Brett Vito recapped the Spring for us all a few days ago. There is not a whole lot to report or reflect on. For the information-starved, it is easy to gobble up the tiny slivers of information from Spring ball and overanalyze them. The problem with this is making too much of a tiny part of a development. Spring is for experimenting and getting an idea of what the team has. It is also a time of hope. Everyone looks good because they have not been beat down by other teams and the gauntlet that is fall football. Injuries are healed, and excitement abounds. It is very much like, well Spring itself.
Overanalyzing the spring practice schedule is a bit like overanalyzing a single batting practice session. Sure, you get some data and there might be some indicators of a larger issue but you have to wait and see some live action.
None of the following big questions will be answered and because of the nature of learning and development and well, time, we will not know if improvement has been made until we see the product on the field.
If the defensive side of the ball does not improve there is no hope. Let us put it as simply as that. We saw what NT football is without a competent defense last season and it does not look pretty. If you want some MGN blog posts on the subject check these out:
The short version is that Phil Bennett does not need to put NT at a superb defensive level but instead somewhere at at middle-of-the-road for the league would do wonders. Literally. NT had the best offense by far and that put you in the running in this league. A solid enough defense will make you competitive.
NT was bad even with some talent on this side of the ball. Some good coaching is in order and not necessarily in scheming up beautifully clever coverages, but in the way of motivating the guys and not undermining them in the television interviews.
NT swapped between Jason Bean and Austin Aune. The combination QB was superb and combined for the top passing offense. The problem was that each QB showed some awful things that forced a change. Like, when Aune was bad he was real bad. When Bean was bad he was not moving the offense and was neutralized when he tried to run — his most dangerous weapon was his legs.
In is the transfer. Put all your hopes in him. Sort of. Vito quotes Littrell saying that they are looking for Ruder to contribute. We know Littrell is not afraid of rotation quarterbacks even against my sense of entertainment. That’s fine. A better-performing QB last season was only going to be better knife in a gunfight.
The book on NT is that there are a lot of big counting numbers — its a compiling type of offense — but there are some concerns on if this offense (and that means both staff and players) can answer any questions a given defense asks you.
UTSA came ready with a nice game plan defensively for NT and Seth Littrell’s offense had no answers. Was it a talent thing? Flip that around and NT’s defense asked some questions of the UTSA offense (can you stop our light, quick DEs?) and UTSA schemed up and executed a nice little quick game to compliment their powerful rush attack. We asked the questions and they answered.
That little scenario is something like a goal for this program. I would like to see NT come out ready to deal with a good defense. Call it in-game adjustments or whatever but I am of the mind that you make your ability to adjust in-game by preparing yourself during the week and in spring and fall. That’s just me though.
The assistants are newish. The philosophy is the same however and Littrell has praised his seniors for coaching the younger guys. Littrell has only made bad defensive hires but has been real solid on the offensive coaching outside of a criminal complaint or two. I’ve made a hiring decision or two in my short time on this earth and I can tell you there is no easy way to predict performance. Sometimes it is the fit. Sometimes it is hidden criminal activity. Sometimes it is a lazy background check.
There are worst programs in CUSA. This team has a lot of talent to work with and some decent coaches.
We will reiterate that the west division, however tough, is not so tough that a talented team with a little luck cannot break through. UAB will be tough but their style means they are always one bad run game outing from dropping a game. Tech has talent (always) but is in between having a great team. UTSA is hitting a peak — they have a talented running back and are entering year two of their program under a new coach.
If there is a measuring stick of progress it is to ask yourself this: Can this team beat a good UTSA squad in Denton next year? That will tell you if this team can win the division and probably the league. Out east there is not much to be worried about. WKU is going to have that Houston Baptist offense and will be something like a concern. FAU is always talented. Marshall has a lot of the same pieces that won the division.1
NT takes on FIU (terrible) and Marshall in the cross-division this year ↩