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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.