The Mean Green are preparing for the Frisco Football Classic on the 23rd of December, and will run the ball until they can literally do nothing else. It has been tremendously effective, and there is no reason to not continue with that path considering everything else 1.
Long term, unless Seth Littrell accidentally cursed himself at his initial press conference where he joked that we’d be doing the triple option here, NT will need to throw the ball with effectiveness.
This season, NT’s Austin Aune was last in the league in QB rating after finishing first in 2020.
“He’s good”, you say. “He just needs wideouts that can catch the ball, and these injuries have hurt him.” Point taken. Consider that last year’s first-in-the-conference season put him 26th (and Jason Bean at 32nd) in the nation. in rating. There are other, more in-depth analyses that sort and rank QBs and they are all wonderful but what I like about QB rating is that it is a good smoke test. We do not need to split hairs, we simply need to know “is this dude good or nah.”
That good QB rating put Aune high in the nation, but he (and Bean) were the only QBs with a sub-55% completion percentage in the top-50. North Texas put a lot of emphasis on throwing the ball deep, and that is all well and good, but my eyes told me there were plenty of missed opportunities.
Throwing the ‘home run’ ball is good, but the analogy to baseball is not one-to-one. There is a ton of value in moving the chains that has no equivalent in baseball. And we are talking about his best season. This year he is the worst rated QB in the conference by far. I think we can conclude, that Aune is okay but not going to rewrite any record books.
UAB’s Dylan Hopkins, a guy whose job description roughly matches Aune’s right now, is the second highest rated QB in the league, being the absurd Zappe at 164.5 (Zappe at 167.6). He has a 15:6 TD:INT ratio, has only thrown for 2K yards, but does it at a 64% clip. So we know the North Texas bar for performance can be higher! If Aune/Ruder had this stat line, NT would have a better record than 6-6, and we’d all be much happier.
Thus far in the transfer window NT has signed JD Head, a transfer from Tech. He threw a beauty of a pass vs NT in the matchup this season. He looks quality but he’s an unknown.
I mentioned this in the MGN Slack, and it is a rough guesstimate but I think a team wants to have a roster look something like this:
2 Guys that you can win with. One to start, one to backup
2 Guys that can play for you, but are not going to win you games by themselves
2 Guys that absolutely need time, but mostly you need to see what you have
That is extraordinarily an ideal-case. Given the movement in the sport now, you are lucky to have a decent backup. Realistically, a program has something like half of what they want.
A quick look at the NT QB depth chart and roughing in the chart to the criteria we just set out:
Aune – Can play for you
Ruder – Needs time, but can play for you
Head – Can play, needs time to see if he can win for you
Martin – ??
Drummond – ??
NT has offered Cameron Ward, the UIW phenom who is being offered by everyone ever. He’s a guy that you could win with. He’s made big throws in big time games (FCS playoffs!) and led a team to wins. There is a jump from FCS to FBS, sure, but there is also one from HS to college as well. And he made big throws against the top of the FCS, to boot.
Everyone else? Well it is difficult. A good rule of thumb (IMHO) is to look for recent production over amorphous “toolset”. That is to say, I prefer the kinds of guys who have been productive wherever (ahem, Mason Fine) vs guys who had lots of talent but sat on the bench for a long while (ahem, Alec Morris). That 2016 season saw Morris look very rusty early, and there were shades of that watching Ruder misfire in this program. Morris looked good late in the bowl game and I think Ruder has every opportunity to compete for the job again.
Still, Seth Littrell is not doing his job if he is not adding to the program. The portal will see some late additions and every one of them will be slightly intriguing. Stars, programs attended, and names are less relevant at this point than production. The kid that is leaving USC after getting benched following a neck injury? Intriguing. The kid from A&M who threw 17 touchdowns in the SEC? Intriguing. The guy who sat for a year? Eh. Risky.
I am still bullish on this team even if a program-changing transfer does not come to Denton. The Mean Green still will have a ridiculously stacked running back depth chart in Ragsdale, Adaway, Adeyi, and Johnson. The line has a lot of time together but also plenty of eligibility. You can win with committing to the run game and throwing the ball to a healthy Shorter, Bush, and Burns.
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Injury, talent, talented injuries, etc ↩