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Football

Report: Hotel Stays Before Home Games Are ‘Costly, Questionable’

GateHouse News published a report looking at the costs of college football team’s practice of staying in a local hotel before the home games. The idea behind this is that it brings a focus for the team, and keeps them out of any Friday night trouble.

Putting all 100 or so guys in a hotel room where you can monitor activity and make sure they get to sleep is ideal when you want to control all aspects of their preparation.

Ohio State University, which spent $93,000, said hotels provide a venue for camaraderie, structured team meals, the ability to monitor hydration and a “restful night of sleep” thanks to bed checks and a set lights-out time.

There are studies that suggest getting a nice rest at home is preferable in most cases, however.

North Texas reportedly spent just under $8 grand per night on this practice.

More from GHN

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Football

Mason Fine Stands Alone

It is a little hard to stop and appreciate the greatness of the accomplishment while the season is going on. Mason Fine is the all-time leader in touchdown passes at North Texas and went over 10K passing yards for his career.

We expected that the first good Air Raid QB here would break a ton of records but we did not expect to see it be the small freshman QB from Peggs.

He helped build what is hopefully a program that will produce the guy that will break the records he set. Much like Kliff Kingsbury was surpassed by Graham Harrell at Texas Tech back in the day, the talented successor inherits a machine that is ready-made for record settings. The builder had the growing pains.

Let us pause and recognize that Mason Fine is the statistical best QB in the long program history.

Thanks, Mason.

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Football Football Recaps

Bear Attack Too Much for North Texas, Lose 17-23

BERKELEY, CA. — North Texas came into the game as underdogs and played like it to begin the game on a warm but nice California afternoon. Down 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, the contingent of Mean Green fans were antsy and thinking of the SMU game the week prior.

California was able to do the same type of things that the Mustangs did the week before: capitalize on single coverage on third downs, take advantage of penalties, and well, score.

Mason Fine and the offense were unable to muster much early, and things weren’t helped after Rico Bussey went down after nearly catching a ball thrown his way near the Cal sideline.

Tre Siggers still looks like a good option in the run game, powering through tackles and getting “should not” yards. In the end the comeback fell short. The defense got the stops it needed late — forcing a punt with just under 2 minutes left in the game after holding Cal to only 3-points in the final three quarters.

The offense did manage to get a touchdown when it needed one — a 4th-and–7 strike from Fine to Shorter to cut the lead to six. The Mean Green scored three in the first half and 14 in the second. Fine also hit Jaelon Darden on a bubble route that he took 68-yards for a score.

This was a missed opportunity as California was and is vulnerable but one that ultimately did not matter as much. The conference season begins next week against UTSA.

Offense

The much-maligned offense began slowly but with some new attacks. Adjusting to Cal’s 1-v-1 coverage (because of their quality secondary) the Mean Green tried to get the ball on the edge to their backs and to playmakers in space. Fine was hit and sacked too much and after Bussey went out there was no one that obviously stepped up to make plays in the pass game.

In the second half, there were seemingly some opportunities for up-temp action but NT moved a little slowly — even when trying to get the first of two needed touchdowns. Ultimately they scored when they needed one, but came up short on the other.

Mason Fine threw some questionable balls and also threw a terrible interception. Still, he is the best offensive player and he is in a tough position.

Defense

The defense had a different sort of challenge here. Cal’s RB Brown is 230 lbs and the Bears leaned on him throughout the game — especially after taking a lead. NT had Chase Garbers scramble, but he did manage to pick up a ton of first downs. Cal was able to take advantage of single-coverage and later, zone-backed three man fronts to pick up first downs.

This was going to be a test of physicality and not scheme. SMU’s Dykes and his staff are proven offensive schemers. Cal’s staff? Not so much that. There were fewer adjustments and NT’s lapses came because they were inexperienced and then the aggression did not pay off.

Hamilton, Johnson, LeBlanc played well, among others.

Coaching

Someone somewhere needs to stop the first quarter issue. Both Cal and SMU came out to 20+ point leads and while there were adjustments made, they made it harder on everyone.

Biagi’s group allowed a big return, but managed a FG and did not miss any kicks. Kenworthy pinned them back deep a couple of times.

Seth Littrell and Bodie Reeder have some questions to answer. On the podcast we speculated that it could be just a roster imbalance — young receivers and an 4th QB.

There is talent on the roster — Darden, Bussey, Siggers, Torrey, Easly et al. The idea that league play will bring some more even games is probable, but there are still good players in CUSA.

Next up:

UTSA at Apogee. The Roadrunners played NT well at the Alamodome to close out last season. The new offensive coordinator is bringing them out of the dark ages a bit, and they have some talent at QB now, but that has only shown twice in four games — NT last year, UIW this year. Against two good teams — Baylor and Army — they struggled to do much.

It is always difficult to gauge a team coming off a game against Army, but we know NT cannot take this game for granted. The record stands at 1-2 and this is a league game at home.

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MGN Podcast

125: Bearly Lost

Adam and Aldo discuss the blowout loss to Cal

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Football

North Texas at California Preview

BERKELEY, Ca. — The Mean Green had a bad week down the road on the Hilltop. SMU came out hot and dominated the first quarter. There has been much self-reflection by everyone. Read this gem from the head man:


There were definitely some positives that we’ve got to continue to build on. But there was also some negatives.

Seth Litrell

Mason Fine was harassed into one of his poorest games since his first year as a freshman starter. He threw into coverage, he was sacked, pressured, missed a read, and his pass-catchers let him down by either not getting open or simply dropping the ball.

All that said, Tre Siggers was a revelation and he brought a level of aggression that briefly ignited something like a comeback. NT was within 11 points in the second half and in the modern era that is practically tied.

The NT defense has about two or three stops in them per game and they used that up in the second quarter when NT was getting that 14 on the board. That is a mighty cynical thing to say but then you watch this:

Overaggression

That encapsulates the issue here. NT made these types of mistakes when they last had a bunch of new and young players on the defensive unit in 2017. NT needed everything it could get from the offense to pull out wins back then and that is what we expect to need this year.

Getting beat in one-on-one situations is part of the game. I can live with opponents grabbing these kinds of passes:

Jameel Moore getting beat by a superior pass

I cannot live with some of the pass-interference calls. Sure, the refs were a little forgiving to the home team (SMU) but by the 4th time you get called for an interference it is time to reevaluate your own play and not complain about the calls.

Fighting against some home-cooking is part of the Adversity that comes with playing on the road. That is in proper noun case because in football it is an entire concept.

In every football play there are 22-men executing an action that was planned by something like 15 other experienced coaches, analysts, and associated hangers-on. That is to say there are many things that can go wrong and many influences on an outcome.

Broadly speaking, SMU looked more prepared for the first quarter than did North Texas but what does that mean? Were they playing “harder”? Did Sonny Dykes out-scheme the Mean Green? It is all more subtle than that. Overall NT did a good job and were not blown off the field. They got SMU into third-down situations but were beat in crucial situations that would have forced a punt and put the offense in a difference situation.

NT’s offense did not capitalize on their own do-or-die moments. 4th and 2, third-and-long, etc. Sometimes the game comes down to those moments and it all can seem so simple. All that prep. All that planing and execution and it all comes down to whether this one guy can beat that other guy.

That is one of the great and wonderful things about the game.

So, yes. If the referee does not call pass interference (obvious) NT gets the ball back early. If Tyreke Davis does not leave his assignment, NT maybe forces a FG. If, if, if.

The only thing NT can do is learn from the experience so this next game against a good opponent does not have the same type of mistakes.

Seth Littrell said they had a great week practicing, that everyone was excited and motivated. That is good stuff to hear.

Let us discuss this week’s game.

California Golden Bears

Cal is one of the Pac-12’s famous teams. You may know them for the big Cal-Stanford game and the occasional offensive star. Aaron Rogers played for Jeff Tedford in the early 2000s there. Marshawn Lynch and a handful of NFLers went through the program. Sonny Dykes — current SMU head man — coached Jeff Goff and lorded over a powerful offense that did not have a complimentary defense.

Jeff Wilcox is the current head coach and he is quite the opposite. He has this Bear defense solid and great against the pass but lacking in quality offensive firepower. This game will be strength-against-weakness on both sides of the ball and will be won on whose strength is stronger.

The game will be played at historic California Memorial Stadium, capacity 63,000. It memorializes WWI Californians. It was renovated in 2010 to close it up — it was separating because of a fault line.

The team just finished up a big win over No 14/12 Washington. While foreboding, Cal has beaten a ranked team each of the last 4 seasons while also disappointing. They are the team that can jump up and bite you but otherwise harmless in the Pac-12, apparently.

The offense is lacking, but they have managed more explosives this season. There is reason to think that the offense is getting a little even with its defense but the defense is still the best unit.

Attacking Cal

Justin Wilcox is a DC-turned-HC and it is no surprise he has this unit solid. Evan Weaver, LB; Luc Bequette, DE; Camryn Bynum, CB; Ashtyn Davis, S; are all all-conference returnees.

Cal plays in the three-or-four line front that nearly all defenses adopt now. Bequette is joined by Toaloa, Zeandae Johnson and a handful of others in the tree-deep. All are the same 6’2-4″ 290-ish range. Expect a wave of quality defensive lineman getting into the backfield making things rough for Mason Fine.

The linebackers are Weaver, Kuony Deng (6′-6″ 220) and Cameron Goode . They have good size and can fly around the field. The most heralded group are the secondary. Bynum, and Elijah Hicks are some of the league’s best. They are joined by Jaylinn Hawkins. There is quality and even senior backups behind the starters.

North Texas has faced some very talented defenses in the Littrell era and have not really overly-impressed. Against Iowa, and Florida there were some real question-marks. While Mason Fine is still quality, the line and the receivers have not matched up well with bigger and stronger talent in front of them.

This is one of the reasons why OC Bodie Reeder was so well-received. NT may have needed a shot in the arm for Fine’s final season — Littrell said “there were going to be some changes anyway” before Harrell left for USC.

Rico Bussey was shut out vs SMU and Littrell mentioned he expected the “other playmakers” to step up and play. That is something we noted last week and on the podcast. There were opportunities for others and only Siggers overly impressed.

Best case scenario: North Texas gets some big plays from Siggers, and NT gets a couple of big plays to help the cause. Short fields provided by the defense and a special teams score make it easy and take the pressure off.

Worst case scenario: Mason Fine is sacked a ton, throws a pick or two, and the run game is the only bright spot as Cal lets Siggers run for a scoreless 100 yards.

Defending Cal

Sophomore QB Chase Garbers leads the Cal attack.

NT will start Tualau Sa’afi at DE along with Hamilton and Dion Novil up front. There are no changes anywhere else so expect more of the same from this unit. There was good in the game vs SMU but one or two crucial mistakes let the Pony attack score. Sonny Dykes is one of the game’s best offensive minds and so is his OC Lashee.

Cal does not have the same type of offensive brain-trust leading the charge but there is talent and good football coaching. Cal’s line is big and Pac-12 quality, but they have youth (73 Cindric, 72 Mettauer) and that may be a weak spot.

The wideouts are Duncan and Crawford, and Remigio. RB Christopher Brown (230 lbs) is big and talented.

Cal has something like five or six TEs on the roster and like to go in big formations to run the ball and grind it out. NT’s defense is not big, but has speed. Getting to Garbers quicker than they did against SMU’s Buechele is the key.

SMU’s Proche and Roberson are quality WRs and they were put in great positions by their quarterback. NT is hoping that Garbers cannot make those same type of throws in this one. Cal knows they will be getting one-on-one coverage and has likely been looking forward to the opportunity.

It is a bold defense that can get some psychological gains if it works — against Arkansas last season the Hogs were clearly flustered that they could not win those outside battles and it rattled the entire fanbase.

Cal’s fans know the offense is struggling and any weakness shown early can get everyone on edge and turn the home crowd into source of nerves instead of enthusiasm.

Expect Cal to lean on the run game early, mixing it in with an occasional max-protect shot against Nick Harvey.

Best case scenario: North Texas is able to rattle Garbers and keep the run game from being effective, creating short fields. A turnover keeps the pressure off the offense.

Worst case scenario: Something like the Iowa game a few years ago where the run game tears threw the defense. The defensive backs are beaten regularly or give up big interference calls keeping the Cal drive alive.

Special Teams

North Texas needs big returns. Deion Hair -Griffin has been a no-show on offense but has shone bright on special teams. DeAndre Torrey can take it to the house and so can Jaelon Darden. This unit needs to get big returns and perhaps a score to help the cause.

Biagi’s group has impressed and a key blocked kick would be wonderful right about now. No huge mistakes would be baseline.

Overall

North Texas was always going to be the underdog here. Cal is a good team coached by a good staff but is by no means a monster that cannot be slain. Their offense is something akin to the Arkansas offense last season — talented, but with questions and some weaknesses in execution.

Against Arkansas and others, the defense made the key plays — interceptions! — and the offense did not have to do much beyond be solid. Here, the offense will likely have to do something beyond the ordinary and that could make all the difference.

MGN ebook Preview Prediction: 24-21 NT
MGN Prediction today: 27-17 Cal

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Football

MGN Q&A at California GoldenBlogs

The people who care enough about California to blog about them had some questions to ask me, a guy who cares enough about North Texas to blog about them.

Read

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MGN Podcast

124: Stomped by SMU

Adam and Aldo discuss the blowout loss to SMU

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General

North Texas Gets Stomped by SMU: 27-49

I have an unofficial rule that when two teams are evenly matched it will result in a blowout. SMU came in with talent and depth in certain positions, and NT with talent and depth in others.

What happened was that their best players played better than the Mean Green versions. It is no more complicated than that. SMU’s Shane Buechele finished with big numbers, but his totals came in bunches in a very specific area: max-protecting and throwing lobs to James Proche or one of his colleagues at WR.

North Texas is young and/or inexperienced at nearly every position across the defense and a few busted plays are to be expected. We saw that tonight, as the pass rush — aided by extra LBs and occasionally DBs — was slow in execution and Buechele was left to throw to his talented WRs who were in single coverage.

NT occasionally won those battles, but too infrequently. Jameel Moore was called for 4 pass interference calls. Some were iffy, but some were right on.

All told, NT gave up too much too often and did not help the cause on that side of the ball.

Again, this was to be expected or at least be unsurprising to the knowledgable fan. SMU has a great offensive head coach who has had teams that produced big numbers and tons of yards at every stop in his career.

The thinking was that NT would be able to go toe-to-toe given the personnel on the Mean Green roster: Mason Fine, Rico Bussey, Mike Lawrence, Jaelon Darden, DeAndre Torrey and the like.

SMU came out aggressively, and NT looked like they wanted to finesse their way down the field to little success. Mason Fine was under pressure, and SMU was able to get three scores up quickly — 21-0.

NT found yet another bright spot on the running back depth chart in converted safety Tre Siggers (he played RB in HS). He brought the physicality that was lacking and trucked his way through multiple Ponies. Siggers finished with 164 yards on 18 carries (he had 9 for 124 at the half).

What success NT had on offense came in a spread-and-shred situation — going wide and letting Tre run through dudes. This was a nice change from the first quarter when NT could not convert on short yardage — and issue that has been present throughout Littrell’s tenure.

NT was within two scores but couldn’t hold off SMU in the second half. The Mean Green managed two field goals to start the third, while SMU got touchdowns. That is emblematic of the game.

NT’s offense needs to be a TD-a-possession type unit, and they were not. The NT defense has to come up big in some moments where they should not, but they did not do so early.

Coaching

Seth Littrell is in a tough situation, and he and Bodie Reeder probably got a little to clever to start things out. NT did not match the physicality early, and they paid for it. Aggression is more than just going for it on 4th down.

They did well to adjust and get Tre Siggers in to change the game. Troy Reffett’s defense got a little bit better, and if you squinted, you could see how the plan would work if everything was clicking.

I am not a fan of running Mason Fine in a keeper pretty much ever any more. Also, Fine played about one series too long .Bean did come in and throw a TD when the white flag was a-wavin’.

Offense

I mentioned aggression earlier and North Texas is sorely lacking in that department. There is talent all over the roster but precious little bully-ball on the outside. Deion Hair-Griffin is a burner but he did not challenge for one ball that was intercepted.

Jaelon Darden dropped three passes while he otherwise played fine. No one else could get open or make tough catches that require some fighting. Contrast that with SMU’s Roberson and Proche making some tough grabs while fighting some good coverage. They either won their matchups or made tough catches.

The bullying that Tre Siggers was doing to the SMU defense was invigorating. He got yards that should not be gotten — breaking a tackle and running through guys. For all the benefit of out running, out faking, out scheming the opponent there is much benefit to being stronger than the guy in front of you.

This is football, after all.

Bussey was held without a catch and Mason Fine managed just 152 yards on 17/32 throwing. There were too few NT guys open and when they were, they did not do much with it.

No one group wins or loses the game but this group had the ball 35 minutes and produced only 20 points in the competitive portion of the game. That is about 20 points fewer than the defense needs to keep in this thing.

Defense

We knew they would struggle this season but it was not fun to watch it happen. The pass rush was nullified early by some tempo, some good pass blocking, and some good scheming. Eventually LaDarius Hamilton and company were able to get to Buechele.

Sonny Dykes and Rashee Lashlee made some great adjustments — calling for a tunnel screen right after Buechele was laid out by Hambone. The defense is most vulnerable to screens after a sack, after all.

The execution of said screen was amazing and Proche was off into NT territory. The Ponies dialed up great plays to put their guys into winning positions and they won their battles. NT corners Nick Harvey and Cam Johnson had tough matchups and came in 2nd best all night — that is not a knock, just the facts.

Tyreke and KD Davis were able to show their speed at times and overall NT was aggressive in pursuit of the ball. The tackling was not always so amazing and NT had a handful of missed gap assignments that led to big runs for SMU’s Xavier Jones.

Overall this group struggled and missed some golden opportunities to get the ball back to the offense.

Special Teams

NT was 2/2 from field goal range and there was a blocked SMU kick. The punt game flipped the field a couple of times and pinned SMU back deep. Solid, winning football from this group even if it wasn’t in a winning effort.

Next up: California at Berkeley. The Golden Bears have a good defense and a questionable offense, but they have talent enough to take advantage of a young defense.

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Football

North Texas at SMU Preview 2019

With all due respect to Abilene Christian, the real season begins this week against SMU. Yes, the Ponies opened as 4-point favorites in something of a condemnation of the North Texas defense and a little faith in the Sonny Dykes rebuilding project.

If for some reason you have not noticed, Southern Methodist has been about as good (and bad) as North Texas since about 1996. From this year’s preview:

Southern Methodist is storied but those who like to tell those stories are getting closer to retirement. The Ponies have not been nationally relevant since the late 1980s. Since 1996, SMU is only 101–174 with five bowl appearances (3–2). North Texas over that same span is 105–172 with eight bowl appearances (2–6)”

2019 MGN Season Preview

Sonny Dykes is doing some Air Raid things on the Hilltop with some famous people to boot. He has former Longhorn QB Shane Beuchele to throw the passes, the dangerous James Proche to catch them, and Xavier Jones to tote the ball in the run game.

North Texas did not perform well defensively vs ACU, but the offense was humming. The Bodie Reeder attack has more RPOs and more tempo, and Mason Fine still may be the best QB in the state.

SMU is favored by 4 points as of last Sunday, but that means little. Head coach Sonny Dykes said the Ponies will have their “hands full” with NT and the same is true the other way. Talent should always be respectfully feared, and that is what coaches mean when they spout those clichés about preparing the right way.

Last year’s blowout win was a bit surprising. NT caught SMU unready and proceeded to hand them a thorough beat down, before Ben Hicks and company managed some points in the fourth quarter.

On a given day, anyone can beat anyone and blowouts are just a couple of plays away. North Texas came out with a vengeance and the Ponies were perhaps still reeling from Chad Morris’ departure and still adjusting to the new program.

The Ponies struggled against Arkansas State, which is understandable as the Wolves are one of the SunBelt’s best. North Texas struggled to keep the score a complete blowout vs Abilene Christian. We can learn a couple of things from that note: Neither team is complete at this point.

If you want to look to conventional football wisdom, the week 2 improvement is the greatest jump a team can make — that according to ODU’s Bobby Wilder. The truth is that it all depends on the team and the type of humans on the team and the potential they have.

North Texas is about as good as it can get on offense. There are some limitations in the run game and in protecting Mason Fine, but the QB is a 4th-year starter, three of the top four wideouts have had two or three years of playing time and all three backs have started games.

They have started slowly and quickly and everything between. Defensively, there is much improving to do. With so many moving parts we are likely to see progression and regression in various aspects each day. There is little reason to be upset about this, as this is what happens in college football. There is talent on the team, and that was evident, but there is talent on this SMU squad and they have experienced coaches that will look to exploit that inexperience.

We should prepare to see some blown coverages and mistakes throughout the game for the Mean Green defense. Nick Harvey was picked on last week, and we might see more of that. NT will be vulnerable in that department but did well to get into the ACU QB’s face.

We might see some personnel chances to get to the QB quicker. We might also see a less vanilla scheme given the opponent quality.

SMU will try to get to Mason Fine and bring heavy pressure to do so. There will pressure on each of the pass-catchers to beat their coverage and get open. It seems simple, but it is an imperative in a spread offense for everyone to beat their man in space. The up-tempo game NT wants to play will not work without an initial first down.

Fine is supposed to be going for broke a little more often, and so we might see a little more of that aggressive down-field game. That could result in interceptions, but again, North Texas’ best group is the offense and going all-in on that is the way to win.

Bussey was held out the rest of the game after hurting himself last week. When he is good to go, he is dangerous and this offense has enough of a vertical threat to operate. When he is gone? Well, that is where NT struggles. Last year vs UAB and UTSA, there were some questions. Jyaire Shorter and Deion Hair-Griffin (DHG) did not overly impress in the pass game last week.

Mike Lawrence had a drop, but ran some nice routes. Jaelon Darden had a ton of grabs, but did not break one. If Bussey cannot go, or is limited, look for Darden to be the deep threat as he was against Arkansas last year.

All of the prognosticators have this as a close one, with SMU getting a lot of love. They are at home, even if that is just down the way from Denton, and are in year-two of a rebuilding process. There are some nice transfers on the Hilltop, including Shane Buechele, former Texas QB.

There has been enough written about the kid for an internet search to help you get a feel for his game, but I will say this: Ben Hicks was a nice QB for SMU last year and is now at Arkansas. NT handled him well in all the times he was not throwing to NFL wideouts.

That is to say that NT should not be scared of Shane but continue to have a healthy respect for the offense and what it can do. Sonny Dykes’ teams have always been able to put up big offensive numbers and we should not freak out if they are able to score.

It is a test, but NT is further along in the process but has a shaky, young defense. SMU is talented and at home but is still putting it all together.

Prediction:

NT 44 SMU 38

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MGN Podcast

123: Fine Performance

Adam discusses the 51-31 win over ACU.

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You can contact the podcast at podcast@meangreennation.com.

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