Football Football Recaps

HOD Recap: NT Run Game

NT likes the outside zone for a number of reasons, one of which is that they think they have the athletes to get to the edge and make things happen. In October this was definitely the case, this past Tuesday, it was solid-to-okay. NT had some quality runs but struggled in short yardage. If that sounds like a microcosm of the entire season, you are right.

Smartfootball has a good read on the particulars of the outsize zone, and one of its prophets Alex Gibbs. The nuts and bolts of the play are in that you get double-teams and create lanes for a back with vision to take advantage of. The blocking assignments are easy to teach, and so the bulk of practice can be spent putting it into practice. Jeff Wilson has the vision and the required speed and agility to make devastating cuts when he sees daylight.

Stunts, LB scrapes, and bringing a safety in the box are some things that can mess up the blocking on these, and this is countered by going with an inside zone or a play-action. When all the zones are being blown up, its good to have a counter or power (pull those lineman) to take advantage.

NT relies on the inside and outside zone for its run plays, which is pretty common for an Air Raid team.

Harrell debuted the pistol look we see here against Army in October. It allows a better angle for the outside zone run that Jeff Wilson used to devastating effect. Aldo wrote a little bit about it here.

A couple of things to look for in this play:

  1. Backside tackle (Jordan Murray #71) cutting the LB Aukerman (#21) to slow the pursuit.
  2. Because this is an outside run play, even blitzing DB is neutralized because of the distance. He has to run down the line to prevent the cutback.
  3. The line does a step-and-reach to get to the next man. Elex Woodworth (#77) gets to the second level after Trey Keenan (#59) turns his man and gets a seal.
  4. Cannon Maki (#44) looks for penetration, and fills the hole 1 and attempts to get to an Army linebacker.
  5. Jeff Wilson has about four yards before he is contacted.

This is essentially how they draw it up. It worked about as well as you could expect. Ideally you want to have Jeff Wilson one v one with a safety in space instead of running into a pile, but that is quibbling.

In this next play we have another outside zone from slightly different personnel and alignment. By trading the heavy look for a speedier one with a slot receiver, the LB (#21) is off the line a bit. Army shows pressure but they drop off a bit. Interestingly, NT’s backside constraint action was wide open2. Tyler Wilson turns for the WR screen, and Thad Thompson was headed to block the retreating CB. NT never went back to this, nor can I recall a significant number of these during the season.

Here is the same play but straight on. You should get a sense of what the idea is from this view. Wilson is running to a point, usually a yard outside the tackle, and making a cut when he sees daylight. Here, he saw it behind Sam Rice and Maki, while shaking off the crashing LB (#11).

  1. TJ Henson gets knocked on his ass by the LB who nearly makes the play, but he had a long way to go to get that block, so we should give him some credit for getting there.
  2. Jeff Wilson makes a great cut, breaks a tackle, and gets the first down.
  3. Sam Rice and Elex Woodworth make this play by getting great blocks.

This seems like a great play so why did we not run it every time? Well sometimes it failed.

A couple things from this play:

  1. Look at the LBs flow fast to set the edge.
  2. Aukerman (or someone who looks like him) blows this play up by shedding Maki’s block easily.

Derp. A false start by 95 killed this drive essentially.

Power Runs

Remember I said when the defense starts to jump the inside and outside zones it is good to go to power/counter? NT did that in the first half with some success.

In the second half NT tried a power and an outside zone from 21 personnel to little effect. Then they followed it up with so me play action from the second look above. Turner Smiley caught it for a first down.

There was another play from a two-back set that faked a WR flare/rocket and handed off to Wyche coming back with a power scheme up front. Army LB #11 shot the gap and ran down Wyche. Great play by him. This isn’t an Army blog so … no gif.

Army’s LB Andrew King (#11) was ridiculous blowing up plays. He diagnosed runs quickly and fired into gaps really blowing up the blocking schemes. In OT, he rushed up the middle on the final two (Mesh) plays, and essentially hurried Morris into bad passes. I digress because he played so damned well.

With Army cheating up, NT had better looks for play action passes. Look at this screen grab on a 2-yard power run. Look a those safeties cheating up.

(I realize this is not a run, but NT actually saw what Army was doing and reacted). The very next possession NT had a run look and grabbed this play-action play with it. Great play calling.

With the score at 31-21 in the third, NT faced 2nd and 2 after that play-action pass and followed it up with another outside zone run for a first down.

You’ll notice this is the same look from earlier, with less success and no backside screen action. See? I told you they never went to this again. Army was getting better at diagnosing these, and also cheating a bit with their line backers.

Staying with the same drive, following a Smiley short out and a Smiley Jet sweep3 NT faced third-and-one.

Oof. Close but no. Henson is pulling on the power play we saw earlier but misses his block in the hole. Jeff is hit before he can make a move and even then still manages to squirm out of it to get some forward progress. That is a tough block for Henson, as he has very little time to react to Army #30 filling the lane but … that is the difference between a first down and fourth. North Texas really has to improve here, as this is the weakest of weak spots.

Let’s try it again! North Texas lines up in their heavy look one more time and ran the outside zone. Army had eight in the box and NT had six on the line, Maki made seven, and the QB’s fake roll out accounting for the eighth man. Jeff Wilson’s “man” was the safety playing the deep third. On paper Jeff should have exploded through the hole and had the free safety at his mercy. What happened?

Well Army sealed the edge (Army #56) and pushed the play to Army #30. That “should” be Maki’s man but it was difficult for him to (1) see him coming and (2) make that block. The rules of zone blocking essentially say to block the man in front of you but if no one is there, help the man next to you 4. There is a guard-tackle double that creates the kind of push we want, and Maki is there to double at the point of the attack against anyone getting penetration. It looks like he saw Army LB #11 getting penetration (he was pretty great all game) and read that as his responsibility to create the seal.

Instead of Jeff Wilson running free in the secondary, he was stopped before he really started. Football is a funny game, and these little battles are what get people to fall in love with the strategy. That block likely was the difference between a big TD run and a 4th down stop. Huge.

Later and OT

Okay so NT turned it over on 4th down then forced Army to do the same. NT got the ball back and Jordan Murray committed a false start. Then we had this beauty of a run.

Jordan Murray cannot quite step out and reach his block so he seals him and this play is largely made because of Wilson’s vision and ability. If you are counting at home, NT ran this version of the outside zone play about a handful of times from doubles (2×2) and trips (3×1). The first was the TD.

Final Run

The final run of the game was on a play that got lots of yards the first time it was run. It is difficult to blame the play calling because Harrell did a good job mixing up passes, runs, and looks. Army’s LB corps are really good and blew these up themselves. On this play King (#11) sheds Sam Rice’s block, and forces Wilson to adjust his angle. Army #38 runs around Sam Rice at the second level and blows up Wilson in the backfield.

The Black Knights had a man running at Morris in case he kept the ball to run or throw.


Jeff Wilson had an outside zone/sweep to the edge on the final drive that was called back because of an iffy call on Thompson. It was from trips left (a formation called Late in Leach terminology).

It was very similar to this run from early in the game and the one we mentioned above.

The difference being that in the second quarter Army was playing the run (especially on first down) more than they were on this second down play in prevent defense.

So there you have it. The NT run game really has potential. The same problems that plagued the pass game at times — penalties, missed assignments, getting beat one-on-one — affected the run game. In short yardage there really is no other way to scheme it better. The line just has to be able to win the individual battles across the board.

Next season those short yard runs will be something we all look at closely. They are an essential part of the offense, even if it is an Air Raid. All of these runs do not exist alone, but a part of the game plan and function good or bad depending on what the pass game is doing. The reverse is also true.

This offense is right on the precipice of being good. Cleaning up the mental5 mistakes that put the offense behind the chains, or bring back runs is the first step. The next is Littrell and staff improving the offensive line to the point where the pass protection is consistent and the short-yardage run game is more reliable. They really have to be able to get two yards.

  1. You stop that giggling right now, young man. 
  2. Marketing alert. 
  3. These sweeps have been rarely successful and so are pretty uninteresting. 
  4. They are a little more complicated than that but this is not a coaching clinic. 
  5. Mental mistakes can come from physical problems. In basketball guys hold when they are out of position and sometimes they are out of position because they are not fast enough. You get my meaning. 

Jeffrey Wilson vs Army: Examples of Success

Earlier in the preseason, we took a look at 2015 Jeff Wilson to try and be excited at 2016 Jeff Wilson.

Boy has he delivered or what?

Wilson is sitting at 724 yards on 108 carries, and 12 rushing touchdowns. This includes a combined 50 yards against Florida and MTSU. In North Texas’ 4 wins, Wilson has averaged 8 yards per carry, 147 yards a game, and totaled 10 touchdowns. It’s critical to feed Wilson.

Now that over half the season is done, let’s take a quick look at some of his highlights against Army – the second ranked run defense in the nation. We focus on plays that exemplify his success on the ground so far this season, and what we should look for the rest of the way.

GIF It, GIF It Real Good

In this first clip, North Texas is lined up in a pistol formation. Cannon Maki (I think) is lined up as the blocking H-back. At first glance, this play seems to be a run option for Fine, which freezes the DE and a DT for a moment, allowing the left tackle to block them both. Army’s linebackers are pretty damn good, but they oversold on the right side of the offensive line. North Texas’ O-Line directs the defense to the right and easily punches through, creating a big hole for Wilson. Wilson accelerates through the hole, as the front seven are all immediately out of position.

While the offensive line has done their job, it’s time for Wilson to do his. As Wilson heads upfield, he forces the DB to over-pursue. Wilson then shows his run-bending ability and footwork – without losing momentum.

He does bobble the football when he gets tackled later, so he needs to work on that.

Jeff Wilson Run 1


What follows is a thing of beauty – that begins with an awkward handoff. North Texas is again in a pistol formation, and again we will assume that Maki lined up as the H-back. Wilson does a good job of following his blockers. The left tackle, Woodworth, disrupts DE’s path. The left guard, Henson seals LB#39 to the outside. Wilson fakes to the outside behind Henson, manipulating the DB to take the outside edge, and continues up field.

Maki gets a great block on LB#11, following the hole. Willie Robinson bravely comes in and seals an inside edge against DB#9 (good job, good effort Willie). At this point, the remaining defenders are out of position, and Wilson uses his elite acceleration to out run the 21 other players, the umpire, the line judge, the ball boy, etc.

Wilson Run 2


The next play can be described by the following words: Vision, athleticism, acceleration, fluidity, and calf cramp.

I’ll just let you enjoy it while imagining me yelling “GOT EM!” every time he cuts.


Going Forward

Jeffrey Wilson is, and should continue to be the focal point of the offense.

While this is an Air Raid-based offense, Wilson’s talent and explosiveness should make things easier for Mason Fine and the receivers. If Wilson forces opposing defenses to key in on the run, Littrell and Harrell have pass plays designed to take advantage of these types of matchups.

Football Football Recaps

That Was A Hoot: NT 42 Rice 35

When North Texas was down 17 points and had just ended the second of two drives in the first quarter with another punt I checked the stats. Our favorite program had just -17 total yards to that point. When combined with the previous game that meant in five quarters of football, this team had produced zero points and 36 yards of offense.

Twitter was not pleased, and the large contingent of fans were more than disappointed. Rice had just scored their second TD after our defense helped another drive with offside penalties. I leaned over toward my little group and said “They absolutely need a touchdown here.”

The season was teetering on the brink. This pattern NT has continued the last few years — defense carrying the offense — can only be sustained so long. The defense is comprised of people, and even the most team-focused group will harbor some feelings for those not pulling their own weight. Its just human nature

At that point, North Texas Football needed hope. The ensuing drive was near miraculous. Starting at their own 25, the first two plays — a run by Ivery, and an incomplete to Thompson — managed -1 yard. On 3rd and 11 from the 24, Mason Fine launched a pass to O’Keeron Rutherford in double coverage near the NT bench. His defenders both fell while the ball was in the air and Rutherford came down with the pass, avoided tripping, and went down.

I want to complain and do #analysis and say that that pass should not have been thrown and so on. Sometimes you just need plays that do not make sense to happen for you. I present to you that catch. Sometimes you just need a guy to make a play.

Given new life, the offense looked like they had more energy and belief. The hope we all needed. Ivery rushed for 15 on 2nd and 10 from the 44. Then on 3rd and 12 from the 31, the Finedozer scampered through the middle on a QB Draw for 15 yards. As the crowd settled for the next play, Mason Fine play-actioned and found a diving Willy Ivery for a 16 yard TD.

The numbers say Rutherford should not come down with that pass. The numbers say you should not expect your QB to pick up 15 yards running on 3rd and 12. The numbers say your second string RB shouldn’t make diving catches in the endzone.

After that I leaned over and enthusiastically said “That might have been the drive that saved this season.” It might have been.

Lets talk about this game as we review our squad y’all. Remember, I do not hate your favorite player.


After the aforementioned -17 yards and zero points in the first quarter, the offense produced 411 yards and 28 points through regulation. That is 7.33 yards per play. Thanks to big plays from Jeff Wilson (75 yarder!) and Kenny Buyers (75 yards before running out of gas!) the offense did not have to dink and dunk its way down the field.

That is concerning in that a good offense can do that. It can get 5-7 yards and generally do not go backward. Please do not misunderstand me, a good offense also produces big plays. And the ones that absolutley cannot produce those are in bigger trouble than anyone. I fully expect the offense to get one week better and improve. The components are still young and there are a lot of new faces trying to adapt. When that happens we will see more consistency. We will see — for example — less miracle drives where it is absolutely necessary to convert on multiple third-and-longs.

Jeff Wilson looked like the player we expected. He was corralled by Florida but even the great Lance Dunbar was corralled by SEC defenses. I like Willy Ivery and he played well, but Jeff Wilson is just special. He turned the corner on that big run and exploded up field. When he fights for yards, he usually wins. That is special.

Thaddeous Thompson is our number one receiver isn’t he? He was targeted six times, caught only three, but had a couple of clutch catches. Kenny Buyers had 6 targets also, and really broke out. That 75 yarder was the type of catch-and-run we described in the season preview :

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

Kenny Buyers made a play. This offense has needed that. Speaking of the man, how about this: he has dominated Rice in win on offense and defense..

The offensive line committed untimely penalties 1. There were some changes. The one I noticed from my seat in the stands was that Jordan Murray was benched in favor of 77 Elex Woodworth. The redshirt freshman played well, even though he is slightly “undersized” for the position. The holding call on our final drive of regulation that nullified a Fine scramble for a first down was huge but he played a good game. The left tackle position has been a liability. Murray has been beaten by every team including FCS Bethune Cookman. This was one of the changes that Littrell had in mind during the week. It seems to have paid off.

There is much more to say in the coming days and MGN will do its best to say as much of it as possible. Right now, lets enjoy the fact that the offense was not the one that was not big enough for the moment in Gainesville, and that for the second straight year, NT has put up 400+ yards against Rice.


The defense was tired, and showing signs of wear. Rice was leaning on them in the first overtime and getting easy 4-yard gains. When the game was on the line, however, the defense came up huge. Really, there were two stops: The first on third down to keep Rice short of the sticks; and the second, game-winning version.

If you simply look at the totals you miss the game for the stats. Rice ran an incredible 100 plays and only averaged 4.9 per play. This defense held Bethune Cookman to 4.5 per play. That is good. The tackling was solid throughout and even forced a few fumbles. The defense consistently got to Rice QB Tyler Stehling — though it did not always wrap up — and forced an interception, continuing the streak of INTs to four games. Obviously, when it counted, the interior stiffened and got a stop for a win. The defense with the game winning play on Mean Joe Greene’s birthday. Perfect.

So what did we dislike? The penalties. So many. The numbers say Rice only converted two first downs because of penalties, but they were gifted short yardage and bailed out of bad plays because of them also. See below for more on Penalties.

The good news is that this defense is no pushover. Rice is not a particularly explosive team and the defense did not drop off from the Florida game last week. That is good. It tells us that there is a mental toughness there that can be built on.

They forced Rice into 21 third downs and even with the penalties they only allowed 9 conversions. In the last two weeks this defense has been challenged and come out looking very mean indeed. The next few weeks present a different type of challenge, but for right now let us praise this group of guys and their abilities.

This preseason I had an inkling that the defense would be much improved over the one that allowed a nation’s-worst yard per game in 2015. Gone are the days of the squad getting blasted off the line. There are things to clean up — penalties, wrapping up — but this is a defense that can challenge in CUSA under the right circumstances.


There had to be something Rice saw on film. Ekeler and company need to correct this or we will see even more of this in the coming weeks.

Four offside calls in the first two drives. Another in the third that converted a 4th and 4 for Rice at the NT 12. That led to the Touchdown and made it 17-0. Later there was the offensive holding that killed what would have been the game-sealing drive.


Tyler Wilson is a good returner. He made two great returns in the second half that could have been game-changers in the right circumstances. Tommy Perry always does a great job with his group and again we see a great unit. John Schilleci made a huge ST tackle on a punt return that pinned Rice back. The little things are unnoticed when they do not win games — Rice drove for the tying TD + 2point conversion — but they are important nonetheless. Those types of plays are the standard here at NT under coach Tommy Perry and that is great. I had wondered if Seth Littrell’s North Texas Football would continue special teams tradition. He has so far.


Seth Littrell said he would make changes to the lineup and he did. They seem to have made a difference. Still, he cannot be happy with starting the first quarter with -17 yards. The offense still does not click like we want it to, but it likely is because of the newness of the system, the freshman playing, and so many new moving parts.

We have seen improvement. Excluding Florida, the offense has put up 394+ yards and ~34 points. No CUSA team on the schedule plays defense or has as much talent on the defense as Florida does. Whatever fluctuations we see will be a result of this team’s practice habits and Littrell/Harrell coaching offensively.

Defensively, it could get worse. MTSU, WKU, and Southern Miss are three really good, efficient offenses that will punish mistakes, and challenge all parts of the field. The good news is that Ekeler and company have a group of guys that are tough and make plays. As we saw last night, all the yardage does not matter if you cannot get the one that counts. This defense is really good at denying that one yard.

Concluding Thoughts

This team was down 17. Then it blew an 8 point lead to go down 7. Then it had to stop a team on its 100th play when everyone was tired. Even though it was Rice, and Rice Stadium was 40% NT fans, it stil was a feat. That is the kind of win that helps build a program, a season, and memories.

Last night’s game was good entertainment.

Next: MTSU

I picked Middle to win this one before the season. I thought Tony Franklin would have their offense clicking and he does. MTSU is 9th in the nation in passing yards per game. Brent Stockstill is averaging 7.7 per attempt, 340 yards per game, and has tossed 13 TDs already.

The AD is already better than the last regime at building on the hype. Immediately after the game, NT Tickets twitter account tweeted about the next game. Way to build on the momentum.

  1. You are right, there are no timely penalties.