Having expressed a desire to get the bitter taste out of their collective mouths that was put there by the UTSA Roadrunners last week, Seth Littrell and his team wanted to come out and show something. They started better, looking decent on offense before getting a little unlucky on a Deonte Simpson review. NT led after one quarter, something we had not seen since the opener against FCS Houston Baptist.
Still, NT turned that 14-7 lead to start and found themselves down 28-17 at the half. The defense showed it could not stop the run game — Tech ran for 183 yards and 161 of that was by Israel Tucker. Tech came in with an iffy offensive line, rusty from having not played in a while, and with two quarterbacks that they rotate because they cannot choose between them.
Looking at the overall numbers, you would think that North Texas did a great job on defense. That is untrue, as Tech scored on six of eight to start the game and only struggled in the fourth quarter when the lead was pretty big. When Tech score its final touchdown in the third quarter they went ahead 42-24. That is not an insurmountable lead by any stretch in 2020, but it is also not one that is going to put anyone on edge.
- LT Smoke Harris, 12 yard run 0-7 –1Q
- UNT Jaelon Darden 13 yard pass from Bean 7-7 — 1Q
- UNT DeAndre Torrey 1 yard run 14-7 — 1Q
- LT Greg Garner 1 yard rush 14-14 — 2Q
- LT Israel Tucker 2 yard rush 21-14 — 2Q
- UNT Ethan Mooney 48 yard FG 21-17 — 2Q
- LT Kyle Maxwell 5 yard pass from Anthony 28-17 — 2Q
- LT Smoke Harris 6 yard pass from Anthony 35-17 — 3Q
- UNT Jaelon Darden 33 yard pass from Bean 35-24 — 3Q
- LT Israel Tucker 1 yard rush 42-24 — 3Q
- UNT Jaelon Darden 10 yard pass from Bean 42-31 — 4Q
Here is what you need to know about what happened in this one if you didn’t watch: NT’s defense played better than they did vs UTSA but made terrible, awful mistakes on third downs to help Tech continue drives. For instance, on the drive that ended with Tech going up 28-17, North Texas had Tech on 3rd and 18, and had Israel Tucker wrapped up two yards into the backfield and allowed him to escape and run for 24 yards and a first down.
Then, on 4th and 5 from the UNT 11, Dayton LeBlanc committed a personal foul that allowed Tech a first down. The next play Tech scored a touchdown.
That was the more egregious examples. NT had a mistake on seemingly every third down. That helped Tech score when they did not necessarily deserve it. NT had 11 penalties for 82 yards.
It all masked a fairly solid effort otherwise from the defense. They held Tech to 3.7 yards per carry, thanks largely to the final frame in which they got stops to help the NT offense stay in it.
Speaking of the offense, it was mostly Jaelon Darden and that is it. He had 135 of the 231 yards through the air, and all three of the scores. He was targeted 11 times and caught 8 of them. He couldn’t be tackled and was the best part of watching everything.
He is now the career TD reception leader at NT with 34. His 15 TDs on the season (receiving) put him at 1st all time in NT history. He has the 3rd most all time as well (12, in a tie with others). He passed 1,000 yards receiving on the year.
The dude is ridiculous and should have gotten even more support this year from his coaching staff, his teammates, and everything.
Let’s Talk About Seth
After Darden scooted in for his third TD of the game, NT’s maligned defense got a stop: Tucker for 6 yards, Tucker loss of 2, Aaron Allen incomplete. NT got the ball back after just 1:47 ticked off the clock.
There was 8:50 left, NT was down 11 points.
Nic Smith 4 yards up the middle.
Nic Smith 2 yards up the middle.
Nic Smith no gain up the middle.
Jason Bean incomplete to Hair-Griffin (dropped).
Before I rage, let us acknowledge that Deonte Simpson had a couple of unforgivable drops and the Hair-Griffin drop was for a sure first down and would have helped us forgive the egregious previous plays.
What is infuriating is not necessarily that Seth Littrell called three straight dives1 but that there was little thought (seemingly) to take advantage of the guy who had scored three TDs by being difficult-to-tackle until the 4th down call — and that got Hair-Griffin wide open!
Darden was split way wide. The idea was apparently for him to draw the defensive coverage and allow the running lanes to be open for the Smith. That was fine on even the first two calls. At some point — one of the final two plays of the series — to actually target the best offensive player on the team.
We talked this week on the podcast about asking the questions of the opposition. Make them show you they can defend Jaelon Darden. Don’t do it for them. Despite all of that terrible play calling, North Texas got the ball back just two plays later on an interception. This time they threw to Simpson (8 yards) , ran for no-gain, and threw to Darden (7 yards!). Then NT struggled — I imagine this was why there were runs earlier — and NT kicked a 54 yarder that was wider than the drive from El Paso to Houston.
That about did it.
Kicking it at that point was the right decision, sure. But the fact that NT has a weak kicker right now, and a defense that is about as useful at stopping things as Skip Holtz’ face shield 2 and an offense with a play-selection problem is entirely the purview of the head coach.
The offense in the last three games has been predictable — run, run, pass. The execution has not been great, sure, but improving the execution is also the purview of the head coach. Bean sees ghosts too often, Simpson has dropped too many, the line misses a crucial block, and the only one that is scoring is Darden it seems.
Defensively, the two best performing lineman — Murphy twins — were called “terrible linebackers” and “terrible practice players” by their defensive head coach. There is indiscipline — poor tackling, poor positioning, poor execution — through the defense. The youth coming up is making plays and the talent at linebacker — Davis guys — still shines through. The starting secondary for this year has been mostly replaced in playing time by the younger class and that is good and bad. The good is that they are playing better and should get the time investment. The bad news is that they were not supposed to be getting this time.
NT has recruited well in recent seasons and for the most part the offensive skill positions have been hits. Jaelon Darden shines brightest, but Jyaire Shorter, and Deonte Simpson (when he catches the ball) have been good. Oscar Adaway, DeAndre Torrey have been really good in spots as well. Bean and Aune, despite the struggles, have shown their ability, too. Defensively is where NT has missed big.
NT had a streak of finding some talented corners for a while over the summer to jump in at fall camp but that has been a strikeout the last two seasons with big consequences. NT has not had a real pass rush for about two seasons. That the Murphys are making an impact is not totally surprising, that they are doing it on the line and were called “bad linebackers” is. They were recruited to play linebacker.
Seth Littrell has changed his offense and his defense in the last two years. Hopefully there is a longer-term plan here and we are just in the growing pains. Right now it just feels like losing pain.