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Sin City Spiral: North Texas Loses 58-27 to UNLV

As the Rebels intercepted the second Austin Aune pass and ran into the end zone to complete the full demoralization of the Mean Green, the announcers struggled to hype up Seth Littrell’s North Texas. “This is a bowl team every year! Maybe not this year, but they are pretty good.”

I beg to differ.

You and I are Mean Green fans. We know what is what. MGN has noted in every game story the same troubling themes: 1) NT can get big total yards, but struggle to get the important ones. It happened when we had Mason Fine starting, and is evident yet again with Austin Aune at the controls. 2) The defense struggles to stop anyone or keep anyone from getting record yardage. This is something of a new phenomenon, in that it has happened more in the second half of the Littrell regime. 3) NT comes up small in the biggest games. Seth Littrell has the worst losing margin in three different bowl game histories, and is 0-5. Add to that a blowout loss in the 2017 CUSA title game, and you have a record of losing big against good teams.

The Mountain West broadcaster1 noted that NT had a lot of yards but “UNLV has been able to stop [UNT] from getting the important ones”. Its like this guy read MGN. Or that the game was an encapsulation of the Seth Littrell era.

You can read a recap elsewhere, I want to focus on four 4th-and-1 situations that changed the game.

The first: 4th-and-1 from the goal line. UNLV punch it in, get hyped, and get seven points. The game thus far is back-and-forth with some weirdness. NT has scored on a kickoff return (rare in the 2020s) and also allowed a punt to be blocked leading to a safety (they were lucky, as it should have been a touchdown). They score after a tough drive where they got tough yards. The NT defense looks up to the task, but for some miscues. Fine.

The second: 4th-and-1 from midfield-ish. NT wanting to answer toughness with some of their own. To this point, NT has been running well, but UNLV has gotten backfield penetration. On this one, there was more penetration, as NT were held fairly easily. UNLV follows this up with a ridiculous run for six by their transfer running back from Louisville.

The third: NT is down 27-37 in the second half. UNLV has found a ton of success running with the QB, and on zone stuff with their line. NT has found a ton of success throwing the ball and is moving the ball well. They get into UNLV territory, but the drive has stalled just a bit. The question to the staff is do they keep it going? Do they kick it here and live to fight another series? My vote was to kick. Get points, feel good about the drive and you are only down seven. NT runs into the line with Johnson (not Adaway) and again UNLV dominate the proceedings. It wasn’t close again. The play-call was straightforward, with no attempt at any clever design. On the other side, UNLV had run a few clever screens to get 3-6 yards every time. Nothing like that over here.

The final one: NT is down big, but can make it a game with a quick score. The get some fortune after Aune throws a toss to Shorter that he didn’t know was coming, but catches it anyway. NT is at the one after an Adaway run for five yards on 3rd and 6. NT lines up, runs right at a wall of red, as everyone yells in anger and disbelief. NT’s comeback is over with, and UNLV scores again. NT unravels completely with two Aune interceptions after this.

I absolutely despise lazy analysis. “Team didn’t score/win” does not equal “bad play/coaching/players.” Football is a complicated sport with a lot of moving parts. You get on the wrong side of luck sometimes, and that’s fine. This is why you celebrate the wins, the good fortune, and the good times. Losing by 31 is not because luck went against you. Allowing 365 yards rushing doesn’t happen because of ‘time-and-chance’. Having a roster that gets pushed around in the run game by a Mountain West team, or toasted in the secondary by UTEP is not bad luck. It is recruiting, coaching, and preparation.

I like to give some slack to the coaching staff, as they can’t go out and execute for the players, who are 18-22 (or 29) year-old dudes. It is tough. That’s the nature of the sport. If it were an easy gig, they would not pay as much to do it. The whole idea is to build a program with a style that attracts talented players that believe in the project and compete for titles. Seth Littrell has raised the level for NT from where he inherited it. The offense scores. There is talent in the NFL that wore NT green. There were bowl games.

There is also stagnation. North Texas is in the same place as 2018: poor defense, hit-or-miss offense that can’t execute when it matters. Then we were more okay with it, as the roster was being turned over and it was refresh/restock time. Now? NT does not have a clear answer at QB. There is talent on offense but the defense looks bereft. There seemed to be more talent going out than in, in this recruiting cycle. Whereas in previous seasons (Reffett’s last) KD Davis and other defensive talent were young and inexperienced, this defense has transfers and long-time guys. There are simply few excuses for this kind of performance. If it is coaching, well the guy with the final say is the head man. If it is player talent, well the guy responsible for recruiting talent is the head man. If it is preparation, well the guy responsible for preparing them is the head man.

It happens. Gary Patterson had an epic run in Fort Worth and simply hit the end of it. Seth Littrell won a ton in Denton, but it has not been pretty for three years going. The schedule is a relatively weak one, and in some other version of this season NT is a program feasting on mediocre opponents and making headlines. Instead, they are getting eaten up by mid-tier Mountain West squads.

Again, 58-27. 365 yards rushing allowed.

NT were 2.5 point dogs in this one and it should be even worse next week at Memphis.

  1. MW stream was good. It was easy to find, worked smoothly, and had a good feed and decent camera work. The score bug was weird, and had weird colors, but sure. Also, their color guy was awful and talked over his partner.

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