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Basketball

Tourney Time 2020

We are in full pandemic mode.

Oh, and North Texas basketball is having its best season in a decade.

Do not feel bad for thinking that is very North Texas because it is. You and I know. The dissonance acknowledged, let us remind the extreme among us that all of the precautions are for the greatest good. This pandemic is real and the most vulnerable are at real risk. Let’s not risk grandma’s life because you wanted to watch some live hoops.

Assuming the league tournament continues tonight, we have the Florida Atlantic Owls to prepare for. There will be no home crowd, just the bare minimum to broadcast the show and make it officially a game. All the jokes about it not being much different than the normal show are funny, yes. This was to be the best attended year for the Frisco. session of the tournament, however. North Texas was always the obvious missing piece the last two seasons. The three games NT have played in two seasons have been among the best attended. Tech and WKU also travel well. All three were top seeds.

It’s a shame. The games played among the top four seeds were all exciting and we had a good tournament ahead of us. It won’t be the same without fans there but it still might be compelling in a different way. Competition is its own motivation and there is a real chance that this is the last college basketball we will see for a long while. The big tournament will be played without fans if it continues at all.

Tonight

The Owls beat defending tournament champs ODU. They are big and tough and play solid defense but North Texas whooped them handily in January. FAU doesn’t have much of an offense and NT’s defense is good. Meanwhile, FAU’s size helps them have a mid-level league defense that will focus on CUSA POY Javion Hamlet. NT has a compliment of shooters and rangy athletes to take full advantage of any traps on the point.

Every once in a while NT gets sloppy with the passes up top and when Umoja Gibson has to do too much more than fire long range jumpers the team can be turnover prone. Assuming those are minimized, NT has a better than average shot to win this thing.

Any tournament game is all about the players, though. Any team can beat anyone and Jailyn Ingram is the Owls’ dude. He put up 22 and is real efficient about it. He doesn’t shoot it from three a ton, but he can draw a foul and score inside.

The real question for NT is whether they can hit the open shots they’ll get. A new venue is always a little strange and the Frisco Star is kind of weird at first. Beyond that, making sure Hamlet can pick his spots and not have to carry the team is good tournament-planning. NT has plans to win this thing and that is a very realistic plan. Sure, it is one game at a time but we cannot play our best five for 40 minutes and think it will not come into play on Friday.

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MGN Podcast

116: Revenge

Adam and Aldo discuss the revenge win over FAU and look forward to the season finale against UTSA

We are also in the iTunes store.

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

Important Links:

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Football Football Recaps

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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Football

The Re-Rematch: North Texas vs FAU

This game does not have the stakes we anticipated in preseason. Both squads have gone through some soul-searching in the weeks before this game. FAU found that they missed the departed Driskel a bit more than they perhaps thought they would. The very talented Chris Robison is still very talented, but he is very much a young college football player and has displayed that in all of the losses thus far. Still, he is showing signs of improvement and FAU still has the talented roster that can do damage to even the most prepared of CUSA squads. They have shown recently what could have been, dispatching an overmatched WKU in the second half of that game and destroying FIU in the Shula Bowl. FIU will likely win the East division.

North Texas is 3-3 in league play, just like FAU, and all three losses came in heartbreaking fashion. The Mean Green led each of their losses by scores of 21-6, 21-10, and 28-0 to Tech, UAB, and ODU respectively. The good: getting big leads is hard and NT can do that. The bad: losing big leads is very bad and NT has done that. There is plenty of blame to share and Seth Littrell spent time this week doing the public relations version of that story. He said the team did not take success well. That is one way of deciphering things. I do not know how much that has to do with getting a first down on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 but sure.

What Is There To Play For?

As Littrell mentioned this week — and we mentioned on the podcast last week — NT has not won 10 games in the history of the program and only has four 9-win seasons, last year included. This is one of the more talented teams in NT history, and winning nine goes a long way toward demonstrating that fact.

There is also the matter of revenge, as much as can be had. North Texas was frankly embarrassed twice by FAU in two meetings in Florida last season. The first in October, saw FAU light up the scoreboard and the record books. We knew this team would be talented but have some challenges. That has proved to be the case this season. Here is what we wrote this summer:

The Owls were the only CUSA team to beat the Mean Green and did so by a combined 110–48 on a combined 1436 yards. That said, they lost both coordinators along with a couple of position coaches. There will be challenges in Boca Raton, Heisman campaign notwithstanding.”

—“2018 MGN Season Preview.”

Athletes are proud and everyone knows that FAU kicked some behind last season. At the very least, that should be the primary motivating factor outside of the usual “going 1-0 each week” stuff.

FAU, Who Are They?

Well, if you are completely unfamiliar, they are the defending CUSA champions coached by former coaching wunderkind Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is known for his twitter account, tendency to be a great quote, and for his controversial exits at the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers, and USC. He can coach, and has produced capable, solid offenses wherever he has been. His FAU team last year set program and league records for offense.

Devin Singletary is shooting up the all-time college football charts and is a Doak Walker semifinalist (a running back award). He is a bit off the pace of his 2017 137 ypg mark to go with 32 TDs. This season sees him at 116 ypg and 20 TDs. So while he has struggled relative to the previous year, he has been great again. His backup Kerrith Whyte Jr is talented and has produced 700+ yards and 7 TDs himself, many of the very long variety.

The entire roster has talent — again, something Lane Kiffin is good at finding — and while they’ve struggled, it has had more to do with the coordinator changes, untimely injuries (star LB Azeez Al-Shaair is out for the season), and inexperience at QB.

They lost a game at Middle Tennessee in September (same day as NT’s Tech loss) where Middle converted multiple 4th downs on the final drive to seemingly tie, only to go for 2 and steal the victory at home. They turned the ball over a ton of times against Marshall — QB stuff — and then lost at home to Tech in late October thanks to a couple of poor decisions down the stretch.

They still have all the talent to be dangerous, even if they are not as polished and not as much of a well-oiled machine as the 2017 version.

Our Squad, How We Looking?

Well, not great. Again, this is relatively speaking. Last year we were super excited to see North Texas average 35.5 a game and produce 6.14 yards per play on the way to an historic offensive season.

This season North Texas is averaging 37.2 per game and putting up 6.20 yards per play and everyone is a bit upset with the offense. Of course it is all contextual. North Texas won four close games last season that could have easily gone a different way: UTSA, UAB, Army, and ODU. This season they lost three games that could have gone differently. If you squint, there is progress. That would require being a bit reasonable, however.

Mason Fine is having an incredible year — again. Last season he threw for 4052 yards on 289.4 per game, 31 scores against 15 interceptions all on 36.5 attempts per game at a 63.4 completion rate.

This season he is at 3119 yards with three to play (311.9 per game), 23 scores against only 2 interceptions on 38.8 attempts per game at a 63.7 completion rate. Pretty good stuff, y’all.

Rico Bussey, Jr. has been great, averaging 90 yards per game and leading the team in receptions by some margin (61 grabs to Jalen Guyton’s 41). He has 12 scores on the season, tying Casey Fitzgerald for scores in a year.

If you are box-score watching, you see DeAndre Torrey’s 12 rushing TDs and 5.03 yards per carry average and think that the run game is doing well. It has been for the most part, but in short-yardage it has struggled, which has brought down the entire offense.

Last year North Texas converted 47% of third downs in conference play, including 56% in the month of November last year. This season the number is down to 39.5%, and 35% this month.

Similarly, 4th down conversions are down. NT was at 55% conversion rate in league play in 2017, and is down to 40% this season. Simply put, when NT has to make a play offensively, they have struggled.

Defensively, things are much improved. Those same 3rd down numbers are flipped, essentially. The Mean Green are only allowing 45% conversion in conference play against a 50% rate last year. A slight improvement to be sure. Overall, however NT improved from 56% allowed overall to 36% this season. There were some bad plays in the ODU game but the defense has for the most part been impressive.

What is the Line?

North Texas is a -4.5 favorite and opened as a -2.5 favorite. FAU has not played well on the road, and that is typical of young QBs. De’Andre Johnson has played recently in place of Robison and brought another dimension to the Owls. Still, FAU struggled for a while against WKU, a terrible team, and that should bode well.

Really, North Texas has to get out of their own way and things will be fine. NT has the better QB by some margin, and that should make all the difference.

Line: NT -4.5, OU: 63.5
Pick: North Texas 34 FAU 28

Categories
Basketball

2017-18 BBall Season: FAU Preview

Overview

North Texas ends its Florida trip with a battle against FAU.

  • Saturday, Feb 24 2018
  • 6:00 p.m. CT
  • FAU Arena , Boca Raton FL
  • TV:  CUSA TV
  • Radio: MGRN – 88.1 KNTU-FM
  • Line: North Texas -1.5

What You Need to Know About FAU

Record: 11-16 (5-10)

Last Game vs UNT: L 59-53

Last Game: Rice L 79-76

Scoring Margin: –0.1

CUSA Scoring Margin: -4.0


 Projected Starting Lineups

North Texas

Player Position Stat
Ryan Woolridge 6-3 G 5.7 A/pg
Roosevelt Smart 6-3 G 19.2 PT/pg
A.J. Lawson 6-5 G 9.4 PT/pg
Allante Holston 6-7 F 3.9 PT/pg
Tope Arikawe 6-8 F 3.9 PT/pg

 

FAU

Player Position Stat
Justin Massey 6-4 G 12.9 PT/pg
Payton Hulsey 6-5 G 6.0 PT/pg
Jailyn Ingram 6-7 G 8.8 PT/pg
William Pfister 6-10 F 6.7 REB/pg
Ronald Delph 7-0 C 14.2 PT/pg

Game Plan

Attacking FAU

FAU Defensive Strategy: Man

Last game against FAU Smart was hampered with foul trouble.  Smart only had 4 points. The real hero was AJ Lawson. His offensive outburst wasn’t one that many were expecting. Lawson did a great job attacking and finishing around the rim. Woolridge was another dude who had a good game. NT killed FAU on the offensive boards last game. The Mean Green grabbed 16. FAU’s coaches will most likely make that a point of emphasis today.

North Texas feels like a much different team offensively since then. The Mean Green look like they are operating with much more efficiency.  That should give any NT fan hope that this is the game that stops the losing streak.  Other reasons for hope are the continue improved play from Jorden Duffy.  I get the feel that Duffy is close to a break out game.

Defending FAU

If Simmons doesn’t play which looks unlikely then North Texas is going to have a helluva time defending the size of FAU. Delph had a good game against NT when these two teams met in Denton.  He was pretty much the only starter that scored double digits. The other primary threat for FAU Justin Massey scored only one point. Massey has been playing much better, scoring double digits in his last 5 games.  The 6th man for FAU Gerdarius Troutman could be one to watch. He is the best 3pt shooter for FAU. Troutman has 15 3’s in the past 5 games.

FAU is going to follow the game plans of previous opponents of NT. The Owls are most likely going to throw lots of ball screens at NT. We all know that guys like Tope and Temara struggle in those situations. Hopefully NT has made a few adjustments. The other concern for NT in this game is front court depth. Tope often finds himself in foul trouble. McCasland would prefer that not happen. I dont think he wants to play Fuller or Temara. If Tope gets in foul trouble NT may go with a super small lineup. It will be something to watch.

 


Go To Guys

UNT_goto

FAU_Go_to


FAU_Matchups


3 Points

  1. North Texas dominated FAU on the glass last time. Can they do that again without Simmons? FAU is one of the better rebounding teams in the conference.
  2. Second half defense has been suspect for UNT the past 4 games. FAU is the worst offensive team in CUSA. North Texas really needs to lock down the Owls.
  3. If Simmons doesn’t play Tope AND Temara have to have good games against the big front line of FAU. I’m not talking scoring I’m talking rebounding.

Inside the Advanced Stat Match-up

 

FAU_advanced


Prediction

North Texas is playing well on offense right now.  FAU is playing better on offense too. This game is going to come down to NT’s ability to defend and attack the boards. I know I’ve preached a lot about defense, but to me this game comes down to the battle on the boards. I think NT will get a collective effort from everyone. I also think NT will find their defense. I think they will really get after FAU today.

My Pick:  North Texas by 3

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Basketball Basketball Recaps CUSA Stuff

Dropping Dimes – 10 Thoughts Recapping NT vs. FAU

North Texas got a much needed win. The Mean Green took down FAU 59-53.

  1. It was never pretty in this game. It was down right ugly basketball for most of the night, by both teams. Credit North Texas for finding a way to win without a serious contribution from Roosevelt Smart. Smart was saddled with 3 fouls early in the 1st half, and then picked up his 4th foul early in the second. Some how UNT found enough ways to score more than FAU.

  2. From the get go Ryan Woolridge was more assertive on the offensive end. He needs to do that from here on out. He needs to be the second leading scorer for North Texas on most every night.

  3. AJ Lawson provided some offense that I was not expecting. Lawson even hit a 3. I don’t encourage him shooting 3’s, but his offensive output was necessary with Smart being in foul trouble. North Texas had to get it from some where. Lawson got to the basket, and was able to finish on numerous occasions. Good for him.

  4. Where has Shane Temara gone? He is a SR leader on this team, and NT needs him to step his game up.  18 minutes 0-11, 1 reb, 1 block. That isn’t going to cut it. If NT is going to have any chance at all of making some noise in Frisco they need their SR to play like one.

  5. Zach Simmons and Tope Arkiawe are two nice players. Simmons has played well for a FR. He has had his moment on defense where you can tell he is FR. But he has also had key plays in a lot of UNT victories. Tope has really stepped up his game in conference play. His play off the bench has been very important.

  6. North Texas had 16 offensive boards against FAU. Pretty great effort against a team that way a very good defensive rebounding team. Now the down fall is that NT was only able to turn that in 13 second chance points. North Texas is 4th in conference play with 11.4 offensive rebounds per game. Rebounding as a whole has been a pleasant surprise for NT this year. I think many believed that a guard heavy lineup would struggle to rebound. Woolridge, Smart, Holston, Lawson have all chipped in. Those 4 combined for 22 of the 43 rebounds against FAU. In conference play they are accounting for 46% of the rebounds.

  7. North Texas continues to struggle around the basket. I stopped counting how many bunnies the Mean Green failed to convert last night. I really hope that’s a point of emphasis in practice. NT left at least another 10 points out there because they couldn’t finish.

  8. 70%. North Texas hit the sweet spot I set for them. 70 % from the free throw line was a welcome sight. The last time UNT shot 70% and above was against Rice, which happened to be the last time they won. North Texas has only shot around 70% 3 times in conference play. All 3 have been wins.

  9. I think it was some sort of blessing in disguise that Smart had to sit for most of this game. As of coach you never want your best offensive weapon to be on the bench, but it forced this young NT team to focus on offensive execution. A guy like Smart can bail out a bad possession with a deep 3 or a drive to the basket. Last night NT had to find ways to score with out Smart. Guys like Lawson were able to step up to fill the void.

  10. FAU is going to look back on this game and slap themselves in the face. FAU had every opportunity to take it. It seemed like North Texas was trying to give the game away at times. FAU failed to take advantage of Smart being in foul trouble. Instead of going to a zone and packing it in they stayed in man and let Woolridge and Lawson get to the basket. Then late in the game they fouled Smart when he wasn’t going to get it across halfcourt in time. The little things matter in all games. They really stand out in close games. NT will take a W no matter how it looks.

Player Grades

 

Player Game Grade
Shane Temara F
Roosevelt Smart C –
Ryan Woolridge B +
DJ Draper C +
AJ Lawson B +
Allante Holston C –
Tope Arikawe C +
Zachary Simmons B

Players with 10 minutes + get graded.

Next up for North Texas is FIUon Saturday, January 27th in Denton.

Categories
Football

Link: FAU’s Kendall Briles to Houston

Over on CUSA Report:

If you want to call this a referendum on FAU and the league’s standing you can. The FAU program got a league championship and numerous offensive records out of Briles, and he got a reputation cleansing (he likely was not getting a job any where else) and a ticket back home. Everyone is a winner.

Categories
Football

Repeat Heartbreak: FAU 41 North Texas 17

Florida Atlantic put up 633 yards of offense but the story was their defense. North Texas was held scoreless in the first half. The Owl defense stifled the league’s second best offense on the way to a 27-0 lead at half.

North Texas managed just 141 to FAU’s 382 in the first half as NT put the cornerbacks on an island in an attempt to stop the run game and were burned for it.

FAU did something similar and was rewarded, thanks to the pass rush that sacked Mason Fine 5 times in the first half and 9 in the game. North Texas couldn’t throw the ball, thanks to FAU’s secondary matching up well with the NT receivers and also getting to Fine early.

There were coverage sacks and also just bad offensive line play that contributed to the terrible pressure on Fine.

Fine was able to come unstuck late to put up 367 passing yards and 1 score along with 2 INTs as he forced the ball into coverage, trying to make plays for the offense that could not move early. NT mounted a mini-comeback that was ended when FAU scored to put them up 41-17 after facing 3rd and 11.

Devin Singletary had 164 yards and 3 scores on 26 TDs. FAU pulled out some trickery early gobble up big yards but NT’s defense held them to FGs early. Still, NT’s offense could do nothing and so it did not matter very much at all.

What it means

FAU won its first ever CUSA title. Both teams were playing in their first CUSA title game after having won at least one Sun Belt title previously. FAU went 9-0 against CUSA teams. NT went 7-2, both losses coming to FAU in Boca Raton.

North Texas and FAU will both find out their bowl destinations tomorrow, but North Texas is all but a lock to go to the New Orleans Bowl on December 16th.

NT is now 9-4, 7-2 in conference.
FAU is 10-3, 9-0 in conference.

Categories
Football

2017: CUSA Championship Game Preview

FAU has set records for offense this season in total yards, yards per game, rush yards per game, rushing touchdowns, rush yards, yards per rush, points and that’s just a quick browse.

This has been an historic season for the Owls in many ways very similar to the North Texas year which has seen similar records set for points, points per game, passing TDs, total offense, yards per game, and first downs.

By most measures this is a fun pairing and would be more exciting but for the fact that it has already happened. Florida Atlantic famously dominated the previous matchup in Boca Raton 69-31 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, if even that is believable.

The concern for North Texas is that the defense was shredded for 500+ yards by Army and this FAU offensive line, led by C Antonyo Woods, is likely thrilled at the chance to blow away North Texas’ defensive line again.

The Mean Green defense held Devin Singletary to 7 yards on his first three carries. The real surprise was the struggling FAU pass game exploded for 357 yards — his most all season. North Texas’ rush defense has been serviceable (I write that with a straight face) but the pass game has been questionable on third downs.

In the October game both were awful. Lane Kiffin is a great offensive coordinator and Kid Briles knows the offense that helped Robert Griffin III to win a Heisman and the Baylor Bears to average about 600+ yards per game. Combining those two offensive minds together with some talent has helped the Owls rewrite the record book fairly easily.

It poses an issue for North Texas’ defense, which is not built to combat this type of offense especially. Power run teams like Iowa, UTSA, and even La Tech were more easily handled through the use of angles and effort. Still, North Texas’ linebackers are somewhere in the middle of the league and that is not going to cut it against a good offense.

Marshall did a great job against FAU, allowing only 353 yards on 63 plays (5.60) including only 189 rushing and 164 passing. The trademark pull away by FAU did not happen in the 4th quarter and the biggest reason for the loss was Chase Litton throwing four interceptions.

Marshall controlled the time of possession and stole a possession with a successful onside kick. If there is a blueprint it is that.

The issue is of course that this is much easier written than done.

Lane Kiffin is one of the better game-planners out there and he and his staff will have a good one to attack this North Texas defense. Seth Littrell and company need some luck.

Kiffin at the league conference call said that his squad got all the luck in the first meeting and he is right. The Owls were beneficiaries of numerous questionable calls including the famous holding on the double-slant play that resulted in an interception.

Offense

North Texas has to score a lot. This game will not be comfortable if North Texas scores less than 40. Beyond that North Texas will need to modify their modus operandi. NT does not huddle but in modern college football that does not necessarily make you supremely fast. NT is 49th in adjusted pace and FAU is first.

The question is if offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and head coach Seth Littrell want to try to help the defense through some ball-control. If NT thinks they can still score effectively while slowing the game down a bit they should do so.

Given what we have seen, however, NT believes the offense should never compromise and should go all-in all the time. This is admirable and probably the best way to attack things.

Jalen Guyton was held out of the Rice game but he seemed fine. He was eliminated from the game after a vicious hit and North Texas was without its deep threat for most of the game. Guyton had not had but one target up to the point where he ws injured anyway and so it made little difference.

Here, he will be vital in stretching the defense. Turner Smiley has been coming on of late, and Rico Bussey is always a threat to make good run after catch yards. Florida Atlantic will focus their efforts on making Mason Fine beat them while being hit.

This is not an unusual tactic, and NT has been able to keep teams honest for the most part with play-pass and deep stuff with max-protection. The Mean Green like their chances with Smiley, Guyton, and Bussey 1-on-1 deep.

Last game, FAU won those battles. Bussey lost a couple of matchups and was out-fought for a jump ball that changed the momentum early. Without Guyton, the only receiver that stood out was Mike Lawrence who had a big game.

The offense put up numbers late, but it struggled early and that was the real issue. This type of offense looks great when it is converting 4th and shorts and moving the ball. It looks awful when it is 4-and-out in their own territory.

This is how the game is played and Seth Littrell will live and die by this philosophy. Nic Smith is a different back than Jeff Wilson. Wilson was great on pass protection but Nic Smith does not have the fumble problems that Wilson does (as of now).

It is not quite blasphemous to say that NT will not lose much in the promotion of Nic Smith to primary back. Smith is the future, and Mason Fine has taken a larger portion of the offense upon himself, as was always the plan. Wilson is a game-changer, and that loss will be significant but will not hinder the offense enough to matter significantly at this point.

Last year Wily Ivery stepped in, and this year it is Nic Smith doing the same.

Other than the score, here are some indicators to keep an eye on:

  • 3rd Down Conversions
  • TOs
  • Average Field Position
  • Rico Bussey catches

Defense

This is the big question. Florida Atlantic put up 804 yards of offense and North Texas is now written on a bunch of FAU records. The contested portion of the game was over in the first half, and even then in the first quarter.

North Texas could not deal with the tempo, and could not get lined up. NT had too many defenders organizing themselves when the ball was snapped. This, of course, is the idea behind going super-fast as FAU does. They are first in adjusted pace, and there is no reason to slow down for North Texas.

Lane Kiffin thinks his offense can go score for score with North Texas if need be, and thinks his defense can come up with one or more timely stop and NT’s defense cannot do the same.

This was evident in the October game and was true to an extreme degree. NT did not ever stop FAU all game.

Of course, the NT offense did not help things by gifting the ball to FAU quickly and often in the first quarter. Still, the defense tried to do what it could and forced some third down situations early before getting sliced up by big plays in the pass game — a common occurrence this season.

Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett is known for his aggression and we will need to see more of that than less. The issue last time was that FAU is ready to exploit aggression — again, because they have good game planners — and often hits over-aggressive teams with devastating counters.

Every FAU highlight package includes a receiver running free over the middle thanks to a Run-Pass-Option or a trick play 1 that stems that tide.

Those counters or constraint plays are drawn up to keep your defense playing honest football. FAU believes that they can win with their base stuff against North Texas’ base stuff and uses the constraint plays to keep you in your base.

Simple, yes? Yes. That is a good offense in a nutshell. The teams that cannot keep defenses in base, or cannot win vs a defense’s base are the ones that lose. Last year NT could not keep defenses out of the box and they struggled. Now? Well Guyton keeps everyone back and there is so much more room for everyone.

The pass game for FAU has been better in the last three weeks — averaging 200+ a game — and that is a concern. After 12 games the defense is what it is: a poor passing down defense.

If FAU has not figured out the pass game and instead was benefitting from playing poor teams only, then we can feel a little better. In any case, the important thing is to win the first quarter. FAU came out last time and scored on the first possession, putting the pressure on North Texas immediately.

The best defense is likely a good offense. We saw NT take possession first against Army, as Littrell anticipated the concern of ceding possession to an offense that likes to dominate proceedings. Marshall had a surprise onside kick that worked in their favor.

If North Texas cannot force three-and-outs or turnovers, look for some possession-maximizing calls — an onside, a 4th down attempt, a punt fake.

Indicators beside the score:

  • First Quarter plays

If NT is on the field for a long time — large number of plays in this case — then this will be a long afternoon in Florida. The Owls ran 29 plays in the first quarter (to North Texas’ 15) and only had three incompletions. By then the score was 24-0 and the defense was visibly gassed.

FAU made North Texas work on defense for every one of those 29 plays.

The good news for NT is that they forced four third down attempts. The bad news is that FAU converted on 3rd/4th or kicked a field goal in all situations.

Overall

This is what the game is played for: championships. The College Football Playoff relies on resumes, and committees. The league title is all about beating the teams in front of you ever week. North Texas has done that against every opponent. The one they have not will be standing in front of them on December 2nd.

Worse teams have overcome bigger deficits with bigger talent disparities. Vegas has North Texas somewhere at 10.5 point underdogs. The advanced numbers point strongly in favor of The Lane Train and all for good reason.

North Texas is on a miracle turnaround run but so is Florida Atlantic. These two former Sun Belt champs are battling it out for the CUSA title that most observers thought would be held in Ruston or Bowling Green.

Just a few short years ago Rice held this up and now just fired the man who led them there. That is a testament to how quickly fortunes can change in this game. It would be a shame to blow this opportunity.

My brain is screaming about how in every aspect of the game North Texas is just a smidge behind FAU. North Texas offense is explosive and efficient especially with the pass. Florida Atlantic’s offense has been more explosive and more efficient especially with the run.

NT’s defense has done enough to win games — especially late in the 4th quarter where the are ranked in the top 26 in S&P+ — but Florida Atlantic’s has gotten turnovers that feed the offensive machine.

NT’s coaching staff is filled with good coaches showing promise or showing their skills. FAU’s has a staff of some of the game’s best offensive and defensive minds in recent years.

My heart, of course, says North Texas will find a way to do the difficult task of beating Florida Atlantic in their place to win the title and really declare a win for #newDenton.

MGN Prediction: North Texas 24 Florida Atlantic 38

MGN Heart Prediction: NT 41 FAU 40

Listen to your hearts, friends.


  1. Against Marshall FAU broke out a WR pass that was extremely wide open. 
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