North Texas entered into this week with the benefit of an off week after cancelling the Houston game because of COVID-19 contact tracing. There was some question if it would be beneficial at all, considering the losses to the depth chart make it harder to practice.
Southern Miss was embarrassed against Tulane last week. They came into this week with a renewed emphasis on tackling, according to head coach Scotty Walden.
We do not know the emphasis the Mean Green had these two weeks, but we can give some recommendations based on the game we saw tonight.
There was a lot that was bad, from every group, and including the coaching staff. If you subscribe to the belief that penalties and mental mistakes are a reflection of the coaching staff, you had lots of vitriol for Seth Littrell’s group.
Whereas the defense was the glaring failure against SMU, the special teams in this one turned the ball over twice, and had a kick blocked. The defense was not much better — they did intercept Jack Abraham once — they allowed 437 yards, and allowed 4.4 yards per rush.
The defense did not dominate, but we do not ask for dominance. They played well enough for an offense and a special teams to put the team within winning distance but that did not happen.
Offensively, the numbers look good: 483 and 339 passing. The team out-gained USM and was only .1 yards per pay behind the USM team. The turnovers by Aune in the first half killed drives and helped put NT in the 17-3 hole it was in. The special teams mistakes came early, and then late.
Usually we organize this by group, but lets instead discuss this by quarter:
North Texas took 10 plays togo 24 yards and managed a field goal. NT started things by feeding Tre Siggers (Oscar Adaway was out for medical reasons). Overall it was not a bad start given everything. A lead is good, after all.
Defensively, USM drove 75 yards in just 4 plays, just eating chunks of yards easily. They scored a touchdown. Concern level: troubled.
The next kick off was the silliest: USM kicked short, there was confusion about who should make the catch. USM recovered and scored in three plays. Frank Gore ran in from eleven, but was only touched eight yards in. Concern level: pained expression.
NT went three-and-out — Aune was sacked on the last play and fumbled the ball away. USM scored on a FG. NT down 17-3 after just a half a quarter.
The next drive NT drove 14 plays for 66 yard and turned the ball over on downs at the USM 6. We can probably complain about the execution here, but NT got yards, converted three third downs (two third and <5 and one third and long).
The teams traded punts to end the quarter.
NT gave up a ridiculous conversion — 3rd and 10 gain for 21 yards — but ultimately forced a punt. After, NT converted a third-and-five and then ultimately fumbled (Nic Smith) on the next 3rd and 2.
This was a big moment where NT could have folded defensively. Instead they got a stop, and USM’s kicker shanked a FG. Concern level: mild headache.
The momentum NT had built up from some good drives paid off. The 14-play drive that covered 80 yards saw NT convert five first-downs. The highlights were Torrey for 7 yards on 2nd and 4, Torrey for 6 on 2nd and 3, Nic Smith for 4 on 3rd and 3, and Tre Siggers for 18 on 3rd and 6.
NT had a golden chance to stop USM and close the gap even further. Instead they allowed a 25 yard yard pass on 3rd and 1 that flipped the field. Gore also added another 17 yard run on 2nd and 15. USM pushed the lead to 20-10.
NT had out-gained USM — some of that was by virtue of the turnovers. The yard per play were fine — 4.5 for NT, 5.7 for USM. It was concerning but nothing major. NT could rightly feel it was in a good spot if it could get out of its own way. The offense was moving the ball and the defense showed some signs.
Jack Abraham hit Jason Brownlee for 68 yards. NT had another busted coverage — this time Quinn Whitlock read run and left his man. Cam Johnson did not pick up that mistake, and Brownlee was free.
NT scored in 12 plays covering 70 yards here. Aune was looking better but still missed Darden once or twice. Ultimately Darden scored on a 17 yard strike and NT was down just the ten again.
Abraham had been throwing near-misses to end the first, and Makyle Sanders finally grabbed one on third and ten. Unfortunately, North Texas had to punt after a three-and-out.
This is where the game turned.
NT punted and pinned USM at the 2. They manage two first downs but get to the USM 33 and punt. The ball hits an NT player — can’t figure out which — and Darden tries to dive on it but cannot recover. USM ball at the NT 22. USM scores to start the 4th quarter and make it 34 -17.
NT scores quickly to make it a ten point game again, going 74 yards in 8 plays over just under 2 minutes time. Torrey ran up the middle for 34 yards for the score.
NT had no stops left in them, however. USM scored in 12 plays but more importantly used up 6:55 on the drive. They leaned on Frank Gore, Jr a ton early, then Darius Maberry for the rest. By the end NT had nothing left and was run over.
NT scored quickly, thanks to a strike to Greg White for 36 yards, then a bomb to Deonte Simpson for 37. By then, time was not on the Mean Green side. USM drove a bit, got two first downs and used up 4:44. NT had but :32 seconds to get two scores and ultimately ran out of time.
You can see at a high level how NT played fine overall and the mistakes cost them. They do not have much wiggle room with the defensive ability — be it because of medical losses because of contact tracing or simple scheme adoption. Offensively, we can be glad that Austin Aune was allowed to play through his mistakes instead of being pulled after the second fumble. It is tough to watch him miss open guys but there are open receivers. That is huge.
Jyaire Shorter had a broken ankle and will be out 2-3 months, a source close to the program tells MGN. That will be big loss. The good news is that Deonte Simpson looks every bit worthy of the hype. He beat his man repeatedly, and had a step every time. Greg White and Austin Ogunmakin did the same. Of course Jaelon Darden was open early and often and grabbed another score to add to his total.
Littrell is a good play caller and NT was in good down-and-distance often. The mistakes — last week it was false starts, this week it was fumbles — cost the team.
Littrell’s deputies have not impressed. Clint Bowen’s defense cannot get penetration, are sitting ducks in the zone coverage, and get pushed back in the run game.
Mike Ekeler, special teams coordinator, has overseen a bad season so far. The terrible reaction to the short kick was awful, and then his group followed that up with a muffed punt return. Mix in a blocked kick for good measure and that was one of the worst we have seen in Denton since that time NT allowed ODU’s kick return two shots to score on kick off returns.
There is a lot of youth on this team and the time has been short. We can extend some grace to the staff and the players for some bad stuff, but the special teams 1 have been poor under SL. The defense has been bad for five of six years. The one good year they had was the year in which NT only trailed in a game for like 5minutes for most of the season. Yes, the same one that saw them blow leads to Tech (at home), UAB, ODU, and get stomped in the bowl game.
The point is that while we can acknowledge the good Littrell has done here, we can also ask for some improvement in some key areas. Special teams, defense, offensive efficiency.
Given the ingredients — defense in transition, new QB — we should expect an offense that would play in shoot outs week-to-week. In the season preview we expected that with largely the same defense from last year, we should have seen more improvement more quickly on that side of the ball while the offense figured out the QB situation. Instead, they have been poor.
That is all on the coach.
Yes, even during the year with the fake return against Arkansas. There was a lot to dislike thats season as well ↩