Shootout In Denton: North Texas 52 – Army 49, Mean Green Seal Undefeated Home Season

North Texas outlasted Army in a wild game 52-49 on the strength of Senior Kicker Trevor Moore’s 39-yard kick to win it and end North Texas’s home schedule spotless. The Mean Green finished the home slate undefeated for the first time since 2003 and went 6-0 for the first time since 1966.

No game has been boring, with North Texas trailing at one point in every game but the opener vs Lamar. Edit: Or this one. Forgot to clarify that North Texas’ powerful Air Raid offense put on a show in front of the 26,392. That makes the second straight week that NT has packed the house to set a new 2nd-largest-at-Apogee record.

Mason Fine threw for 386 and 4 TDs and 1 TD on 24/36 passing. He became the single-season pass leader at North Texas with 3,198 and three games to play in the year. Jeff Wilson added 72 yards on 19 and two scores which put him at a career-best 1,215 and 16 TDs for the season. Barring a miracle healing regimen, that is where he will stay unless he can make it back for a bowl game.

Wilson limped off the field late, and was seen in a walking boot and crutches on the sideline with teammates consoling him. Seth Littrell said on the Mean Green Radio Network postgame show that it “looks bad” and they will evaluate today or tomorrow.

North Texas scored on 8 of 11 drives, put up 489 yards of offense, 25 first downs, and went 7/11 on 3rd down (and 2/2 on 4th). That is good for 7.1 yards per play on 69 plays. In all, about right on season average accross the board.

For Army, they did equally as well, putting up an incredible 561 yards on 534 yards rushing, 25 first downs including 8/11 on 3rd (1/2 on 4th). They ran 70 plays and put up 8 yards per play and held the ball for 34:13. It was the perfect deployment of the Triple Option we have seen — including the 480 yards rushing in the HOD Bowl in Dec. The difference tonight was the chunk plays that came regularly.

QB Ahmad Bradshaw ran 27 times for 244 and 2 scores, while Darnell Woolfolk had 120 on 18 and 2 himself. FB Andy Davidson had 72 on 11 for 2 also. The Black Knights managed an incredible 15 rush plays of 10 or more.

The NT defensive line, already thin because of injury, had trouble stopping the dive easily and Army got all the leverage they could want.

NT went up 14-7 on the strength of the pass game and the return of the same roll out, deep post they hit against UTEP. That would be NT’s favorite play, as they go to that a couple of more times.

It looked like North Texas was going to run away with things after going up 21-7 and later 28-13 thanks to a couple of Army miscues. The first, a muffed punt that led to a quick and easy Jeff Wilson score and the second, where an Army roughing call allowed NT to set up shop at the 10 before hitting Guyton for six.

That wouldn’t be the case. Army would score evey time they got the ball where they had time to drive — that is to say the end of both halves were the only thing to stop them — outside of a punt in the 3rd quarter.

North Texas looked to be able to stay two scores ahead but ridiculous scenario to end the 2nd quarter left NT wihtout Jalen Guyton and ended with a Fine interception — his 10th on the year. On 4th and 1, Jeff Wilson scooted forward for a yard but fumbled. There was a lengthy review but it was determined that NT had recovered. Then Mason Fine rolled out to find Jalen Guyton on what looked to be a definite targetting call.

Jalen Guyton was concussed after he appeared to be knocked out. The following play Mason Fine stared down Turner Smiley and threw that INT.

Army began the second half with a score and a conversion to tie things at 28. From there, the two teams would trade scores until the end of the game with the exception of one punt each.

Army tied the game at 42 with a Davidson 4 yard TD to cap an 11 play-75 yard drive that covered 5:59. Instead of a slow 4+ minute drive to possibly win things, Fine fired a 68-yard strike to Turner Smiley for six. Smiley had beat his man badly, and the Army corner was helpless as he fell and watched him walk into the endzone.

Army followed that up with a quick score of their own, going 75 yards in jsut 6 plays in a minute-fifty. With 1:23 left in the game NT took over and drove 46 yards in 9 plays to put the winner in thanks to Moore’s FG.

Offense

Mason Fine was incredible, and drew lots of hyberbolic praise from BEIN Analyst and former QB Sean Salisbury, who called Fine “special, unique” and later, “Aaron Rodgers-like.” The offense had more explosive weapons and used them all to the fullest extent, throwing deep early and often on the overmatched Army corners. Outside of a couple of miscues — the Bussey drop to seal it — and a couple of sacks.

He was a little upset about it:

https://twitter.com/JellySZN/status/932104710538125312

Defense

It is hard to get upset about the defense considering the circumstances — out English, Syd Moore (off the roster), banged up Tillman Johnson.

The hope was that the familiarity with Army would help cover for the short week of preparation. That was not the case. The line did not blow up the dive plays, the linebackers were pushed back and the safeties were cut too often.

North Texas is built for speed in space and not for stopping a triple-option attack. While Colton McDonald, EJ Ejiya, and Brandon Garner have been solid this season, they are not the dominant change-the-game types. Army was getting solid blocks at every point and the staff was calling a great game.

Bradshaw was amazing, picking out the right decision nearly every time and killing North Texas every drive.

That said, NT stopped Army enough times to give the NT offense an early lead. La’Darius Hamilton had a big stop after the illegal motion penalty brought back the TD early in the first. This performance — allowing 561 yards — does not bode well for FAU’s ridiculous rushing attack in two weeks. North Texas’ depth issues were clear last night and FAU’s up-tempo power run attack did expose that already and likely will again.

This group carried the offense in Ruston, and tonight they were helped carried by the offense. It is a team game.

We should be clear — this was not an effort problem. Ulaiasi Tauaalo was exhausted after giving everything he had.

This was about Army executing to the edge of the rules — they grabbed and they held and they cut blocked and they did everything to the edge fo what they could to win. That’s what they do and that’s what they have to do to compete in this era.

While I do not appreciate the effect it has on the health of the NT roster, I respect that Army does what they have to do to win.

Overall

This was the kind of tough victory that previous version of North Texas could not accomplish. This required the best offense in NT history — it is by yards per game at 476 — to win. This game required a team that could score from anywhere on the field. This required a great QB who has toughness, smarts, and the skills to pull of the throws he made.

North Texas has had a history of strong run games and strong defenses, and those teams probably would try to win this game with a different approach. This new version of of North Texas is better built to compete in college football than those past teams were.

Next Up

Rice in Houston for the season finale ahead of the CUSA title game in Boca Raton. This is the definition of a trap game as North Texas just has the vague goal of “finishing strong” and trying to stay healthy. Beating Rice would be a good win but forgettable, while losing would even be understandable and probably just as forgettable.

The real opportunity is in two weeks in Boca Raton against attention-magnet Lane Kiffin. If North Texas wants the attention deserved for success, it has a chance to earn it with a win. For long time observers, it has been amazing and fun to watch. To get to the next level — the one where NT is a household name and not just NOT NTSU it will have to win these kinds of games.

Still, this season is a step toward something greater. Just as last year was a qualified success, this year is also. Eight wins with one easy game to go is impressive no matter the competition. Winning a ninth game will put this 2017 team right next to the 2013 team in wins, with two more after.