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General

Fine Throws Four, NT Rolls 51 ACU 31

If you had paid close attention, you knew that Mason Fine is good and that the defense had a lot of inexperience. North Texas jumped out big quickly but allowed Abilene Christian to outscore them in the second half 17-13 to make the score look something like respectable.

Mason Fine and company were up 38-10 at halftime, including 31-0 with 2:42 left in the first half.

The first game in Bodie Reeder’s offense started out brightly: Fine threw a TD on his first pass of the game. He completed his first ten passes and seven of those went for either first downs or touchdowns.

He finished 28/37 for 383 4TDs and 1 interception. His former HS teammate Jason Pirtle had four catches for three scores and 88 yards. NT had wanted to future the TE more, and it was converted WR Pirtle, and not Kelvin Smith who shined bright from the TE spot.

The Mean Green struggled a bit in short yardage, but were aggressive all night — going for it on 4th and 11 at one point (which saw Bussey get injured and leave for the night) and kept Fine in until midway through the 4th quarter.

The defense, filled with young and new faces, struggled late. ACU scored 10 to end the first half, and then had 21 in the second. There were some blown tackles and missed assignments, and NT was a step slow getting to the QB which allowed the ACU receivers to win one-on-one matchups outside.

With so many new faces, there was always going to be some growing pains. So it goes.

Heisman Watch

Mason Fine put up big numbers but they are relatively pedestrian for the competition faced, and the offense he runs. Four scores is nice, but fairly common for good QBs in the modern game. Still, good enough to hit the milestones: Big number of TDs, big yardage.

Offense Watch

Bodie Reeder called a nice first quarter. He had ACU reeling. Some of that was unfamiliarity — NT was going to a new offense and showed a lot of new looks and play calls.

There were still a few too many Fine designed runs for my taste and NT struggled in short yardage — kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Seth Littrell wanted more aggression and he got it. NT went for it on 4th down a number of times but that also meant they were not getting 3rd down conversions — just 5/13 for the night.

I expect there were a number of things held in reserve ahead of SMU and later California. NT felt they could beat ACU with one or two new things but some basic stuff. For the most part, that was the case.

Totals: 575 total offense, 383 passing, 192 rushing for 8 yards per play. Yes it is an FCS squad.

Reffett-endum

Troy Reffett calls an aggressive defense and if everyone is not on time getting to their spots, openings will be exploited. We mentioned this in the season preview. There were some nice things shown by the defense, but the free rushers were a step slow too often and allowed ACU to go one-on-one against the new DBs.

Nick Harvey was beat a couple of times, but he had no help in the middle of the field. ACU was running post routes there and had way too much time to throw them.

While the starters are the “starters”, there are a number of spots that were just won in fall camp and so things can change. The good news is that Reffett has Mason Fine giving him some cushion, but the bad news is that is a precarious situation.

Biagi Time

Deion Hair-Griffin took one to the house and started the game off with a big return that set up the offense with a short field. It is a three-phase game, as Seth Littrell so often says, and that is important to remember.

Ethan Mooney kicked three FGs from under 30, and Kentworthy pinned the ACU offense inside the 20 twice in two kicks.

Future Thinking

North Texas has SMU next week. They are a full-FBS squad but are still in year two of their rebuild. Shane Buechele has more talent and will make North Texas pay for mistakes in the secondary.

Meanwhile, NT will get a little talking-to this week, and look to improve on the things that can be improved upon.

Categories
Football

2019 Season Preview E-Book

Ladies and gentleman, we present to you the 2019 MGN season preview.

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Become a member of MGN and get it free (via coupon).

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Football

Last Chance For Fine and Littrell

Folks, let me start this out by apprising you of some of the latest and greatest information about this here site: it has been lying fallow for a bit longer than we intended simply for the fact that Real Life has slowed some things down.

Children and real estate and new endeavors all take up precious time that could be used to think about football and whatnot. Be assured that thoughts have been thought and words will be written, electronically.

It is the last ride for the Mason Fine-Seth Littrell combination. Some part of that included the Graham Harrell thing, and the goodbyes and tears were already shed when Harrell left for USC to Fight On.

The man in charge is the one Seth Littrell, and the face of this program thus far — the QB — is Mason Fine. As Charlotte football coach Will Healy said, the QB is “going to have his face on the wall and on the stadium and we need someone okay with that”. The QB is the face and Mason Fine has been as good as ambassador as could possibly be hoped for.

Seth has been growing into the aspects of the role that require him to be anything beyond gruff cliche reciter. He is not Tech’s Skip Holtz or FIU’s Butch Davis but he is clearly more comfortable in his MG skin.

He has a team that should be competitive for the league title — something that a good coach will have at least twice within a 4-year cycle. NT has talent on the offensive side of the ball — a thing he was hired to bring — and has enough of a chance defensively that there is reasonable hope.

It very well could be the best team that NT has put out in the era. This is it, however. The entire 4-year run has led to this season of competition for both QB and coach. Barring injury — always looming and thought to top-of-mind in last year’s bowl game — Mason Fine should put the team career passing records out of reach for at least a half-decade and probably set another season record or two.

The conference title and a bowl win are all that are missing from this era to put it up near the best in NT history. Darrell Dickey’s squads had a bowl win and multiple league titles, after all. Dan McCarney won the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Littrell teams have more viral moments and one more Heisman hopeful than those teams but have only a division title to celebrate. As if we would celebrate _that_.

That kind of “pressure” can make some decisions a little more difficult than they would otherwise be. Littrell has done some self-criticism in the media, saying he needs to be better in big moments and not letting it “get” to him.

What does that mean when a chance at a league title is slipping away in a competitive division?

As for Mason Fine, he of the incredible TD-INT ratio, does the new mandate to look for a big play instead of always dumping it down mean more interceptions?

This is all a great problem to have. Having the best QB in the league at the wheel of a talented offense is always preferable to not having those things.

A reasonable goal for a reasonable fan is to enjoy the final season of _the_ greatest QB in NT history and the final attempt at the greatest HC+QB combination in school history. There will be points, there might be losses. There may be a hardware at the end of this thing but if not? Well, try not to let that spoil the fun you have along the way.

Categories
Football

Seth Littrell Is Itching To Make the Offense Consistent and Aggressive

FRISCO, TX — Seth Littrell was smiling, in a black suite augmented with a green tie, laughing, patting coaches on the shoulder and smiling at the various people that came up to him to wish him well. “He has been on vacation” said Mason Fine, later, so that may partly explain his general bounce.

The highest paid coach in the league with the Heisman “candidate” on the roster and a shiny new contract. Life is good for Littrell but there is work to be done and consistency to be had. Adversity needs to be overcome, situations need to be handled and expectations managed on a day-to-day level.

If you have heard Littrell talk pretty much ever, you heard what happened on Wednesday. The tidbits of new information were that (1) he was itching to get back to being more involved in the offense and (2) these tweaks were coming anyway. Graham Harrell taking the USC job presented an opportunity for North Texas to display some of the things Littrell did at his previous stops.

“I want to show you every formation I have and see if you can play every formation I have.”

This is good news for the folks that noticed the occasional funk and dry spell — those things that had Littrell and Fine talking about consistency so often. The total numbers for NT were great, but the second-halves against LT and UAB were game-killers.

Tempo, and TEs. That is the proposed solution for the Mean Green. “I always want to be aggressive. Sometimes we were calling it to safe.”

This is in no way a knock on the previous coordinator, he insists, as sometimes that aggression is the wrong choice. “I got to know when to pull it back, as well. W”

The neverending quest for self-actualization at North Texas is under way.

“I’ve always been involved, but I’ve been kind of getting the itch to get, you know, more involved. Bodie [Reeder, the new OC] is a guy with a lot more knowledge of the kind of stuff I’ve done in the past.”

Often NT was simply one play from breaking things open. Mason Fine famously fumbled deep in UAB territory. The Blazers scored on that drive all but killing the game. Does tempo solve that?

“It does. Some of our play action stuff. When I’m taking about that adversity stuff its getting in a rhythm. Sometimes calling it too safe. We’re not perfect as coaches as well. We just need to have faith [in each other]”

“Sometimes yeah we have that five-yard out, but damn it let’s hit the deep post.”

For an offense that is going to be expected to score a ton for the team to overcome the losses on the defensive side of the ball, letting up on the brakes seems like an ideal strategy.

Mason Fine is at the peak of his powers, the backfield is full of talented game-breakers and the pass-catchers are loaded with talent and experience.

Protecting Mason Fine is priority number one. You can’t chuck it deep when there is a defensive lineman inside of Fine’s chest.

“How well are we protecting up front? A lot goes into it [ being aggressive].”

That aggression will be displayed on both sides of the ball.

“We are going to be aggressive on defense.”

Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett and Littrell have been in the lab trying to come up with solutions to the problems before the team: graduated LBs EJ Ejiya, Brandon Garner and DBs Nate Brooks, Kemon Hall. The graduate transfers should help if they are up to the level of the previous group.

Littrell and Reffett have a proven track record of identifying quality DBs — Eric Jenkins and Kemon Hall were both graduate transfers that held the mantle of Best DB on the Team in their time.

“Its our job as coaches to put them in the best positions. At times we put them in bad situations and they make unbelievable plays and no one knows. Sometimes we put them in great situations and they get beat. Part of coaching.”

The league has about six or seven teams that can reasonably make an argument to claim the title come early December, and North Texas is among them yet again. Is there pressure? None like they put on themselves says the coach.

“But at the end of the day, this is a fun ass game. Just go out there and play and have fun.”

Maybe that is why he was smiling so much.

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MGN Podcast

122: 2019 Media Days

Adam and Aldo discuss the league’s best recruiting class.

We are also in the iTunes store.

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

Important Links:

Categories
Football

Mean Green Football On TV in 2019

The league announced the broadcast schedule for the 2019 season. There are a depressing amount of facebook games. Long time NT fans remember that yes, it was worse one upon a time when streaming an away game was a luxury on whatever Sun Belt partner was sending over pixelated football over the internet in 2006.

Still, facebook does not an ideal watch-party make, but it is better than nothing. For that will be begrudgingly grateful.

The schedule:

August 31 – vs Abilene Christian – ESPN+ — 6:30pm


September 7 — @SMU — ESPN3 — 6pm
September 14 — @California — PAC-12 Networks — 3:15pm
September 21 — vs UTSA — Stadium on Facebook — 6:30pm
September 28 — vs Houston — CBSSN on Facebook — 7pm

October 12 — @Southern Miss — Stadium on Facebook — 6pm
October 18 — vs MTSU — Stadium — 3pm
October 26 — @Charlotte –ESPN+ –2:30pm

November 2 — vs UTEP — NFL Network — 2:30pm
November 9 — @LA Tech — Stadium on Facebook — 3pm
November 23 — @Rice — NFL Network — 2:30pm
November 30 — vs UAB — Stadium — 3pm

These are all subject to change but given the lack of CBSSN games on the docket, I do not imagine we will see any mid-week game hoisted upon us.

Categories
Basketball

Ryan Woolridge to Transfer

Ladies and gentleman, he is gone. Ryan Woolridge was pretty much the heart of this team throughout his career. That was none more evident than in his final postseason tournament. He limped his way to competitiveness, but he was nowhere near the engine that he was during the season. You can make the argument that the decline in form for Mac’s team was all due to Woolridge’s health.

MGN wishes him good luck on his next journey.

Categories
General

MGN Book Club

On the MGN Slack, a slacker posed the question “What should I do now?” after the men’s basketball team lost in the tournament.

Typically, this is when MGN takes a break and talks to immediate family, and checks in with the world. On the Slack channel, I joked “you should read.”

I thought a little more about it and, desiring an increased knowledge level that comes with book-sumption (that is book consumption combined because we are kewl) I figured a book club would be something to do.

There are about five or so people that have either liked this on twitter or said ‘sure, why not’ on the Slack. That is enough.

The Goal: 10 Books by Start of Fall Practice

Yeah, that is ambitious but we are quality men and women and we can do such things. Again, the goal is to get some reading done and also have a place to discuss it with like-minded folks. To that end, I will suggest some books and curate this list.

Please get at me with your suggestions. We will begin the reading April 1st.

I’m going to list some books that are on my desk, and some others that may be interesting and relatively available. Email, tweet, or DM me with your suggestions and I will formulate a list.

Book Suggestions

Damon Young — What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker
Jon Meacham — Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Christopher Hitchens — Love, Poverty, and War
Brent Schuldner and Rick Tetzeli — Becoming Steve Jobs

Ernest Hemingway — The Sun Also Rises
Fyodor Dostoevsky — Notes From The Underground
John Le Carré — Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
JG Ballard — High-Rise

Let me know your suggestions. We will talk about this on the next podcast, which should record this Sunday.

photo credit: nhighberg Chicago -- June 2018 via photopin (license) | MGN
Categories
Basketball

Exit Interview: 2019 Basketball Team

No one wanted to go out and say “Injuries are why we struggled late, and ultimately why this team underperformed” as no one wanted to “make excuses” but still, the injuries were mentioned and well, that was the real reason.

After the tournament was over for NT, Zach Simmons and Ryan Woolridge could be seen limping on Friday. It was not the usual post-game soreness, but actual pain.

Not many teams at this level can overcome that kind of thing. We knew this team was over-reliant on Woolridge’s contributions, playing him huge minutes often last and this year.

If he went down or out, NT was going to be in a bad spot. That is not surprising or even something to blame the staff or the program for. It is the nature of the game. The roster is only so big, and recruiting limitations mean you cannot simply pick up whomever you want to rebuild your roster overnight.

McCasland said his goal was to get to the NCAA tournament, and given the scheduling, that road was always going to be through the league tournament. To do that successfully, the team needed to earn a second-day spot via bye through earning a top-4 seed.

That mission failed, as NT’s late-season collapse kept it out of the top pod, ensuring the best seed it could get would be the 5th spot. They fell all the way to 10th, after a disastrous pod play schedule in which no one could shoot or defend, or take care of the ball. This is where injuries took their toll and NT limped into the league tournament with seven-straight losses.

The win over FIU was dramatic, cathartic, and well, fun. North Texas blew out the team that had handed a big loss to NT in Miami just the week prior. Revenge gotten, NT went into the quarterfinal round vs WKU with some hope, but nothing serious.

They were blown out handily, and that is forgivable. NT had to play perfectly against the league’s most talented team and the most disappointing part was that they did not even muster much of a fight.

Asked if we could expect some CBI or anything, Grant said “we set our sights on the NCAA Tournament” which is an elaborate way of saying “no.”

The CBI and CIT tournaments are pay-to-play ideal for giving, say, Marshall another set of games to basically send out Jon Elmore with another tournament. North Texas used the opportunity last season to continue to build the program under McCasland and experiment with the set of guys that would play the most this season.

As it was, it all went well. From the CBI opener to the WKU game in February, NT only lost 5 games. They went 21-12 this season, completing back-to-back 20-win seasons since the Johnny Jones era. Realistically, this program was going to give a nice conference tournament run but come up short to the ODUs and WKUs of this league.

That is basically what happened. NT finished with one more win than 17/18 and six fewer losses. Home attendance was up, and they won a league tournament game. All told, we had improvement across the board.

So why the lingering anxiety across the internet fan base? Well, some of that is just typical North Texas angst. The rest is because there was plenty to be concerned about watching this team play. The team defended well — they ended as the number one defense in efficiency according to kenpom.com — but suddenly could not score worth a damn.

The early season success was predicated on four guards around Zach Simmons. Theoretically the small ball would be vulnerable to size in rebounding and defense, but the hustle and athleticism helped NT lead in those categories even against some of the bigger and better teams in this league.

The advantage to playing small-spread ball is shooting and quickness. Unfortunately North Texas’ two best shooters from last season — Roosevelt Smart and DJ Draper — regressed significantly. Smart went from being a threat to being a bad shooter. Incredibly his 3pt percentage dropped from 37% last year to 27% this season. His offensive rating dropped to 86.9 from 110.7.

Anecdotal evidence: he hit 20 points just twice — 20 exactly twice — this season. Compare that to the number of times he went for 30+ last season: 4 times, including a 42-point explosion vs Rice.

DJ Draper dropped from being a sharp-shooter who could change the game to just another guy shooting in the 30% range. He finished the year shooting 37% from distance, making only 16 in conference play compared to his 36 last season. He shot 42% last year.

The whole season is not on those guys in particular, but they had big drops in efficiency. Jorden Duffy dropped a bit also, mostly on this missing more threes than last year (six fewer on ten more attempts).

North Texas has five guys that take greater than 20% of shots for this team. Only one of them is 100+ in offensive rating: Michael Miller. He’s graduated now.

Going Forward

NT needs more height, some dynamism, and someone else that can be a threat to attack the basket aside from Ryan Woolridge, and Zach Simmons. Also, it needs more from the man they call Rose. He has had a tough year mentally, emotionally, and physically.

If he can get back to being the guy we saw last season, NT will be loads better.

Jalen Jackson, the commit from Wager in San Antonio, is a point guard with good athleticism and a nice handle. Watching the tournament and seeing Ahmad Caver, Zack Bryant, Tyree Griffin, Tavieon Hollingsworth and DaQuan Bracey handle the ball really highlights and issue NT had when Ryan Woolridge was hurt.

Jackson addresses that backup PG need. NT can get away with more small ball if the guys that sat can light it up from distance. Umoja Gibson can thrive when he doesn’t have to create for himself and can simply catch and shoot.

Wish List:

  1. Backup Big
  2. Go-to scorer — either Rose of 17/18 returns or a guy to push him for minutes
  3. Another ball-handler

This program had a good season despite the poor finish. Grant McCasland completed his first 2nd year at a D-I school. He previously took Arkansas State to a 20-win season and NT to the CBI title last year.

This league is wide-open. NT went from a laughing stock to top-five for a good portion of this season in just two years.

Categories
Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Loses Big to WKU, 67-51

All seasons that do not end with a trophy presentation end badly. For North Texas, who this time last year was feeling much better about itself and its program, this was a doubly bad game.

In some ways, however, it was a relief.

“We had some guys playing with some things that you wouldn’t believe. It’s inspiring, that leadership” said Zach Simmons in the post game press conference debrief.

McCasland said “we had our sights on the NCAA tournament” so this is it barring some fluke of a Selection Sunday.

North Texas basketball finishes 21-12, one win better than last season’s CBI tournament team and six losses better to boot. It most ways, it was a better year than last. Why does it feel so devastating? Well, the terrible finish to the year, after a 20-4 start, NT fell seven straight times.

Tonight, they fell to the better team. Grant McCasland blamed himself in the post game, crediting the Western Kentucky defense and their game plan to deny entry passes and make things difficult.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury said they focussed on Umoja Gibson in particular, limiting his touches and “not letting him get 7 threes tonight.”

The game plan worked for Western.

North Texas struggled in the first half. At the 7:50 mark, Roosevelt Smart had just travelled and WKU led 22-8. This was not about the effort or even the energy level. It was about talent and defense.

WKU defended everything well. They denied the ball and the next pass and the on-ball stuff that NT was killing FIU with. They denied entry passes and swing passes and NT was travelling and double-dribbling because they had to make second and third moves to create space.

Grant McCasland said “we got sped up.”

The Mean Green made a little run with a little over a minute left in the half to get something going. The crowd, ready to celebrate anything positive jumped on that and began a North/Texas chant. Simmons scored a tough bucket and then the defense forced a WKU turnover.

Rick Stansbury, WKU coach, was upset and called TO. NT couldn’t convert but that got the energy up. NT forced another stop — a shot clock violation — that got Stansbury as red as the uniforms.

“When North Texas cut it to 13 we got five straight to make it 18 and they never threatened after that” said Stansbury in the post game press conference.

It was true. Tavieon Hollingsworth was finding space in the midrange and pulling up for clutch jumpers. He had 23 on 9/15 shooting.

In the end the half ended in stark contrast to last night’s first half. Instead of Ryan Woolridge hitting a three-quarter court bucket, he was stripped of the ball as time expired. NT was down 31-16 at that point, shooting 25% in the first, turning the ball over 11 times.

WKU had shot a mediocre 38% with 6 turnovers of their own during that period.

North Texas played Western 35-36 in the second half, to little progress. The first half deficit was too much. Ryan Woolridge had 13 and Jordan Duffy had 11 to lead NT. Gibson added 7 and only went 1/7 from distance.

Zach Simmons had 8 and 13 against future NBA-er Charles Bassey, who only had 9 and 8 himself.

What It All Means

Grant McCasland was noticeably devastated after the game. The last half of the season was full of injuries and poor play. The roster is kind of a weird mix, and McCasland deserves credit for getting this short team to out-rebound and defend really well.

The offensive end has a nice one-two punch in Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons. Unfortunately, the spread attack went limp too often. DJ Draper’s 3PT % dropped to 36% from 42% while making just over half his total from last year.

Roosevelt Smart went from a 36% gunner to a 27% guy and his offensive rating went from 110 to 86.

Was it injuries? Mental focus? It is difficult to say but it is McCasland’s job to know and change it. Still, whatever quibbles the fan base has with this program are just that — quibbles — given the tremendous progress this team has made in just his two years at the helm.

It is easy to see a future where NT is one of the favored teams in Frisco, but it is a long way before NT has a program the calibre of Western Kentucky, a basketball mainstay for decades.