Reality Check: NT 31 – FAU 69

North Texas played an awful game and FAU took complete advantage.

FAU put up 804 yards of offense, including 447 yards on the ground and 357 yards in the air. Their defense intercepted Fine twice, and jumped on one of the two NT fumbles. The game was 41-7 at half.

How did the number one CUSA West team get eviscerated like this? Well as Seth Littrell said in the post-game radio show:

“They looked like the more excited team to play. They completely dominated the line on both sides of the ball.”

That was putting it lightly.

FAU came out with some wrinkles and kept NT on the back foot to start the game. They scored but the run game was not dominant yet. NT followed that up with a turnover on downs which led to another FAU score.

Kiffin’s crew came out with lots of no-huddle, probably held on every run, and put the onus on the NT defense to make a play. The FAU basic plan was to run right at NT and figure out of the defense could last for four quarters.

After being down 14-0 Mason Fine threw an interception on a ugly play where he tossed up the ball to Rico Bussey that saw the DB jump over him and pick it off. FAU drove 8 plays for 44 yards and a FG.

NT was not out of it, and fans had a reason to believe still. NT had come back last season at Rice and this season at USM, but NT punted after four plays.

FAU scored on a 69-yard TD. The score came on seven-man protection and a double-move on Khairi Muhammad own the middle. NT had reeled on body blows and was now taking haymakers.

NT finally scored on a TD to O’Keeron Rutherford.

Then it was more of the same.

This blog has little interest in recapping the rest of the tedium and I bet even fewer of you want to read that.

Let’s find some answers:

Offense

While the focus will be on the defense that was obliterated for 804 yards and only forced FAU into a punt late in the game, the offense began by helping dig the grave. Turning the ball over and not gaining yards to begin the first three possessions put the NT defense in tough positions.

FAU came out ready to play offensively and were hoping to slow the NT offense enough to play their game. The offense looked ill-prepared to execute and did not take advantage of Jeff Wilson early. He looked to have good room between the tackles but that was forgotten early. Miscues — like the bobbled snap and exchange that caused a failed 4th down play and the INT by Fine — helped the team that wants the ball to have the ball.

FAU was aggressive in the secondary and grabbed two interceptions. They play physically and make the refs call everything. The refs couldn’t and that — and poor play — was the difference. Mason Fine had time to throw, Jeff Wilson had room to run, but NT never got unstuck. Credit FAU’s secondary for playing aggressively and not sitting back like UAB, USM, and UTSA had. FAU did not allow Jalen Guyton to go off like he had all season.

Defense

It can be best summated thusly:

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Lane Kiffin opened the fourth seal and Kid Briles was Death. The defense allowed 804 yards of offense and 400+ yards rushing. Worst of all was Jason Driskel putting up 350+.

Kiffin is notoriously detailed in his preparation work, and it was evident that he saw a NT defense with some weaknesses and pressed those with everything he had available to him.

UTSA had two play-action passes for scores? Let’s try a handful of those.

SMU and Iowa went max-protect for deep passes? Let’s do that.

When Nate Brooks entered the game FAU immediately tried a double-move on him.

Eric Jenkins is a play-making corner? Let’s make him tackle the TE every other play.

Combined with the high workload, NT’s defense was gassed and tired and stopped playing disciplined football and tried stripping instead of tackling AND stripping.

Beyond that Kiffin did not let up, seemingly taking the game as an affront to his being that NT came in with slightly more hype than his Owls. He and his staff had the NT defense down early and pressed that advantage.

It was a stark contrast seeing a real and true Power-5 HC do his thing. It reminded me of when Arkansas State did the same cold-hearted, surgical attack of a flawed-but-improving NT defense in 2012.

Overall

NT was second best all game, at every level — staff, offense, defense. Was it effort? I cannot tell. It is an easy cop-out to declare that a team getting blown out simply ‘desired’ the game less.

Was NT flying too high after the win against UTSA? Perhaps.

It is just as likely that a FAU team that felt just as good was simply better-prepared and at home. They also got a few more early breaks — balls that bounced in their favor — that tipped the scales.

Sometimes good teams are blown out.

This blog thinks NT is a good team and we will find out exactly how good — mentally, emotionally — when they attempt to rebound against an ODU team that has their backs against the wall.

I wrote this in the preview:

North Texas is the best team in CUSA right now. We can write that confidently knowing that CUSA is a flawed league with some really good talent, coaches, and teams mixed in with the worst of the worst. The very best — NT — are but a season removed from sub .500 seasons and so there are no airs of superiority to put on. NT is the best because they have worked like they are not the best.

While I have all the feels for this game, I am trying to hold back from extreme overreaction. Do we know that NT did not work harder than FAU this week? Do we know that if it were not for a set of circumstances this could have been slightly closer to the game we expected? Does that matter?

The answers to all of these are ‘no’. You only get one shot to win a game and mistakes in preparation (if there were any), bad luck, bad calls, bad attitudes make all the difference.

FAU and Lane Kiffin took full advantage of their opportunity to the tune of a resounding 69-31 win that was not reflective of even that score.

If NT had any poor habits in preparation (again, this is an unknown) then they have all the motivation to be correct those this week. NT still controls their own fate but as always, all that matters is next week.

Next Week

ODU is 2-5 and nearly beat WKU at home. They are well-coached but young. The QB is 17-years old! NT should take a note from Lane Kiffin and company and show no mercy on the way to a rout.