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Football

2016 Football Schedule Series: SMU

Better Know SMU

There is a lot of time before football comes back to blind us to reality. In the mean time we could be doing postive things like hanging out with our children, being better husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, citizens, podcasters and what-have-you. If you don’t want to do those things you could get to know your opponents a little better.

For the others click here.

Date Opp
Sep 3 at SMU
Sep 10 Bethune-Cookman
Sep 17 at Florida
Sep 24 at Rice
Oct 1 MTSU
Oct 8 Marshall
Oct 15 Bye!
Oct 22 at Army
Oct 29 at UTSA
Nov 5 LaTech
Nov 12 at WKU
Nov 19 SoMiss
Nov 26 at UTEP
Dec 3 CUSA Championship Game

MGN Page – SMU

I’ll restate here what the MGN page says:

SMU is famous program in college football but not all for good reasons. There were championships in the 30s and 40s, and Doak Walker may or may not have built the Cotton Bowl, but people alive today most remember that SMU was banhammered with Death in the late 80s for cheatin’. They haven’t fully recovered since.

The ‘rivalry’ between our great school and that one in University/Highlands Park is more of the public/private, middle class/upper class variety than anything else. While the average UNT alumnus was commuting to Denton in a hand-me-down car, the SMU folks were driving a new BMW and well on their way to an internship at daddy’s law firm. Or at least that’s how the jokes go.

I don’t know if you hate them right now. Bill Connelly says they’ll be crazy and fun.

Last Year:

Opp Score
Baylor L 21-56
NT W 31-13
at TCU L 37-56
James Madison (FCS) 45-48!
ECU L 23-49
at UH L 28-49
at USF L 14-38
Tulsa L 31-40
Temple L 40-60
at Navy L 14-55
at Memphis L 0-63

SMU was awful, in the way that rebuilding teams often are. Though they managed just one more win that the year previous, the feeling around the program is one of excitement and better days. Interestingly, SMU and UNT now boast the former offensive coordinators of the ACC’s best offenses the last few years. Chad Morris laid the foundation for the Clemson beast that won the ACC and lost the NC title game. Seth Littrell’s credentials are also shiny and awesome.

Logic tells us that we should expect something similar to Chad Morris’ first year in Littrell’s 2016 season. Our bottoming out came the year after theirs did and that sure looked similar. Unfortunately, that means we are a year behind in this rivalry, which is one thing cynical portions of our fan base feared when Chad Morris was hired.

The good news is that this matchup is in Denton — #NewDenton? — where NT has had something like a clear advantage over opposition. The bad news is a big stage (relatively speaking) and the matchup just winnable enough that there could be some consequences in recruiting. A Chad Morris win on the field would help bolster his year-long advantage.

The mysteries of recruiting aside, this is one of two games that do a lot for my personal morale. The other being the UTSA game, of course. I’ve yet to walk out of Ford Field with the smugness that only the away team’s fans can have, but I have gotten the pleasure of gloating near visiting Smoo folks. I look forward to the opportunity in September. At the very least, a good showing in this game — lots of scoring, maybe some competence, potential — would hearten the students and the folks in Denton who have been beaten down by the last two awful football seasons.

If you made it out to Dallas to see UNT at SMU to begin last season, you probably were angry that Matt Davis tore through the defense time and again as he scampered for gobs of yardage. He is as SR this year, and the Morris offense should mean a more controlled, efficient Matt Davis to deal with come September. Whether or not the newly tooled North Texas can stop that onslaught enough for Alec Morris and company to keep pace will be the storyline. There are months to go before we get into breaking down further details, and that means lots of time for injuries and surprises. So we will stop with the football stuff here.

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Football

QB Responsibility In The Littrell Offense

The best thing about the new offense is the underlying philosophy of spreading the wealth. While most people tend to think of that as designed plays for “other” guys, what it really means is that everyone is expected to be open and to contribute by executing the offense. There is an underlying element of trust imparted on each player. That trust comes from the coaches, who put a lot of responsibility on the quarterback.

See this article discussing Mike Leach’s trust in his QBs to make big decisions.

There are some quotes from Graham Harrell in there. Including this:

“Somehow he puts a ton of responsibility on the quarterback without the quarterback feeling any pressure,” Harrell said.

Now lets read what Harrell, the new OC here at North Texas, has to say about our presumptive starter Alec Morris in this AL.com piece:

“In this offense, the quarterback has a lot of responsibility and he’s the one that makes the offense go, but it’s a great offense to play in. It’s fun, and you’ve got a chance to put up big numbers. We’re excited about Alec. We’re going to play an exciting brand of football and hopefully put up some great numbers and win a lot of games.”

Responsibility. That’s big. It is important to know this as the North Texas offense steers away from the command-and-control Danny Mac days to more of a regulated-but-free offense of Seth Littrell. Since we aren’t in the meeting rooms, we don’t know exactly how much control this Littrell/Harrell version will give to the Quarterbacks but it is likely to be the most we’ll see for a few years, barring a big time Juco QB transfer or another prodigy like Harrell was.

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Football

Air Raid Concepts: Y-Stick

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to our summer pastime: breaking down the new offense led by Seth Littrell. Today: The Y-Stick.

For the past five seasons, Mean Green football fans have been witness to a pro-style offense. To the chagrin of many, North Texas played a conservative style that sets up the passing offense with the run game. It can be an effective play style with great running backs, a good o-line, a good quarterback, and most importantly, smart play calling. I am a fan of the bruising style because it establishes a gritty team mindset and grab the attention of pro scouts. Unfortunately for North Texas, we are not in the Big Ten, and did not have the proper personnel and play calling versus Conference USA competition (or any competition).

But the past is in the past. As the dust settled on the new coaching hires, the new scheme is clear: Air Raid. Well, Air Raid-inspired. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t terribly familiar with the offensive concepts of the Air Raid. After doing some reading and watching the Spring game, I found that underlying philosophy is simple and exciting.

We won’t go into the history and evolution of the Air Raid, from Lavell Edwards to Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. There’s plenty of that out there. Ahem What we will do is introduce a few concepts and plays central to the Air Raid over a few posts. We will then see some examples of how Littrell and Harrell executed the offense during the Spring game. (The GIFs used in these series were taken from the Spring game highlights here).

Concepts and plays in the Air Raid are meant to strain the defense horizontally and vertically. They are meant to move the chains quickly, and create opportunities for mismatches. The same play can be used to attack the pass defense underneath, down the seam, or outside the numbers. That same play can then be packaged in a run option, or a draw. We will see exactly that with the Y-stick. You might see it elsewhere as ‘stick’ or some variation. The concept is the same.

The Y-Stick

Here is a play that has many different iterations and formations. The Y-stick is a field stretcher, both downfield and across. North Texas lines it up in a 10 personnel shotgun set, with the back on either the strong side or the weak side. For those keeping track, the receivers are lined in a trips open formation, with the X receiver isolated on one side, and the Y, H, and Z receivers opposite. The Y receiver is on the line of scrimmage, while the H and Z receivers are off.

Y-Stick Diagram

The QB takes anywhere from a one to three step drop, depending on the play. The first read is on the Y receiver, who runs a stick route 5 yards downfield. The Z receiver runs a fade route with an outside release, taking a defender vertically away from the Y receiver. The H receiver runs an out route, taking another defender horizontally away from the Y receiver. This gives enough room for the Y receiver to break away from man coverage or find a soft spot in the zone. Sometimes, the halfback can release on a wheel route, or straight up the field.

In the following play, the Mean Green are lined up in a trips left formation, with the halfback on the strong side. The Y receiver is covered up by the linebacker who is sitting flat footed on the route, eyeing the run. Tee Goree is left 1-on-1 and open immediately, and Morris hits the fade for a touchdown. A great outside route runner like Goree will take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups like this.

Goree TD

On this play, the halfback is lined up on the weak side, and the Y receiver is covered in man coverage. He is able to break open outside after he sticks his route, but by then the ball is in the air for the Z fade route. The Z receiver is in a 1-on-1 matchup, and is allowed to make a play on the ball.

Fade TD

What is interesting about this concept is that it can be packaged into run plays. By the time this next play happens, the defense has seen this formation a few times. The halfback is on the strong side, and Shanbour reads the defense for a handoff. In the meantime, the three receivers on the right eat up four defenders. The offensive line opens up a hole for the halfback for what essentially becomes a 0-on-1 matchup. He gets a decent gainer, but the halfback is probably kicking himself for not baiting the defender outside, and then taking the middle lane.

Stick Combo Run

In this next packaged play, the halfback is on the weak side. The three receivers on the right again take up four defenders, with the attention of a fifth. The X receiver takes two defenders with him. This leaves one linebacker as the only defender in the second level. Shanbour takes a one step drop while the half back and right guard release for the draw play. The right guard blocks the lonely linebacker, and Shanbour easily goes in for the touchdown.

Stick Combo Draw

As we will see with a lot of Air Raid plays, in one simple play we see a decidedly fun and subtly complex set up. The QB has one read, which he must do quickly. The receivers stretch the field both horizontally and vertically, creating at least one 1-on-1 match up. It can be packaged with option and draw plays, leaving the runners with decent matchups once they get to the second level.

While the Y-stick is designed for moving the chains on high percentage throws underneath, I have a feeling the outside receivers are going to have a lot of fun with this play because Seth Littrell comes from the Leach branch of Air Raid which likes the downfield stuff. Slowly, we are starting to see the Air Raid vision come together, and will make for at least a fun season in 2016.

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Football

Goodbye Mike Canales

Mike Canales is a passionate guy. He really believes that positive enthusiasm is the lifeblood of coaching. He lived it as interim coach here in two stints five years apart. The first was far more successful than his second, and although much of the goodwill surrounding coach Canales stems from his 2010 tenure, it was his contributions to the firing of Dan McCarney that ultimately doomed both Mac and Mike Canales: HC, Part 2.
Ed note: This article has been updated with the archived version of some links that were removed later.
A QB coach by trade, he lived off the reputation gained from coaching up Phillip Rivers at NCState. A closer look at his previous stops reveal a lot of similar complaints to the ones we had about him this season. QBs that don’t improve? Yep. Offenses that seem unoriginal and robotic? Yep. Play calling that doesn’t adjust to the game? Yep.

While initially I was skeptical of the hire, I was eventually won over. He showed some things in 2010, and even throughout his tenure under McCarney. He still seemed innovative . . . sometimes. He had some real gems here and there, and even this season brought some wrinkles that played to his team’s strengths.

Here are some times I praised him:

Here is probably the most damning evidence against him:

The fact that we had very poor QB play these last two years, and only mediocre play before that is damning in and of itself. The 2013 team set offensive records but that was largely due to the number of games played (13). For example, the 2013 team’s yards per play? 5.61. The 2009 team (pre-Canales)? 5.89. The totals aren’t much better. The 2013 team peaked at 410 per game, which was good for 64th in the nation that year. That was only slightly improved from the low 70s the team ranked before and after.

The point is that whether you blame Dan McCarney for limiting him or not, he had plenty of opportunity to put his imprint on the team. His job was to coordinate the offense and the numbers say he was okay-to-poor. He might be better as a Head Coach, where he can help imprint the offense but let someone else call the plays on game day.

Like many Canales observers before I will add to the chorus of praise for him as a person. He seems like a great guy. His former players are effusive in their praise — and I don’t mean only the former UNT players. However, I won’t say he “deserves” a head coaching job, because my definition includes results and not just personality. I will say I am rooting for him to get one, because I want good things to happened to good people.

Here is an excerpt of Mike Canales’ farewell statement. You can read the rest on Vito’s blog:

I believe in my heart the Mean Green program will be back stronger than ever in the near future. I look forward to Saturday with a heavy heart, but I can walk away with my head held high for I will forever know how special North Texas and Denton have been in my life and my coaching career.

He was part of the HOD win, and he’ll always be a part of Mean Green lore because of it. He got he first victory over UTSA, and with that probably saved this season from being winless, and so he will get some kudos for that.

Happy Trails, Mike! Here’s hoping you get that head coaching gig you’ve always wanted 1.


  1. UTSA? That would be very interesting for this rivalry, wouldn’t it? 
Categories
Football

Mike Jinks: Coaching Candidate

Mike Jinks is being discussed heavily after Bret Vito reported he submitted his resume for consideration as the North Texas Head Coach. This is pretty much exactly what he wanted and I cannot blame him. Now that his name is on a list, we have to check him out to see if he is worthy of leading our program here in Denton.

For him, this was a savvy move. I don’t know if it was his agent, or just Mike Jinks aggressively pursuing his career path. I don’t want to assign blame — but praise. It tells us a little something about the man. He wants a head gig. He’s willing to do what it takes to get it.

Getting a job is not unlike winning a football game. You have to be agressive and play to win, y’all.

So let’s vet our candidate — however likely his candidacy is, we’ll at least know a bit about him.

Previous Stops 1

Year School Position
1996-1997 Ellison High School (San Angelo, TX) QBs Coach
1998 Judson HS (Converse, TX) [Right outside San Antonio] QBs Coach
1999 Crockett High school (Austin, TX) OC
2000=2001 Galena Park HS (Galena Park, TX) ][Right outside Houston] OC
2002-2004 Robert E. Lee HS (San Antonio, TX) OC
2005 Burbank HS (San Antonio, TX) HC
2006 Steele HS (Scherz, TX) [San Antonio] HC
2013-Present Texas Tech Univ. RBs, Assistant HC/RBs (2015)

He is most famous for leading 2010 Steele HS to the Texas 5A Div II championship, riding Malcolm Brown (of Longhorn fame) to the title. His Knights followed that up with another trip to the title game, but lost to Spring DeKaney. So it goes.

He’s a former high school and college quarterback (San Angelo State), and has coached offenses his whole career. Obviously, given North Texas is seeking an offensive minded head man, this is good for Mike.

Texas Tech is ranked 53rd (as of this writing) in S&P+, which is right behind Marshall.

In the three seasons as a RBs coach TTU has averaged 35.8, 30.5, and 46.5 (this season, as of this writing) points per game.

Whereas in 2013, TTU struggled running the ball (about 3.5 yards per carry), the last two seasons have seen them run for a little over 5-yards a pop. The passing game has been steady at over 7-yards an attempt.

A lot of the Texas Tech offense should be attributed to kliff Kingsbury, but its a good thing that Jinks has spent three seasons under his regime. That is plenty of time to learn more than just the broad strokes of the system he’ll likely run.

Recruiting Skills

247 Sports ranks him 32nd in the Big 12. For comparison’s sake Kendal Briles (who also submitted a resume, but predictably denied publicly wanted the job) is ranked first. His targets are mainly SA-area guys, expected given his history and knowledge of the area. A big question would be his ability to expand beyond that. That is to ask “Can he build a staff?”

Leave your thoughts in the Discussion thread.


  1. Thanks Wikipedia. 
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Football Football Recaps

Same Old North Texas: LaTech 56 NT 13

We don’t have a good football team. We knew this before this game, but maybe the win over a now 1-8 UTSA team distracted us from the problems on this team. As a collective hive mind we were unsettling okay with the idea of Mike Canales as head coach. Sure, the win last week was cathartic and notable. Sure, we looked amazing defensively, and potent offensively but Louisiana Tech is better defensively and better rushing offensively than WKU.

The rain didn’t help us on a day where we needed every break we could. DaMarcus Smith already has ball security problems and the wet ball helped Jeffery Wilson fumble also. Add to that the back-to-back snap problems on special teams and we handicapped ourselves against the second-best team in the conference.

Offense

Oh man. I mentioned the rain, but let’s mention the weight of being the Future of the offense causing Jeff Wilson trouble. To my eyes he tried to make A Big Play a couple of times and paid for it by fumbling. The quick screen that he tried to reverse ended with a fumble and a negative yardage play. He fights for every yard, and the Bulldog defense stood him up and forced a fumble on another play. That said, the run game showed signs of potency. Wilson had 70 yards, including 54 in the first half. That punt snafu lost 35 yards. Smith was sacked / lost 20 yards and Wilson only 3.

The pass game was very poor. Although DaMarcus Smith ended with a reasonable stat line, he missed some open throws early that could have kept drives alive, or got scores. For some reason he needs to have the pressure in his face to complete a short throw accurately. There were more than a few times that short passes were tossed incomplete because they were wide open. It’s weird but understandable. Hopefully it is the kind of thing that repetitions and practice time will fix. If not, then the new coach will have to find a guy on the roster or elsewhere to make those. DaMarcus is explosive while running, can make a killer deep throw, but is iffy when throwing short. You can win with a guy like that — look at Cam Newton — but the team needs to be built around that kind of offense.

Date Opponent Surface Result Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Rating
11/07/15 @ Louisiana Tech Turf L 13-56 45 25 55.6 234 5.2 2 1 109.47

Defense

The good news: When LT’s Driskel dropped back to pass, they looked vulnerable. When they lined up to run at us with All-Conference RB Dixon? Well they cut through this team easily. Obviously the headlines are all about Kennth Dixons 195 yards and six touchdowns, as they should be. He exceeded his previous 2-game composite against us by a very large margin. It should be noted that this was the second-highest yards-per-rush allowed this season, and the fourth 270+ yard game allowed, and the fifth time there were 3+ rushing TDs allowed this season (every game we’ve allowed at least 2). That is to say, if you want to set records running the ball this team is the one to do it against.

There really isn’t much to say. The defense has real struggles stopping the run — or even containing it. Whatever you think of the offense, no team can win games against decent teams with defending like this. Chris Cosh has a handful of injuries and young players running his scheme so you might be inclined to cut him some slack. The occasional confusion or occasional blown assignment would be reasonable or expected but a consistent series of destructions are demoralizing to everyone.

Canales mentioned the physical differences in his press conference.

“They’re a big, strong football team that has great speed, and we don’t. We’re going to have to develop to give ourselves a chance in this conference.”

That’s frustrating to hear again, after hearing it so much during Dan McCarney’s first couple of seasons. Recruiting and development have been two of the main criticisms of this coaching staff these last four years. The next guy — and there will be a next guy — will likely use this as an excuse for the first couple of years also. Let’s hope he addresses it and we never have to refer to this subject again.

Special Teams

All Hail Tre’ Johnson. The dude hasn’t had the opportunity to show much of his abilities. He took over return duties from Darvin Kidsy a few weeks back and we finally saw why. He nearly broke a couple of returns. It is very unfortunate that he had so many kick returns. We briefly saw Jeff Wilson back there, and that was encouraging but after his fumble, I think we’ll stick with Johnson for a long while. He looks likely to break one soon.

Less encouraging was the punt snap team. The ball nearly sailed on the first punt of the game and then actually did the second time. That unit allowed a scoop and score TD and that simply should be unacceptable.

Coaching

We praised Canales for his motivation last week so we should criticize him this week. How much of last week was simply playing a bad team at home? How much was Mike Canales limiting practice reps during the week, holding the chain up, giving inspirational quotes, limiting cursing on the sidelines, and putting on the helmet and jumping up and down? How much of that affected the Louisiana Tech loss? Did any of that make us lose by less points?

There is no way to reasonably know whether Mike Canales is helping or hurting this team right now. How can we point to last week and say “here is the evidence that he should be coach” and not do the same with this week’s embarrassment?

Overall

Let’s give credit to the winners. La Tech is a good team and good teams make you look bad. TCU also lost to a very good team this week. Their Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin looked like a Sun Belt QB yesterday. I’d normally say that this game should require some perspective, but putting this game into context tells me that this game was more in line with our previous performances than last week’s. That doesn’t give me warm and fuzzy feelings about next week’s matchup in the annual Money Game. I’ll be in Neyland Stadium ready to watch it all first hand.

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MGN Podcast

55: First Wins

Adam and Greg discuss the UTSA game, look forward to the LaTech game, discuss the new coaching candidates (Lincoln Riley, Mike Norvell), and take your very good twitter questions

MGN Podcast is the Official Podcast of the Unofficial UNT sports blog Mean Green Nation!

Click here for the podcast feed. That should get you everything you need. You can play the episode from there or subscribe via your favorite podcast catcher.

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You can contact the podcast at podcast@meangreennation.com.

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Football Football Recaps

Revenge: UNT 30 UTSA 23

That was a relief.

I mentioned how much that the two UTSA losses hurt before. It felt so good to 1. Beat that UTSA team and 2. Not be winless. The latter may seem like a stupid goal to have but considering everything it really began to gain importance as we lost more. If we had any CUSA title hopes before the season they were quickly dashed. Bowl aspirations were tossed as soon as the losses piled up.

So forgive me if I feel good after our team beat a 1-6 team that I thought we would beat before the season. It’s been that kind of year.

The offense was better than the score lets on, even though we scored 30. Nine points can be directly attributed to the defense and special teams, and that makes me feel good. It’s almost like the ghost of 2013 came back to avenge the loss they had on that cold November day. Still our team left 10 points on the field tonight. DaMarcus Smith, rusher of 137 yards and passer of only 104, fumbled at the one yard line while trying to dive over a UTSA defender. Reliable Trevor Moore shanked a gimme field goal right before half.

The defense was able to continue the solid play that was hinted at against Marshall. They got to UTSA’s QB Sturm, and mostly shuttered the UTSA run game. Aside from some longish drives and some questionable drives, they won the game twice by holding UTSA on the final two drives.

UNT lost the yardage battle 475-371 but they won the special teams battle, missed field goals included. It is a three-phase game after all. That basically separated the two evenly matched teams. And yes, they were evenly matched teams. Much was made from the Roadrunner fandom about NT’s standing as the “Worst Team in the Nation” and yeah, the stats can’t be argued with. But anyone who watched this team in the weeks since McCarney was fired has seen the incremental improvement. This team tonight would not have lost to Portland State so badly.

It’s almost like the ghost of 2013 came back to avenge the loss they had on that cold November day.

Speaking of it, that Portland State loss was really hanging over this game wasn’t it? For our guys, it was to say that they aren’t that team anymore. I’ve noticed marked improvement since then. We should mark the season BPSU and APSU. Before, the Mean Green fandom loathed the thought of losing to an FCS team. For UTSA fans, losing to the team that lost to an FCS team would mark the nadir of the season and the beginning of the end of the Larry Coker era.

And so it goes. North Texas beat a team a lot of people felt they should have beaten and UTSA lost to a team the oddsmakers felt they should have beaten. Ergo two evenly matched teams.

Before we go further into the dissection of the game, lets point out something about this rivalry. All three games have come down to the final drive, with the eventual losing team needing just 7 or 8 points to tie. Two years ago Derek Thompson led his offense to the one-yard line before throwing an interception, with the team down 8. Last season, UNT forced a punt down 7 and Zac Whitfield tried to return a short punt but muffed it. UTSA ran out the clock. This season North Texas held UTSA on two straight fourth quarter drives while defending a 7 point lead.

Prediction Check

I said on the podcast that 1. We’d be able to run successfully on this team 2. We’d be able to sack this team and 3. We’d win this game.

I’m happy to say I was right on all the above counts, not because I like to pat myself on the back, but because it is confirmation that I’m not crazy, and have a decent handle on this team.

Offense

Whoa. DaMarcus Smith is dynamic isn’t he? Well I suppose that’s code for “he can run and pass” but it seems he is most dangerous when running. Then again, he fumbled twice while going for the goalline. The first was a slippage and the second was trying too hard. I can’t really blame him for trying to dive into the endzone from an effort point of view, but he has to make better decisions. That was a first down play that didn’t require an epic dive into the endzone there. That said, he rushed for 137 yards including a killer 54-yard run in the 4th while the two teams were tied on 3rd down. That is the kind of game-breaking ability we’ve needed from that position. McNulty’s 93-yard TD to Carlos Harris aside, what other plays can we point to from that position beside DaMarcus Smith plays?

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to have a QB debate. Instead I want to talk about Jeffery Wilson. He continued his dominance of CUSA foes by slashing through UTSA’s 48th ranked rush defense for 127 yards on 22 carries. Were it not for a couple of 1-yard dives in the final drive, he would have been near his season average of 6.4. He finished at 5.8. His longest on the day was 27, but quoting stats at you won’t do his night justice. He ran through way more UTSA tackles than he had any right to and was essentially the only offense UNT had. The run that put him over 100 in the 4th quarter was incredible. He reversed field on the entire defense, got a block from D. Smith and turned it up field. It was on this same drive earlier that he made some ridiculous cuts that made defenders look silly. His explosive yardage — basically yardage after the first 4 yards (those belong to the lineman) are ridiculous. He makes people miss in the open field, has incredible speed, and hard to tackle easily. He’s special.

The offense was doing what I hoped it would — 1. Wilson 2. DaMarcus Keepers 3. PA passes. When they did any of the combination above, they did well. When they didn’t — it didn’t go so well. UTSA’s defense isn’t very good, and we shouldn’t be overly excited. These last three week’s have seen the team score 28, 13, and 30. That’s a real improvement, you guys. Improvement is all we can ask for at this point.

One note about DaMarcus Smith. He was inaccurate again, completing only 50% of his passes but they were experience problems. We cannot complain about him missing practice this week while attending the funeral for his best friend. He’ll be better next week.

Defense

I expected the defensive line to get sacks against the Roadrunner front line. Jarrian Roberts, Malik Dilonga, and Chad Polk all tallied sacks when UTSA dropped back to pass. There were numerous QB hurries. The problem was that UTSA got smart and began to throw only on PA passes. They took a looong time to make that change, much to the chagrin of UTSA’s twitter fans. Every member of the secondary did a great job of tackling in the open field, something that UTSA really makes difficult. Nate Brooks in particular made a great tackle on the first of UTSA’s final two drives on 3rd and 12. UTSA’s Kerry Thomas took a short pass and was headed for a first down were it not for Brooks’ drive-saving tackle. Zac Whitfield knocked the fourth down pass away to earn the ball back for NT.

Chad Davis made some really nice tackles, also. James Gray had some hit sticks. The real star was the man who has been dominating the defensive statistics charts all season — Kishawn McClain. He not only led the team in tackles again, he also scooped up the UTSA fumble and scored the first defensive TD of the season. Late in the second quarter he made a hell of a play defending UTSA’s best receiver David Morgan in the corner of the endzone that was the difference between going down 14-7 and going down 10-7. That was the drive where Sturm should have been called for a grounding penalty.

The defense is making improvements. They aren’t the 2013 squad but they aren’t the team that was gashed by Portland State either. UTSA, one of the worst offensive teams in football, was able to move the ball easily at times — especially running straight ahead. In the 4th quarter drive that briefly put UTSA ahead 23-21, they spread out our defense, picked us apart with some throws, then ran straight at us with Dalton Sturm on a couple of play action runs. Then they went heavy and ran, then play actioned for the TD.

Next week the defense face Louisiana Tech, a really good offense. That is followed by Tennessee. We’ll likely allow way more points and yards but look for the good things we saw today — the defensive line penetration and the solid tackling by the secondary.

Right now let’s enjoy the fact that they made game-winning stops, scored points, and generally made plays when they were dominated in time of possession 37min to 22min.

Special Teams

Trevor Moore shanked a would-be tying field goal right before the half. Outside of that we dominated special teams. James Gray had a nice kick return, Tre’ Johnson had one amazing return, Austin Orr blocked the extra point that Chad Davis returned for 2 points. That turned a 3-point deficit into a tied game. UTSA wasn’t able to get anything on returns, averaging only 3 on punt returns and 19.8 on kick returns. Our guys generally hustled on special teams and that was evident in every chance they got.

Coaching

This team came out ready to play. They out hustled UTSA 1. Still if we know anything about Mike Canales it is that he’ll coach with passion. You can see that in the team. After the game the team posed with the chain, the chain of “Lock the Gate” fame. That’s quality motivating 2.

Other

That inverted veer I complained about? Well DaMarcus Smith gashed UTSA on that a couple of times. Upon second viewing that fist D.Smith fumble was so ridiculous. A guaranteed TD. The following play UNT tried the fumblerooski play but there was a procedure penalty. The following play was a bad read from Smith — he should have given on the read — but he made the read defender — a DE — miss badly and then eventually fumbled. Both fumble plays were 100% DaMarcus Smith good and bad. The dude is incredible.


I don’t have video of it, but Jeff Wilson’s TD was on a sweep. I had thought they’d have success on that — they did — but the run was all Wilson. He should have been tackled short but powered through. He’s special.


UTSA really tried pressuring Smith and he was able to only have two sacks. He would have really burned them if he were able to hit some of the deep stuff. He and Thaddeus Thompson are absolutely not on the same page.


North Texas really wasted that Carlos Harris incredible catch along the sideline. UTSA had just went up 10-7, did that awful onside kick and Smith found Harris on the right sideline. After a couple of runs, Smith missed badly on a throw to Harris in which Carlos had absolutely BURNT Bennett Okotcha, their star cornerback. That drive should have come way with 7 points instead of the 0 that it did. I suppose the miss was karma from the football gods for not going again toward the endzone with 10 seconds remaining on second-freaking-down.


Dalton Sturm can run and he’s okay when he sets his feet and throws. I bet Jeff Driskel will be a bigger handful next week. LaTech only managed 34 and allowed 31 against this UTSA squad so that should give you hope.


UTSA did a lot to beat themselves. They had two huge fumbles — one to begin the third quarter drive on 4th and 1. The second was the big scoop and score that McClain had. Our defense did great to get them in 4th down sure, but it could have been different if UTSA had scored on that drive. I’d rather be lucky than good, obviously. Their final drive was essentially killed on a holding call. That turned 2nd and 5 into 2nd and 20, of course plenty of credit should go our defesnive line’s way as they nearly sacked Sturm, forcing him to scramble and causing the offensive line to hold.


Some of my favorite tweets that came across the TL.


  1. Which may be more of an Larry Coker problem than our quality coaching but whatever. 
  2. If not strange. But hey, it’s not me that needs to be convinced. 
Categories
Football Football Recaps

Improvement: North Texas 13 Marshall 30

The last time these two programs met it was a playoff game as Div-1AA opponents and Marshall won 7-0. This one didn’t have nearly the same stakes, but an argument could be made that the defenses here were similar if adjusted for ~30year inflation.

That’s all a long, unfunny attempt at saying both teams played some solid defense in this era of offense. For Marshall, that wasn’t unsurprising as they came in as the CUSA leader in scoring defense at 17.4. We came in as the conference’s worst at 50.2. The defensive line showed some signs of life that we hadn’t seen since they chased Matt Davis at SMU in the first three quarters. We saw sacks, and near-interceptions, and defensive backs making plays on the ball. We saw gang-tackling, and pass deflections at the line, we saw tackles for losses and most pleasingly, we saw 3-and-outs.

We came in as the conference’s worst scoring defense at 50.2.

I had hoped that Marshall’s relative lack of explosiveness would make for a game that DaMarcus Smith could thrive in. Sure, I expected the very good Marshall defense to make things difficult (they did) but unlike in the WKU game in which QB Brandon Doughty led his team on lightening scoring drives, Marshall would be a bit more methodical. This was my hope. Instead of methodical, Marshall marched on a couple of scoring drives and made it 17-0 early. DaMarcus Smith looked over-excited and the offense went 3-and-out twice in the first three drives. The other was only four plays.

Still after the early scores by Marshall the defense made some stops. Marshall was stopped on first down for -7 yards. Then punted after three plays. Their next drive Malik Dilonga sacked Chase Litton for an 8-yard loss. Whoa! What was this? Defense?! This was nice considering that in beginning of the game, Marshall had lots of running room and lots of time to pass. From the late second quarter on the defense held MU to four punts, two field goals and only one touchdown.

That’s solid football defending. Let’s not forgot that the Herd got an extra first down and subsequent score after a penalty on the punt attempt. And later had to fake a punt to drive for a field goal. Yes that means they had to resort to trickery to score points against our worst-in-conference defense. That is because Chris Cosh’s crew were making plays. Fred Scott, Malik Dilonga, Austin Orr, Nate Brooks, and Anthony Wallace all made some notable plays during the stretch.

From cfbstats.com

Rank Name G TD FG Points Points/G
1 Marshall 7 16 4 122 17.4
2 Western Kentucky 7 22 5 168 24.0
3 Florida International 7 21 7 169 24.1
4 Southern Mississippi 7 21 11 181 25.9
5 Middle Tennessee 7 25 8 201 28.7
6 Louisiana Tech 7 24 11 202 28.9
7 Florida Atlantic 6 24 7 191 31.8
8 Old Dominion 6 24 8 192 32.0
9 Charlotte 6 24 9 194 32.3
10 UTSA 7 30 12 246 35.1
11 Rice 6 31 4 227 37.8
12 UTEP 6 33 9 258 43.0
13 North Texas 6 41 5 301 50.2

So let’s quickly go through some observations before you continue on with your weekend.

Offense

Mike Canales has some good ideas. I have criticized his QB recruiting, and we think he’s play calls have been limited by having to go through Dan McCarney’s conservative filter. Today, he wasn’t at his best. He believes in DaMarcus Smith’s talent like most of us. However, in his enthusiasm to showcase the QB, he is forgetting the most effective player we have on the team is Jeffery Wilson. He averaged 8.1 yards per carry and until the 3rd quarter he had only 16 carries. He finished with 17. I said after the WKU game that this offense should build around the following:

  1. Jeffery Wilson gives
  2. DaMarcus Smith keepers
  3. PA passes deep/otherwise.

Canales got away from the above selections too early too often. When he did the drive would stall. I have no complaints about throwing the ball deep or even throwing without play-actioning first. Lord knows that being predictable can be an offense’s kryptonite. Smith is still struggling when in a pass-first offense requiring lots of decisions right now. He famously has missed a ton of practice and Marshall has a good defense. So why go pass-first?

Three times we went empty-set and Marshall owned us. They sacked Smith, got that interception, and generally wreaked havoc. Instead of being aggressive, and putting pressure their defense by spreading them out (which is the idea of going 5-wide), we let them pressure our QB by overwhelming the offensive line. If the responsibility is on Smith to change the protection or pick the right place for the ball to go pre-snap, well that illustrates why I am frustrated already. Putting our ill-prepared QB in a situation like that is the exact opposite of putting him in a position to succeed.

The play-action passes were successful. The quick game was successful, and oh-my-goodness the run game was über-successful. Instead of challenging the Herd to stop Wilson, we help them beat us.

While I know the final TD drive was second-string vs second-string, it illustrated my point. They ran the ball for 80% of the drive and scored on a play-action pass. Next week, while we hope we get a more accurate, more decisive DaMarcus Smith leading this offense, let’s hope that we also get a Canales that is making the defense beat us and not helping UTSA’s cause.

Other things to complain about: getting Carlos Harris more involved, receiver’s catching ability (so many drops ugh), and Smith’s footwear (so many slips).

Defense

This unit has had lots of deserved criticism. In this game, after the second quarter it showed signs of being the unit we all hoped we’d see. Instead of the one being blasted off the ball, this one had guys getting into the backfield and getting to the quarterback. I’d like to see some more speed to change those almost-sacks to actual ones, but the pressure was transformative on the secondary. Nate Brooks and company were able to make plays on the ball, get pass deflections, and stay in coverage with the pressure we got.

Marshall had their way with us, improvement or no.

Still, there were too many gashing runs. The Marshall halfbacks hit us with huge runs early. In the first quarter Hyleck Foster was averaging 10 a carry. He finished with 105 on 17. Keshawn McClain fished as our leading tackler again and that’s a statistic we need to break. Whereas Marshall’s Foster has speed and found lots of running room, next week’s opponent has a shifty feature back that can break tackles in the open field. That means instead of 10 yard gashing runs, we’ll see Portland State-esque 70 yard runs if the defense is unable to shore that up.

That said, let us not forget that Marshall had 4.95 ypc which is higher than their season average of 4.62, and totaled 213 rush yards.

Marshall had their way with us, improvement or no.

Other things to complain about: defensive conditioning, defensive backs’ hands (dropped picks).

Overall

This was one of those games that we could have won, if we had the kind of season we hoped we’d have. Marshall is great at home, but this is a rebuilding reloading year, so they were vulnerable. They have a frosh QB, some injuries here and there, and haven’t been nearly the explosive team as in years past. We did over the spread for the second straight week, though. That’s yet another sign of improvement (I suppose) though it feels like we are grasping at straws considering the program is yet again without a win, and with a coaching search hanging over its collective head.

I was hoping for more improvement from DaMarcus Smith, and better play calling from Canales, but I tried to remember that Marshall really does have a good defense. I was not expecting such a good showing from the defense, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had hoped for something good considering the Marshall situation, but as Greg said on the podcast, Portland State wasn’t exactly expected to light things up. So it could have been worse. The situation seems to be improving and there are two winnable games in the final stretch. So we got that going for us.

Remember to leave things you think I can improve in the comments, the “forum”, the twitter machine and wherever else.

Categories
MGN Podcast

52: New Beginnings

Adam and Greg discuss the WKU loss, the Mean Green Soccer team, and coaching candidates.

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