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North Texas Destroys UTSA 45-3

Ladies and gentleman, North Texas destroyed rival from San Antonio UTSA.

The final was 45-3 and it was not even that close. North Texas put up 501 yards of offense and 290 of that was on the ground. Tre Siggers, newly appointed star running back, ran for 143 himself (on 14 carries), knocking UTSA dudes aside as he ran through them.

North Texas fans had hoped for a playmaker to help Mason Fine and it turns out it is the stable of running backs. DeAndre Torrey had 62 yards running on the ground and added 60 through the pass game and a score. The two starting backs combined for 265 yard, four scores through the air and on the ground.

Mason Fine had a pedestrian 195 and 2 scores, on 15/22 passing.

The defense that played so well for three quarters against Cal last week was outstanding against UTSA’s questionable QB talent. The thought was that if UTSA could hurt NT it would be through missed gaps, and the QB extending plays with his legs.

That proved true, but there was not enough of the execution that would hurt NT. UTSA put up 295 total yards but only 128 through the air. Frank Harris, the star sophomore QB who was an NT recruit, was hurt again on the 2nd play of the game and did not return. His backup Lowell Narcisse played well in spots but his passes were not catchable by the UTSA WRs.

He overthrew his targets, and one was intercepted because it was thrown to hard at his WR. He finished 16/36 for 124 and 2 INTs. He was most dangerous on the ground, running for 98 yards, including a 42 yard scamper that put UTSA into NT territory.

Dangerous freshman RB Sincere McCormick had a nice 20-yard run that saw him break some tackles but he was held to 62 yards. UTSA was held to 6/20 on third downs and 2/7 on fourth.

That was the story here tonight. NT’s defense is suddenly ferocious against teams without quality offensive minds calling the shots like SMU’s Sonny Dykes. SMU, by the way, upset TCU earlier this afternoon and Cal beat Ol’ Miss in Oxford.

NT is now 2-2 on the season and has a conference win to boot.

Offense

Mason Fine did not have to do much, and that is always nice. He sat for the final quarter as we saw a couple of drives from Jason Bean and Austin Aune. The run game is the driver for this group and that is fine. We have an identity now, and a spread-power run game is fine by me.

UTSA is a poor tackling team and but we have seen four games where NT has powered through tackle and showed their ability to run. Tre Siggers is much of that. When Easly went down last year, NT struggled to find the power, even though DeAndre Torrey was slicing through defenses. Their combined attack is devastating so far.

NT still can use some help in the pass game, but it was nice to see the ball move crisply through the air when it was needed. NT was 7/14 on third down and 0-2 on fourth. Not bad.

NT’s points-per-drive: 3.214. That’s excellent and includes the time-wasting at the end. Offense added 14 combined chunk plays to the total.

Defense

This unit was great. We can throw a lot of caveats about how UTSA sucks on offense and all that but the thing is you are supposed to beat up a bad team. North Texas harassed the QB all night, got turnovers, and kept UTSA off the scoreboard.

Ultimately, that is what this game is about. Stats are great, but points are the only thing that wins or loses games. Three points in four quarters against a conference opponent, and six points in seven quarters against Cal and UTSA combined.

I am feeling better about this defense as I hoped I would. We thought this unit needed time and repetitions and so far it has paid dividends. KD Davis was the leading tackler and Dion Novil was a monster up front. He created pressure, and collapsed the line from a three-man front.

NT had six tackles for loss, three sacks, five QB hurries, and two interceptions. That is quality defense, folks. Defense allowed only six chunk plays and only one of those was in the pass game.

Special Teams

Hey, a missed field goal. Mooney made another and was not needed. Just the way I like it. Kenworthy had three punts and got one inside the 20. No returns for UTSA went anywhere, and NT had some decent ones of their own but nothing noteworthy.

Coaching

Hey well NT won by 42-points and was never really threatened. They subbed out the starting QB in time to get reps for the future signal-callers and everything ended fine. Those are quality coaching results.

Thoughts

This felt real nice. It is always nice to destroy a team, but it feels extra good to do it to one of the ones that has been so close to NT for so long. No game in this series has been a true blowout — even the one in 2016 in San Antonio was close before UTSA got up two scores.

The UTSA fans are thinking of firing their coach and well, that reminds me of when NT beat SMU so bad that June Jones up and quit. SMU beat the hell out of NT and well, it is nice to be on the other side of that again.

Next up: Houston, who lost on national TV on Thursday night to Tulane. They bring a dynamic QB in D’Eriq King and a quality offensive head coach in Dana Holgerson.

Corrected Lowell Narcisse’s name. S/O to Adler on gmg.

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2018 New Mexico Bowl: Utah State Routs North Texas 52-13

North Texas took a beating in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It was ugly in most ways and the most important optics are ugly. The national columnists and national writers that peek in and take a scan through of the scoreboard and a box score or two will say “NT flopped because of their bad defense.”

This is a two-edged blade, so we cannot be upset about that characterization. Those same columnists took the good things about NT and spun those into useful stories that got Fine and Littrell in the NY Times, Jim Rome’s radio show etc.

Utah State finished with 556 yards including 359 passing and Jordan Love put up 4 scores against only 1 interception. The run game was explosive, as Thompson and Bright put up 196 yards and two scores.

The quick and easy story is this: Utah State is a good team and much better than CUSA’s second-or-third best team and it showed.

The truth is somewhere short of that. Sure, Utah St has a good team but NT was in this game in the first quarter. We expected a shootout and there was a little evidence of that unfolding until Mason Fine was hurt and everything fell apart.

The defense was eviscerated for big yards and plenty of scores in the 2nd quarter but that was exacerbated by the offense’s struggles. There was a little bit of the defense pressing to make a play because the offense could not.

The defense had two nice stops in the first quarter when it ended 14-7. After that, there was a Nate Brooks interception that only slightly stemmed the onslaught but for the most part NT’s defense was beaten down.

We can chalk up some blame to the altitude. A good portion of blame can be assigned to the offense, for putting the defense in bad positions quickly. The rest we can assign to the Utah State offense, which was good and as advertised.

The Aggie line was blocking up well, forcing NT’s run fits to be perfect, which was not the case. NT could not gang-tackle because they could not get off their blocks. As USU went up-tempo, it was even tougher to muster the energy to tackle.

As NT tired that all was exacerbated. There were shades of FAU 2017 in this one combined with UTEP 2016.

Offense

The real lesson is that Mason Fine is too important to lose. This was nothing new, but a reinforcement of an old truism. Each preview from the last two seasons said that if Mason Fine were to go down or out it would spell disaster for the team.

One measure of a program truly and well built as in as close to a completed thing as any college football program can be is the ability to lose a player and not miss much of a beat.

Quinn Shanbour has stepped in for Fine previously — Iowa 2017 and FAU 2018 — and done well in short shift duty. He finished this game 2/8 for 24 yards and 3 INTs. Some of those throws were just very unlucky, but that is the way of things.

The fan base called for Kason Martin, the viral freshman sensation and that was rewarded by his throwing 7/12 for 110 and a score — that score was a 75-yard toss to open the second half to Jalen Guyton. He looked like a young freshman with talent in his time.

Lso making an appearance was Jason Bean, the mobile QB with some arm talent. He threw incomplete on two passes including one that was picked.

All told it was a nightmare on offense. The team could not run and looked discombobulated without Mason Fine throwing. He made some game attempts to play but was pulled when an errant snap went over his head and he limped ineffectively after it.

Numbers: 313 yards | 4.2 yards per play | 75 plays | 4 turnovers | 19 first downs | 2/15 3rd %

Defense

This squad got smoked. Sure, we are making excuses for their 2nd quarter implosion allowing 24 points and 31 straight overall, but that was not all of the bad.

The first Utah State touchdown from Jordan Love was on a wheel route into gobs of space as Khairi Muhammad and Kemon Hall were left covering no one as the Utah state man ran into the endzone.

Big plays from Utah State: 72 yard TD, 37 yard TD, 67 yard TD. NT looked lost, and Love was throwing passes to wide-open guys running free. It was bad.

The brightest spots came early when NT forced two straight punts after that long score. After a 5-play 41-yard drive allowed NT picked off the first pass after turning it over themselves.

Then the first of three straight back-breaking TDs — 10-plays 78-yards, 2-52, 3-67.

Numbers: 2nd quarter only by USU: 24 points | 223 yards | 8/15 passing for 165 yards | 10 first downs | 6/8 3rd % | 7.4 yards per play

Coaching

Utah State only had four coaches this game and yes David Yost returned to call plays. Seth Littrell’s boys looked lost defensively and impotent offensively.

While each circumstance was different, Seth Littrell now has a 0-3 record in bowl games thus far. This was by far his best team and yes, Mason Fine was lost early when it was still a game and NT had designs on being in a shoot out.

North Texas has looked bad offensively with any QB not named Fine since the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2016.

The depth is lacking, sure, and that was evident as NT looked poor without Fine and Bussey Jr.

Overall

This was very ugly and Seth Littrell will be asked some pointed questions soon. This is part of the deal. While each bowl loss has been understandable and perhaps even expected, getting hammered in the last two with his better teams (and this, his best team) is a bad look no matter how it is sliced.

North Texas was not better on paper than Utah State but was not 39-points worse. Going into next season the need for developing a QB behind Mason Fine is paramount. Kason Martin impressed in a short stint, but NT simply cannot afford to have such a drop off behind their starter again.

NT finished 9-4, just one loss from last year’s 9-5 record. The 10-win season still eludes the program, but a nice 9-win streak is ongoing.

Unfortunately, given the talent lost after this one, there is good reason to think that NT will be a worse overall team even if Fine and much of the offense are returning next season.

This was not a fun day in an otherwise good season.

Numbers: DeAndre Torrey finished with 18 TDs on the year, finishing just behind Patrick Cobbs 2003 season at 21, and Lance Dunbar’s 2009 season’s 19. | Mason Fine finished with 3793 yards passing | Jalen Guyton is at 15 career TD catches, putting him at 8th all time in NT history

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North Texas Edges UTSA 24-21, Wins 9th Game of 2018

That should have been a blowout.

It was a win.

Everyone will take the win.

North Texas is 9-3 and that means back-to-back 9-win seasons for the first time since 1978 and NT is near 10-wins for the first time in their FBS history.

Beating UTSA has always been an exercise in drama, as we wrote in the game preview: only one game in this series has not come down to the final possession.

This was no different and I suppose we can chalk it up to the pull of fate rather than the odd pattern of games North Texas has fell into.

Yet again, this football team went up by double digits and yet again that lead evaporated. Here, owing partly to the struggle fest that was the UTSA offense, NT never trailed in this game but almost lost the game at the end.

The game set up just like the Old Dominion game, where the NT offense could not seal the game and the defense allowed one too many conversions on the way to losing it. There again was Tyreke Davis, who has been targeted. In Hampton Roads it was Jonathan Duhart against Davis, against UTSA it was Greg Campbell Jr. against him.

EJ Ejiya came up big, however, and sacked Bryce Rivers to put the Roadrunners out of field goal position. The subsequent kick was way wide left and that was that.

The Game and Its Parts

We can recite these scores like Arya recites her revenge list in Game of Thrones: 21-6 over LT but lose 29-27, 21-10 over UAB but lose 29-21, 28-0 over ODU but lose 34-31, 17-0 over FAU but lose the lead 21-20 at half.

Here, 17-0 lead and UTSA cut it to 17-14 and 24-21 and had the ball just 12 yards from the end zone.

There were enough mistakes spread around the various subgroups that we can point to any handful and say “there is the problem.” The truth is that again, they all add up and they all contribute to that issue.

North Texas put up 515 yards of offense — hardly the stuff of struggles — but did fail on three straight 3rd-and-goal attempts from the one. Also, Mason Fine threw a bad interception in the endzone. Those were the obvious missed opportunities here. In previous games it was a missed field goal or a failed fourth-down conversion.

Maybe you think it is the play call? Well we have a candidate: that 4th and 1 call to hand it to DeAndre Torrey wherein he was stuffed deep in the backfield. Why not keep the ball in Mason Fine’s hands? Why not go with your best player?

Well, even that can be answered: Torrey had 155 on the day and proved adept at getting yards. Did he get short yards? No.

We’ll conclude this section by noting this: getting one yard in football when the other team absolutely knows you need to get that yard is the essence of this game itself. North Texas has not been very good at getting that one yard this season and it has cost the team three wins and at least a couple of comfortable wins, this one included.

Its a Rivalry

Seth Littrell called it a rivalry and as we wrote above, every game between these two has been an exercise in drama. There is something to the final game of the season that brings about apathy or renewed vigor in a team. North Texas mostly played the kind of game they have played all season, which is a testament — in a positive sense — to the coaching staff. You can’t say they dipped in form, since this was the way they played last week and the week before etc.

On the other hand, UTSA played its best game of the season, on the final day of the season, on senior day in the final home game of the year.

If there was a time to step it up and meet the challenge this was it. Credit Bryce Rivers, who threw for 269 yards — a UTSA season best. UTSA’s Greg Campbell Jr. also played ridiculously well, catching 11 for 186.

UTSA put up 400 yards of offense on the day, their best of the season.

You might recall that in 2014, both teams came in with awful offenses and proceeded to engage in a shootout, with both QBs playing well above their season average. Andy McNulty threw for near a career best, and UTSA’s Tucker Carter had one of his career best games. It was odd and an outlier just like this weird game from UTSA.

Its a rivalry.

Offense is Still Good

There were 516 yards gained by the Mean Green, 320 by the arm of Mason Fine, and 196 on the ground, with 155 by DeAndre Torrey. The efficiency is not where we want it, but there is enough explosion creeping into the offense that we can be hopeful in the bowl game.

Mason Fine lost his number one receiver Rico Bussey midway through the game and there was a noticeable effect. There were a few occasions where Fine had no one to throw to. He found space, and made plays. North Texas drained most of the clock late, and Keegan Brewer came up clutch in the pass game.

The Defense Came Through

If our hope was that the defense would be good enough then we can be satisfied. EJ Ejiya sacked Rivers in a clutch scenario and that helped the team win the game. Earlier, Kemon Hall picked off a floating pass in the endzone that killed a promising UTSA drive.

Those are winning plays and NT made them. There were big stops by the defense throughout the game. Nate Brooks, Ejiya, Brandon Garner, TJ Tauaalo all game up with big stops in this one.

Special Teams

Cole Hedlund made a kick and they did not.

This game was screaming for a special teams miscue and well, it happened. NT had one punt blocked and UTSA turned that into 7. They had another kick-catch interference that gifted UTSA 15 yards.

Mistakes on Offense

Jordan Murray was called for three holding penalties. NT dropped a couple of passes. Mason Fine badly overthrew his target on the interception. Graham Harrell’s call on 4th and 1 was so very disagreeable with my own thought process and then the blocking for that play compounded it.

Mistakes Defensively

Kemon Hall got beat by Campbell Jr, and that dude made a circus catch to get 42-yards. Understandable. Happens. The next play he gets 30+ on a deep crossing route. Not understandable.

The NT pass rush has been gone, especially if it has to be produced by the front three + whoever is rushing. Bryce Rivers had so much time to go through his reads when he wasn’t sacked. That makes those sacks that did happen less impactful (final one notwithstanding).

It is not a big deal to get a sack if on the next play you allow the QB all day to pick out a throw.

UTSA had too much running room, and everyone seemed surprised at the UTSA skillset on offense.

UTSA played much better than in the previous month, but still, UNT looked to be waiting for UTSA to make a mistake than you know, playing. Happens.

Searching For Meaning

After everything, both teams came out feeling positively. UTSA players were liking tweets and talking happily about playing well.

UNT players were feeling good after a win and closing out the regular season the right way. That is a bit odd but it happens when you play a bad team.

These kinds of games happen in college football and really, winning these ugly conference games is the difference between good and mediocre seasons and being hired or fired. If NT wins this same exact game against ODU — really, so similar in both — then we feel even better after getting ten wins, while Bobby Wilder is perhaps not on “solid ground” as the ODU AD put it today.

Last year NT was fortunate to win more than their share of these close ones. It is all fine.

Notes From The Field

MGN and family tailgated in Lot B. It was empty, but not as much as Lot C. MGN and company went to the Alumni tailgate. It was not as fun as the 2016 Halloween version, and there was something like a muted feeling there.

NT Football is in a weird spot in that it has won enough to condition the fan base to be used to winning and so 8-win seasons are not going to blow anyone away. Also, not having the league title on the horizon is putting everyone in a position to search for motivation.

“What am I rooting for?” they say.

That’s the eternal question, folks.

Scrappy and Rowdy the Roadrunner had some mascot bits that were sort of fun … the NT travelling crew tried some North / Texas chant … I could not hear the fake cannon from 143, but it still exists, box and all … that flag bit at the 4th quarter is such a beating … not as much of a beating as the arena-music that is overbearing and drowns out any and all collegiate-like atmosphere. Also, if the PA announcer has to scream YOUUU–TEEE–ESSS–AAYYY at everyone to get their participation, it may be forcing it a bit … Our group was treated well, and we treated others well. We had kids with us so we have to. … NT fans took advantage of UTSA allowing fans to come on the field and sign autographs. They went down and took picstures with NT players.

Next Up

It’s Bowl Season time. All of CUSA is going to watch Middle Tennessee host UAB in the championship game — what? Yes, today FIU lost to Marshall and Middle whooped UAB to set up a rematch of that Middle-UAB game in Murfreesboro. It is so weird, but that is the league.

After we watch that, we will know who is going where. The winner of the league will get their preferences considered first, followed by everyone else sort-of.

Everyone wants a P5 matchup but I don’t see an easy matchup for that. My gut tells me NT will play at the former HOD, now First Responder Bowl against someone.

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Gutsy Revenge Win: North Texas 41 FAU 38

There is always something to play for.

North Texas and Florida Atlantic met up for the first time since last December when FAU completed the two-game sweep that saw Lane Kiffin’s Owls put up 1436 yards and 110 points. At the very least there was revenge to be had.

North Texas jumped out to a 17-0 lead that felt precarious only because of recent history. The Mean Green lost three games this season when leading big — 21-6 after one quarter vs LA Tech only to lose 29-27, 21-10 at halftime vs UAB only to lose 29-21, and last week up 28-0 vs ODU before losing 34-31.

That fear was realized again as FAU stormed back to take a 21-20 halftime lead. Mason Fine had 280 passing yards at the half, but the entire Mean Green team managed only 3 yards rushing by then. Sure that included -9 rushing/sack yards on Fine, but DeAndre Torry had only 10 on 7 carries and Nic Smith was at 2 on 1 tote.

To make matters worse, Mason Fine threw two interceptions by the 14:51 mark of the third quarter. He threw his third on the year in the first half to a line backer — all three to that point were to LBs sitting in a zone (UIW, UAB, FAU). The third quarter interception came on yet-another dropped pass.

FAU had begun to stymie Mason Fine by dropping back 8 men in a zone. The run game was stagnant and NT had no answer. That is, until, a couple of QB draws and a nice 46-yard run from Torrey got NT into position to score. Then what looked like a disaster: Mason Fine took a big hit and immediately called for the training staff. He left the game clutching his wrist and the FAU defender was assessed a 15-yard penalty for roughing.

Player-of-the-Game and Spring Game HOFer Quinn Shanbour stepped in and ran for a score. His next possestion he did the same again. He finished with 34 yards rushing on four carries and 2 TDs. Way to be clutch.

In between series NT got a Nate Brooks interception, his fifth on the season. He was incredible all night, flying around to deflect passes and firing in for big tackles.

Khairi Muhammad sealed the game with an interception of his own on the final FAU drive. You might recall that he was ejected in the first half of last week’s game against ODU for allegedly spitting in ODU WR Jonathan Duhart’s face. Muhammad denies this.

He played incredibly all night — flying in for at least one big third down stop on a WR. He finished with 9 total tackles one behind fellow safety Taylor Robinson.

The entire defense was clutch.

While Devin Singletary had a solid game that included a couple of scores added to his ridiculous career tally, he did not manage over 100 yards and had to work for his night. He finished with 93 on 23 carries — 4 pards per tote. North Texas racked up 11 tackles for loss in this one led by Brandon Garner’s 2.5.

The defense came up big when it mattered and that is how winning is done.

Offense

Mason Fine was great again. He showed the entire package: accuracy, toughness, cleverness, and judgement.

He made the right play most of the time even though he was intercepted twice — once through his own poor read. He finished with 295 yards on 22 of 33 passing and 2 scores to go with the 2 picks.

The run game was abysmal until it was sublime. Sparked by some quality second-half runs, NT finished with 208 on the game, helped in large part thanks to DeAndre Torrey’s incredible 92-yard run late in the fourth quarter.

Torrey followed his 145-yard effort last week with a 184 yard game in this one. He added 38 yards and a receiving TD, also. He is creeping up the single-season TD list.

Rico Bussey Jr. had his usual 86 — he averages 90 – on 5 catches (7 targets). Jalen Guyton had 4 grabs for 62 yards and a TD on 7 targest. He started out hot but late he dropped some.

Despite the good feelings NT was just 2 of 12 on third down. NT also found themselves in two 3rd and 18s. Mason Fine was hit too much — again — and this time he left the game with a gashed wrist.

Defense

This side of the ball impressed again. There were some big plays allowed, but FAU has the kind of talent that does that to teams. Kiffin had his guys playing well. Two weeks ago FAU beat the presumptive East representative FIU on the road handily.

The entire defensive line was active and got into the backfield often. Motor Singletary had his moments, but they were confined and he had to work. He was hit in the backfield by two-or-more NT defenders often enough and when he got into positive territory, he was met with a gang of Mean Green.

The secondary was impressive even though Chris Robison had a nice night. The FAU plays came on big plays via play-action, which is understandable given the calibre of the run game faced.

NT plays aggressivley, and while that will allow the occasional big play, it is supposed to create negative plays and turnovers. That was the case again in this one.

Everyone was flying around with energy on a cold night in front of a relatively sparse crowd (compared to the Tech game).

The defense forced stops and got clutch tackles and huge turnovers. That’s all we can ask for.

Coaching

Much has been made of the collapses in recent weeks with good reason. Overall it is important to realize that Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell are relatively inexperienced and are learning.

North Texas is a well-motivated team that executes for most of the game. Putting all that into timely production is a work in progress.

What Does It All Mean? and What Is Next?

North Texas is 8-3 with a chance to even up the all-time series against UTSA at 3 a piece. NT is 0-2 in the Alamodome, and can grab the 9th win of the season next Saturday.

UTSA is awful, and are enduring one of the worst offensive seasons in the nation.

NT needs a win in that one and a bowl win to get to 10 wins, which would be a program first.

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Another Collapse: North Texas 31 ODU 34, Mean Green Blow a 28-0 Lead

North Texas was up 28-0, and if you have been paying close attention all season you know this was a bad sign. For some mysterious reason, North Texas has been unable put together a full game. Everyone on the internet has their own reason to offer for this situation, but no one has the answer for unlocking it.

Were NT not 7-3, one of the better records in NT history at this point in a season, there would be more than a little bit of concern. As it is, there is frustration.

Coming into this game North Texas had to find some kind of motivation after dropping the Division Championship game to UAB in Birmingham. NT followed that up with a nice win over Rice that took a fourth quarter explosion to make the scoreboard look nice. In this one, NT jumped out to an easy 28-0 lead where the offense looked explosive and the run game powerful. The defense intercepted Blake LaRussa on the first possession and went down and scored a TD.

NT got their first two TDs from Rico Bussey on a 23-yard score and the second from DeAndre Torrey ran in from 37-yards out. Torrey finished with 145 yard on 25 carries. He also added 34 yards on five receptions. Unfortunately, he also fumbled early in the fourth quarter.

NT moved the ball easily and often early. NT went 7 plays and 54 yards for the third score, Torrey’s second TD of the game without seeing a third down. On their fourth TD that made it 28-0, Rico Bussey took a 4th and five pass for a 26-yard TD. That would all the TDs for NT this day. Cole Hedlund added a third quarter FG but NT was otherwise shutout.

ODU would go on to score 34 points beginning with the late-second quarter TD from LaLa Davis.

This would be the third time NT has failed to show up in the second half after going up big. They led Tech 21-6 (after one quarter), UAB 21-10 at half, and ODU 28-0 at half. All three ended as losses. The fans think it is play-calling. Littrell has credited the opponents and blamed his team for poor execution and his own staff (himself included) for preparation and coaching.

Whatever the reason, NT has failed to execute in short yardage in crucial situations and also turned the ball over. In the third quarter of this game NT went 1-5 on third down and 0-1 on fourth. The fourth-down attempt came at 4th and 7 from the ODU 9 on a fake field goal attempt. It was a curious move, but ultimately somewhat understandable. When being aggressive, you risk failure. NT still led 28-17 at that point. NT ultimately forced a three-and-out and then got their lone points — the field goal — to make it 31-17 with a little over a quarter remaining.

In the fourth quarter of this game, after ODU scored to end the third and make it 31-24, DeAndre Torrey fumbled on 1st and 10 on the ODU 36. NT had moved 33 yards in 6 plays, had overcome a 1st down sack. Torrey had just picked up 16 yards on a pass on 3rd and 6. This was the last good drive NT had.

In the fourth quarter NT was 1-3 on third downs and 0-1 on fourth.

ODU kicked a FG. NT turned it over on downs. This was a six play drive that ended with a failed Torrey 4th-and-1 attempt. Of the 19 yards NT gained that drive 14 of them were rushes. That is what makes the whole thing frustrating. The run game can run but also fails when it counts.

NT forced an ODU punt on a three-and-out and then followed with their own. Fine lined up to throw three times but scrambled for a yard, and completed two to Torrey for only five yards. NT punted on 4th and 4. Then ODU went on their 14-play 71-yard game-winning drive.

What Does It All Mean

Look, none of this is new now. NT has had trouble with efficiency. This blog thinks the lack of a Jeff Wilson type runner has meant NT is without a go-to play or series of plays. Jeff Wilson was a reliable source of grinding yards and explosive plays. NT could build their entire offensive game plan on the threat of Wilson and the counters built on that. This season Mason Fine is the threat — but in what context?

Sure if Mason Fine has the time to throw he can be dangerous but increasingly teams are flooding the field with defenders and getting pressure with their front-four. Jalen Guyton has been off the pace he set for himself last year when he was the Newcomer of the year. He has had the dropsies all season and that happened again in this one. Mike Lawrence has been schemed out of the game. Bussey and Darden are the only consistent performers.

The run game has been boom and bust and mostly bust when it comes to crucial conversions. The team has been able to convert early in games, but late against UAB and here in the fourth quarter when NT needed a 4th down conversion, it came up short.

Contrast that with Old Dominion’s 4th and 6 conversion (and the 4th and three earlier that drive). QB Blake LaRussa threw a 36-yard pass to Jonathan Duhart, who made the grab over Tyreke Davis. When it came time to make a play that wins or loses the game, ODU made it and North Texas did not. That, is this season in a nutshell.

Other

Everyone wants someone to blame and I do not know where to lay it. Sure, it is easy to blame the coaching staff but what exactly is the problem? What did the staff do to make Guyton the newcomer of the year and then let him develop the dropsies?

“Adjustments” need to be made, but failing to get a 4th and 1 is just a failure of execution. Most of the focus is on the offense, for failing in the same way for the third time (they have also done this inconsistent thing for longer than that) but the defense deserves a little attention. Allowing 34 points is not good. Sure, ODU is good and has talent, but some of the plays were silly. Big plays to their wide receivers and allowing a second-effort on 4th and 3 on ODU’s final drive.

Tyreke Davis getting burned on 4th and 6 is just one bad play, but the series of poor defensive plays before that set that up to hurt much more than it should have.

It takes a village to blow a 28-0 lead, y’all.

Next Up

North Texas hosts a renewed and reinvigorated FAU squad on Thursday night. This was supposed to be a marquee game. Now? Well, it will just be a game.

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Football

Defense Dominant as North Texas Beats Southern Miss 30-7

North Texas moved to 6-1 and 2-1 in C-USA play after a nice, business-handling win over Southern Miss.

Perhaps you wanted some kind of 44-26 win where Mason Fine shows off his arm and his weapons? This blog wanted that but is more than happy to sit here with a 30-7 victory in which the defense held an opponent to under 10.

This was an old-school dominant victory. The Golden Eagles came in looking to exploit the NT secondary — ahem, young Cam Johnson — and did all that. They forgot to score points.

The defense was greedy and did some thievery again, intercepting Jack Abraham once and Khairi Muhammad ripped the ball away from USM’s Trevensky Mosley for a fumble recovery. Muhammad finished with six tackles — four solo — and one TFL.

The defensive line was ferocious, with L’Darius Hamilton (Hambone) getting two sacks, including a flying, diving one on Jack Abraham early in the first.

The offense came out throwing the ball — looking to stay ahead of the chains and go with the strength. That method was mildy successful, as drops and a good USM pass rush on Mason Fine forced some early scrambles and two early punts.

Fine eventually found Guyton for six — a beauty of a toss that travelled 58 yards in the air — and NT looked like it was beginning to get unstuck. He finished 24/38 for 292 and a TD.

Unfortunately, Jack Abraham had a nice day throwing with 318 n 29/42 and a score to Quez Watkins from 44 yards out in which Quez out ran the entire secondary.

Watkins and fellow wideout Jordan Mitchell each had over 100 yards receiving, the first time NT has allowed that situation since the New Orleans Bowl against Troy.

Jalen Guyton also had himself a day, with 7 grabs for 124 and a score on 10 targets. That puts him at 21 grabs 335 and 2 scores in two seasons against USM. Mason Fine found 9 different pass-catches including Caleb Chumbley, who grabbed one for five.

Fine was greater than the numbers in the box score. He scrambled, spun out of sacks, and did the things that turn negative plays into positive plays. That is the stuff of winning, and a good reason why NT is 6-1 on the year.

All told, this was a nice effort if you look at the box score. DeAndre Torry had another 3 TD game, including the bow on the game in the form of a 34-yard score with under a minute left.

What It Means

North Texas is 2-1 in conference play and 6-1 on the season, bowl eligible in the third season of Seth Littrell’s career. Just a few short years ago NT was advertising the #Hit6 tag, to reach this point. Now? It almost barely registers.

With Tech’s loss last week to UAB, North Texas can claim a portion of the division lead with a win at Birmingham next week.

The offense could use a game with some efficiency. Mason Fine will play tougher defensive lines (next week) and the run game has to improve some if Graham Harrell does not want Fine to take too many hits.

As it is, this was yet another 400+ yard performance and a good outing by the QB. There was winning football played, and 30-points is enough to get wins. Unlike last season when the offense needed 45 points to win, this year, 30 is plenty.

Next Up

At UAB 6-1, 2-0.

It will be tough as UAB looks amazing right now. They dominated a terrible Rice squad and got to play the second and third teamers. That should prove to be the toughest game NT has played this season. Sure, Tech won, but that was at home.

Categories
Football

Tough Losses Are Tough

Losing by two at home to one of the best teams in the division is not anything to be ashamed of.

North Texas was not “exposed” or revealed to be a fraud. Two good teams played a good game and NT’s previously existing flaws — that up-and-down offense, and the defense reliant on two outstanding corners playing exceptionally well and a fierce pass-rush — was going to be challenged by a team that had tape and talent.

So it goes.

The real loss was losing Loren Easly — officially ruled out for the season — and having QB Mason Fine and CB Kemon Hall still in evaluation mode. UTEP is not good enough to exploit NT’s weaknesses unless North Texas really just comes out a shell of itself — perhaps something like the 2016 game in El Paso.

Keeping Fine upright and healthy all season was always going to be goal 1A for each game. While Seth Littrell has worked on building depth at the QB spot, that ceiling was always going to be lower without number 6 back there. Nothing has been made official just yet, but I would not be absolutely shocked if NT trots out Quinn Shanbour or Cade Pearson out there on Saturday.

The schedule does not let up until November 3, when NT is idle. Four conference games, split home and away, including the very tough UAB game in Alabama, are on the slate. NT with a limited offense is favored in only the UTEP game without Mason Fine. That is the reality of college football especially at this level.

Loren Easly was rounding into the clear number one option and was making individual plays — breaking tackles and punishing the lighter lineups in front of him. The good news is this group has good depth. Nic Smith was expected to be the feature guy, splitting reps with Torrey. DeAndre Torrey has gotten the second team reps, with some explosive results. He looks shifty, but had trouble holding on to the ball. He fumbled and muffed a kick return.

There is also Anthony Wyche, the D. Torrey before D.Torrey made his way to Denton. Oh, also Christian Hosley and last year’s surprise: Evan Johnson.

Name G Att Yards Avg TDs YPG
Loren Easly 4 74 286 5.22 4 96.5
Nic Smith 5 27 146 5.41 1 29.2
DeAndre Torrey 5 31 128 4.13 4 25.6
Anthony Wyche 4 12 59 3.0 0 14.75

Kemon Hall is tough to replace, if that is the situation. Cam Johnson came in and did some nice things, but not enough nice things that Jordan Roberts could stay sitting. Seth Littrell said nice things about Roberts in the post-game press-conference but was never going to say anything negative about CJ.

Between the two, there is talent there but they will be picked on viciously by everyone including UTEP’s questionable pass game. Increased reps at practice should help speed things along but losing Hall is tough.

The reality is that there is plenty to play for for everyone in this division, including La Tech. The Bulldogs have a very tough UAB run game to try to stop in Ruston this Saturday. You should definitely keep an eye on that one.

 

Categories
Football

Mile Marker: North Texas Entering Conference Play

We are four games into the season, with the non-conference slate behind us, and it is time to take stock of things. The most important metric is the W/L column. Your Mean Green Fightin’ Eagles of North Texas are 4-0.

Surprisingly, the defense has been the story of the season. That is not to say the offense and Mason Fine have been bad — far from it — but they have not been at the same level as the 2017 team was in efficiency metrics. Some of that has to do with the situations. NT has played some odd games.

The UIW and Liberty games were played in rain and that contributed to some of the drops and weirdness. The run game made its debut against Liberty last week, and that bodes well for the team as conference play looms.

Let us take a quick look around and check on things.

Category NT FBS Rank
Points 48.8 12
Total Offense 510.8 17
Rush Offense 165.5 81
Passing Offense 345.3 12
Scoring Defense 15.8 18
Total Defense 308.0 20
Passing Defense 209 61
Rushing Defense 99.0 14

The above category are your standard numbers and the quickest glance tells us that NT can score, can defend, and is dominant against the run game while allowing some passing yards. This does not tell us about efficiency or the other kinds of things. We’ll get to the advanced numbers later.

Elsewhere NT is highly ranked in some notable areas.

Category NT FBS Rank
Sacks 14.0 tied 7
Interceptions 10 1
Sacks Allowed 6 46
10+ yard plays 75 10
TFLs 28 35
3rd Down Conversion % 41% 59
3rd Down Conversion % All 30% 23

Let’s look at some advanced numbers.

S&P+

Rank 42nd (of 130), Off Rank 61, Def Rank 41, ST Rank 10

Massey

Rating 72, Off 55, Def 97

FEI

Rating 82 — through 9/17

Sagarin

Rating 50

SRS

Rating 14, Off 23, Def 29

FPI

ESPN projects us to go 11-1 based on the ratings of everyone on the schedule.

NT is ranked 10th overall in team efficiency (84.8), 58 (55.9) on Offense, 6 (88.6) on Defense, 2 (87.9) on Special Teams.

Broadly speaking we can see that NT is more favorably rated in the numbers that look at raw counting totals, and less favorably rated offensively in the ones that look for efficiency. There are more details in each link. Check them out for more.

What It Means

As I wrote on CUSA Report, NT is the best team in the league right now and that is largely thanks to the defense. EJ Ejiya and Brandon Garner have been incredible. The defensive line has been good — about as good or better as they were last season. The improvement in linebacking play is a small thing that makes a big difference. The blitzes and scheme are largely the same, but getting to the QB instead of just after he releases is the difference between winning and losing.

The defensive backfield has been the biggest beneficiaries of the QB pressure. Kemon Hall, Khairi Muhammad, and Nate Brooks all have three interceptions each which puts them in a eight-way tie for 2nd in the nation.

Nate Brooks in particular has improved from his 2017 form, but he played at near this level in 2016, so it is relatively unsurprising. It is a truism that it is much easier to defend hopeful, wobbly passes thrown under duress than not. This is a team game, and it is important to consider context when evaluating the individual units.

Last year, the defense was not good if you simply look at results, but there were some good signs. This season a combination of improvement and poorer quality opposition has translated to one of the best defenses NT has seen in some time — since 2013 at least.

The competition is going to improve. Yes, we write that knowing the SEC team is behind us. La Tech has talent — J’Mar Smith, Teddy Veal, Adrian Hardy, and Jaqwis Dancy all can make plays in 1v1 matchups. They will present more of a challenge not only because Smith is a more mobile QB than has been on the slate thus far.

Beyond that, FAU still has Motor Singletary. Southern Miss has an accurate QB and a handful of talented WRs and RBs. UAB has a focused offense predicated on a power run game that can give anyone in this league some trouble.

Thus far NT has an offense that can score against all of CUSA. The drops from Guyton are concerning, but they can be overcome. The run game was the primary concern. Mason Fine is good, but having to make 57 perfect decisions is a giant burden to place on anyone no matter how good.

Liberty is weak against the run. We saw on Saturday that Army was not just optioning them to death, but overpowering the line. NT was able to get anything it wanted in the ground game.

Tech and the rest of the league slate is much better. RB Loren Easly has been amazing in his two games as the primary back. He bulled some Arkansas defenders, and that bodes well going forward. Nic Smith and DeAndre Torrey have shown some great things as change-of-pace backs.

Meanwhile, Rico Bussey is on pace for 84 grabs this season, which is 26 more than Mike Lawrence’s team-leading 62 last year. Bussey had 7 TD grabs in 2017 and already has 5 thus far.

He has transformed from a hit-and-miss player, to a consistent, prototypical outside WR threat.

Outlook

Everyone is healthy heading into the rest of the season. The schedule sets up nicely, with the remaining tough games at home with the notable exception of UAB on the road in Alabama.

This upcoming week is the toughest game to date, with Tech being the only winning team NT will have faced thus far. The Bulldogs have had success in Denton previously, with that 2014 game looking familiar if only because of the overall similarities between the seasons. Obviously, the major difference is that NT is good with good quarterback play in 2018 and is taking advantage of the opportunities.

This game is the equivalent to the UTSA game and the Tech game from 2017 in importance. Then, UNT President Smatresk called the October UTSA matchup “the division title game” and he was sort of right. It sent UTSA reeling and set up NT for the rest of the year. The Roadrunners were not as good as predicted. We do not know too much about Tech just yet, but they did give LSU a game after spotting them 24 points early.

The advanced numbers like North Texas the rest of the way, and while we can expect some weirdness and a challenge, even one loss (depending on to whom) will still set up NT for another title game appearance.

Things are looking good early.

Categories
Football Football Recruiting

2018 NSD – December Signing Day

The first part of National Signing Day is more or less complete. There were no real surprises on this day, and that is generally a good thing. North Texas did try to flip a couple of commits from other CUSA schools and failed, and Illinois tried to flip Kevyon ‘KD’ Davis late in the game. He stayed committed to North Texas.

That is the type of win that this staff can build on. There has been discussion and concern about Seth Littrell’s ability to win those battles. This class has some direct wins over lower-level P5s and G5 peers like La Tech. This is important to note as Tech just agreed to a home-and-home series with SMU beginning in 2020. Tech already visits the Metroplex biannually and is looking to increase their time in DFW with a home-and-home with SMU.

Let’s look at Littrell’s stated goals and compare them so far:

OL: “Big area for us, even if we get a grad-transfer or a JC kid”
QB: “You have to get quarterbacks.”
RB / WR: “Numbers are good at RB, but we will have to get one more. We need at least two WRs”
Defense: “linebackers are a big need for us. We are signing more safeties. Looking for some JC guys (along the DL).”

Well, let us look at the 14 signees:

Jason Bean – QB 6’3” 180 from Mansfield (Lake Ridge HS)
Jaxon Gibbs – S 5’11” 196 from The Colony (The Colony HS)
Kevyon “KD” Davis – LB 5’11” 200 out of Ennis (Ennis HS)
Reggie Williams – S 5’10 180 from Grand Prairie (Grand Prairie HS)
DeAndre Torrey – RB – 5’7” 189 from Gautier, MS (Gulf Coast JC)

The above are all three-star rated athletes by 247 Sports, and will get the most attention for that reason. Jason Bean is listed as a Pro-Style QB but he has wheels in his highlight film. He’s tall, and that is generally good for the position although not necessary if you are a tough guy like Mason Fine. The trio of Jaxon Gibbs, Kevyon Davis, and Reggie Williams had fans thinking of a trio of freshman safeties to play along side current starter Khairi Muhammad. Davis mentioned he was told he was eyed as an outside LB.

Wherever he plays, the versatility is what is attractive about him. Last year’s freshman Tyreke Davis played LB and Safety in HS and spent time as the Nick in relief of Ashton Preston. Expect both Davis kids to bring versatility and speed to Reffett’s group.

Gibbs and Williams are more obviously built like DBs, and will look to build on the new tradition of quality safety play at North Texas — Marcus Trice, Lairamie Lee, KiShawn McClain, and now Khairi Muhammad.

DeAndre Torrey is slight of build but makes big plays to make up for it. He amassed 1200+ yards this season and will be a nice addition to a quality stable of backs. Nic Smith and Evan Johnson are the obvious front-runners to fill the top two spots in the depth chart but Torrey should push them to improve or take their spots outright. This is by design.

Jordan Hunt – LB 6’2” 215 from Wylie (Wylie HS)
Larry Nixon III – LB 6’0” 210 from North Richland Hills (Richland HS)
Josh Sa’afi – LB – 6’3” 272 from Euless (Mt. San Antonio College)
Dayton LeBlanc – DL 6’1” 265 from Lexington, Kentucky (Frederick Douglass HS)
Darrian McMillan – DL 6’2” 251 from Mobile, Alabama (Butler CC)

Jordan Hunt, Larry Nixon III, and Josh Sa’afi are three linebackers with good size. Nixon is listed as 6’0” here and 6’2” on 247. Hunt and Nixon look like they can fill in the MLB spot or be converted into pass rushing stand-up ends. Getting them into the weight room and seeing them on the field will ultimately determine their fate on the field. Sa’afi is listed as a LB on the MGS site, but as a DL on the card. He played both in JUCO and that — again — versatility is intriguing. He’s big — listed as 272 lbs — so the thinking is obviously that he would be a replacement for some of the outgoing DL guys.

Dayton LeBlanc is the son of NT coach Derrick LeBlanc and has the size and quickness that is needed. More importantly, he has the technique. When your dad is the DL coach, you better have the technique.

McMillan is the Josh Wheeler replacement with prototypical edge rusher size.

So NT signed three LBs any way you count things — either with KD Davis as a LB and Sa’afi as a DL or with Davis as a safety and Sa’afi as a LB. The star ratings aren’t amazing, but there is talent here. The defensive line found the replacements for Wheeler and Flusche in at least spots. We will see if they will replace the production.

Cole Brown – OL 6’4” 250 from Conroe (Conroe HS)
Keelan Crosby – S 6’1” 175 from Anna (Anna HS)
Austin Ogunmakin – WR 6’3” 179 Alief (Hastings HS)
Kason Martin – QB 6’3” 200 from Manvel (Manvel HS)

Elsewhere Cole Brown is depth along the OL. NT tried to steal a MTSU commit but did not land one. At least one expected commit did not sign — yet. Dec 20 is the first of the three day window, and there will be another in February (the traditional one) and so this class is not complete by any measure. Littrell has signed some pre-camp guys to fill in the roster as needed in both offseason so expect that to happen as well.

Keelan Crosby is another safety who is a bit on the slight side, and will benefit from time as a redshirt and in the weight program. He played QB and safety in HS and made all-district at both positions. If he does not redshirt he would make an excellent special teams player his first year.

Austin Ogunmakin is the prototypical outside receiver in height and frame. He also will benefit from a college weight program to allow him to beat CUSA DBs and create space for himself.

Finally we have Kason Martin. Among followers of NT recruiting, he is a known quantity. He’s accurate, tall, and a good QB. While he may “only” be a two-star QB this system has a way of transforming those type of guys into Heisman candidates. Mason Fine was “only” a two-star QB and he is now the reigning CUSA Offensive Player of the Year.

Good programs recruit good talent to push the existing guys to be better, and to perhaps take their jobs.

Takeaways

This is a good class and it is not complete. North Texas is going to finish about middle of the pack in the league rankings and that is nothing to get crazy about in either direction. Marshall ‘won’ recruiting a couple of years ago but lost a bunch of those players to transfer, while FAU won recruiting and then won the league with 10-straight wins. It really depends on how your transform the inputs into production.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that the on-field performance is not the only measure of a player’s value to the program. Take MGN favorite Quinn Shanbour for example. He contributed exactly 1 TD pass to the campaign but was an invaluable part of making the NT locker room a better place to be, and making the NT program better as a result.

Winning helps morale, of course, but a good locker room makes it easier to prepare to win.

Seth Littrell and his staff still lost a few notable battles for their preferred targets and that is an improvement area. Still, overall we can be content with this class and — yes — even excited. There is more to come as this cycle is not complete. Stay tuned for February, when we watch this staff navigate the second part of this new normal in recruiting.