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General

Mean Green End Disappointing Season, Mason Fine’s Last Game

The entire season can be summed up in the third quarter game-losing interception: tough scenario, bold plan, terrible execution, awful result.

North Texas kicked off the last season of Mason Fine’s collegiate career with much fanfare. There was a little G5 Heisman talk, some beat writer-led division hype, and the lingering good feelings from back-to-back nine-win seasons.

Instead North Texas finished 4-8, with three straight losses. Seth Littrell and Mason Fine produced their second losing season in four season’s time and miss out on a bowl game for the first time.

Readers of this fine publication will no doubt remember that we warned and cautioned and talked about how when we talk about the wins that could have been we have to acknowledge the losses that were nearly there as well.

Two seasons ago the Mean Green went to the league title game and lost. The louder part of the internet fandom complained that it was the beginning of greatness but it was a few bounces away from being nothing.

This season felt like that one — but with all the bad luck and none of the good. It was difficult to enjoy but Mason Fine said the right things about it in the end. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that’s life and that’s football.”

It is true. Life does not always reward hard work with triumph and immediate glory. The “mysterious ways” cliché comes to mind.

For supporters and interested parties, it was difficult to enjoy. There is little shame in finding something else to do besides watching a seemingly meaningless game in a losing season.

It did mean that Fine got to go out like Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs: in front of empty crowds.

Ultimately it reinforced his feelings that the people he cares most about are the guys in uniform with him that went through the grind every day. “I’m excited to see what [his teammates] do. They are going to become better men, husbands, and fathers because of this season”.

Sure.

We all want to give a greater meaning to our efforts to justify it to a critical eye, and yes, every moment can be learned from in some small way.

Ultimately, the program put together a bad season and fell victim to its weaknesses: limited depth, unbalanced recruiting, coaching turnover, and well, some misfortune. Oh yeah, and the other teams played well on the day.

Another truism: If this was easy they would not pay the coaches so much.

The young defense was learning big the seemingly stacked offense sputtered and cane up short too often. Last week NT could not score the game winning TD against Rice despite having the ball in the red zone.

This week NT threw a game losing interception in the third, because the offense got shut down and sacked too much.

Seth Littrell said he was proud of the team because he saw effort and fight. That’s all we want out of anything we spend our precious attention on. Let us applaud them.

It has been clear since about midsession that the real root causes were systemic and not something that would be fixable in-season let alone in-game.

Yes, Jyaire Shorter and Deonte Simpson grew as recovers, but it was not enough to get the offense unstuck for long periods. The line was still allowing sacks, still snapping low or high, and they were not going to be able to improve quick enough for it to matter. There were big numbers but the inability to get first downs and touchdowns in the fourth against Rice and UAB were the reason for the losses.

It’s Blame Season across the nation and coaches are getting ready to pack up and move. NT fans want Seth Littrell to do like Herman at Texas and fire the defensive head man. There are more still that want Bodie Reeder gone for the sin of coaching Mason in a losing season.

Littrell practically turned over his coaching staff last off-season and the scientist in me dislikes the idea of changing another variable. The offense will be led by a new QB — one of Jason Bean or the other guys or maybe a transfer? — and so much change while breaking in yet another staff sounds like a recipe for another losing season.

Note: It has since been reported that Bodie Reeder is out as offensive coordinator, but that has yet to be confirmed by the program.

That said, the strength of the team was not well, strong. That means there is some soul-searching. The good news is that Littrell and his staff are the kinds of people that are willing to put in work and take accountability.

For the fans and stewards of the program that means adjusting expectations a bit. Do we want progress or perfection? If the former (as it should be) then we must acknowledge that progress is not always linear.

So while we should not blindly demonize a set back season, we also should not blindly trust every and all decisions. Littrell hit big on Harrell and Fine, but maybe not so much on Reeder (pending) and has some work to do building a more consistent defense.

Recruits like Simpson, Shorter, Tre Siggers, KD Davis and the young guys have impressed while some of the transfers have not. Compared to the rest of the league NT is in good shape. Finding one QB is a hell of a way to get a program on its feet. NT did that. Finding the next one is how a career is made. That’s yet to be seen.

Categories
Football

2019: North Texas at Louisiana Tech Preview

Last year in Denton, this battle was played before a record Apogee crowd and contested by equals.

This season North Texas comes in the clear underdog. We have noted all season that reasonable fans should have expected to see an unbalanced team with a powerful offense and a young inexperienced defense.

That has mostly held true, however the offense has disappointed in most games save for the recent two. The opening quarter duds can be explained by injury, personnel, and the quality of opponent but those are just different names for “excuses”.

The fact is that the offense had all the tools to be good and was not ready to start the games that way.

Two things have happened in the last fortnight: 1) The teams NT faves were very bad. 2) The WRs got a little better.

Playing Tech means going up a level in difficulty.

North Texas needs to win out to have a shot at a division title (need two USM losses, and one more Tech loss FYI) and probably a bowl invite. My thinking is that seven wins — not six — is the magic bowl-invite number for this team. That means no losses the rest of the way.

NT has struggled despite the offensive talent. Some of that was growing pains with new faces on the field and in the coaching booth. Some of that was ill-preparation and ill-execution.

Whatever you think of SMU and Cal, they were beatable. The Houston let down was also frustrating given the circumstances. Losing to USM was understandable but the one to Charlotte was nigh unforgivable.

As Bill Parcells said, ‘you are what your record says you are’. NT is an unbalanced team that is trying to get better every week.

Louisiana Tech

Skip Holtz has had a nice run in Ruston. Close, cynical observers will note that he had a lot fewer league titles than is desired but compared to the league he has been a model of success.

In seven years he has only the one losing season: his first. His teams have had NFL talent and have produced some quality entertainment to boot.

The criticism is right on, however. Going back to his days at South Florida and Wast Carolina, he has never won more than nine games and none of those have come with fewer than four losses.

This year’s team is right out of that mold: talent everywhere, but enough questions that we can have hope they will do North Texas a favor and fumble the ball away.

They have started 7-1, losing only to Texas when they were good. They have played to their competition, battling close against Grambling and Rice, but stepped up and got a big win vs USM at home. That same USM team took apart NT in Hattiesburg.

They have a ton of talent — again– and senior leadership to guide it.

Attacking Tech

Amik Robertson is the name you probably already know. He blocked the kick to seal the game last season. He also nearly intercepted the previous ball to Bussey down the sideline.

He is a tough competitor and intercepted Jack Abraham thrice in the big west division matchup this season.

We cannot expect Jyaire Shorter or Deonte Simpson to win the majority of those battles. He is the league’s best cornerback and our outside guys are still learning to be consistent.

That said, one cannot coach size. Shorter is a big dude and running through a smaller guy does not take any coaching.

The concern will be that North Texas will have to grind out some drives in this one. Sure, throw it up to Shorter here and there, but we cannot expect that will go for six the way it has recently.

In all the ways that UTEP and Charlotte are bad defensively, Tech is much better. The stats show that Tech gets off the field on third downs better, and stops the opposition from gaining any momentum early. UTEP is 129th in stop rate — the measure of a team’s percentage of defensive drives ending in punts, turnovers, or turnovers on downs. Charlotte is 116th. (NT is 99th) and Tech is 40th.

Still, looking down the Tech schedule there is only one win that impresses: 45-30 winners vs Southern Miss. They were scored upon in that game, but they got three big turnovers late to win it.

The other corner is Michael Sam, a redshirt senior at 6’1″ 194 lbs. Safety L’Jarius Sneed likes to come up and make a ton of tackles. OLB Ezekiel Barnett will bring pressure — he leads the team in hurries but Amik Robertson will come on a corner blitz, too.

Best case scenario: NT’s offense continues its run of play, and scores 38 with no turnovers.
Worst case scenario: The Tech pass rush causes interceptions, and NT’s WRs cannot get open against the talented secondary

Defending Tech

J’Mar Smith has all the tools and he has come up big when it has been needed from him. He will not set any league passing records, and that has been something like source of frustration. A lot of fans criticism him for what he is not instead of appreciating what he is. That said, he is a little frustrating.

As we saw the last two seasons, Smith can get the ball to his playmaking wide receivers. That is really the entire job description so in that respect he is a good QB. He does also make the odd mistake here in there. Odd not in frequency, but in character. He will fumble, throw the ball to no one, and take sacks.

It may be in NT’s favor that he is at home and can feel the crowd’s nervous energy instead of drawing inspiration from a bunkered-down mentality on the road. He was great last season against NT, and has come up big for Tech in crunch time this season.

That said, he had to pull out an OT run against Rice so it is not super impressive that he had to be clutch there.

The OL has experience. NT has not had a ton of success bringing pressure, and J’Mar Smith can elude whatever pressure that is brought. See last year’s preview for a little video. His targets include Adrian Hardy again. Last season his acrobatic receivers made incredible catch after incredible catch that helped calm the crowd a bit.

RB Justin Henderson is a load — 218 lbs! — and will run through arm tackles. Jaqwis Dancy is still good, and shifty and a senior.

This is by far J’Mar Smith’s most efficient season. He has 13 scores to only 3 interceptions and one of those was a freak play. NT may not be able to rely on Smith doing self-harm in this one, although they did not get much of that last year either.

Best case scenario: North Texas gets some fortunate turnovers and gets off the field often enough to get the ball back to Fine.
Worst case scenario: An endless conga line to the end zone for Tech players.

Coaching

Skip Holtz is a good coach and Seth Littrell is a proven program-builder in this league. Neither can be said to be an outstanding in-game adjuster. Call this a wash. The home field advantage is well, an advantage.

NT has had solid game plans throughout the season but has also fell on its face to start games too often to discount. The depth chart has changed in reaction to performance — a good thing — but it also means there has been some inconsistency.

Let us count special teams with coaching today. Marty Biagi’s group has allowed some awful returns this season, even while the kick and punt games have been solid. If the offense and defense keep it all even, we cannot expect to have an advantage in this area.

MGN season preview prediction: W 31-24
MGN prediction today: L 28-38

While I have appreciated the offensive explosion the last couple of weeks I absolutely know that has much more to do with the opposition than anything. Tech is good — not great, but good — and NT has had trouble being consistent. If things go the right way, I can see NT pulling this out. This is one of those seasons where NT needs to be perfect on offense and lucky on defense. I do not see it.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Seven Is Fine: North Texas 52 UTEP 26

Mason Fine threw seven touchdown passes, including two in the first couple of minutes as the Mean Green proceeded to handle UTEP easily on Homecoming. The Miners kept it closer-than-expected, but there was never really a point where NT looked like they would be too troubled.

This makes two weeks in a row that NT has exploded on offense. NT finished with 479 on offense and it could have been more if they wanted. Mason Fine threw for five scores in the first half and seven for the game following last week’s five score effort against Charlotte.

Jyaire Shorter caught his first TD pass of the game on a 48-yarder, making it 4 straight catches for 4 TDs across the last two. He finished with two grabs 59 yards and the one score. On the season he has eight TDs on 19 catches, an incredible return.

The star of the game and the season, really was Jaelon Darden. North Texas found a way to execute on short yardage plays and that involves throwing the ball to Darden in the flat on some motion-swing passes. He scored three times in this one, including two from 6-yards out.

Darden is just about un-guardable in space, and NT has recently found a way to make him a threat throughout the game. This has been helped by the emergence of Shorter and Deonte Simpson. Both struggled to start the year — Simpson did not get the start over Bussey and Hair-Griffin but has recently been getting lots of snaps.

Darden finished with 6 grabs for 60 yards and the three scores. He has 11 on the season, putting him just two behind Ron Shanklin’s school record of 13. Darden is tied for 4th. Rico Bussey Jr. and NT hall-of-famer Casey Fitzgerald are tied for 2nd with 13.

He also tied with like, a ton of guys, for the 2nd with 3 receiving scores in a game.

Fine’s seven tosses were a school record at Apogee. Previously, Mason Fine had the school record for scores there with four three other times (v UTEP ’17, v Army ’17, v Incarnate Word ’18). Houston’s Casey Keenum had five at Apogee in the stadium opener way back when.

Fine also becomes just the second NT QB to throw for five TDs twice in one season, with Steve Ramsay throwing for five three times in 1968. The school record for a game is Giovanni Vizza’s 8 in 2007 vs Navy. Fine has now thrown for 12 scores in two games. He now has 27 on the season, which equals last year’s total. He has the school record of 31 set in 2017.

Fine already has the school career record at 91 and counting.

North Texas is now 4-5, 3-2 on the season. Charlotte and UTEP were the easier of the games on the schedule. We saw evidence of that in the way the offense was able to score seemingly at will. The defense did not hold up against Charlotte but was able to dominate UTEP.

The schedule looks like this: @Tech, @Rice, vs UAB.

The Mean Green need to win out. After that, they need Tech to drop another game and have Southern Miss lose twice more. USM has division leading FAU, surprising WKU, and defending champ UAB on their schedule. It is not unreasonable. Tech has NT, UAB, and Marshall and UTSA. Three of those are tough.

There is hope, and really, if NT can just get two of the final three, it will be enough to be eligible. Realistically, the Mean Green need to get to seven wins. Four CUSA squads have six-or-more wins at the moment, including Tech with seven and UAB with six.

Categories
Football Football Recruiting

Class of 2019 National Signing Day

In the recruiting sites era, classes are judged by the rating of signees and how effectively those players fill their team’s needs, in both the short and long-term. However, as we have seen the college game transition from I-Formation, when run-heavy offenses were the norm instead of an anomaly. Most recruiting sites began before the spread revolution that captured the majority of FBS teams, and the position classifications on most recruiting sites have had trouble keeping up.

While the move has not been as quick or widespread as the transition of most college programs to spread offenses, defensively we have seen many teams move from a traditional 4-3 base to 3-4, 3-3-5, and 4-2-5 defenses in order to get more speed on the field in hopes of slowing down spread offenses. The positions in these various offensive and defensive schemes differ, yet we still see most recruits classified based on where they would fit in a 4-3 scheme. This is likely due to the impracticality of each site giving each recruit different ratings for each position they could play in each scheme they may choose to play in. But now that the December Signing Day is behind us and we know which players are coming to Denton, and we know which schemes we are going to run under this coaching staff, we can start projecting where each recruit is going to fit in our scheme here at UNT.
Adam posted a piece that breaks down each position in our base formations on each side of the ball, and what type of frame and player our coaches our looking for when recruiting for each position.

Let’s look at the actual players from the best UNT signing class in the recruiting site era and where they will fit in the various positions in our schemes.

Offense

Quarterback – Will Kuehne

This is the position that needs the least amount explaining. Kuehne is a 6’1” 190 lb legacy recruit, as his grandfather was a former track athlete at UNT and is in the North Texas Athletics Hall of Fame. Kuehne spent time early on in his high school career at Liberty Christian, then really found his footing as a Division 1 quarterback prospect at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, where he led the Rams to the 6A-I State Championship as a junior. Kuehne was a 3-star recruit1 and had offers from Maryland, New Mexico, Arkansas State, and few Ivy League schools. Kuehne is a well-rounded QB who can make plays with his legs and beat teams with his accuracy, particularly over the middle of the field. Developing his throwing ability outside the numbers will be the next step in his progression and will be key for him in trying to establish himself as a legitimate contender to replace Mason Fine after next season.

Running Back – Oscar Adaway III

Another position that needs little explaining, and another recruit who was a key member in winning a state championship his junior year. Adaway III was a Swiss Army knife while playing for North Little Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas. Adaway III was announced as a running back signee, but he also spent considerable amounts of time on defense, in the return game, and splitting out as a receiver. Adaway III was a 3-star recruit who chose North Texas over Colorado State, Southern Miss, Texas State, and various FCS Schools.

At 6’ 208 lbs, Adaway III immediately steps onto campus as UNT’s biggest scholarship running back. In addition to having size, Adaway III also steps onto campus with very advanced route-running skills for a running back. Adaway III is the only running back signee of this class and, as we did not sign a high school running back last class, he will be the only underclassmen running back on next year’s roster

Tight End/Y/H-Back – Asher Alberding

Alberding, a 6’4” 230 lb from Houston Clear Lake High School, was one of UNT’s most highly-rated recruits and held five other FBS offers. Alberding is the first tight end recruit that Seth Littrell has signed in his time at North Texas. This makes sense when you consider that the base offense often does not have a tight end. Also, with Kelvin Smith and Caleb Chumley both being redshirt freshmen when Littrell arrived, he has been able to rely on them as the tight ends on this team and allocate his scholarships elsewhere. But with both of those players entering their senior seasons, Alberding has been signed to fill that role.

Alberding spent most of his senior season on the defensive side of the ball, but he also has plenty of experience at the more traditional in-line tight end role in high school. He will likely be featured in the same ways that Kelvin Smith has been featured in this offense but may spend next season redshirting and learning behind the experienced seniors. Alberding also may help fill the H-Back role that Cannon Maki has manned the past three seasons.

Wide Receiver – Deonte Simpson, Damon Ward, Kealon Jackson, & Khatib Lyles

This is where the positions start to become a little more specific to our scheme. While they are all receivers, each of these four signees have different skill sets that will be showcased at various receiver positions in our scheme.

X and Z (Outside) Receivers

One of the two surprise signees this year was Khatib Lyles. Lyles was not previously a public commit heading into Signing Day, but he immediately became a headliner for the top class in CUSA. Lyles, from Parkland High School in El Paso, Texas is 6’2” 190 lbs, had 11 other FBS offers including Texas Tech, Utah, Kansas, and Indiana. Lyles’ size and speed combo are what made him a P5-level prospect, which is why he is a prime candidate to play outside and possibly succeed Jalen Guyton or Rico Bussey at either the X or Z following next season.

High school teammates Deonte Simpson and Damon Ward of Beaumont West Brook (Playing for the Texas 6A Division II Title at AT&T Stadium this Saturday) are both listed at 6’ 192 lbs. Simpson, with seven other FBS offers, was one of the more highly recruited players in the class, and for good reason. Simpson played primarily in the slot in high school but has the speed and size to potentially play outside. Ward suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the year, but he is another receiver with a diverse skillset. Ward held four other FBS offers, and primarily played on the outside for his high school. Ward is a polished route runner, and he also has good ball skills. For both Simpson and Ward, it will be interesting to see where the staff places them, as they could project outside at X or Z but based on the signings of recent recruiting classes, they may be needed more at Y or A/H receiver as the roster had three freshmen receivers backing up Guyton and Bussey this past season.

Y and A/H (Inside) Receivers

Kealon Jackson was another one of the crown jewels of the class, with 10 other FBS offers including Kansas and West Virginia. Jackson also will be playing at AT&T Stadium on Saturday morning with a fellow Mean Green signee in DB Jevin Murray at Pearland Shadow Creek. At 5’9” 163 lbs, Jackson is nearly the exact same size as Jaelon Darden and appears to be the perfect heir apparent to Darden at the “A” receiver in this offense. Jackson may very well be the fastest member of this signing class. Due to Jackson’s exceptional speed, he could push for early playing time at receiver and even at returner as he returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

As previously mentioned, it likely that at least one of Deonte Simpson or Damon Ward end up inside as well. As Simpson has more experience inside in high school, he seems like the more likely candidate there.

Offensive Line – Daxton Buyers, John Brunner, Chris Cassady, & D’Andre Plantin

While this may not be the most heralded group of the recruiting class, it is likely the most paramount to the long-term success of this class and the program.

Offensive Tackle

Grad transfer signee D’Andre Plantin comes to UNT after spending his first four seasons of college football at Virginia Tech. Plantin comes to UNT for his final season in which he is slated to be the team’s starting left tackle. In 2017 as a Redshirt Sophomore, Plantin got some starting experience for Virginia Tech at left tackle following an injury to the starter and was listed as a co-starter at left guard after this past spring, but ultimately did not win the starting job and elected to find a new program upon graduating this December. At 6’5” and 295 lbs, Plantin will attempt to improve the much maligned UNT pass protection. If you’re looking for an immediate impact guy, it absolutely should be Plantin.

As for the three high school offensive line signees, Daxton Buyers, a 6’5” 295 lb lineman from Deer Creek HS in Edmond, Oklahoma, appears to be the most likely to play tackle in college. Buyers, a player who apparently outgrew the receiver position, has the best footwork of the group, in my opinion. Buyers also had the best offer list with four other FBS offers. Offensive tackle is one of the hardest positions in football to recruit, especially for a G5 program. In the Littrell era he has primarily depended on transfers Trey Keenen and Riley Mayfield, and inherited offensive tackle Jordan Murray. With those players gone, Littrell is hoping that Plantin can fill that void in the short term and one of these freshmen can help fill the void in the long term.

Guard and Center

John Brunner is a 6’5” 300 lb offensive lineman from Brock High School in Brock, Texas. Brunner, who held one other FBS offer and a few FCS offers, comes from a three-back, under center offense in which he almost always went forward. Because of this, it’s hard to project how Brunner would perform as an offensive tackle in a pass-heavy offense, even if he does have tackle size. Brunner’s specialty is mashing people in the run game, and he will have plenty of time to work on pass protection once he gets to campus. I project Brunner to likely end up on the offensive line, likely at right guard.

Chris Cassidy, a 6’4” 275 lb from Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas also comes from a run-heavy offense. Cassidy, who held one other FBS offer and a few FCS offers, is a smaller, nimbler offensive lineman who could project at a few positions on the offensive line, including center. Cassidy is also another player who will greatly benefit from a redshirt year and learning how to pass block, but I see him likely at left guard or center.

Defense

Defensive Line – Kenneth Dotson, Jimmy Walker, & David Sow

UNT introduced three signees as defensive linemen. Kenneth Dotson, a 6’3” 255 lb defensive end from Houston Lamar High School, also held one other FBS offer from UMASS. Dotson comes to campus already having exceptional size for a defensive lineman and particularly excels in the running game. Dotson looks to be a candidate to play the 5-technique defensive end position that Ladarius Hamilton plays, although with his size it will be interesting to see if he outgrows that position and becomes suited to play the 3-technique defensive end as an upperclassman.

Jimmy Walker, also listed at 6’3” 255 lbs from Lutheran North High School in Houston, held offers from three other FBS teams. While Walker is listed at the same size as Dotson, he appears slighter on film and faster, even returning a kickoff for a touchdown in his highlights. Because of his size and speed combo, I can’t help but wonder if he may start his career at the JACK position, similar to how Ladarius Hamilton began his career at JACK and outgrew the position/was needed more at 5-tech. Regardless, Walker has a very intriguing combination of size and speed.

The last defensive lineman to commit to us was Junior College Defensive End David Sow, from Navarro College. Sow also held four other FBS offers, including from Oklahoma State. At 6’4” 240 lbs, Sow is another player who I wonder if the staff is actually projecting at JACK instead of a true defensive line position. When Josh Wheeler was signed in 2016 he was listed as a defensive line signee officially but was our starting JACK from day one, through the first two seasons of the Littrell era. Sow did not begin playing football until his senior year of high school, so his game is still fairly raw for a junior college player, but it is obvious the staff really wanted him as they pursued him late when the class was said to possibly be full.

Linebacker – Gabriel Murphy, Grayson Murphy, Taylor Jacobs, Kevin Wood

In a defense that features just two second-level linebackers in the MLB and WLB positions, it was somewhat surprising to see four high school linebackers signed. As previously mentioned with David Sow and Jimmy Walker, it remains to be seen if either or both of those two see time at the JACK position. The same can be said of this group.

WLB

This linebacker class is headlined by the Murphy twins, both 6’2” 215 lbs from Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas. Both are also two of the headliners of the entire class, with six other FBS offers and being tied with Khatib Lyles for the second highest composite ratings in the class. While they predictably have similar skillsets, Gabriel played more inside in high school and Grayson played more outside linebacker in the Bishop Lynch defense. Both run extremely well for linebackers of their size, and both display the abilities to cover, rush the passer, and stuff the run. With their size, they seem like solid fits at the WLB position that EJ Ejiya manned for us this year, but because there are two of them it will be interesting to see if one plays the MLB position or even JACK in order to get them both on the field should they pan out. With both Garner and Ejiya graduating and no JUCO LBs signed, I expect at least one of the Murphy twins to either obtain a starting spot or at least be involved in the LB rotation.

Taylor Jacobs is listed at the same size as the Murphy twins at 6’2” 215 lb as well and is a linebacker from South Grand Prairie high school in Grand Prairie, Texas. Jacobs held one other FBS offer from Texas Tech. Jacobs specialized in making the big hit in high school, and he also seems to project to the WLB position in this defense.

MLB

Kevin Wood, a 6’ 200 lb linebacker from Converse Judson High School in Converse, Texas, held three other FBS offers. Wood is a comparable size to what both Brandon Garner and KD Davis were when they were coming out of high school, and those two both play the MLB position in our scheme. Like Garner, Wood is a heat-seeking missile in the open field and in high school was often too quick for linemen to even get a hand on. Wood is also another member of this class who comes from a very prominent high school football program in Converse Judson. As alluded to, I expect Wood to play the WLB role at UNT.

Defensive Backs – Deshawn Gaddie, Jevin Murray, Dorian Morris, Leandre Davis, and Quinn Whitlock

For the second straight season UNT signed a very impressive defensive back recruiting class. This group will have a chance to make their mark early with both starting cornerbacks Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall graduating.

Cornerback

As mentioned, both starting cornerback spots need to be replaced. Out of the high school signees, Deshawn Gaddie stands out as one who may be up for that task immediately. Gaddie, a 6’ 190 lb cornerback from Arlington Lamar was another premier signing in this class as he held 10 other FBS offers and was our highest rated recruit based on the 247 Composite Rankings. Gaddie may be the best overall athlete in the class and has a similar build to Nate Brooks. Despite having an angular frame, Gaddie is very eager and involved in defending the run as he is a very capable tackler for a high school corner. Gaddie played all over the Arlington Lamar secondary in high school, playing corner outside and inside and even playing safety as well, which should help him see the field early. I expect his long-term position to be outside corner.

Dorian Morris is a 5’10” 162 lb cornerback from Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas who held six other FBS offers. If Kealon Jackson is not the fastest player in this recruiting class, it probably is track star Dorian Morris. Morris is a smaller corner who could possibly even contend for some time at the Nick in this defense on third downs. Morris has solid play recognition and looks like someone who has played corner for a while.

One of the two surprise signings was Khatib Lyles, and the other was Quinn Whitlock, a 6’ 195 lb defensive back from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi. UNT was Whitlock’s only reported FBS offer, and he will join the team with three seasons of eligibility remaining. While Whitlock was a surprise signing, it should not come as too much of a surprise to see UNT sign a JUCO corner with both starting corners graduating.

Nick

In UNT’s defense there are two types of Nickelbacks. One is more of a safety/linebacker hybrid like Tyreke Davis, and the other is more of a traditional Nickel/third corner like Jameel Moore.

Similar to Tyreke Davis, LeAndre Davis is a player who primarily played running back in High School and will make the transition to defensive back at UNT. At 5’10 190 lbs LeAndre, from Rosenberg Terry High School, is listed at a very similar size to Tyreke Davis and I would expect him to play the same position.

As previously mentioned, we could also see one of the cornerback signees spend some time at this position in more obvious passing downs, especially if Jameel Moore, the man currently playing the role, moves back outside to help replace Brooks and Hall.

Safety

Last, we have the signee who had more offers than anyone else in our recruiting class in Jevin Murray. Murray, at 5’11” 175 lbs, had offers from 12 other schools including Louisville and Oregon State. Murray has spent a lot of time in high school at Pearland Shadow Creek playing corner but is listed on 247 as a safety commit. Clearly Murray is an exceptional talent and could play either corner or safety at UNT, but with ability to tackle and cover a lot of ground he projects well as a free safety in this defense. Murray and Gaddie are two interesting players to watch, as I could see either at corner or safety. And with a really good defensive back class signed last year it will be interesting to see who emerges and who will play what positions in order to have the best players on the field.


  1. According to 247Sports Composite Rankings which aggregate recruits’ ratings from each of the recruiting sites into one rating