such a great pick up last season. The secondary was the unit’s strength, and if the front six can generate more pressure on the quarterback the defense can be the game-changing type that we saw in the wins.

Andrew Tucker looks like he will adequately replace Willy Ivery. We know he has the speed, and he has enough wiggle to him to make the plays to spell Jeff Wilson.

Again, it is hard to accurately assess our defensive line when the O-line is all-new, all-different.

At 4:13, Pearson throws an ugly floater. The wind is tough, but that’s not really an excuse. Andrew Tucker uses the screen to get big yards. He is solid catching the ball, and has the kind of burst you need to be solid on those screens. Jeff Wilson is clearly the number one, but there is not a whole lot of drop off from there on these. We have no reason to believe Jeff will be any less injury-prone, next season and so we should expect to see a lot of Andrew. In that sense, we have not improved much from last year. Hosley has gotten the most run in this scrimmage, but the staff expects Nic Smith to make some noise.

Caleb makes a nice catch on a seam route. That Y-position is traditionally a TE position in the Air Raid, and so it is nice to see these guys getting the kinds of catches that are not really ‘open’.

Mason Fine tosses a touchdown on a corner route, one that we will see attempted often. It was not nearly as pretty as we want to see, but it was effective.

Tucker again with a nice screen catch and run.

Pearson gets sacked and pressured and Tucker catches another screen.

Pearson hits Smiley for that 61-yard TD that really shouldn’t have happened, considering the circumstances. Troy Reffet can’t be happy here.

Cool moment: The 2016 senior class getting their framed jerseys.

Senior Frames

Mason Fine found Bussey to start the second half, Nic Smith had a nice little run, and then Fine did not see a guy over the middle and missed a pass. If anything gives Pearson an advantage, it will be height. That said, Fine has had some nice runs that will only be nicer when they are against live competition.

Funny moment: Sideline reporter John Liddle getting Jamize Olawale’s NT resume completely wrong.

Turner Smiley abused Tway Hill on a Shanbour pass, then Shanbour scoots in for a score, making this his second straight MVP-type Spring Game performance.

… and Hank Dickenson says exactly that after I wrote the above. I should have that job y’all.

Shanbour tosses a floating fade route to Bussey who beats Eric Jenkins. That is more impressive than the previous pass beating Hill.

Again, Bryce English is abusing the front five. Every announcer is comparing him to Brandon Kennedy, who was before my time but appreciated nonetheless.

Kelvin Smith makes an appearance. He had a promising start — a good spring game followed by a highlight-worthy TD against SMU — before being injured and shuffled in the pack as North Texas struggled to find a solid footing at the QB spot. Right now it looks like Chumley is making the plays of note, but it is early days and I feel good about Kelvin Smith.

Fine throws an ugly pass toward Guyton, but nowhere near him. The argument could be made that Guyton should have dove for that, but it is spring and we don’t need that. Meanwhile, Fine nearly dies in a collapsing pocket and manages to toss it away.

Mason Fine has not had the worst ever spring game, but it has not been good. This would also mark the second straight Spring Game in which the presumed starter struggled.

Shanbour finds Deion Hair-Griffin wide open out there. I am nitpicking here, but the ball could have probably been a little further out front. A better, faster DB would probably close the gap a little quicker and possibly make the difference between the touchdown and something worse.

Shanbour has a nice run near the end and overthrows Hair-Griffin. It is hard to tell if it was a bad throw or a bad route. Maybe a little of both. Hosley then breaks open a 40+ yard run. He got some blocks and showed some burst. It was a great way to end things.

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