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Ugly Wins Are Wins: North Texas 45 ODU 38

Mason Fine saw the rush, stepped up, scrambled to his left. He found daylight to his left and sprinted toward it. He began his slide and NT was safely in the win column following some cursory kneels.

Why was NT in need of a 3rd-and-8 scramble to win things? Well the reason is a long and terrible story that involves Marty Biagi coordinating a unit that kicked to Isiah Harper a second time after he returned a kick 97 yards for the inital score.

North Texas is 5-3 on the year, 4-1 in conference and yet there is a pall over this win. It was ugly and no one is happy with anything group that played. Still ugly wins are necessary wins and much more desireable than pretty losses. This North Texas team controls their destiny in the CUSA West division and that is quite the accomplishment.

When anyone outside of the Mean Green Family asks, your response should be ‘5-3, 4-1’. The internal self-reflection and doubt will stay in-house.

The Game

The Mean Green were expected to dominate this overmatched ODU team at home at Apogee fairly easily and looked to be on the way toward that end early. Mason Fine was hot, completing his first eight passes including a 34-yard TD to Rico Bussey.

The first drive went 77-yards on 13 plays in 4:55 and saw Jeff Wilson get the TD.

Despite allowing ODU’s Isaiah Harper to score on the ensuing kickoff, NT seemed unfazed. The Bussey TD drive went 68-yards in 4 plays. ODU would punt as the defense looked like they wanted blood. Then . . . NT thew an ugly interception. Mason Fine was hit as he threw and added his eigth interception on the year. He has now thrown at least one in the last four games, and five in the last four (all in conference play).

Still NT would score again on a 75-yard drive on 9 plays. Mason Fine was hot, and NT was moving the ball easily only facing one third down on the drive (3rd and 1, converted by Evan Johnson). The blocked punt on the next drive put NT ahead 28-10 and twitter was feeling good. This was exactly the kind of game we all expected and NT probably needed after being torched in Boca Raton.

However, incredibly NT kicked to Harper again. He scored from 98-yards out and Jeff Wilson fumbled after an 8-yard gain the following drive. ODU kicked a FG and this ‘blowout’ was only an 8-point lead at 28-20.

NT went three-and-out, getting sacked by ODU’s Rotimi killing the drive and a near-interception averted by Guyton’s effort to fight off the defensive back. Andy Flusche got the tip-drill interception he should have gotten against SMU.

The NT defense had saved the day. Nic Smith dove into the endzone to cap the 30-yard drive (7-plays). NT was up 35-20. After another ODU 3-and-out that included a big Eric Jenkins stop, NT got the ball back with 4:11 left and a chance to pour it on.

Instead, the drive stalled after three incompletes and a no-gain from Smith. Then the unthinkable: Trevor Moore missed a kick wide left. ODU had their first decent drive of the half to make it 35-23.

The Monarchs were expected to be able to move the ball somewhat, considering the talent and the coaching staff, and they managed their second good drive of the game to open the second half — 9 plays for 66-yards to make it 35-30. NT followed with a 3-and-out thanks to a Bussey penalty that was iffy.

Eric Jenkins seeminlgy stems the tide with a great interception. Nic Smith actually ran for long TD but it was called back thanks to a mystery personal foul penalty on Jordan Murray. NT would stall out after 9-plays, 53 yards and 2:57 after Nic Smith was stopped on 4th and 1 from the ODU 35.

ODU then pulls out their third great drive to pull ahead 38-35. Steven Williams morphed into the talented player he will grow into on these drives, moving the ball well and firing some big time throws. His 3rd-and-11 pass to Jackson for 27 yards was ridiculous. He converted one other third and long and capped off the drive with a 10-yard rush and the threw for the conversion.

ODU had scored 18-straight points.

NT punted after four ugly plays — the exception being the 22-yard pass to Bussey.

Here is where it got interesting: ODU had the ball at the three, drove to the 29, and then Tillman Johnson forced the sack-fumble that was recovered by Hambone. NT got inside the 10 before stalling out and kicked the tying FG.

Then began the first of three 4th and 1 stops for the NT defense.

Stop One

Old Dominion moved the ball 24 yards but was stopped on 4th and 1 by Andy Flusche and Rod Young. NT followed that up with a 4-play, 48-yard TD drive that saw Nic Smith score from 20 yards out. Bussey and Guyton got two first-down big pass plays that moved the chains and opened things up. NT was up 45-38.

Stop Two

Old Dominion followed the score with another 7-play 21 yard drive but Dee Baulkman cam up with two huge plays back-to-back. He first stopped Gemonta Jackson’s catch-and-run to 3-yards on 3rd-and-3, then got a pass break up on 4th-and-1.

With 2:11 on the clock NT opted to … pass? Yes, NT’s play calls:

Run with Nic Smith
Pass attempt
Pass attempt

NT punted. Just :55 of the clock was used.

Stop Three

After two rushes for two yards total, Williams completed a pass To Travis, Fulgham for seven yards. NT had thier third straight 4th-and-1 and stuffed Jeremy Cox for no-gain.

NT ran twice and on third-and-8 mason Fine ran for nine. Then the kneeling began.

Let us review things:

Offense

The numbers show a good performance: 460 yards, 309 passing, 151 rushing and 24 first downs. The problem was that the majority of that came in the first quarter: 224 yards, 173 passing, 51 rushing, 12 first downs.

The Mean Green had two turnovers, three three-and-outs, and were 42.9% on 3rds.

Mason Fine was harrassed after the first quarter, and the run game was nonexistent. We have to credit the ODU pass rush and the their staff for keeping Guyton away from the deep stuff he has feasted on earlier in conference.

The glimpse of the offense with answers was there, as Rico Bussey had himself a game. Turnovers and sloppy play aside, the offense was good and probably the best unit overall.

Defense

Three straight stops on 4th and 1 is not insignificant. The defense had the spotlight on them and stepped up and won this game late. The 18-straight points by Old Dominion are concerning but are nothing out of character. The next step from this offense is creating turnovers. This game presented an opportunity to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of Steven Williams and the defense came up with three takeaways.

This is good. If circumstances were different, this would be the story. The two kick off returns made the defense’s lapses more stark. Still, the three straight stops were evidence of the improvement over last year.

Army managed conversions to win the Bowl game. This defense stopped UTSA and ODU to allow the offense to win things. The defensive line is good, and should have the advantage against the rest of the schedule.

Special Teams

Special Teams were mostly bad but also had two super positive plays that resulted in 7 points. The bad was obviously the two kick off returns for scores and the missed field goal.

Three negatives and two positives. This phase nearly put the game in danger, and put the defense in a precarious position. Marty Biagi has drawn the ire of the fans. Without more insight, there is not much we can know about how or why this group has been struggling. Is it preparation? Is it the talent? Is it practice time?

Coaching

Seth Littrell’s team came out and underperformed in the last two weeks. Given the Lane Train is at full steam, it is conceivable that this was the weird and strange week and Boca Raton was just an ass whooping.

Regardless, ugly wins are wins and wins are all that matter in this game. Seth Littrell has guided a young team to the top of the division with the second best offense in the league. There is a good amount improvement to be had. It is important to remember the relative inexperience on this staff — Seth Littrell is in his second year, Graham Harrell also. Reffett has coordinator experience.

Overall this staff has done well and the bad — what of it there is that we can directly pin upon them — is understandable. This is Year Two after the worst year in NT history. The team controls the CUSA Title Game destiny and that should be remembered as we complain about the quality of win.

Next

La Tech beat Rice 42-28 to get to 2-2 in the league. A loss in Ruston would put NT at the mercy of La Tech’s schedule and probably would force the Mean Green to root for FAU against the Bulldogs. A win, however, would essentially sew up the division title. While there are games to be played UTEP and Rice are not the toughest challenges.

You might call it a semi-final before the title game. A win against a good solid team on the road is just the sort of next-step challenge. It is the biggest game of the season.

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New Denton Top 10

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Football

NT Pulls Shocking Come Back Miracle, Wins 29-26 Over UTSA

North Texas won 29-26 on a miracle 98-yard, 7-play drive that included a 49-yard bomb to Mike Lawrence in double coverage.

Mason Fine had Mesh and found Rico Bussey on the crossing route as UTSA brought everyone on 3rd and 1 from the UTSA 22. He waited for the absolute last second to fire the pass just beyond the dropping defensive Tackle Banks, into the hands of Rico Bussey on the move.

Bussey got a block, found the edge, evaded Devron Davis and tightroped the line sideline for the score.

I jumped for joy and ran accross my living room. My wife screamed.

This was hyped as the biggest game in Apogee history with 3-2 (2-0) North Texas taking on 3-1 (0-1) UTSA in a battle that UNT President called “the CUSA West championship”. North Texas jumped out quickly faded in the middle quarters, and finished strong. UTSA and UNT were evenly matched teams, but NT had the rest and the home field advantage.

North Texas came out and scored on the first three drives — two TDs and a FG. They started 6/6 on 3rd down conversion and then failed on 3rd and goal and kicked a FG. That, in case you hadn’t realized, is how you want your offense to produce.

By the end of the first NT had a 16-7 lead and had dominated time of possession approximately 12 minutes to 3. Mason Fine found Jalen Guyton for 77 yards and a score and things looked great for the green (and black). The explosive offense so talked about was producing as expected and UTSA’s secondary did not have the footspeed. The NT offensive line was holding off the pass rush long enough to allow Mason Fine time to make plays on the ground and through the air.

Still, UTSA managed to hit Fine often, even on the 77-yarder. Mason was able to complete passes in the face of pressure and keep things moving. That would prove to be the difference later.

The second quarter and third quarter were all UTSA as they played their game and found a way to shutter the explosive NT offense by hitting Fine. NT helped things by two poor snaps. One came on the extra point to keep things at 13 instead of 14. The other came with the offense in a groove. The snap flew over Mason Fine’s head for a loss of 17. The drive was stalled and NT would punt.

UTSA had found success getting into the backfield. The next drive was awful for NT as Marcus Davenport sacked Fine twice. Meanwhile UTSA was controlling the ball and moving it enough to manage field goal attempts. By the end of the quarter the score was 17-16 but two TDs and a FG for both sides.

The third quarter was ugly if you were looking for offense. UTSA had 63 yards on 18 plays and NT had 19 yards on 11.

Yuck.

Still, NT came up with two big stops after 1) a Mason Fine INT and 2) a short punt. After everything UTSA was only up 20-16 and NT had the ball near the end of the quarter.

Then came another huge drive were NT finally got unstuck. Guyton got free after a couple of 3rd down conversions and scored his second TD of the game — a 32-yard TD to cap a 10-play 80 yard scoring drive over 4:25.

NT was up. I dont know what happened with the conversion attempt but it was intercepted. NT was up 22-20 and things were not looking so dire. NT finally found running and passing room.

The defense put up yet another great stop on the UTSA offense, helped by the crowd (whatt??) for a couple of penalties — a delay and a false start.

Then NT got stuck again. A three-and-out with a chance to take control of the game was costly. UTSA scored on the next possession.

NT had to that point put up a good fight defensively and the touchdown was terrible but the previous work meant that NT did not have an insurmountable deficit in front of them.

On the next possession, NT went four-and-out and had the worst couple of play-call combinations. NT tried the QB run that worked successfully in the first quarter and was stuff. They followed that with a read with Jeff Wilson that lost two. The majority of the fandom considered this to be poor play calling.

Generally speaking, getting the ball to Jeff Wilson on third down would have been the preferred option.

UTSA took over with 1:29 left at the NT 45. Three rush plays — three, four, no gain — brought up 4th and 3. Rod Young stopped UTSA RB Jalen Rhodes on 3rd and 3 for no gain in a huge stop that saved the game. While most thought UTSA would go for it and try to seal the game, they instead punted and seemingly got a perfect scenario: North Texas pinned at the 2 with no timeouts and just over a minute left.

Then came the drive.

NT had two completions for a first down. Then Mason Fine rolled left — Jeff Wilson got a huge chip block on Marcus Davenport that saved a sack — and fired out of bounds to Rico Bussey. On the next play Fine escaped a rush, set up and found Mike Lawrence for 49-yards. The play looked similar to the INT except Fine managed to get enough air under the ball.

There was some question as to whether Lawrence pushed the defender but the replay showed it was just a great play. Then Fine found Darden for 9 yards and spiked it.

Then came the score.

Mason Fine stood tall and completed the play, allowing Rico Bussey to catch the ball in stride and score. By then there was just :10 left on the clock and a miracle greater than the one we just saw would have been required.

Let’s go through some groups:

Offense

The first and fourth quarter NT offenses were great. The middle two quarters were less good.

Quarter Yards
1 239
2 8
3 19
4 175
total 441

Mason Fine ended the day with 354 passing on 20/34 for 3 TDs and 1 Int. Good stuff. Jalen Guyton had 8 receptions for 182 and 2 scores in his second straight dominant game. He torched Devron Davis for the 77-yarder where he was open by about 15-yards. We speculated he would really dominate this league and it that has been the case.

Guyton also added 12 yards rushing including a long of 9. Jeff Wilson was good in spots but was bottled up by the play-calling and second and third quarter slumps. He finished with 16 for 83 including a long of 35. He was outstanding in pass protection, which is an underrated part of his game. The team finished with 87 yards rushing total, but that includes -17 on the bad snap.

NT did well to use misdirection against UTSA’s aggression and jump out to an early 13-0 lead. The middle quarters had more frustration as NT could not deal with Marcus Davenport adequately. He was a handful and UTSA’s DC moved him all over.

NT converted 9/16 3rd downs (56.3 %) in part because of the success on standard downs (3/6 on 3rd and shorts). During NT’s lull they went 0/5 on thirds.

In the opening quarter NT had 6 chunk plays (passes over 15 and runs over 10). They finished the game with 12 (8 passes, 4 runs).

Ultimately the luck on the final drive was earned. NT is an explosive offense and has made big plays all season. While the circumstances were unlikely, the team battled through and executed. That was just great offense down the stretch. Execution and calm. No holding calls and blocks down the field and in the backfield. That’s a dream scenario.

Defense

The defense was outstanding.

NT came in averaging 400 yards allowed per game and held UTSA to 389, and 5.9 per play. UTSA came in averaging 6.84 per play. UTSA managed only 4.2 yard per carry, and while good, that did not establish enough of a run game to really control the game. Instead, UTSA resorted to long conversions at best. Even then NT held UTSA to 4/14 on third down conversions and forced 6 3rd and longs.

UTSA managed nine chunk plays (5 15+ passes, 4 10+ runs). The two TDs were on 40+ yard passes to RBs off of play action.

Dalton Sturm’s 19 yard rush on 3rd and 17 was both the longest and most frustrating. UTSA did exert their will on NT in the middle quarters but still managed only a four point lead. Credit the defense for the effort.

Reffett’s group gave Mason Fine one more chance to win the thing and were rewarded.

Andy Flusche had two TFLs, McClain, Muhammad, Ejiya, TJ Tauaalo, Wheeler, Preston, Hamilton, Tillman Johnson all had part in others. NT totalled 9 TFLs for the game. This all without Sid Moore and Bryce English.

The defense hurried Sturm 3 times and nearly were rewarded with big plays. Instead Ashton Preston was called for interference (questionable) on one, and the other fell to Josh Steward for a big gain instead of an INT.

Eric Jenkins again put up 2 pass deflections including an incredible break on the ball early in the game to shut down a drive. This defense that has been much maligned held an offense that averaged 35 a game to only 26 points. They gave their offense a chance to win.

Great job by this group.

Coaching

Seth Littrell has changed the culture of this team. So many tweets ambled through the timeline with some version of “This is the same old North Texas” and they ultimately were wrong.

While some luck played a part — that toss to Lawrence! — luck is made. The defense is improving week to week, and the offense remains explosive and the league’s best. Littrell came in saying that he will find players and develop them. Now his guys — Fine, Guyton, Darden, Jenkins — are all rapidly developing and big parts of the success.

Mason Fine went from an undersized freshman who made too many turnovers in this game last year to the hero showing flashes of Aaron Rodgers. That’s development.

Graham Harrell had a good game but a glaring question mark. Reffett squeezed everything from a defense that is now missing two defensive line players against an offense that outweighs them and wants to run the ball down the middle. Late in last year’s game UTSA ran the ball down the throat of the defense to seal the game in a similar situation. This season they were forced to punt.

That kind of effort wins games.

Other

Darden and Johnson did not have much to work with returning. The bad snap on the PAT nearly cost the game. Trevor Moore was money on his one kick. North Texas

What It Means

North Texas won the most thrilling game in recent memory (ever?) and leads the division with a 3-0 record. UAB won against MTSU, while USM did the same against UTEP which means NT does have a bit of room for error but not much. FAU and Lane Kiffin’s powerful run game away in Boca Raton, fresh off a bye week and ready to take advantage of NT’s beat-up Defensive line.

NT had the first 3-game win stream since 2013 and 4-2 for the first time in forever. FAU is a really good and impressive squad and a win in Boca would be huge. The best thing about winning is that it brings bigger and more important games.

Else

The attendance was something like 23K and a little short of the goal. Considering the circumstances, it was understandable. Texas-OU is a 100-year old rivalry and will draw the bulk of the attention of the Metroplex for a long time. Marketing at NT is much harder than anyone wants to realize. The efforts of the administration were amazing, and that kind of work and this kind of game will produce bigger better crowds in future years — and maybe even this year.

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Conquer the Rock: North Texas 43 – Southern Miss 28

North Texas went into Hattiesburg and handled Southern Miss 43-28 in a game that looked precarious early. Southern Miss ended the game with the advantage on turnover margin, held a 14-0 lead, and for a large part of the game: third down conversions.

Mason Fine struggled but put up 366 yards regardless. He found a friend in Jalen Guyton — to the tune of 14 catches for 211 yards and a score. Guyton was targeted an incredible 18 times. Southern Miss respected his speed early and allowed him all of the underneath space. NT took advantage of that early and later hit the big stuff over the top. In between Jeff Wilson was his typical amazing self, adding 148 yards on 30 totes and three scores. A series of smaller, drive saving runs by Wilson were key and just as important as the bigger highlight-worthy ones.

NT’s defense made enough plays to allow the offense some breathing room and NT won relatively comfortably — unlike last week. North Texas got a week-better and made a case as dark horse division challenger here. Southern Miss came into tonight boasting the league’s best statistical defense but were sliced apart by NT’s Power Air Raid.

Southern Miss came out the blocks hot, and found their best playmaer Ito Smith for 45 big yards to set up the first score. NT missed a tackle, having Colton McDonald on Smith and things looked bad.

First two drives included a mishandled snap, a loss of dive, and a sack in the six plays. Total plays: 6, total yards: -3.

Ater a punt, USM scored again, thanks to a deep toss up to Allenzae Staggers for 33. NT looked like the defense that was giving up big plays to UAB but without the scorching offense.

USM looked like they were recreating the SMU game

Finally, after trading three-and-outs (S/O to Ejiya for an early drive-killing sack) NT converted a 4th and 1 as Jeff Wilson scampered down the left sideline for 46 yards and a score. He did the classic Jeff run where he stiff armed the inital tackler, turned it up field, and then made a move. NT 7 USM 14.

NT’s defense continued the strong play but this time Kwadra Griggs could not find anyone on bail-out 3rd and long plays. Another punt.

NT threw away a good drive on a Rico Bussey fumble — it came on the snag play we saw against SMU

The Golden Eagles capitalized and everyone was thinking this thing was a typical NT game. Ito Smith outran everyone for 65-yards and a score, matching Jeff’s run and making Kemon Hall look silly.

Bad turned to worse and Mason Fine threw a terrible pick over the middle. USM looked like they were recreating the SMU game: capitalize on early NT mistakes to take a big lead.

Instead the defence forced a punt after three plays and NT took over from the five.

Then the game turned.

The Drive

Last year NT was down 17 to Rice and had come off five straight quarters of terrible offense. Then Mason Fine tossed up a prayer to O’Keeron Rutherford for a miracle first down and everything changed.

Here, NT was backed up at the 5 yard line and nearly was tackled for a loss and a safety. Jeff Wilson made a hugely underrated play and battled forward for only a two yard loss. Mason finds Mike Lawrence for 11. Then Jeff converts a huge third down run with a 2-yard gain. This was when NT was having trouble converting already. The Mean Green have struggled (on both sides) on 3rd. They struggled especially on 3rd and short on offense which is very strange. I cannot stress enough how important and unlikely that conversion was.

Suddenly this is a game.

The very next play Mason Fine hooked up with Smiley for 41-yards. Southern Miss was sitting deep early, then started creeping up. Fine found him streaking on a skinny post and hit him perfectly. NT was down to the USM 43 and cooking. Fine found Guyton for 8, Jeff ran for a no-gain and there was an incompletion on third down. Then another huge conversion on 4th and 2. NT came out in a bunch look and Fine rolled out — just like he did on the previous interception — and found Kelvin Smith just past the marker for a first down. He caught it along the sideline and fell forward.

That was Smith’s only catch of the game.

Southern Miss had a flag on the play that added 15 yards. NT now getting some luck. Jeff runs for 12 down to the five yard line. Then again for 3 up the middle. Finally Mason Fine rolles left and hits Guyton for 3 yards and the score. It is 21-14 and suddenly this is not a blowout loss, choke job. Suddenly NT is the team the stats say they were. Suddenly this is a game.

NT’s defense, hyped and rested after NT’s 12-play 95-yard drive over 5:11 quickly forces a USM punt. Griggs had found Staggers for a miracle 31-yard gain but that proved to be more luck than anything. Two Ito Smith rushes were bottled up and then Griggs threw incomplete to Isaiah Jones.

We Continue

NT was now at the 20 yard line, 54 seconds on the clock and down four. Instead of packing it in and heading into the locker room, NT gets aggressive (love it) and Mason Fine drops a beauty to Caleb Chumley for 43 yards on 2nd-and-16. He hit him in stride, in between the safety and trailing backer. Beautiful. Who says he can’t throw deep?

After a couple of incompletions and a Guyton six-yarder, NT faced 4th-and-4 with :20 left on the clock from the USM 37. NT lines up in a tight formation and Mason Fine floats a pass to Nic Smith for six yards and a first down. Trevor Moore bent in the FG and NT was down 21-17 at the half. What an amazing turn of events.

Second Half Destruction

After Fine’s interception the NT drive chart looks like this:

TD, FG, FG, TD, TD, TD, FG, Punt, END OF GAME.

North Texas outscored USM in the third 16-7, and it was 16-0 much of the quarter. For the second half, NT outgained USM 302 to 162 and outscored them 26-7. After only converting 2/10 on third down in the first half, NT converted an incredible 7/11 (64%) in the second half.

The defense was scorched by USM for 253 in the first but held them to 162 in the second, including only 4.8 yards per play on 34 plays and 1/6 on third down.

For the game USM only converted 33% of 3rd downs, including 1/5 on 3rd and 9+, and 1/2 on 3rd and less than 4. Kwadra Griggs came into tonight at 58% completion and finished 19/42 (45.5%) passing for 270 and only 1 score (that was mostly a sweep).

Offense

Whoo boy that was fun to watch. Last week I wrote that NT officially has a good offense. We had seen too many good things — even and maybe especially in losses — that suggested that NT could continue this pace the rest of the way. There is plenty to improve upon but there was plenty of great tonight.

Let us quickly complain:

Mason Fine missed throws, missed open guys, looked hurried, and did not take care of the ball. The line did not get enough push on short yardage and NT did not convert goal-to-go situations easily.

Okay I am done.

Let’s celebrate:

Mason Fine-to-Jalen Guyton is fun to watch. Number 9 absolutely owned the secondary all night to the tune of 14 catches for 211 on 18 targets and 1 score. He feasted on the shorter and intermediate routes after seeing soft coverage all night. His reputation as a burner has preceded him and USM played him accordingly. Fine and Guyton took that space and after USM decided to play straight, they went over the top.

Jeff Wilson was JEFF WILSON all night. I’ve repeatedly called him the best player on the offense and he repeatedly shows that is not an exaggeration. He was the offense early and the closer late. He put up 148 yards on 30 carries (workhorse?)

He also added a big 18-yard catch early. He’s lessened his role in the pass game as he’s increased it in the run game. He’s been spectacular all season and is inching up the all-time charts here.

The little things he did tonight were noticed and appreciated and worth every bit as much as the highlight worthy ones.

Incredible: Smiley, Chumley, Wilson, Lawrence, Nic and Kelvin Smith all had one catch and each catch was either clutch and/or an important point in a scoring drive.

The offense put up 540 yards on 87 plays, 366 passing, 174 rushing, had 24 first downs. This offense is good and is stil improving.

Defense

USM had a great first half but was stunted in the second. North Texas learned from the UAB debacle and found a way to turn 3rd and longs into an advantage. USM had talent in Ito Smith and outside and took advantage. Getting worked by Ito in the open field is part of the game and you learn from it and move on. Staggers, Robertson, and Jones are big and strong and can move in the open field. The key was making Kwadra Griggs beat them and he could not do what AJ Erdely was able to do: Complete big 3rd down passes.

Khairi Muhammad had 10 tackels (6 solo) and played solid coverage. EJ Ejiya continued his strong play and picked up a sack along with 10 tackles. Kemon Hall was good and had a pass break up. So did KiShawn McClain — who showed a little of his ability to fly in for big tackles. Colton McDonald had a big third down pass break up early in the game.

TJ Tauaalo was hurt late but had a QB hurry. Tyreke Davis has bee making plays as a true freshman. I am excited about his future here in this defense. Sid Moore, Andy Flusche, Rod Young continued to dominate the line of scrimmage. They did a good job of wrangling a talented back and one big 65-yard run is very understandable. There was also a Tony Krasniqi sighting.

The big question was at corner and yes, Eric Jenkins started. He had another pass break up and played his usual solid corner work. Withe Kemon Hall and Jenkins playing like this, this defense is shaping up to be the one we hoped would compliment a good offense.

Special

The special teams was solid today and Trevor Moore was his clutch reliable self. That end-of-half kick was incredible.

Coaching

Much has been made of the adjustments from half-to-half. This was not without good reason. I have liked what Harrell has done here and the bones of this offense were set last season. The missing piece was well, talent. NT thought it had this kind of talent in Goree, Wilson, Robinson and Smiley last season but has found it in Guyton, Bussey, Smiley this season. Add to that combination the maturation and growth of Mason Fine and this offense is clicking like no other Mean Green team in recent memory.

This pass game is on pace to be the most explosive in NT history while the run game is comparable with some of the better ones in Denton (and that is saying something). Credit the staff for the improvement. They boasted of their ability to identify talent and develop it. The last recruiting class was mid-conference in ranking but has produced Darden, Guyton, Evan Johnson, and Tyreke Davis. Not bad at all.

What It Means

I had North Texas at 3-2 heading into the bye but I thought SMU was going to be the win not USM. (I must have transposed those letters) NT is better than expected offensively and slightly worse defensively. Still, this league is very winnable. UTSA is the consensus best team in the league but the have yet to play anyone of note — Baylor is terrible, Southern is bad and hurt, and Texas State is not better than UAB. UTSA supporters are pointing to stats … but so did Southern Miss fans.

We will learn a lot next week as UTSA hosts this same Southern Miss squad. As it is, North Texas is atop the West standings for now at 2-0 and 3-2 on the season. The Mean Green are halfway toward bowl eligibility and positioned nicely to compete for a division title. That is a good place to be.

The bye week not only allows rest and recuperation but a return for Bryce English to bolster the defensive line that has been a strength. While it is disappointing to have a bye right when the offense is clicking so nicely, the rest is well deserved and much needed.

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2017 Season: UAB Week

Let us be clear about how much we do not know about UAB: they could come into Denton and do damage. North Texas is favored by ~10 depending on the time you choose to place your bet and with whom. Four of the five advanced numbers have NT above UAB but they all have NT as a projected winner.

The Numbers:

S&P: 127
NT: 105 (LW 103)
COW: 76%

SRS: 99
NT: 95 (LW 113)

FPI: 117
NT: 97 (LW 82)
COW: 76.2%

Sagarin: 129
NT: 128 (LW 128)

FEI: 130
NT: 109 (LW 113)
COW: 83.1%

Massey: 138
NT: 146 (LW 145)
COW: 58%

COW = Chance of Winning

OFFENSE

The Blazers come to Denton good enough to average 33.0 a game but bad enough to only average 34/per against the FCS opponents they played — yes I know CCU is a first-year FBS school. The danger they present is not in generic offensive production, but in the style of play. They can and will want to run the ball. A.J. Erdley has averaged ~15 rushing attempts a game against 19 throwing. His big 6’4″ 220 lbs frame presents a challenge for the relatively lightly built NT defense. While North Texas did well to slow Iowa, they eventually were worn down by the power run game.

On Saturday UAB will try a very similar strategy but with a very different roster level. It is this talent disparity and the home location that give NT the edge. The Mean Green were tough last week but do not doubt that it is easier to get hyped for Iowa than UAB. That could be all the difference.

The Blazers offensive line is big, strong, and has a nice collection of upperclassman. Normally that means they have experience, but since this is an unusual situation we’ll rate that less highly. They average about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. Combined with Erdley and TE Logan Scott’s 6’5″ 240 lbs and you have a powerful running group. Freshman back Spencer Brown run from the backs, but the depth chart lists three ‘starters’. Brown looks like he’ll be really good for a while, however.

The receivers haven’t had many catches and nothing about the numbers stands out in particular. There is not much size aside from 6’4″ JR WR Ronnie Turner, but he is the 7th leading receiver with only 2 catches for 20 yards. JR Andre Wilson is the leading pass-catcher with 8 catches for 101 yards. This be he:

It is possible to become too enamored of their offense and forget that our defense can be stout. The things that make North Texas vulnerable are not under immediate threat by UAB’s system. That is to say, Erdley is not the passing threat that Hicks-to-Sutton or even Nate Stanley was. The question is if UAB can run effectively against a NT defense that has done relatively well against run-first systems.

Andy Flusche played well against Iowa, getting into the backfield as NT was slanting against Iowa’s zone runs. EJ Ejiya, LaDarious Hamilton, and Syd Moore all got in the backfield to create havoc. Nate Brooks, Khairi Muhammad, and Kemon Hall should be able to match up well with UAB’s starting trio. UAB’s power plays also serve as their play-action into max-protection for deep shots. Iowa tried to do something similar but Nate Stanley wasn’t able to find his guys. AJ Erdley is more of a running threat than a passing one.

NT does not need to shutout UAB, but merely slow them. A run-first team is not a high-scoring team and NT thus far has shown they are ready to score.

DEFENSE

The Blazers line up in a multiple defense based on the three-down lineman look with a Jack LB as an edge rusher. Nose Tackle Teko Powell is 6’3″ 320 lbs and his backup Anthony Rush is 6’5″ 340 lbs. DE Keeley is 6’7″ and star LB Shaq Jones is 6’3″ 250 lbs. NT has faced stronger and better defensive lines but UAB is not far off. They have the kind of size that can stifle NT’s run game and bat down passes of our short QB. NT may have the better offense but sometimes size and strength are all that is needed.

I expect NT to try to run around UAB’s guys instead of through them. Coastal Carolina was unable to throw much, but did put up 227 yards rushing on 49 carries. UAB’s defense forced three picks and capitalized on the short fields.

While NT has done well attacking soft zones and has taken shots against man coverage, the offense still hasn’t put together a great full game. Littrell has talked about the search for consistency for two years now. NT is closer to that goal, but still far enough away that we can’t predict the circumstances that are likely to produce it.

If NT is able to get Jeff Wilson loose enough on the edges, the team will be able to stay on schedule and get some points. While Jalen Guyton has been a threat to take the top off the defense, Jaelon Darden has looked especially dangerous in the middle ranges. Unfortunately he is questionable, and so that means Smiley and Bussey will have to step up and be playmakers. Mike Lawrence is the possession receiver extraordinaire and that is perfect. Someone needs to do that job.

Overall

As we said on the podcast, the real danger is in a team that can execute their game plan. I mean, do not forget that every team at the very least has a game plan it usually involves playing to their strengths. Duh. UAB wants to control the game with defense and the run game. You might remember that was Iowa’s plan. Seth Littrell and the staff will have a chance to right that little wrong. They shouldn’t need the luck they got against the Hawkeyes, but it can’t hurt.

While UAB wants a slug-fest, NT wants a track meet. Forcing UAB into pass-first mode is a win for North Texas, and the game will shift toward Troy Reffet’s strengths.

Stakes

UAB is playing with house money right now, and a loss will not do much to the feel-good story. It probably will hurt the attendance figures long-term. UAB is going to do their CUSA challenge next year.

For NT, a win here sets up a very similar parallel to last year: 2-2 after the first four with one FCS and one CUSA win, and one morale-boosting Power-5 loss to pair with an SMU blowout. The Blazers will not fill Apogee on their name, but the decent Iowa showing might bring in a few. NT will need a great showing in this one and against Southern Miss in Hattiesburg the following week to renew fan interest, as this is the last home game for three weeks.

MGN Predicts 34-24 win.
MGN hopes for a 73-0 blowout as revenge for the last time they played.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Worn Down: Iowa 31 North Texas 14

North Texas opened as 24-point underdogs to Iowa and after seeing the SMU backup QB toss a 47-yard TD late Safeway Bowl blowout it was hard to muster up hope.

Two seasons ago Iowa destroyed NT’s defensive line on the way to a 62-16 win wherein NT was embarrassed and embarrassing. After this 31-14 defeat, there is something like pride in the effort.

What was the difference? Well NT defended well enough to make Iowa work for things this time. Sure, North Texas benefited greatly from the refereeing being questionable, and Iowa hurting themselves with penalties and an early fumble. The sword cut both ways, as NT was penalized — sometimes questionably — 13 times for 199 yards.

This was a very weird game as Iowa’s first TD was less deserved than their first two that were taken away. North Texas continued the terrible streak of being poor on 3rd downs while Iowa had zero respect — and full self-confidence — in continually attempting 4th down conversions. They were 2/3 in the first half and 4/5 for the game.

North Texas, meanwhile, could not convert a 3rd down all game — finishing 0/6.

The same inconsistencies and mistakes from last season returned: holding penalties, drops, sacks. Still, NT was able to get Jeff Wilson free for a 41-yard TD early (he finished with 95 yards on 12 carries) and Quinn Shanbour stepped in to complete his only two attempts including a 13-yard strike to Jaylon Guyton for a score to put NT up 14-10.

That drive benefitted from two Iowa 15-yard penalties. Both squads went into the second half feeling like there were a lot of opportunities missed. Iowa dominated the second half, controlling the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes. NT punted three straight times before the final INT that sealed things.

The drive of the game was Iowa’s first after the NT punt in the 3rd quarter. Iowa went 76 yards on 14 plays in 6:52 to take the lead. The Hawkeyes converted a 3rd and 3, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 1, and the 4th and 5 to score from 23 yards out. Iowa played that drive like it was for the game, and it essentially was. Once they got up, the game played to their strengths: defense and ball-controll runs.

Following that, NT punted again and Iowa used another monster drive to put the game away. A 16-play, 87-yard drive that consumed 8:50 over two quarters put them up 24-14 and sealed things. Iowa leaned heavily on the run. North Texas made them work for it, but Iowa’s backup backs Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin took turns grinding out first downs.

By then the NT defensive line was gassed, although they made Iowa grind for every yard.

What It Means

There was a lot to appreciate here, and a lot to criticize. Given that NT is in Year Two of the Seth (or Sean?) Littrell project, some room for error is expected. In year two, NT added Guyton, Darden, Nic Smith. They were dangerous all game, and threatened things. As the staff continues to find talented players to fill a roster that had much attrition, NT should have the firepower to challenge in these games a bit more.

Beyond that, we have seen Mason Fine mature. His stat line was unimpressive, but he stood tall and fired some great passes throughout. Through three games he has looked in command of the offense and as league play begins, he should have more opportunities to impress.

The defense played much better than last week, but there were still more open guys running free in the secondary. LaDarius Hamilton, Ulaiasi Tauaalo, Andy Flusche all were impressive.

NT is only slightly behind where they could have been. The loss to SMU was uglier than it should have been, and this loss was a little better-looking. The offense is better than last season’s version, and the defense is still coming together. That is a promising place to be.

The special teams, however, are awful. The punt game was a net negative, the return coverage is average at best, and NT had a field goal blocked. Add this to the two muffed punts from the last two weeks and what used to be a strength is a glaring weakness.

Next Up: UAB

UAB is 2-1 after today’s win over Coastal Carolina. NT should be favored in this one but should not overlook this Blazer team. NT’s offensinve and defensive lines should have the advantage if they play at the same level as these last two weeks.

Categories
Football

2016 Football Season Preview

Welcome to the MGN 2016 Season Preview

I’ve treated this in years past as an exercise in self-education, never an obligation, nor a cry for page views. While I am certainly obsessive about my interests, I try to keep enough of a balance in my life that no one passion becomes all-consuming or overwhelming. Not being completely up-to-date with every ounce of information means that you can enjoy learning and discovering a bit about a topic once you are ready. So it is with Mean Green Football and you.

Do not feel bad for being unfamiliar with the entire roster, the coaching staff, or the entire history. That is what this season preview is for. Read it, remember a tidbit or two and refer back to it to guide you as you follow your favorite college football team. Or your second favorite college football team if that is the case. It is often the case with NT alumni. I do not judge you. I am your friend.

Guide

Click the ☝ to go back to the top as you go through the preview.

  1. Overview
  2. Coaching
  3. Offense
  4. QBs
  5. RBs
  6. WRs
  7. TE/H-backs
  8. Offensive Line
  9. Defense
  10. Defensive Line
  11. LBs
  12. DBs
  13. Special Teams
  14. Schedule and Predictions
  15. Recruiting

Overview

North Texas football program is in a precarious position. Through a series of very unfortunate bouts of mismanagement by a combination of the former athletic director, coaching staff, and players the Mean Green Football team is coming off a one-win season that included a 59-point loss to the FCS-dwelling Portland State Vikings. We were embarrassed, the coach was fired, most of the existing staff was let go and will be forever stained by the experience.

Athletic Director Rick Villarreal “stepped down” but before he left he hired a first-time head coach with a reputation for offensive fireworks, a down-home demeanor, and a no-nonsense public speaking persona. That person is Seth Littrell. The hire was a classic pendulum reaction as Dan McCarney was a long-time head coach, defensive, and good for a quote.

In January 2014, North Texas looked to be on solid ground coming off a bowl win, a new stadium, and a new, richer conference with Texas teams. Here at the start of the 2016 season Seth Littrell has only 68 scholarship players, is in the middle of a facilities arms race with no ammunition (read: donations), the lowest attendance of the Apogee era, and the threat of conference realignment looming.

Here is what I wrote after NT was destroyed by MTSU in November

Whoever [the coach is] will have the blankest of slates. Any progress next year will be met with round of applause. It will be basically like 2011 all over again. And that’s the problem isn’t it? This program went backwards.
Its not an unusual thing. College football by its nature, is unstable. Every four years we get a new crop of players. This fall has been different. It looks more like we didn’t fall from greatness, but more that we had a blip of a great season in the midst of a sea of awful bad.
North Texas is a tough job. It can be a great job — any program can be — but it will take a unified effort from the administration, the athletic department, and the coaching staff to make it one. And that means winning. It means the cash to pay these guys, it means scheduling a decent football schedule, it means finding and developing the right players, and it means each player working on their game.

While you as a fan will likely want to quickly skip past this season, there are plenty of reasons to watch. Not the least of which will be tracking the growth of a young team grow into what we hope will be a conference champion in three or four years.

The schedule is tough, the future uncertain, and the coaches — and players — inexperienced. There is very little to know about the how but the what has already been predicted. Many losses.

Coaching

Seth Littrell needs some patience from you. When the season starts the temptation to place weight on the outcome will be great. Resist. Such is the nature of opening day. It would also be foolish to have very high expectations. We will not be able to ascertain his quality as a coach until he makes over the roster to his liking, and subsequently coaches them into the types of players he wants.

Is that in three years? Is that in four? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt considering the situation he inherited and maybe tack on a few more years of qualified demands?

These are nigh-unanswerable questions right now. The task at hand — preparing his team for the rigors of a season with basically zero FBS quality depth is enormous. Even the most skeptical North Texas fan will admit that this roster has talent at positions of note. Jeffery Wilson, Tee Goree, Fred Scott, and Kishawn McClain are capable of good things – maybe even great things. Beyond that, Seth is trying to fill in spots with JUCO guys to hedge against the inevitable injury, suspension, or poor play.1 It is a tough task, but one for which Seth Littrell signed up.

The staff coaching offense is intriguing. Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell is a college football legend in this state. While the high school recruits he is recruiting are probably too young remember him playing, their coaches and parents likely are not. If nothing else, he and Joel Filani – another in the Air Raid/Mike Leach/Texas Tech line – bring first hand knowledge of the offensive system that is wildly popular throughout the state.

The run-first system of the McCarney era was unfairly derided and misunderstood as a philosophy . It was rightly criticized for its ineffectiveness. 2 The post Derek Thompson years were the two worst offensive displays in at least a decade. If Littrell can simply produce NCAA-average quarterback play from presumptive starter Alec Morris this season we may have reason to proclaim the new staff as better than the old one.

It will be difficult to judge Harrell fairly outside of that. With the depth chart similar to newly-promoted FBS squads, we should probably have the expectations of a new FBS program: somewhat competitive, playing for the future, incremental improvement. We would be doing disservice to ourselves to expect anything beyond that, but even I will be hard-pressed to remember that on September 3rd.

The marketing points – youth, excitement, scoring – will be quickly forgotten once the games are played, as they are every year. With only limited potential for on-field success likely, qualified success and off-field accomplishments will have to be our gauge. That is to say we will watch closely for moral victories, recruiting wins, and incremental improvement.

Defensively, coordinator Mike Ekeler joins the staff from Georgia, where he was praised for his position coaching. Molding a defense with some talents but that is coming off a season in which it was roasted for gobs of yardage and points will be tough. He is coaching the defense along side Troy Reffett, formerly of ULM fame and together they will bring the squad into a 3-3-5 alignment. 3

While the current defensive roster was recruited to play under both versions of the 4-3 coached by former DCs John Skaladany and Chris Cosh, the lack of depth along the defensive line, and with the relative size disparity of a CUSA roster means the new 3-3-5 is ideal for our roster. The attacking variety was designed by current Texas Longhorn coach Charlie Strong for his outmanned South Carolina defense 16 years ago which had similar issues. Necessity being the mother of invention, etc.

Ekeler and Reffet will spend this season looking for players who can fit the system for the long-haul, while developing and shaping it to suit the talent at hand. There will be lineup changes, and subtle shifts in alignment and scheme along the way. Their progression ideally will look like Skladany’s squads during his time leading up to the vaunted 2013 defense that was the ideal mix of scheme and talent and produced memories that will last for a long time.

Offense

Graham Harrell is the coordinator but we know this is Seth Littrell’s offense. He was hired for his capabilities as a coordinator and play caller and while he hired friend and qualified candidate Graham Harrell, all eyes will be on Seth Littrell when senior QB Alec Morris lines up.

The frustrating predictably of the McCarney regime, along with the developmental questions that produced two of the worst seasons in UNT football history. Unfortunately, the cupboard is bare. Alec Morris was brought in to be the starter and is only challenged by a former walk-on.

RB Jeffery Wilson was the lone bright spot last season, and he and Wily Ivery lead a very thin running back stable that still might be the most talented position group through and through. WR Tee Goree can produce a highlight catch, but can he fill the shoes left by Carlos Harris, and before him Brelen Chancellor?

Can the OL stay healthy and pass block?

Yes, there are a lot of questions to be answered this season, and all we can do now is project players who played in a power-spread amalgamation under McCarney/Canales into a spread-and-shred modern Air Raid system. The history shows that such as transition is an ugly one, with some big numbers that look good in the stat sheet, but equally garish sloppy play.4

There will be sloppy play. Not only is the transition a factor, but so too is the depth. Yes, that again. Littrell/Harrell are going to play fast and require their receivers to do a lot of running. That means the fast-dwindling roster of pass-catchers need to be productive or Alec Morris will throw lots of incomplete passes – at best.

The great news is that it cannot possibly be worse than last year, where the only hope for much of the year was that departed QB DaMarcus Smith would scramble for a score.

Given the staff, it is reasonable to expect something approaching the look of Mike Leach/UNC offense we saw. But Harrell and Littrell aren’t the Pirate and this roster, and this conference, and this era make the circumstances ripe for innovation and improvisation. Expect some differences from Washington State / Texas Tech.

Offensive Coaches:

Graham Harrell – Offensive Coordinator
Tommy Mainord – Associate HC/Pass Game Coordinator/ Inside WRs
Joel Filani – Wide Receivers
Tommy Perry – Running Backs
Brad Davis – Run Game Coordinator / OL

QBs

Alec Morris is the starter, and you should really appreciate it. He can sling the ball around and seems like the best option. Quinn Shanbour is the backup that is quite frankly ridiculous. I do not mean to unnecessarily knock QS, but only to point out that three years after Derek Thompson graduated, the QB situation is such that a walk-on beat out a projected TE. And so Littrell had to bring in a guy that could run the show.

Alec Morris had great highlights in high school, spent most of the last half-decade under the best college football coach we have right now, and learned winning football. We do not know much about his abilities to run the Air Raid, but he at last brings knowledge of a first-class program. That is invaluable now. Thus far he has the accuracy, poise, and confidence of the coaches and the players.

Quinn Shanbour, my snide comments aside, showed some ability in the spring game. He earned a scholarship to play football, which is more than I can say for myself. His running talents were the most impressive thing on display during the Spring ‘scrimmage’. With questions along every roster spot save for the RB position, that may be more useful than knowledge of Saban’s program. That said, we thought the same thing about DaMarcus Smith. Barring injury or blowouts in our favor, Quinn will likely only get repetitions in game situations if Alec Morris is spectacularly awful. In that case, we will see if he can fire TD passes to defenses with more skins on the wall than the Spring version of the NT defense.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
5 Alec Morris 6-3 233 SR Allen, TX Alabama
19 Quinn Shanbour 6-0 191 RS JR Oklahoma City, OK Heritage Hall HS
18 Devin O’Hara 6-5 211 JR Arlington Heights, IL College of Dupage
6 Mason Fine 5-11 170 FR Locust Grove, OK Locust Grove HS
10 Mitch Cason 6-2 183 FR Flower Mound Marcus HS

Devin O’Hara will probably take Quinn Shanbour’s #2 position by the end of fall practice. He was brought in to “compete” for the starting gig, but that likely means next year. He has good size, decent mobility and put up okay numbers at College of Dupage. He has the most game experience out of anyone on depth chart here and that should factor in to the battle for backup.

Mitch Cason and Mason Fine are the freshmen. Fine is the one whom you know from signing day, Cason the walk-on. Fine is the future as he is the only HS recruit Littrell brought in this last class. If the plan is truly to bring in a new HS quarterback every February, Mason Fine is the first of many to come. His development will be closely monitored. He throws a nice ball, has good accuracy and can use some time in the strength program. He is the shortest of the crew, but that should not hurt him as much as it would have under the previous regime.

RBs

Since 2004, North Texas has produced two national rushing champions and three NFL running backs. Post Lance Dunbar, Brandin Byrd, Reggie Pegram, and Antoine Jimmerson have at least shown hints of all-conference ability. And now? Jeffery Wilson, whose Adrian Peterson-like running style was the lone bright spot in a poor offensive season carries the feature back role.

To the layperson the change in offense may portend less carries and a smaller role for Wilson. Depending on how everything fits together, that very well may be the case but the change in offense will not be the reason. In recent seasons North Carolina and Texas Tech, two Air Raid teams, have produced 1000-yard backs. Wide splits and four-wide sets mean there are more spaces for a speedy back like Wilson to rampage through. Against Marshall, one of the best against the run last season, he tore up the Herd with little or no help from the pass game. Here is video evidence.

We have every reason to believe he will do more of the same, given some support and maintenance of health. If not, there is always Willy Ivery.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
26 Jeffrey Wilson 6-0 195 JR Elkhart, TX Elkhart HS
29 Willy Ivery 5-9 185 JR Sulphur Springs, TX Sulphur Springs HS
25 Andrew Tucker 6-0 203 RS JR Tyler, TX Chapel Hill HS
44 Nick (Nic) Smith 5-10 175 FR Arlington, TX Martin HS
4 Anthony Wyche 5-11 195 JR Philadelphia, PA LA Valley College
46 Christian Hosley 5-9 175 SO San Antonio, TX Howard Payne University

Ivery is not as powerful a runner, but he is more shifty and has speed. Given the Wilson’s injury history, an argument could be made that Ivery should be the number one back. I will not make it here. Of the top five rushers last season, he finished with the third most yards (290) on the least number of carries (44). The question is can he do it against first team defenses, in a close game.

Behind him are a collection of backs that have potential, and probably one real talent that makes them intriguing. The nature of the half back role — the sport’s oldest ball-handling position — is that it is simple. The oldest tradition in football is running it and avoiding being tackled either through power or speed.

Andrew Tucker might get some time here and there. He’s big and has been around a while. He’ll avoid being brought down by power. Fun fact: he got the start last season against SMU. Wilson’s emergence and Ivery’s shifty play relegated Tucker to also-ran. Pun intended. Aside from injury pressing him into service, he will move up the depth chart through his ability to catch the ball and pass-block.

Nic Smith has a similar path to playing time. He is fast, has some nice agility and probably might get the third most touches out of this backfield. It is hard to say for sure because Anthony Wyche has a similar game. Speed, agility, but with some power and a slightly better resume given his time putting up numbers in JUCO. He was recruited for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The newest addition is Christian Hosely out of Howard Payne University. He played QB, RB, and FS in high school and WR at Howard Payne. Smart, reasonably talented utility guys are extremely valuable with a roster so shallow. I am intrigued.

WRs

Generally speaking the wideout group will be divided into Outside and Inside subgroups. A quality player will eventually learn all the positions and will move around all four spots to take advantage of match ups. However, typically a player will pick a spot and learn that one. We will see Tee Goree and O’Keeron Rutherford start outside at the X and Z, with their range and height perfect for the go routes and lobs that are part of the package.

Remember Goree’s spectacular catch? Well that is what makes him well suited to the position. His height and speed are perfect for the role and Morris will be looking to him to win one v one battles. In the spring scrimmage he demonstrated his ability to get by the corner

Sometimes this game is as simple as beating the man in front of you.

Goree has been hyped since his signing here, as one of the more talented receiving recruits to come to Denton. He certainly has the physical gifts. The leading receivers the last decade have all been 6-0 at best. Johnny Quinn, Brelan Chancellor, Carlos Harris, Casey Fitzgerald, were all 6-0 and under. We would have to look back to 2012 and Ivan Delgado to find a leading wideout (42 catches for 570) who stood 6-2 209. 5 Goree lit up the spring scrimmage for 6 catches 141 yards and a score, the kind of production we want to see weekly from an outside receiver.

O’Keeron Rutherford is taller and bigger than Goree, and is a prototypical outside receiver at 6-5. Thaddeous Thompson is looking to finally fulfill his potential after being tossed errant passes by the last group of quarterbacks. He has plenty of size and length for the position and looks to finally have the QB and coaching staff that can help him put up numbers.

Kenny Buyers and Deion Hair-Griffin will get some time at inside receiver. Buyers was a captain and played tremendously well for the 2013 defense as a cornerback. He will not be making edge sealing tackles this season. Vito reports he is doing well at WR, which is unsurprising. He is a worker, and that’s what a position change requires.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
3 Terian (Tee) Goree 6-3 173 RS SO Carthage, TX Carthage HS
1 Turner Smiley 6-0 189 JR Frisco, TX Wakeland HS
11 Thaddeous Thompson 6-2 202 SR Cibolo, TX Scottsdale CC
83 Tyler Wilson 5-11 170 FR Arlington, TX Martin HS
2 O’Keeron Rutherford 6-5 190 RS SO Carthage, TX Carthage HS
89 Willie Robinson 6-0 185 SR Fort Worth TX Tyler JC
88 Jason Pirtle 6-2 195 FR Locust Grove, OK Locust Grove HS
32 Michael Lawrence 5-10 165 FR Sweetwater, TX Sweetwater HS
81 Daniel Khan 5-11 180 RS SO Sherman Oaks, CA Notre Dame HS
82 Deion Hair-Griffin 5-10 165 FR Fort Worth, TX Arlington Heights HS
37 Connor Davis 5-10 193 SR Grapevine, TX Texas Lutheran
31 Kenny Buyers 5-11 185 RS SR Hurst, TX L.D. Bell HS
8 Rico Bussey, Jr. 6-2 175 FR Lawton, OK Eisenhower HS
85 Garrett Barton 5-11 185 JR Diana, TX Kilgore College
80 Will Boyd 6-3 185 FR Arlington, TX Pantego Christian Academy
27 Kam Duhon 5-11 170 FR Southlake, TX Southlake Carroll
84 Dennis Smith 5-9 170 RS FR San Antonio, TX Sterling College
39 Braydon Watson 5-11 175 FR Waco, TX Celina HS

Griffin’s speed is notable and could earn him the PR or KR jobs. He played QB in high school (as most Best Players do) and so this should give him an advantage in playing inside WR. He presumably can see the field well, and knows how to help his QB by settling into the holes. A big part of this offense is reading the defense and basically not running oneself into coverage. In fall camp he is getting time with the first team. Take that as an indication of his talent or the depth chart problem. Either way I expect him to get some time and to produce some good things.

Turner Smiley is suspended for SMU, but is the leading returning receiver. That isn’t saying much considering the output last year, but he is talented. Again, the running theme here is that all the receivers on the roster have a chance to reset whatever their resume says and live up to expectations.

The rest of the receiving roster reflects this notion. The walk-ons, transfers, and what-have-you that make up the depth chart here did not light up the recruiting sites but that does not matter. Like the program, everyone is trying to prove something this year.

Ideally one of the inside guys will turn into “a guy that can score” after a catch. When Goree signed the hope was that he could be the speed guy on the outside that stretches the defense and opens up things for a Carlos Harris type underneath. That wasn’t quite the case in the last few seasons. The staff in place should coach up this group into solid, productive receivers. Anything beyond that will be natural talent shining through and that is all you can ask for. There are some signs that one or two of these players will be really impressive.

TEs

The Air Raid does not have traditional Tight Ends. However, there is a place for tweeners, big (relatively) slower guys that can catch but will not start for Alabama. Aside from big targets, they make excellent blockers for the screen game and outside zones. They are not going to flatten an All-American linebacker but they do a great job against a nickel corner. That is the thinking at least.

In this offense, Y was traditionally a TE. The Y-Cross, and Y-Stick were designed for TEs and at the very least require a guy to catch in traffic.

Kelvin Smith, a ‘blocking’ TE according to his MGS bio, was the surprise of the spring scrimmage. He displayed the classic Air Raid TE qualities — the ability to catch and run and be hard to tackle. His two catches both went for scores. The first came on that Air Raid classic Y-Cross. He caught a pass that was beyond him, turned up field, outran a couple of defenders and dragged Schelleci into the end zone. Watch it here.

It was the kind of play we expected to see a lot from Marcus Smith last year. His other TD was a classic tight end catch in traffic over the middle. If this is the norm and not just a spring game performance, we can be excited.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
87 Kelvin Smith 6-2 252 RS FR Spring, TX Dekaney HS
86 Kevin Dillman 6-4 249 RS FR Ystad, Sweden Guyer HS
15 Caleb Chumley 6-5 240 RS FR Longview, TX Pine Tree HS
7 Connor Means 6-4 215 RS SO Deer Park, TX Deer Park HS

Kevin Dillman Here we begin the first of former QBs-turned-TE. Dillman is something of a fan favorite among the GMG message boarders. He has good size and decent speed for a TE. He likely will play more of an H-Back role than a Y like Smith.

Caleb Chumley played QB as recently as spring and was okay. He had his shot at QB, which was unofficially the agreement when he committed. He was seemingly destined to play TE. His size makes him intriguing here, but reports from fall camp are that he is dropping everything.

Connor Means like every backup, had fans calling for his name during the last campaigns. When the former starters were highly praised by the previous staff and produced so little, it casts a poor light on poor Connor, who was a recruit under said staff. So then it is no surprise that he was moved to TE at the beginning of fall practice.

OL

The offensive line has gone through defections and changes. Mike Leach likes wide-splits to allow for better pass-blocking. We shall see what Seth Littrell and company decide to go with. That said, there will be questions. Alec Morris has looked good in camp when he has time, and this unit will need to keep him clean. The offense is designed to get the ball out relatively quickly, but there are enough play designs to get the ball deep that will require quality pass blocking. Overall, this unit was young and gained experience. The poor quarterback play obscured their play, but they kept the QBs clean, and opened creases for Wilson. The graduations and exits will hurt but can be overcome with the talent.

Jordan Murray is huge and a prototypical tackle. He had some starts and is getting time with the first unit in fall practice. Can he own the job or will he just default into it because of his size? Sam Rice is the new center after moving over from guard. Expect some learning mistakes but overall he should be solid. He played well at guard last season.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
74 Chandler Anthony 6-7 280 FR Tuttle, OK Tuttle HS
54 Creighton Barr 6-3 302 SO Flower Mound, TX Marcus HS
73 Garrett Gunter 6-4 293 SR Spring Branch, TX Trinity Valley CC
53 T.J. Henson 6-4 315 JR Plano, TX Trinity Valley CC
59 Trey Keenan 6-5 272 SR Argyle, TX Texas Tech
67 Chris Miles 6-4 299 RS SO Flower Mound, TX Flower Mound HS
68 Chett Munden 6-5 305 RS FR Marshall, TX Marshall HS
71 Jordan Murray 6-9 360 SO Coppell, TX Coppell HS
60 Doro Omerhi 6-4 290 FR Pearland, TX Pearland HS
58 Wylie Reinhardt 6-4 261 JR Saginaw, TX Saginaw HS
64 Sam Rice 6-4 297 SR Coppell, TX SMU
57 Bernie Santos 6-3 326 FR Argyle, TX Guyer HS
78 Jalen Thomas 6-5 295 JR Detroit, MI ASA College (Brooklyn)
70 R.D. Wegmann 6-3 265 RS FR Wichita Falls, TX Rider HS
77 Elex Woodworth 6-4 284 RS FR Mesquite, TX Horn HS

Garrett Gunter has spent time with the first unit and has good size. Trey Keenan is a Texas Tech transfer which is nice since he has played in the system. He is a bit undersized which was the reason he made the move. He was not with the first team at the scrimmage.

There is talent throughout this group, the question for fall camp will be who makes and impression. The scheme is different and so players who excelled under Canales might not fit the pass-blocking, inside-zone heavy stuff required here. I expect the starting line up to change a few times before SMU.

Defense

North Texas allowed 41.3 points per game last season. There were worse teams — SMU at 45.7, and Texas Tech at 43.6 — but those two squads did not allow 66 to an FCS team 6. During homecoming no less.

A quick look at the recruiting speculation post from December:

A look at the game film will show the DL getting pushed 5 yards back often. The Worst Defense In NT History got that way because pretty much every team could run through the A gap at will. As a whole, the defensive line was okay when pass-rushing, but never could get into defensive third and longs, because of the porous run defense. When Mike Canales talked about lacking size and strength I have to believe he meant here. After all, he made that comment after the Louisiana Tech game that saw Kenneth Dixon scorch his guys for 195 and 6 TDs, largely through the middle.

It might be that time has clouded my memory and made the pain of weekly obliterations fade. It might be that the months in between that time and now have provided me some semblance of objectivity. In either case, I am convinced the defense was not as bad as it performed.

The offense provided almost no support. If the offense could have produced league average yards and points to start the year, the morale leading up to PSU would have been different. Instead the offense sputtered for the second straight year and squandered a couple of decent showings by the defense.

For three years the defense has been the best unit on the field. The all-time great 2013 squad was led by a suffocating defense and supported by a near-great special teams and an average offense. In 2014, the defense regressed (understandably) while the offense suffered anemic quarterback play. Last year saw historically bad offense paired with rebuilding defense that really needed support.

The defense simply was not motivated to play their best given the awful offensive unit for which they were busting their ass. Before you being your lecture about grit and discipline, look at the attendance figures and see that fans were demoralized also. Imagine the defensive unit. Hell, if Dan McCarney was giving up while getting big bucks can we blame the 19-year-old?

At the very least apportion blame accordingly.

After McCarney’s debacle against PSU, the defense reduced the points allowed per game by 14, from about 49 to a little over 35.

We could break it down further but suffice it to say that this roster may not be as bad as the numbers they allowed last year. That is encouraging. The move to 3-3-5 is also.

The new scheme fits the roster, and is more aggressive. The Skladany/Cosh defenses were the bend-but-don’t break variety. It paired well with a ball-control, mistake-free offense. In 2013 it was devastatingly effective. The defensive line was dominant, allowing rangy linebacker Zach Orr to make plays and ball hawking safety Mike Trice to grab picks.

Unfortunately, when the line was not as dominant, the likes of Cody Sokol, Brandon Doughty and other CUSA QBs could pick it apart for big yardage.

Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett are bringing a more attacking, flexible, and unpredictable defense. It is the perfect defense to pair with an attacking, up-tempo offense. The emphasis will be on chaos and creating the turnovers that will give the (hopefully) explosive offense the ball.

Reffett coached 3-3-5 at ULM who were known for getting turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback in a pass-happy league. You might remember his 2012 team that upset No.8 Arkansas and gave Auburn a run into OT the following week. Derrick LeBlanc will attempt to bring improvement to the defensive line though coaching, while Nate Brown inherits a talented secondary. Brown played and coached under Reffett at his alma mater ULM and also brings experience with the scheme being implemented.

Defensive Coaches:

Mike Ekeler – Defensive Coordinator
Troy Reffett – Associate HC/Co-Defensive Coordinator
Derrick LeBlanc – Defensive Line
Nate Brown – Cornerbacks

DL

It all begins here. The defensive line that I maligned is going with a three man crew in the 3-3-5. After Sir Calvin Wallace decided to leave, we were concerned about the future of the middle. Bryce English was brought in with the hope that he could get a waiver and play immediately. Unfortunately, that waiver was denied and so his usefulness will be confined to practice. That is not insignificant but it is not ideal.

The good news is Demonte Hood is the most talented player on the roster. He is a late addition out of Kansas State, another of the transfers that make their way back to DFW after some time away at a P5 school. As a 3★ recruit, that makes him the highest rated HS man on the roster. He had offers from A&M, Arkansas, Kansas, and San Diego State to go with his K-State offer. We do not know much beyond that. He is big and strong and had time in the K-State DT rotation the last few years. No one saw this coming, and if he can produce at his talent level, this should be a nice consolation prize after losing the English waiver decision.

Tackles

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
97 Demonte Hood 6-0 303 SR Arlington, TX Kansas State
44 Sid Moore 6-1 261 JR Van, TX Van HS
15 T.J. Tauaalo 6-2 287 RS SO Keller, TX Central HS
49 Roderick Young 6-1 287 SO Spring, TX Dekaney HS
93 Julius Combes 6-1 313 RS FR Washington, D.C. DeMatha HS
34 Bryce English 5-11 332 RS FR DeSoto, TX Kansas State

Sid Moore, TJ Tauaalo and Roderick Young comprise the rest of the DT rotation. There is some talent here. The biggest problem last year was their size. In the recruiting speculation post I mentioned the problems the line had:

The starters were and are undersized. Flusche, Orr, and Tauaalo are all 250-ish lbs. …

If Littrell wants any kind of improvement immediately, he will have to bolster the DT spots. I expect the young guys that were thrown to the fire to get bigger and stronger and learn from their season getting gashed, but this position group is as important as the QB spot and should be addressed.

NT already lost RS FR DT DeMikal Harrison to transfer, so this spot is in dire need of some size. One or two 350+ lbs guy would be ideal. Obviously, those types of players are highly coveted so it will not be easy.

Much will depend on the defensive coordinator Seth Littrell brings along with him …

A fancy scheme won’t make up completely for talent, but it can use talent more effectively. No matter what NT runs they’ll need to control the line or the defense might be setting the wrong kinds of records next season.

The bad news is that the 350+ DT is not on the roster. The good news is that the scheme change might better use the talent we have. One out of two is not bad. The attacking 3-3-5 should be able to produce pressure on the quarterback and stymie the run game by creating confusion. Chris B. Brown:

In the 3-3-5, there are more stunts, and usually at least one linebacker is rushing. This means each player ends up responsible for one specific gap, though the player’s specific responsibility will change from play to play. The 3-3-5 is designed to make both pass protection and run schemes (particularly zone-blocking schemes that heavily rely on double-team blocks) difficult to the point of futility.

Ends

In a two-gap system like the Patriots 3-4 or Saban’s 3-4 you want your DEs to be a little bit bigger, to absorb blockers and let the LBs do the pass rushing. Generally speaking in the 3-3-5 the DEs do not need to be as big — but it helps. Ekeler and Reffert have 4-5 guys stalking the line of scrimmage with the intent of confusing blocking assignments. The confusion and threat of the blitz should make things slightly easier on Combs, Roberts, Dilonga et al.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
7 Jareid Combs 6-3 258 SR Minneapolis, MN Iowa Central CC
56 Malik Dilonga 6-4 264 SR Cedar Hill, TX Trinity Christian School
99 Andy Flusche 6-3 259 RS JR Muenster, TX Muenster HS
90 Tillman Johnson 6-1 248 JR Round Rock, TX McNeil HS
94 JoJo Ozougwu 6-3 205 FR Alief, TX Taylor HS
30 Jarrian Roberts 6-2 252 SR Clarksville, TX Clarksville HS
18 Joshua Wheeler 6-3 240 JR Grand Prairie, TX Tyler JC
92 Terrance Johnson 6-4 257 RS SO Austin, TX McNeil HS

Last year’s preview mostly applies:

A lot of buzz is surrounding [Tillman] Johnson who was really starting to come on last year before getting hurt. [Jarrian] Roberts can be an explosive pass rusher, but struggled against the run. [Malik] Dilonga had a great spring last year, but never really got going. This year NT adds Jareid Combs, Dakota Smith, and Eli Howard to its DE depth.

No question this group can get after the passer, but can they bolster the run defense?

Last year the pass rush was only occasionally succesful and mostly against the poorer teams like UTSA. Tackling was an issue, as Roberts and Dilonga were able to get hands on passers and runners but were unable to bring them down, which is the entire point.

JoJo Ozougwu has the prototypical size for the position but barring an amazing camp, the majority of reps will come from familiar names. Expect the coaching and regime change, along with a sense of pride to carry this defense to a much better performance. The previous scheme put the entire weight of defensive success on the line and they failed miserably. The new philosophy might help this group of talented players make the plays that will lead to wins.

LBs

North Texas has always had slightly undersized LBs. Often they are simply workers who know they are not the biggest or strongest, and put in the time and effort to be great. Craig Robertson, Zach Orr, Derek Akunne are NFL players that represent the tradition of NT linebacking best.7

Fred Scott is the next in line. He was hesitant, but still showed signs of his talent and leadership last season as Robertson and Orr detail in this excellent video series.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
32 Fred Scott 5-11 233 SR Kennedale, TX Kennedale HS
10 Calvin Minor 6-3 213 JR Lewisville, TX Lewisville HS
37 Brandon Garner 5-11 225 RS SO Mansfield, TX Timberview HS
17 Cortney Finney 5-11 220 SR Bay City, TX Trinity Valley CC
43 Zack Bishop 6-2 225 RS JR Allen, TX Oklahoma Baptist
22 E.J. Ejiya 6-3 220 JR Blain, MN North Dakota State College of Sciences
57 Shane Gerths 6-1 205 FR Celina, TX Celina HS
50 LaDarius Hamilton 6-3 240 FR Corrigan, TX Corrigan-Camden HS
59 Hayden Harrison 6-2 220 FR Wollforth, TX Frenship HS
53 William LeMasters 6-2 213 RS FR Dallas, TX Parish Episcopal HS
42 Corey Mann 6-0 195 FR Decatur, TX Temple HS
5 Mylam Peters 6-5 240 JR Kissimmee, FL Arizona Western College
52 Braelon Schwartz 6-0 226 JR Arlington, TX Stephen F. Austin

Calvin Minor and Brandon Garner had their moments last season, but for a unit that was part a defense that was roasted repeatedly, it is difficult to say much more without being overly negative. As with the DL, this unit should have a fresh start in the new scheme. A LB corps that will feign blitz and drop, or simply bring numbers, the athleticism of Garner and Minor should be useful.

Still the Scott’s leadership will be key, as the defense is likely to experience growing pains and give up huge gains and allow lots of scoring as they adjust or the gambling, aggressive style bites them. Keeping the unit and the entire defense steady and ready for the next play is on Scott.

The rest of the depth chart is a collection of guys most notable for not being Will Johnson, the highly recruited LB who did not qualify. There is size, speed, and athleticism along the depth chart but hesitation or bad technique can nullify all that. E.J. Ejiya and Mylam Peters were brought in for depth and are big and rangy and will likely get a chance to show what they can do.

DBs

With some pressure on the QB, and some relief from injury, the defensive backs could have had a better season. As it was, we only saw glimpses. Cedric Fernandes showed some nice things in the first game-and-a-half before being lost to injury for the year. Unfortunately, he is hurt to being fall camp. Kishawn McClain is a playmaker, and racked up 110 tackles last year. James Gray was another bright spot, doing what he could racking up 100 himself. The two safeties getting 200+ tackles tells you a lot about the front seven.

With improved support they should be able to make tackles closer to the line of scrimmage, and in the backfield.

Nate Brooks has been a star at camp, continuing his improvement from last year. He started beginning with the WKU game and impressed in spots. Ashton Preston started on the other corner spot that WKU game. He is capable of making plays if, again, there is support up front. Chad Davis returns and should get time as a nickel corner and spot duty on the edges, although he started most of 2015. Dee Baulkman is a JUCO signing and expects to get time.

No Name Height Wt Class Home HS
36 Dee Baulkman 5-11 200 JR Bainbridge, GA Arizona Western College
9 Nate Brooks 6-0 170 SO Whitehouse, TX Whitehouse HS
16 Chad Davis 5-10 181 SR Richmond, TX Bush HS
14 Cedric Fernandes 5-10 176 RS SO Arlington, TX Martin HS
21 James Gray 6-0 190 SR Atlanta, GA Fort Scott CC
13 Kway Hill 5-11 195 RS FR Columbus, GA
38 Andrew Jones 6-1 173 RS SO Mesquite, TX North Mesquite HS
23 Kishawn McClain 5-11 201 JR Rosenberg, TX Terry HS
47 Dakota Michaels 6-1 185 FR Lucas, TX Lovejoy HS
39 Jameel Moore 5-10 160 FR Cedar Hill, TX Cedar Hill HS
4 Khairi Muhammad 5-11 170 FR DeSoto, TX DeSoto HS
27 Ashton Preston 5-10 183 SO Edmond, OK Santa Fe HS
39 Taylor Robinson 5-11 191 RS FR Keller, TX Central HS
19 John Schilleci 6-0 201 SR Denton, TX Guyer HS
45 Nnamdi Umeakuana 6-1 205 JR Irving, TX Austin College
11 Sam Wells 6-0 193 RS SO Commerce, TX Commerce HS

Depending on the scenario, we may see five “true” DBs in, or a LB like Brandon Garner (speedy) in at the LB/S hybrid spot. UTSA did a lot of WR screens and used TE David Morgan to destroy the smaller corners fighting though blocks. The maleable, modal defensive scheme should allow for more counters to these scenarios while staying in base principles.

We will see a good number of the DBs given the depth issues. If say John Schilleci or Chad Davis is having trouble, expect Nate Brown to move in the younger guys. The learning time spent on Nate Brooks and Ashton Preston last year helped. It should do the same for this group.

That said, this unit is not the conferences’s best, by resume or Rivals numbers. It is a capable, winning collection of players. Brooks and McClain are playmakers and can capitalize on the mistakes and turnovers the scheme aims to create.

Special Teams

Tommy Perry has done an excellent job in the last few years coaching this unit. Not only have the specialists been great — Eric Keena and Trever Moore — but perhaps more importantly, the ST has been Virginia Tech-like. In 2013, bolstered by starters contributing, the ST blocked kicks and returned punts and kickoffs for huge, game-changing yardage. Every coach likes to talk about all three phases, but few ever put the time required.

No Name Pos Height Wt Class Home HS
93 Blake Patterson SPEC 6-2 195 FR Round Rock, TX Cedar Ridge HS
96 Tim Ursery SPEC 6-2 238 FR Great Mills, MD Great Mills HS
84 Eric Keena P 6-2 175 SR Keller, TX Sunrise Mountain HS
94 Sam Aguilera P/K 6-5 200 FR Fort Worth, TX W.E. Boswell HS
30 Trevor Moore K 5-11 194 JR Edmond, OK Edmond North HS
92 Trey Enterline DS 6-3 225 SR Arlington, TX Martin HS
91 Kel Straubmueller DS 5-11 195 RS FR Argyle, TX Louisiana-Lafayette

With the roster lacking depth, the starters will need to contribute here out of necessity. The hope is more game-changing blocked extra point against UTSA.. Last year, since-departed walk-on Tre’ Johnson returned a punt against UTEP. With apologies to Tre’, having guys like Wyche, or Hair-Griffin back there should be even better.

This unit has been a not-so-secret strength for the team for a while and if Seth Littrell gives Tommy Perry the practice time he requires to make this group into what we know he can, that should continue into 2016.

Schedule / Predictions

Predicting games so far ahead is dumb but fun. So let us begin. Contributor Greg Goedecker predicted the slate and so did Adam.

SMU
Greg:
I believe that SMU had more talent and depth than North Texas (NT) right now. They are in year 2 of their reboot, NT is in year one. In rivalry games you never know exactly how things will play out. I think this game is really hard to pick. It will be a shoot out and closer than last year. I may change my mind over time, but right now I’d pick SMU.
SMU 41 – NT 37

Adam:
North Texas will be hungry and at home. In 2015 SMU had the season North Texas will have in 2016: lots of scoring, lots of losses. North Texas’ defense will be too much of an unknown and it will flummox SMU. Also I cannot pick SMU to win in Denton. That just does not happen. I see loads of yardage for both squads.
NT 31 – SMU 30

Bethune Cookman
Greg:
The Wildcats are no push over FCS school. They can score in bunches and will challenge the Mean Green. In the end North Texas still has more talent and they will win.
North Texas 42 – Bethune Cookman 30

Adam:
North Texas was destroyed by PSU because they quit on Dan McCarney. Seth Littrell will not let them quit in week 2. BC might give us an unexpected run — all FCS teams do. Talent will win out. This probably will not feel like the blowout we want.
NT 45 – BC 21

@ Florida
Greg:
Florida isn’t that great on offense, but they do have a stellar defense. It’s going to be tough for Alec Morris and the offense to put up points. I think the Gators will beat NT in Littrell’s 1st road game.
Florida 27 – North Texas 14

Adam:
Florida is good at beating themselves. They still are more talented, but that talent has been getting suspended recently. Let’s hope that by Week 3 UF still doesn’t have its QB situation figured out and turns the ball over. This will not be as close as the score indicates.
UF 35 – NT 17

@ Rice
Greg:
Some are bullish on the Rice Owls, Im not one of them. I don’t see them as being much more talented than NT. I think Alec Morris, and the offense have enough to beat Rice on the road.
NT 31 – Rice 28

Adam:
Rice is weird in that they can play like the best in the conference and then like one that should give up football. They still have an iffy defense (that allowed a 90+ yarder to Andrew McNulty and Carlos Harris y’all) and now have QB questions. This will be the first conference game and first non-money game road game for Littrell. McCarney was awful on the road. This will be a test.
NT 31 – Rice 17

Middle Tennessee St.
Greg:
MTSU will have too much offensive fire power for NT to stop.
MTSU 37 – NT 24

Adam:
Tony Franklin is back to coach Middle Tenneseee. North Texas will be in Year One of the Air Raid, going up against one of the offense’s prophets. Franklin coached the Troy’s offense in 2006 that destroyed NT, the 2009 MTSU offense that destroyed NT, left to coach Cal and is now back coaching one of the conference’s best offenses. This should be ugly. The only good news is that we are at home and we’ve done well against Middle at home.
Middle 45 – NT 21

Marshall
Greg:
Could this be a surprise game? Maybe Marshall’s offense isn’t that good. Well their defense is still good enough to slow down NT. I believe Marshall will win a close one.
Marshall 30 – NT 26

Adam:
Chase Litton is a little older and should be better. I cannot shake the feeling that North Texas had a shot at the Herd in 2015. Poor QB play and a shaky defense cost the Mean Green. I can totally see NT getting revenge in Denton, with an improved defense and a coherent offense.
NT 35 – Marshall 28

@ Army
Greg:
Getting Army after a bye week is great. It will give the defense extra time to prepare for the option attack. It will be a tough battle, but I have NT winning.
NT 24 – Army 21

Adam:
The service academies are always tough but Army is no where near as good as the other two recently. It is weird saying you want revenge on Army but they did win the last two games played — in 2009 and 2010.
NT 31 – Army 24

@ UTSA
Greg:
UTSA could be better than advertised. The roadrunners have amassed a nice group of talent down in San Antonio. It’s a game that NT could win, but I think facing Army the week before will take its toll on a thin Mean Green team. I think UTSA wins.
UTSA 35 – NT 28

Adam:
Since that classic 2013 matchup that saw an NT senior class take on a UTSA JR/SR startup squad class, these two have taken interesting paths (for we observers). Since then, both coaches are gone and both had disappointing seasons. UTSA is pretty talented this year especially at the QB spot — the weak point of last season. I call it a rivalry, and every time these two play nothing plays out the way the stats say they should. Zach Orr wants the squad to win. So do I.
NT 31 – UTSA 27

Louisiana Tech
Greg:
After losing to UTSA I see NT rebounding to upset the Bulldogs.
NT 33 – La Tech 31

Adam:
Going from a team with talent but some questions, to a team that just reloads. They do the Transfer QB Does Well the best. I did not think much of HC Skip Holtz when he took the job but he has found a way to make the program his. I cannot shake the feeling that there are too many changes this time. Greg calls it an upset, but I would not be surprised if LaTech is struggling by this point. I would not be surprised if the opposite were true either.
NT 28 – LaTech 24

@ Western Kentucky
Greg:
WKU has too much talent for NT and the Mean Green will come back to earth.
WKU 42 – NT 28

Adam:
WKU is replacing their prolific QB but still is way more of a stable program to drop off too much. They’ll be like Marshall last year in that respect. NT is on the road here and that makes it too tough.
WKU 31 – NT 21

Southern Miss
Greg:
Southern Miss may be the best team in CUSA. They have the best QB and should win easily in Denton. Only think that could make this a close game is Mullens being injured.
Southern Miss 40 – NT 24

Adam:
All the smart money is on Southern Miss to run away with the conference. Jay Hopson steps in for Todd Monken, who pulled Southern Miss from the abyss. By late November these predictions will be quaint. That said I cannot see a win for NT against a better squad top-to-bottom.
SoMiss 38 – NT 24

@ UTEP
Greg:
At this point of the season NT’s limited depth will be starting to show. Facing a team like UTEP wont help the matters. The Miners big OL will impose its will on the Mean Green. Had this game been played earlier in the season I’d pick NT, instead its at the end and I think UTEP wins.
UTEP 31 – NT 20

Adam:
Greg makes a great point about depth. All these predictions assume a perfectly healthy roster throughout which is quite ridiculous in this sport. UTEP had an injury plagued campaign last year and stands to benefit from all that youth getting playing time. The trip to Hell Paso should be hell. I feel like this one will be turnover-plagued.
UTEP 31 – NT 17

Greg: Final Record 4-8
Adam: 7-5. Clearly I’ve been drinking the green Kool-Aid.

Recruiting

Dan McCarney asked Why Not North Texas? and subsequently answered his own question.

This isn’t the easiest place in the world to recruit to. This isn’t the easiest place in the world when you have a track record and a lot of years of losing. Just because you put up some cement and some bigger stands, that doesn’t make it easy. Did it happen fast because I came in wearing some big ass ring from Florida or because some people respected what I did at Iowa State? No. It’s still North Texas. — Dan McCarney October 13, 2014

That quote enrages me to this day. However much truth is in his statement, he was the one person paid to change the situation. I am perfectly fine with him having this opinion or even expressing it privately. The fact that he said this publicly would have put him on the hot seat with me.

Dan McCarney and his staff bungled recruiting. Not only did they fail to stock the roster with a full set of 85 scholarshi- worthy players, but they failed to staff it with contributors in the most important position. The quarterback depth chart was abysmal. Every quarterback brought in by his staff either flamed out or transferred. The most frustrating part of it was that average quarterback play could have made the last two years decent. Instead they were only memorable for the depth of their awfulness.

And so Seth Littrell steps into the job, the latest to declare North Texas as a fertile recruiting ground and the latest to promise he will own DFW. Thus far, North Texas has been behind UTSA’s Frank Wilson, losing not only San Antonio’s QB/ATH Frank Harris, but Denton’s own OLB Javaris Steward 8.

The recruiting finish line is in February and we are only in August so we should not overreact to developments so early. Still, we should note the situation.

UNT’s recruiting plan is often to find unrecruited, and not-so-obvious, and rely on big transfers from P5 schools for 4★ talent. It is a solid plan as these things go. No matter what path you choose, talent evaluation and development is the most important part of this process.

The good news is that SL and staff have the resumés that suggest they are better evaluators than the previous staff. However, every move to a new job means proving yourself all over. So it will be with Littrell.

Success at North Texas requires a clever coach. Although in a talent hotbed, it is heavily recruited. Although in a giant metropolis, every state school and the big ones from nearby make a trip here.

Littrell’s recruiting strategy is a long-term one. He wants to build relationships with the high schools in the area and establish a playing style that will make the school more attractive to the state’s talent. This requires time. Selling kids on the product will require more film. North Carolina football doesn’t get a whole lot of television time in Texas, and so his success the last few years is muted.

I’m unsurprised at Frank Wilson’s early success at UTSA. He is a good recruiter and has an easy sell. UTSA’s recent profile has been positive, last year aside. Rhetorically speaking, a bad two years are small relative to the general positive feeling in San Antonio. Wilson can sell success, San Antonio, and being a part of building something.

Here, the 2014 HOD Bowl is not enough to overcome the last decade. The early 2000s may as well be the 1970s in the minds of the 17-year olds the coaches are chasing. And so it is good that the Littrell hashtag is #NewDenton. It is a great slogan. Forget what you know. This is new. It is a compelling selling point, but not one to overcome SMU’s or UTSA’s yet.

Yet.

Edit 8/15/16 6:00p: Clarified the DB situation. Added Joel Filani to the Offensive coaches. Copy/Paste error.


  1. As of this writing Turner Smiley is suspended for SMU, and Rodney Bendy quit the squad. This all before fall practice began. 
  2. Under Mac, NT threw way more than you probably would guess. 
  3. This is primarily Troy Reffett’s specialty. 
  4. For recent examples, look at Sonny Dykes’ Cal, Mike Leach’s Wazzu. 
  5. We had high hopes for Darius Terrell, but is potential wasn’t met. He dropped passes and had awful quarterback play. 
  6. SMU did allow 48 to James Madison. 
  7. If you are wondering if this scheme will hurt the chances of producing a new NFL LB, know that the 3-3-5 helped Brian Urlacher get noticed. 
  8. Four stars! 
Categories
Football Football Recaps

Still No Offense: SMU 31 NT 13

I really could just get last season’s recap of the Texas game and swap out the ‘Texas’ words for ‘SMU’ words.

Let’s try the first couple of grafs.

North Texas and the fans and students thereof came to Austin Dallas expecting to give Texas SMU a run for their money in DKR-Texas Memorial Gerry Ford Stadium. The defense did just that. The special teams was equal to their Longhorn Pony counterpart. The offense completely disappointed.

These are facts. They are not in dispute.

Both of the quarterbacks The same guy seeking to replace outgoing Derek Thompson underwhelmed. They combined for fifteen yards He managed 128 passing. Combined. For fifteen One-hundred-twenty-eight. Yards. 15 128

This is in an era where passing yards come in bulk. A weekend where three different quarterbacks put up 500+ yards passing. This is the only thing that’s different. Although WKU’s Doughty had 441

Our guys? 15. 128

It isn’t very much different. The offense scored points this time, which was nice. In the previews (and long before) I have been reminding anyone who would listen that the historic, great, amazing 2013 season was filled with Special Teams and Defensive touchdowns. While this one didn’t have those, the other two groups not called offense were huge in this game. Sure, Trevor Moore shanked a field goal, but overall that didn’t lose the game.

Before we continue let’s look at something else I didn’t like.

Awful Analysis of The Week

From our Vito:

Even when one takes that all into account, UNT was just not very effective. UNT had 240 yards all night after putting up 43 points against SMU last season.

Sorry. I’ll accept UNT had 13 points after 43 last year. Or UNT had only 240 yards after 353 last year. Or UNT only converted 6-16 3rd downs after converting 6-16 last — wait what?

That’s right.

Let’s compare offenses from the last two SMU games:

This Last
Passing 128 108
Pass Att 34 17
Rushing 112 245
1st Downs 17 17
3rd eff 6-16 6-16
4th eff 0-0 1-1
YPRush 3.4 4.5
YPPass 3.6 6
Penalties 15-139 15-139

Another dirty little secret that was hidden under the rug of a complete blowout was the fact that the offense was boring. Now, the more discerning among you remember that Josh Greer could have made more of his attempts early and the run game and defense largely carried the day against a toothless SMU squad.

Offense

Let’s begin where we are most concerned. The QB play was terrible. Andrew McNulty put up 47% passing 128 yards and 2INTs. That’s the worst we’ve had since … November of last season.

Wait, what?

Worst passing games in UNT recent history

Date Opponent Att Comp Pct Yds Y/Att
9/22/15 @ SMU 34 16 47.1 128 3.6
11/22/14 FIU 20 9 45.0 105 5.3
10/25/14 @Rice 34 16 47.1 190 5.9
8/30/14 @Texas 17 3 17.6 15 0.9

Yes. We have four (!!!) games with sub-50% passing in the last year. We know what happened against Texas, and the FIU game was followed up with a solid outing against a good UTSA defense. With an entire offseason, a QB competition, and a QB friendly offense, we had reason to expect a more efficient pass game to take pressure off a talented running back stable.

Instead we got more of the same. The outrage is palpable. The groans after Canales called three straight runs after the initial turnover deep in SMU territory were loud.

On the Game Day podcast I mentioned needing special teams to make plays to overcome the Chad Morris / SMU offensive talent disparity. The opening fumbled snap by SMU’s punter Josh Williams was a gift that we squandered. Sure, Trevor Moore is automatic1, but we don’t play offense to score field goals do we?

Do we?

I don’t know.

The play-calling and the decision making from the coaching staff suggests that we are actually playing to score field goals. Carlos Harris and Antoinne Jimmerson are playmakers but surely someone can catch a 15-yard pass in the end zone? Last season against SMU, I complained that we didn’t try to exploit Darius Terrell’s size in the end zone. This year that size advantage is Marcus Smith against anyone. He was missing from the first series but that’s no excuse to not even attempt something going toward six points.

Even more puzzling was that later Canales and company called three straight deep passes from the SMU 40 when down a point.

This sprout of aggressiveness was surrounded by an infuriatingly predictable series of run-run-pass sequences. Keeping the defense honest would go a long way toward maximizing the QB’s abilities and certainly put the players in a better position to succeed.

Really, isn’t that the entire purpose of the coaching staff? The players win and lose the games, but their coaches are supposed to put them in the best position to do the former and avoid the latter.

What Now?

Carlos Harris defended his quarterback — as well he should. Sed Ellis trashed everyone who was calling UNT trash after the game. These are reasonable reactions to feeling like your fans are not supporting you when you are feeling bad. The fans aren’t turning on the team. Just the coaching staff. And with good reason.

This mess of an offense is squarely on Dan McCarney and Mike Canales. North Texas has weapons to score points. Did you see Antoinne Jimmerson rushing for yet another 25+ yard touchdown? Yes. Imagine if the defense wasn’t stacking the box and sitting on short throws.

This is one calendar year of disappointing offense that is handcuffing a pretty solid defense.

Harris also (rightly) complained about some questionable no-calls by the ref on some deep passes in the second quarter. However, if we are relying on these kinds of things for offense, we are in trouble.

Turner Smiley was second in receiving. He looked good. The reciving corps as a whole were solid but dropped a couple of passes.

Here is the drive chart. NT averaged a starting position on their own 41 for the first half and came away with two FG, 1 Missed FG, and 1 fumble. That’s not winning football on the road.

Start Plays Yards Result
SMU 16 4 8 FG
UNT 15 6 25 PUNT
UNT 46 6 14 PUNT
UNT 20 5 26 PUNT
SMU 30 7 22 FG
UNT 42 1 -11 FUMBLE
UNT 13 11 56 Missed FG
UNT 25 2 0 INT
UNT 1 3 0 PUNT
UNT 25 9 75 TD
UNT 25 10 41 FUMBLE
UNT 22 3 5 PUNT
UNT 25 3 4 INT

Defense

The heroes of the game. Ladies and gentleman, the defense deserved better than what their offensive teammates gave them. Two goal line stands, a couple of forced turnovers, short fields and solid tackling against good playmakers early.

Yes. Matt Davis and that Malone kid had themselves a helluva time running through the teeth of the defense in the fourth quarter.

Still, SMU had the defense on the field for 35:50.

SMU’s drive results for the 9 possessions prior to scoring 24 on their final four (meaningful) drives: Downs, TD, Punt, Fumble, Fumble, Punt, Fumble, Half, Downs.

Remember SMU scared half the fanbase with their first quarter performance against Baylor last week. Everyone, including this blog thought we were going to struggle with Courtland Sutton and Matt Davis. In the end Davis was the player of the game but only after being corralled successfully for the best part of 45 minutes.

The defensive line did a great job stepping up to the challenge of shutting down the inside run game on which the entire Morris offense is based. They did a slightly poorer job tackling him, Malone, or anyone in the open field with consistency. He is shifty, so it’s hard to blame them.

Blake Bean led the team with 10 tackles and forced a fumble. Kishawn McClain was second in tackles and also forced a fumble. James Gray, Cedric Fernades, Zac Whitfield (welcome back!) were all very solid in pass coverage. Whitfield has always had a problem with double-moves and got burned on one but overall he was very solid.

Of course, the defense was without Kenny Buyers, who will miss significant time with a bad back. Chad Davis and company performed admirably in his stead.

Sack Watch

3.0

Leaders:

  1. Rod Young, Chad Davis, 1.0
  2. Andy Flusche, Sir Calvin Wallace 0.5

Very Early Look Ahead

Rice can run and they are very good. The mood of the fans after what was essentially a home game will be interesting to watch. Lots of message boarders and online people were suggesting they weren’t going got show up. That likely is a lot of immediate frustration talking.

Still, Greg mentioned that the students were complaining about having had taken the bus and having to watch a disappointing ending.

Three weeks into the college football season is a difficult time to play your first true home game. I’ll be there. This game with Rice was always going to be more important that the one with SMU, rivalry aside. Rice is a private school that looks down their noses, also, and they are in the conference. A win at home against a solid Rice team will go a long way to soothing the hurt everyone feels.

Random

This guy was very annoying.

face_of_smu


  1. Yep. He did miss one. 
Categories
Football

Previewing the North Texas Defense

In Search of Play Makers

 

In 2014 North Texas had to replace a ton of experience and production. The defense was loaded with young athletic guys that had potential and talent. Unfortunately the 2014 defense was unable to sniff the production  and ability that the 2013 Mean Green defense had. Now as the page turns to 2015 the defense still has to replace a good bit of production,leadership, and break in a new Defensive Coordinator, but there is hope. That hope would be the amount of guys returning who played significant minutes and made key contributions last year. Also throw in the fact that NT went out an upgraded the defense with numerous newcomers. Yes 2015 should offer Mean Green fans the ability to see more sacks, more big hits, and a better defense overall.

NT fans had grown to love previous Defensive Coordinator John Skladany. Skladany had molded the Mean Green defense into a hard hitting force. In 2015 there will be no highlighter green shirt on the sidelines for NT fans to spot. Instead there will be a new man in charge. The Mean Green hired an experienced veteran in Chris Cosh. Cosh had been the defensive line coach at the University of Buffalo. Before Buffalo Cosh had stints at Kansas St, Maryland, and South Carolina as a Defensive Coordinator. As a fan don’t  expect major changes with Cosh. Part of the reason NT hired Cosh was he brought the ability to be similar to Skladany, while adding in a few new dynamics. Those new dynamics will be a few new blitz packages and the use of 3 down linemen instead of 4 in certain situations. Cosh’s experience in the Power 5 conferences should help make the 2015 Mean Green defense a top unit in CUSA.

In order to be successful the 2015 NT Defense Must:

  • Discover All-Conference potential play makers
  • Improve the pass rush
  • Be more aggressive
  • Find run stuffers up the middle
  • Be able to set the edge against running plays off tackle
  • Fix the play action defense
  • Boost on the field leadership
  • Upgrade the pass coverage of LBs on RBs

DL

I thought the DL last year was going to be a dynamic pass rushing group. I had high expectations. My expectations will carry over to this year. The Mean Green lost some key guys in DE Daryl Mason, DT Alexander Lincoln, but they are more experienced this year. They have returning contributors at DT Sir Calvin Wallace, Austin Orr, and Sid Moore. T.J Tauaalo redshirted and I have high hopes for him. NT lacked size up the middle last year. Also adding size will be FR DeMikal Harrison. Harrison could really turn some heads one he gets on campus. I think he will see playing time as a FR. At DE NT returns sack specialists Chad Polk, Jarrian Roberts, Tillman Johnson, Malik Dilonga, and Andy Flusche. A lot of buzz is surrounding Johnson who was really starting to come on last year before getting hurt. Roberts can be an explosive pass rusher, but struggled against the run. Dilonga had a great spring last year, but never really got going. This year NT adds Jareid Combs, Dakota Smith, and Eli Howard to its DE depth. Combs is expected to come in right away and start. Combs had 17 sacks as a JUCO last year. Smith was a JUCO LB who got moved to DE. Howard is a FR who has great size and upside.

 Biggest Question Mark

No question this group can get after the passer, but can they bolster the run defense?

LB

The LB group is now without all the key contributors from the 2013 bowl season. Akunne’s departure leaves this group in search of guys who can step up. LB Fred Scott has moved into Akunne’s spot. Scott is a physical LB who is tough against the run, but he struggled at times last year in coverage. The Coaches are expecting big things from MLB Blake Bean who moved into Scott’s old position. Bean transferred in from Buffalo and has spent time playing under new Defensive Coordinator Chris Cosh. The other LB spot was one that saw lots of rotation last year between Jamal Marshall, Calvin Minor, and Sed Ellis. Minor and Ellis will again be battling for that last OLB spot. Both of those guys are very athletic, but right now Minor has the slight edge. Oregon transfer Anthony Wallace returns, and there is still hope that he can live up to his potential as a four star recruit. Wallace will be backing up Bean at MLB. JUCO transfer Cortney Finney was all over the place in spring and he is pushing Fred Scott for playing time. That will be a tremendous battle in the fall. Both of those guys will be on the field a lot. Finney is a little bit more athletic and could end up playing more on passing downs. Other names to look out for are AJ. Smith, Jalen Montgomery, and Brandon Garner.

 Biggest Question Mark

Who is the leader on the field with Akunne’s departure?

DB

Last year the defensive backs were supposed to be a strength with Buyers, Lee, and Jones returning. James Jones played well, Buyers struggled, and Lee could never recover from the multiple string of injuries though his career. Plus the DBs couldn’t overcome the loss of Marcus Trice who was no doubt the leader in 13. This year Buyers is the leader and he is eager to erase the memories of last year. Other key contributors returning are S Kishawn McClain, and former LB now turned DB Jamal Marshall. S John Schilleci, CB Chad Davis, and S Matthew Dash also return. The biggest story in the secondary is the influx of new talent coming in. The Mean Green added 4 or 5 potential play makers in the off season. JUCO transfers S James Gray and CB Xavier Grindle add much needed athleticism. Gray has pretty much secured his spot as the starting safety opposite of McClain. Grindle was a highly recruited athlete out of high school and was ranked as the #16 best JUCO CB by 247 recruiting. NT also added S Jaki Moore who transferred from UAB. Moore will add depth to a Safety position that was sorely depleted last year. DB Cedric Fernandes walked on last year and really impressed in the spring workouts. Other newcomers who could see playing time included FR DB Asthon Preston, DBs Vershad and Rashad Jackson.

 Biggest Question Mark

Will the play action pass continue to burn this group?

 

Returning Production

  • 63 Career Starts
  • 6 Starters
  • 57% of the Total Tackles
  • 69% of the Total Tackle for Losses
  • 70% of the Total Sacks
  • 33% of the Total INTs
  • 30% of the Forced Fumbles

Projected Def Starters

Mean Green Nation Preseason Preview Series

I’m no expert, but I enjoy putting together a decent preview for the NT football season. This year I’ve listed out what to look forward to in our Preseason Preview.

Previewing the North Texas Offense

Previewing the North Texas Defense

Top 5 Impact Newcomers

Schedule Breakdown

North Texas Player Ratings (Madden Style)

CUSA Power Rankings

CUSA Unit Rankings

CUSA Predictions

North Texas Stat Predictions

North Texas Bold Predictions

Categories
Football

THE BREAKDOWN

North Texas Mean Green vs. SMU Mustangs

 

Date: September 6th, 2014

Time: 11:00 am CT

Location: Denton, TX

Line: UNT -2.5

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Weather: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 90. North northeast wind 5 to 10 mph.

Stats

 

O Starters

D Starters

ST Starters

Game Notes

North Texas

SMU


 

 

What They’re Saying

Adam – North Texas 27 SMU 24

Greg – North Texas 14 SMU 9

TEAMRANKINGS –  North Texas 27 SMU 24

numberFire – North Texas 33 SMU 24

Bleacher Report – North Texas 23 SMU 17

Sports Chat – SMU to cover -3.5

Dallas Morning News – SMU 20 North Texas 16

Brett Vito – North Texas 24 SMU 21

GMG.com 

Ponyfans.com


 

 

Match-Ups

Mean Green Run Offense vs. Mustang Run Defense

Last week the UNT run game was practically smothered and bullied around by a very good defense. Still though the ground game was able to rush for 123 yards with virtually no threat from the pass game to help it. This week UNT’s run game should be able to find success and lanes that weren’t open last week. Reggie Pegram will get his second start of this year. Pegram didn’t look rusty at all, coming off that ACL injury. He ran with toughness and good vision. Jimmerson wasn’t patient last week and instead of dancing to get to an open lane, he was just dancing. He needs to plant and get up the field and then do his dancing in open space. Freshman Jeffery Wilson played very well for his 1st game in a big time environment. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a little bit more space this week. UNT is going to rely on the power run game, and we may see it more this week due to the uncertainty at the QB position. Expect to see lots of pre snap shifts and motions from the Mean Green to get the SMU defense out of place or at least to identify what the defense is giving UNT. Again expect to see the zone runs out of the gun. Expect to see a ton of 11 and 12 personnel. I especially believe that UNT will attack this 3 man front with 2 TE’s out of the gun. I believe that a lot of what UNT will do will be based on where the WLB lines up. If Coach Canles believes he is shading inside he will use bubble and WR screens. Once Coach Canales gets that WLB to shade a bit outside he will be attacking with the zone runs that weren’t too successful last week. This week UNT really wants to attack the alley between the NT and the E.

SMU struggled to corral the Baylor run game last week giving up 261 yards. They struggled with alignment and the tempo that Baylor played at. They also struggled getting off blocks. Still though this remains the strength of the SMU defense. They have a solid group of LB’s led by play-makers Jonathan Yenga and Stephon Sanders. UNT fans know SMU is going to stack the line of scrimmage and close up running lanes. SMU know’s that UNT is physical. This is where the game will be won or lost. If UNT is able to stay on their blocks and open up holes for the talented backfield, well then its going to be a long day for the Mustangs.

Key Player Match-up – Mason Y’Barbo vs. Jonathan Yenga

Stats to Consider – 1.8 YPC vs UT, SMU gave up 5.2 YPC vs Baylor

 

Mean Green Pass Offense vs. Mustang Pass Defense

Not much can be made of what was the North Texas passing game this past Saturday. I’m not sure you accurately assess what UNT was trying to accomplish. The North Texas QB’s Josh Greer and Andrew McNulty looked like high school QB’s. They were not prepared for the type of pressure that Texas applied. A lot of times they had their eyes on the rush rather than down the field. They will need to make quicker decisions this week if the UNT pass game is going to rebound. The UNT OL did the QB’s no favor’s either. They missed assignments which is not something that happens often.  I expect the OL to play much better vs. SMU. The WR group never really got a chance to show what they can do. I still fill like there are playmakers amongst this group, it’s just a matter of if the UNT QB can get them the ball. I really expect there to be a huge jump in production from this group. As I mentioned early I believe that UNT is going attack the DB’s with WR screens early on to open up the running lanes. Doing this may also instill some confidence into the QB. A strong run game may also lead to more play action success then we saw last week. Again all this dependent on the UNT QB playing at a much higher level.

 SMU’s secondary is not very experienced and it showed against Baylor. With virtually no pass rush the Mustangs had trouble getting stops. Their secondary wasnt great, but it was okay vs. the Bears. They are probably breathing a sigh of relief after seeing the UNT game film. I think they will be challenged more this week, but they should still be able to hold the UNT pass game in check. If UNT’s run game is clicking and then the SMU DB’s may have trouble with a play action. A couple of times last week they got burned over the top by the speedy Baylor WR’s. UNT doesn’t have that kind of speed at WR, but it does have enough to get behind the SMU secondary.

Key Player Match-up – Josh Greer vs. Horace Richardson

Stats to Consider – Combined UNT QB efficiency rating -22

Mean Green OL vs.  Mustang DL

The UNT OL was flat out embarrassed last week against UT. They are aware of it, so you and I know that there will be a certain level of determination this week. It seemed like last year every time the OL had a game where they struggled it the next game they came back and killed it. Mason Y’Barbo and Shawn McKinney really got dominated on the interior. Antonio Johnson and Cyril Lemon struggled with the speed of the UT DL. This is a proud group who will bounce back this week.

SMU’s DL failed to really get any pressure on Baylor at all. SMU will attack the UNT OL with 3 down linemen. Baylor did a great job of attacking the bubbles in that 3 man front. This group in not huge for a 3 man group of DL. They are not very good at keeping OL off their LB’s.

Key Player Match-up – Kaydon Kirby vs. Darrian Wright

Stat to Consider – 4 sacks given up by UNT; 0 sacks registered by SMU

Mean Green Run Defense vs. Mustang Run Offense

UNT’s defense last week was the high point. Many analyst expected the Texas Longhorns to dominate the UNT D on the ground. Well UT had its moments, but for the most part the Mean Green held UT in check. I expect them to have good success this week against a team that is not going to threaten with the run. Last week UNT rotated a ton of guys. UNT got good performances out of Dutton Watson, walkon Andy Flusche, and Jarrian Roberts. This week they welcome back the most experienced DL of the group Daryl Mason. Other guys who will see time are Alexander Lincoln, Chad Polk, Sid Moore, Malik Dilonga, Sir Calvin Wallace and DT Austin Orr. The LB core  was exciting to watch. They played fast and aggressive against UT. MLB Anthony Wallace got a chance to show off his talents, and really laid the wood to some players. This game sets up real nice for the Mean Green LB’s. They should be able to show case their speed and athleticism against a team that likes to spread you out. 

SMU’s run game isnt much to talk of. They run the ball to keep you honest. Look for them to run your basic draws, dives, and zone read plays. RB Kevin Pope is a big back, but athletic. Prescott Line is the other big back that SMU with throw at the UNT defense. Don’t be surprised if Matt Davis comes into the game to run some zone reads or QB draws. He is a really athletic QB who could hurt the UNT defense with his legs.  I fully expect the UNT defense to keep the SMU run game under control.

Key Player Match-up – Derek Akunne vs. Kevin Pope

Stats to Consider – -24 yards rushing last week for SMU including sacks. Without the sacks 50 yards rushing

Mean Green Pass Defense vs. Mustang Pass Offense

Last week the UNT pass defense fared okay vs. the UT passing game. They were never really burned on a play and never beat over the top. That is what we have come to expect from this pass defense. Kenny Buyers and James Jones were solid. Lee what is hit stick self. The nice surprise of the night was to see Sheldon Wade play good. He looked like he belonged out their and I expect his play to only get better as the season goes on. This week against SMU the UNT DB’s face a pretty good test. They will need to be on top of their fundamental game. SMU wants those yards after catch. The LB’s will be forced to defend in space, which is something I expect them to do well. The fun part should be watching the DL pin its ears back and rush the passer. Jarrian Roberts, Chad Polk, and Daryl Mason should all have big games this week.

SMU’s coach June Jones is famous for his Run & Shoot offense. Its a vertical passing attack. When the OL cant block the DL well, they will throw a lot of WR screens and RB screens. SMU will almost always be in some 4 wide set. Most of the time its going to be 2 wide on each side. SMU will go trips to the right or left as well. In the Jones offense its all about the WR’s reading the defense and finding the correct gaps. The run and shoot passing attack really struggles against teams with good DB’s who are athletic enough to stay with those WR’s and close down the passing lanes. Baylor had good enough athletes and DB’s to really hinder the SMU passing attack. Of coarse Baylor also was helped by the pass rush. If UNT is able to get similar pressure from their front four, well its going to be a long day for the Mustangs.

Key Player Match-up – Kenny Buyers vs. Der’rikk Thompson

Stats to Consider – 2.3 yards per pass for SMU

Mean Green DL vs. Mustang OL

UNT’s DL stood its ground last week against a bigger OL from Texas. This unit is undersized, but they are tenacious. Each guy that rotates in their gets after it. This is the type of game where they could really do some damage. SMU struggles with speed rushes, something I believe that this UNT DL cant excel at. Texas tried to run at the edges of this UNT DL which was sort of intresting. SMU wont do that. Anything they try running wise will be directly at the middle of the DL. It will be interesting to watch if the UNT DL can get off their blocks and shut down the run game. Once UNT gets SMU in those passing situations I fully believe we will see some really good pressure.

SMU’s offensive line was even worse than the UNT OL. They looked like a high school group against Baylor. In their defense they are one of the most inexperienced DL’s in the country. The Bears were able to accumulate  9 sacks against this group. Many times Baylor defenders just blew right by the Mustang OL. They’ve shuffled a few guys around up front and should perform better this week. I still think they will struggle with the speed of the UNT DL.

Key Player Match-up – Daryl Mason vs. Seaver Meyers

Stats to Consider –9 sacks for negative 70 yards.

 

 

Matchups O

Matchups D

Matchups ST

 


 

Five Factors

These five factors – explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers go a long way in determining who wins a game. If you go back and look at each team last week they were out classed. Just based on the explosiveness factor alone Texas had a 98.9% chance of winning with an average score margin of 32.2. Pretty close to the actual margin of 31. I’m giving North Texas a 54% chance of winning vs SMU with a 2 point advantage based on these factors. You can tell both teams were equally bad last week.

Five Factors

 

Scouting Dashboard

Scout 1

Scout 2

Scout 3

Scout 4

 


 

Game Plan for Victory

OFFENSE

  1. Build the confidence of the QB early with easy throws
  2. Limit 3rd and long’s. Need 3 and 4 or shorter
  3. Have a run to pass ratio of  at least 60% to 40%
  4. Hit at least 46 rushing attempts
  5. Average 4 yards per 1st down play
  6. Average 5 yards per play through the game
  7. Get close to 150 yards passing
  8. Get close to 212 yards rushing
  9. Convert over 40% of 3rd downs
  10. Score over 24 points

DEFENSE

  1. Force SMU into a passing down at least 65% of the time on 3rd downs
  2. Limit SMU to under 60 yards rushing
  3. Limit SMU to under 220 yards passing
  4. Limit SMU to under 5 yards per play
  5. Limit SMU to under 40% 3rd down conversation rate
  6. Force 3 SMU turnovers
  7. Win up the battle in the trenches forcing the QB’s to make quick decisions
  8. Limit the run after catch yardage
  9. Dont let the QB scramble convert 3rd downs
  10. Limit SMU to under 17 points