MBB: Let’s Talk About Execution

The Mean Green are playing really well, but you may have read or seen some criticism here or elsewhere about the team. While the team has been winning, it has sometimes been closer than we would have liked. They play hard and well, even against really tough competition. However McCasland has had trouble getting his guys to get quality shots late in the game when the pressure is most intense.

Most basketball these days uses on-ball screens and relies on the ability to get your best players the ball when the clock is ticking down. Before that, many teams rely on old staples and new wrinkles to get into sets that will create good shots and some rhythm for their team.

North Texas runs a variation on the 4-1 out motion, with one big man surrounded by four players on the outside of the court along the three-point line. There are many ways to run this and many ways to teach it. Jay Wright’s Villanova probably runs the version you have seen run most effectively on the national stage. At its best it spreads the court, creating space for a big man to get buckets, while getting good spacing for open perimeter shots.

McCasland’s third year sees him with a team stocked with shooters like Umoja Gibson (he leads the league in 3pt% and is second in made threes), James Reese, Javion Hamlet, DJ Draper, and Roosevelt Smart. So far, NT has been able to create lots of shots for those guys and that is an indicator that 1) they are talented and 2) they can run the offense well enough to generate good stuff.

The team is first in the conference in offensive efficiency according to kenpom and is second in that measure according to There is a lot to like. Why, then, did the team look so poor against Louisiana Tech throughout the later portion of the second half? A good amount of credit goes to Tech, who defended well and whose long and rangy defenders made it tough to do anything.

We took a look at each of the possessions and we’ll break them down here. A couple of themes emerge and they are these: NT has good ideas but some poor execution. They have some weaknesses that should improve with more time in the system and at this level. Zach Simmons is good.

0-James Reese
1-Umoja Gibson
3-Javion Hamlet
4-Jalen Jackson
13- Thomas Bell
24-Zach Simmons

Situation: NT 43-41 9:05
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

NT is in a the standard 4-1 look, with Hamlet in the “slot” looking to start the action. There are a number of different ways to start a given play within the offense, and a ball screen is one of them. It can come ad-hoc or via call. McCasland is yelling instructions frustratedly. Here, Zach Simmons comes high to set a screen in the “slot” for Hamlet. Javion uses it poorly, and this ends up a turnover. When we talk about “poor” ball handling this is one of those things. Everyone on the team is D-1 caliber, but there are levels to this thing even in that category.

We want to see Hamlet use this screen better, going shoulder-to-shoulder and if that fails, to not lose the ball. Also, I believe there should be an “exchange” when there is an action on the ball. The away guards should exchange places to occupy the defenders.

Situation: NT 43-44 8:07
Personnel: 13-23-4-3-0

Again the standard look and Deng Geu sets a “drag” screen for Hamlet to start the action. It’s a screen from the big on the ball to begin some early action while the defense is not yet set. This was popularized by the SSOL Suns and is all over the NBA and NCAA now. Geu slips and rolls to the rim as he sees Tech start to trap — this is something they did throughout the second half and it caused lots of havoc. The pass goes to James Reese on the wing, who should have shot this ball on the catch. One teaching point in this offense is that a player will never be more open than when he first catches the ball. Reese is one of our better shooters and we want this shot. Instead, he tries to take advantage of Geu being “unguarded” but that goes nowhere. In his defense, Tech’s Ledoux is long and might have bothered the look. Geu is not the post player that Simmons is, even though he is much more bouncy. The kickout pass is tipped.

Situation: NT 43-44 — out of bounds play
Personnel: 13-23-0-1-3

NT runs a set to get a ball screen on the left side of the court. This action is something like Motion Weak in the Spurs/NBA playbook, with Gibson setting a screen for the big man to get him a touch in the post. Geu sprints past the spot to set a screen for Hamlet. He rejects the screen and goes baseline where he is doubled. Geu and Thomas Bell both dive for the pass — a no-no from Bell — and the ball is lost on a bad catch. Catching passes is ball handling. When we complain a bit about handling — this is also what we mean.

Situation: NT 43-46 7:11
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

We start with a ball screen from Geu, but set differently. Here is in a “flat” look, but not quite. A good “flat” screen is parallel to the half-court line. He is angled a bit here, which makes me think he was just setting a screen. Hamlet sends a wing pass to Reese after rejecting the screen from Geu. Reese looks inside to the rolling Geu but doesn’t pass it.

A couple things about this: 1) When Geu rolls or slips, Reese should “lift” quicker and move in the same motion as the roll. This helps give Hamlet a better pass and 2) This entry pass should be attempted. It wasn’t, and that messed up the rest of the action.

The ball is reversed — a “slot” to “slot” pass — and there should either be an exchange from the wing players (Bell and Gibson) or a pin down for Geu by Bell. NT was running the same set to get Bell to screen for Geu but instead he kind of floated a bit because Geu had his man sealed off for the post up.

Because the backside players did not move much the defense is able to lock on the ball. As it is reversed to Gibson, the wing players could do the action again — screen or exchange. They do not and even though Geu does a good job showing for the entry pass, there is no easy pass for Hamlet to make, because Bell’s man is digging. Bell clears out by running the baseline, opening things for another entry attempt. Hamlet rejects the screen and drives to the baseline, he has a pocket pass available to Geu but instead pulls it back out to Reese who has moved to fill the open space. He shoots a step-back three when the ball is reversed back to him. The one he had to start the previous possession was much better than this look.

NT is running the play to get guys as open as Geu was early, but did not find him. That happens even in good offenses, but that should not derail the rest of the play. The action should continue in a nice flow with players reading and reacting to the defense. Here, they kind of break down after the first option is taken away (or ignored, really). They did flow into a ball-screen — a hallmark of the modern college game — but that was not really executed at a high level. We would love to see that pocket pass made to Geu to allow him to make a play or score over the smallish Bracey “guarding” the paint.

Situation: NT 43-46 6:29
Personnel: 3-0-24-13-1

We see the same action. Hamlet passes to the wing (Reese) and then cuts through to the other side. Gibson sets the same pin down for the C, in this case Zach Simmons but instead of reversing the ball over to get him on the right block, he seals while Bell throws it back to Reese and Reese gives him the ball. Bucket. This is a great little counter to the hedging that Tech was doing.

Situation: NT 45-46 5:46
Personnel: 3-13-1-24-0

North Texas gets in a “horns” look, with two guys at the corners of the free throw line. Hamlet initiates the action by passing to Simmons, which is followed by a “split screen” where Hamlet and Bell run and set a little screen for each other. This is a staple of the Princeton offense and more recently, the Golden State Warriors’. The bass goes to Bell, and Gibson sets a screen for Simmons to get him to the post.

This action is all set up to get Zach a post touch. You might notice that everyone essentially ends up where they have the past few possessions. The pass out to Hamlet is hard to make for Bell because of the ball denial from Tech — again, let’s credit Tech here — and when Hamlet gets the ball he is uncomfortable making the entry pass to Simmons. The ball is reversed, but Simmons wants it back at Hamlet to get another chance. When he gets it, he scores. Good set, execution is at about a C+, but our best player got a great look and scored.

You will notice that Bell and Gibson exchange after the pass and Bell tries to exchange with Reese, even though they are sort of arguing about it. There are a lot of ways to get player movement but exchanging positions is a great way to do it simply and make the defense look away from the ball. Even though Bell is exchanging somewhat hesitantly, it forces Bracey (25) to turn his head when the ball is reversed. The same thing happens to Archibald (3) as the ball moves from Gibson to Hamlet to get a better angle on the entry pass. Instead of Archibald seeing the ball and moving to be in position to double up on the post, he reacts after Simmons has already received the ball and is making a move. Good player movement creates space for teammates.

Situation: NT 47-46 4:45
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

Thomas Bell sets a “flat” screen for Hamlet, something that is a staple of the 4-1 motion, especially when the opposition is pressuring the ball high. This is more of a 1-4 high look, that is typical of late-game possessions. We have basic screen-roll, 2-man game and Hamlet uses the screen well. We see that the simple act of going shoulder-to-shoulder with his screener opens up the middle of the floor and the pass to Bell, who does a great job of attacking the closeout and getting fouled. He made both.

Another thing to notice is Gibson’s “lift” action on the left side. As Thomas begins to roll, that triggers the “lift” from Gibson who comes up from his corner spot to create space for the kickout pass. Because Bell pops out behind the arc, Gibson is crowding him a bit for a second, but it works out. You can see Ledoux (5) lose track of his man Gibson. He realizes he has to step up and that means he has to abandon his previously great position. Instead of being in place to stop the drive, he vacates the area (rightly) to guard Mo. Again, good player movement creates space.

Situation: NT 49-48 4:01
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

Here we see the issue with only being familiar with the first or the basic action. NT runs the standard motion actions. There is a pass to the wing, a cut away by the passer (Hamlet), Gibson sets the screen for Zach and there is a ball reversal to try to post him. Here, Tech knows the play is coming and they jump the pass and there is a turnover. Here we’d like to see a counter action. Maybe Zach sets a screen for Hamlet and he cuts through. The Spurs have a counter for their similar set.

Teams will scout the hell out of this team when there is time to prepare. NT needs to be able to get into secondary actions easily.

Situation: NT 49-48 3:42
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

This is a different set, likely owing to the fact that Tech was jumping on the other stuff so easily. Zach is giving a hand signal — “stack” — and NT gets the ball on the left side with a look to post Zach on the seal. He misses but this was a good look out of a solidly-executed set.

Reese gets the entry pass, but looks confused about the next thing to do. I would like to see a cut through here, but that could bring a double on Zach. Gibson is asking for an exchange and that would work just fine. On the opposite side, you can see Tech is not respecting the passing ability of our guys, nor the shooting ability of Thomas Bell. It would be nice for Bell to set a “flare” screen for Hamlet to get him an open three on the cross court pass from Simmons. This all results in a good look for Zach, though, so we cannot complain too much. He just missed.

Situation: NT 49-48 2:58
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

Here we have an indicator of the work to be done. McCasland is screaming “thumb down”. It looks like NT wants to run a “continuity” set, which is essentially just a series of the same couple of actions: 1) a ball screen on one side, 2) a reversal to the big man into a ball screen on the other side. Typically this is run continuously until the defense makes a mistake or over-hedges on something.

NT There is confusion from everyone and mostly, the movements are slow. This can be run at a deliberate pace, but everything needs to be crisper — screens set solidly and the cuts sharper. Some teams use this to get into a set or just as a default action when the play breaks down. NT called it so it is a set to get into a ball screen.

All the motion gets Zach ready to set a ball screen for Hamlet, just like in the initial start of the previous sets earlier. The roll by Simmons triggers a “lift” action by Reese, where he pops up or “lifts” up from his original spot. The idea is to give Simmons space to roll and take away the defense’s help, as we saw with Gibson earlier. Tech does a great job of being active and tipping the pass. Jean (1) was tough all night. Having active hands is playing great defense and they do that here.

One note here — typically teams defend the “continuity” by dropping a guy in the center of the paint like Tech does here. He is sitting there but since NT does a good job of transitioning into the “regular” set, Thomas Bell is is wide open. Ledoux (5) is actually pointing to his teammate to pick Bell up, thinking he is communicating with him on the exchange by Gibson and Bell. This is an excellent example of how combining actions — flowing one into another — is a great way to take away the typical defensive tricks and plans that teams develop for a particular set. NT created two open looks and Hamlet was not wrong to look for Reese on the roll. The next level is recognizing who is open everywhere.

The deflection leads to a scramble and that leads to a kicked ball. NT runs an out-of-bounds play and NT runs something for Gibson to pop out and get a shot. You can see McCasland signal “zipper” on his tie. That’s typically the name for actions like this to get a shooter a look from the top of the key. Tech traps it hard — again, good stuff — and Mo attacks it and misses at the rim. Generally speaking, this is a good idea, but he is not going to make a living attacking the bucket.

We probably could use a better screen from Bell at the free throw line, as Gibson just needed a half-second longer and he could have let it fly. He does a good job finding something off the dribble, but we maybe would like to see a go-to action if they trap it like they did. Maybe Reese lifts and Bell continues to set a pin for Zach to get him a look inside. If Bell got big and called for the ball he would have drawn three players, and opened up a passing lane for both Reese and Hamlet.

Situation: NT 49-48 1:56
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

NT is running the action to get Zach the ball in the post. The bench is screaming instructions to everyone. Mo does not quite know he is supposed to be on the other side of the floor. He moves to his spot right as the action is beginning, throwing off the timing a bit. It looks like they tried to get Zach on the fake pin-down counter again. Reese could have probably found him but did not let it go. There was no exchange on the ball reversal, which makes it harder to get Zach the ball. Archibald (3) stays lurking in the paint ready for it and NT is not making him pay with any action. When Bell throws it to the wing, he cuts through (standard action) and you can see that Archibald (3) cannot stay and ball-watch anymore.

Beyond that, NT is reluctant to run a pick-n-roll with Reese and Simmons, which would be a default action when the entry pass is not there. Instead they abandon that position and begin again up top with Hamlet and Simmons — the standard pairing. Hamlet is doubled, Jean (1) is harassing Hamlet and NT gets a bad shot from Reese.

This was a crucial situation and NT was playing great defense here. They let Tech off the hook by not getting a good look. The details are crucial. NT was playing hard and that likely contributed to the somewhat slow offensive actions here. Zach was doing a great job battling for good positions but was not getting rewarded for it.

Situation: NT 49-48 1:14
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

After a couple of poor possessions, NT runs a set to distract Tech and get Zach in a two-man game with Hamlet up top. There are a series of screens to get Zach to sprint up and screen for Hamlet. Jean (1) is hounding Hamlet and forces a turnover just as the play begins. Mac is furious at the call. Wasted possession. Most of that was fine, and we should give a lot of credit to the defense there. Jean was fantastic and really forced the turnover. NT could not get into what they wanted because of it.

Situation: NT 49-48 0:35
Personnel: 13-24-1-3-0

A couple things happen here. Jean (1) is again hounding Hamlet and that eats up time. By the time NT is into their set, the staff is screaming at Mo to come over. Reese is yelling at him, too. Zach sets the screen high, both Bell and Mo run to the same spot in slow motion, with a look like they are trying to figure out what is supposed to happen. Zach is trying to adapt by reading the play. Hamlet is doing the same. There is a time out to reset.

Again, credit Tech’s defense here for making it tough to get into the look. The thing to learn here is that good teams like Tech will make it difficult to run your favorite play. There has to be better execution here — to the level where it is second-nature.

Out of the timeout, NT runs the same zipper play for Gibson. There is a ball screen for Hamlet to get down hill as Mo “zips” up to get a look. This time Tech does not trap it, but Ledoux pops out to challenge it. It is a nice enough look.

After that, Hamlet got the winner all by himself.

The verdict? North Texas got Zach some good looks out of various sets but failed hard when it did not work. The goal of the offense is to get a quality look every time down the floor. While A lot of that was Tech reading the actions and taking the first and second options away. NT looks like they are still working through learning the sets. Instead of reacting to the defense, they are thinking too much.

Again, the team is getting buckets at an efficient rate, but the good teams they’ve faced this season have done a great job of shutting that down late, as we saw. Tech held NT scoreless for a long stretch. WKU did the same. Marshall was more unlucky than bad in that game. NT will face some good defensive teams that force the offense into their second and third actions and the league title will likely be determined by how well NT executes those in crunch time.

Right now, NT does not have a player that can just go get a bucket on his own steam. Mo tried to make a play but was stuffed. Zach needs a good entry pass. Hamlet made a play in the open court, but against a half-court set, he needs good spacing and a good screen and the awareness to use those screens effectively.

NT has made a lot of improvement and will continue to do so as the season progresses. Repetitions are needed and that will only come with games. Having lost some tough ones against good teams has helped NT win this one. Playing this tough team will help NT prepare for the next tough game.

NT is 6-1 in the league and is getting better because they have a lot of room to improve. That is exciting.


Zachary Simmons Is Good


Previously, I linked to some of the good stuff Zach did against Tech. I wanted to discuss something else he did against UTEP last night. This play is not particular special in that it does not have some outstanding display of other-worldly athleticism like any Zion Williamson highlight. This is instead just good post play.

As my tweet highlights, the play has four things that are difficult for some players to master. Playing as the lone-big man is difficult and exhausting. Simmons has to battle all night and still do things that require good technique. Watch how he gets into position by setting a screen, sealing his man (who had helped on the screen by showing high) and holding him off.

Screen cap ESPN+

So much of any sport is doing the work before the play comes your way. This is good stuff. If we could get a great pas into the post he can simply turn and score. As it was, Woolridge had to toss it out a bit, but Zach still had the ball in a good spot to work on his man one-on-one.

Screen cap ESPN+

Zach then goes to work. This seems easy — I mean he is just backing down the defender, right? The answer is not really. Simmons is a right-handed player and every part of this is not necessarily natural. The balance and timing required to attack his defender from this position requires development. Finally he finishes at the rim with a nice left hook.

Screen capture | ESPN+

This again is not easy. Plenty of guys can do this in practice against ‘air’ but not against a guy trying to push you out of the paint. He gets his right shoulder into his defender, rises, leans and gets the soft, lefty finish there. It is simple, but requires so much skill and touch and hours in the lab.

All of the above skills are taught to big men throughout all the levels of basketball — well, they at least used to be — and while we all favor bigs that can screen and finish at the rim like Clint Capela, there is value in the traditional post-up play.

No, we do not want to take 35 of these a game, but it is unbelievably useful to have this in the repertoire.


MGN Film Room: Mason Fine to Jaelon Darden

Mason Fine did not throw for 400 yards against Arkansas, nor did he complete 70% passing but he did have a nice passing game. One of the key questions coming into this season was whether or not the offensive line could keep Fine upright. At the end of last season, Fine was sacked 19 times in the final three games.

Arkansas’s defensive line was a concern coming into this one, but other than some tipped balls, they never posed a real threat. The Razorbacks were forced to bring pressure once they were down big and Mason Fine and company were able to kill the game with some beautiful passes.

Check these out.

The first was a beautiful recognition of the situation. Arkansas was showing a pressure look and Fine placed this beautifully. The line gave him enough time to look off the safety and come back to the throw.

Before the play we see Arkansas show two high safeties but the corner shifts over to show pressure. The field side defensive back drops down into press coverage, but still gives Darden some room. This is his mistake.

Pre-snap look, Ark vs North Texas
Pre-snap look, Ark vs North Texas

Darden smokes him, quickly getting outside leverage and a two-step advantage. Fine gives the single-high safety a quick look to the right to freeze him before laying a soft kiss of a pass onto Darden. The only thing that could have been better on this is if Fine led him ever so slightly and Darden got six. Still, this is a great play and should give every opponent pause. Arkansas brought pressure and NT handled it nicely.

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Later, a similar scenario presented itself. Arkansas again tried to bring pressure with a linebacker but left one man in a zone underneath. They still tried to go man on the outside, though and North Texas again took advantage.

Pre-snap, trips left. Arkansas vs NT
Pre-snap, trips left. Arkansas vs NT

Mason burns him deep with the same play — a four verticals call from trips left.

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The play before the one shown was yet another Arkansas pressure look that North Texas beat with a slant to Mike Lawrence that was called back for holding on the tackle. Last year that would have been a drive killer. Instead, NT went down and got a FG to go up 34-10.

This NT pass game is fun.

Breakdowns Football

MGN Film Room: SMU

North Texas takes on Iowa in Iowa City this afternoon.

After a week where NT helped elevate Courtland Sutton into Hype Mode, the excitement is waning in the Nation. There were real and true good things in the loss. To better gather the crowd and offer some gritos of encouragement on this 16th, let us look back on last week. The first half was really when the game was contested, as SMU turned a 10-point deficit into a 14-point lead. For me, NT came out with a nice offensive game plan, but failed to execute when SMU was scoring. For the defense, there was a solid gameplay underneath the gashing, but 3rd downs were killer.

Some Vids

This is all roughly chronological.

After a nifty little ready play— nifty because handing the ball to Wilson is such an obvious first-down call that SMU over-persued allowing Fine space — North Texas broke out a new formation.

For all of its maverick reputation, the Air Raid core offense is pretty boring formationally. It had origins in a two-back set – ‘Blue’ in the parlance but beyond that there is ‘Ace’, the 2×2 look, and Early and Left (Trips to the right and left).

North Texas has shown some Pistol and and H-back look that is only a variation of its Blue and Green sets. Seeing a Bunch look was unusual for this team. While this offense is designed to attack all areas of the field, NT has been weakest attacking vertically through the seams and horizontally on the edges. Aside from Jeff on swings and screens, NT has been woeful getting the ball to the outside receivers on anything quick.

I had expected NT to get the ball out to WRs like Sonny Dykes’ Cal teams (scroll down for gifs in this link) but that has been a struggle. After a couple of attempts early last year, the screen series has been primarily RB-based.

I expect these new looks were something like an adjustment. The benfit of keeping a small playbook is that there is much more time devoted to mastering the plays. If those plays are never mastered? Well, it is maybe adviseable to add a few others.

Here, is a good discussion of the Snag concept.. Here is more from Brophy football. They mentioned Y-stick, a concept this site has touched on previously.

Here is NT running this to Smiley (apologies for the quality).

What is important to understand here is that this is not a new concept, just new routes. Y-Stick is a staple of our offense and this is yet another triangle read only with different starting points.

That’s good self-scouting & play design.

I wonder if Coordinator Graham Harrell picked up a few tidbits from his NFL time. The idea here, as always, is to get the ball to our playmakers quickly. Mason Fine delivers a good ball, allowing Turner Smiley to catch-and-run. The YAC yards are what make the play highlight-worthy, but it was the flawless execution everywhere else that made that possible. The corner route is crisp, stretching the deffense and the flat route is ran well also.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Or, speak of an issue executing tunnel screens and Jaelon Darden gets loose on a tunnel screen. This is a clever design, as the standard Tunnel Screen (Randy or Larry in the parlance) usually involves an X or Z receiver (farthest guys outside). Here, NT disguised this one by flaring the RB in a very common look. NT has looked for that pass to the RB very often the last two seasons. Here is video of Mason Fine attempting to throw it Jeff last year in San Antonio.

Put a feather in Harrell’s cap. That’s good self-scouting and good play design. The first three plays of the series used our own tendencies against SMU. First, fake to Jeff. Second, new bunch look. Third, screen off a look we show often. Good stuff. NT jumped out early thanks to these things. I liked the variations of the offense, it was aggressive, smart and well-executed.

Defensively, NT got good pressure early and forced some bad throws and scrambles. This is the Reffet defense ideal. We have corners that can stay on the CUSA WRs and they become dangerous if the QB is running for his life and tossing up ducks.

Here is a video example. What is concerning is that Hicks had Proche open, but missed him. He found his rhythm later and made NT pay.

The second possession has NT in the same bunch look, executing an option toss, another read from a Trips Left (Late) bunch look designed to have the defense declare themselves. Finally, a poor throw off another bunched look, and a third-down all-curl from a tight Ace (4-wide, 2×2) that was complete but well short of the sticks. There was nice variety but this drive stalled because of execution. NT was up 10-0.

Again, NT had SMU smothered thanks to some great first 2-down efforts. This is a great play to get to the edge and make the tackle. Hambone out here making plays. Unfortunately right before three of Sutton’s scores NT had made a TFL or a similar good play. So frustrating.

It is 3rd-and-8 and SMU’s Courtland Sutton makes a play. NT brought pressure, Quinn/Sutton ran a dig/curl combination with Quinn as the inside guy doing a curl-out and dragging the interior defender with him. NT safety Khairi Muhammad is left on an island with Sutton and does a decent enough job staying with him but cannot make the tackle.

This sure looks like busted coverage. I cannot imagine NT wanted to double Quinn and let Sutton run free. The corner was at the sticks already. My guess is that the route combination had the defenders thinking it was a kind of smash route — basically that Sutton was breaking on a corner route and that Nate Brooks was bailing. This would (somewhat) explain why Ejiya attacked Quinn so aggressively.

But … the same action happened on the other side. This is the frustrating part of this whole defensive performance. NT was vulnerable deep so sitting in quarters coverage — four deep DBs — makes sense, but that leaves gobs of space for SMU to gain. This should have been a first down, but was a TD. That is the awful part, but a first down at that point is also unacceptable.


NT breaks out the Wild Eagle again. On third-and-three NT finds Kelvin Smith. This play was called back on a chop block by Murray and Jeff Wilson. That essentially forces a punt. Fine is sacked for a yard looking for something as he’s flushed from the pocket.

Still I liked the look of it. Here is the video.

NT’s defense put up a good defensive series after. Kaihri Muhammad did an admirable job defending Sutton in single coverage along the sideline and KiShawn McClain made the play of the drive here. SMU runs a litle mesh/TE drag across the formation. NT does not get confused and stays in man coverage. Everyone stayed stride-for-stride and McClain made a hell of a play.

NT goes All-Curl. This is a staple of this offense that we saw in the HOD Bowl. NT follows this up with a jet sweep that was stuffed, and then a poor throw to Jeff Wilson that took his momentum away. He made the most of it though. Then a drop.

Then a bad snap but a good throw and catch. Good protection. This is more of the offense we want to see. The drop is forgivable but I wanted to highlight it in a series of drives that stalled of the type of thing that happened. SMU did nothing especially amazing to kill any of the drives here, but NT did not always execute as well as they did in their first two.

On this next one we have — from left to right — a curl, dig, corner, and curl. While there was silly criticism about ‘no deep routes’ this is an example of where a deep route would hurt more than help. SMU was playing really soft coverage and intead of doing something silly, like throwing into the coverage they are defendeing against, NT takes what is given. In this case, that is all the yards in the soft belly of the zone just behind the backers, and just in front of the safeties. In the hands of a shifty receiver like Darden, that is gold.

NT’s line does a fantastic job of giving Fine time and space. When the pocket is that clean and the zones that soft, it is pitch-and-catch all day.

Jaelon Darden is a player. I do not mind getting him the ball on things like this all day if it is open. There is no reason to force the ball downfield when the zones are this soft. The key is keeping the defense honest. When NT is failing on 3rd-and-2, and 4th-and-1 the defenses have little incentive to come up and play man-to-man. They are betting they can make enough 3rd-and-mediums and that NT will shoot themselves in the foot enough to be a net win for them.


Iowa presents a much different problem. They might challenge NT’s receiving corps and that means Guyton, Smiley, and Darden will really need to win their battles or else this thing is going to be stuck. Historically, the Air Raid teams that can get shutdown are often because their players are not as good as the defenders. Football is a simple game, after all.

Still, the game plan was solid, and the execution was much improved over last season. There are issues with the front five and NT can look conservative at times but there was nothing overly so early. NT cannot just drop back and launch 60-yard bombs with impunity, as they do not have the personnel to do so. They take their shots, and look for the defense to creep up and take advantage. It is solid, smart football and the kind of thing the team has shown improvement in recently.


Football Football Recaps

MGN Film Room: Lamar

It is that time of week where we would discuss particularly interesting plays or formations from our guys. Much of the film shows NT did not really change much of their offense. A lot of it was simply good execution against an overmatched opponent. The highlight reel will suffice for our purposes.

We will not spend too much time and energy breaking this down but did you notice that Jeff’s first TD came on Power?

Here, let us refresh our memory of what Power / Counter is:

NT’s run game consisted of the staple Outside and Inside zones mixed with some Power and Counter to throw off Lamar, but honestly, nearly everything was successful without any constraints. Using Kelvin Smith et al as the “full back” in the heavier sets allows Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell to have some variety and a little protection from play-to-play. Defenses cannot glean the play call simply by looking at the personnel.

I write that while fully aware that this system is pretty clear about the intentions. Still, it helps to have a little doubt in the opposition’s mind.

Go read the HOD Run Game recap to get some idea of what why exactly you need to change up the run calls, run formations, and personnel. Army did a good job of blowing up plays they were ready for, and GH did a solid job of anticipating those reactions and adjusting with counters himself. Here, there was much more leading with a right cross and connecting than a full-on boxing match with adjustments.

For an example of the Kelvin Smith point, check out the 2:02 mark in the highlight video above. Smith motions from left to right, settling in behind the line in an H-back look before pulling back to the left again on a counter. NT had set this up earlier by doing running an outside zone to Smith’s side from the same look. This is exactly how you plan it. Harrell is thinking that the defense cannot stop the outside zone without cheating up or shooting the gaps, and so keeps them honest with a counter that kills it.

In this case it helps that Lamar had no penetration, was caught in bad run call, and the safety took a horrible angle after a late reaction. Also, Jeff Smith is too good in space.

In the TD play at the 2:35 mark, NT is in essentially the same look but hits Lamar over the top after getting the one-on-one look that a devastating run game creates.

I do not know of a better example of the mismatch in this game than Jeff Wilson’s 62-yarder. His cut back was the wrong read, as he had enough of a gap to his right, the original play direction. Instead he cut back into Mason Fine’s area and simply ran around the entire defense. Against SMU, Iowa, UAB and everyone else that is likely getting stopped for at best 3 yards.

Still it is hard to argue with results.

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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. 
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HOD Bowl: North Texas Pass Game

North Texas and Alec Morris had their best passing day against Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This has prompted more than a few What Ifs about Morris and the squad.

For the record, this blog believes Littrell played his cards right at the time. Morris struggled early, throwing three INTs in two games against poorer competition than Army. The entire team had a relatively steep learning curve and maximizing the future while getting good value in the present meant that Mason Fine was the right choice. Early on he looked more comfortable running the offense.

Minimum 11 attempts, rating for the first two games:

Morris: 114.13, 28.11
Fine: 129.24, 91.24

Through the Army game, Mason Fine had 4TDs, only 2INTs, a 300 yard game, and (forgive me) a winning record.

Fine began struggling against UTSA, and according to Seth Littrell, that is when Morris was making strides in practice and the staff was thinking about getting him reps. Without getting too deep into this discussion, suffice it to say that the entire offense was making significant improvements throughout the season. Those awful fade passes against Bethune Cookman were completed against Southern Miss and UTEP. Rico Bussey recovered from his hamstring issue and showed what everyone was excited about.

The bowl practices also helped. Let us take a look at some nice things NT did. As with the last post, we could probably look at all the plays and spend the offseason breaking it all down. Right now let us look at some representative plays.

We will focus on the pass game and look at the run game in another post.

Short Passes

NT starting the game with the look that helped Jeff Wilson run for 160 yards back in October. This was quality and helped Morris get an easy completion to start the game. I think what the staff saw in the Army defense was (1) they give a lot of cushion and (2) they can be beat 1v1 by NT’s WR.

Incidentally NT came out in this 20 personnel look often (or the 21 variation) and mixed up the run and play-action pass from it. Good stuff.

Morris was accurate on this pass, and others like it. We had seen glimpses of this in recent weeks. He looked good against WKU in relief, as his height and arm strength allowed him to fire over the middle. In the game tying drive, NT completed a pass like this to Tyler Wilson.

One of the philosophies of the Air Raid is in ball control. While the Briles’ Veer and Shoot is designed to hit big pass plays off play action and tempo, the Air Raid is designed to get the ball to play makers in space with short passes.

NT ran this play about five or six times and had some success1 every time. This play does not pressure the Army defense vertically but it does horizontally, which is the point. If Army is going to give up 5-6 yards, why not take it? When the defense gets frustrated with a thousand short passes and brings pressure, that’s when you hit them with a big play. In the interim, you are hoping a short pass to a great player turns into a long run after catch. It is kind of like getting a knockout punch with a jab.

One thing to notice on the play design is the inside releases of the interior WRs. This is intended to draw the linebackers (or safeties) to them and open a lane for the outside throw. If the outs are not open, the interior WRs are settling in the open space in between the zones. Thadd Thompson grabbed a few passes like this throughout the year.

We do not have a good video of Tyler Wilson making a short grab in the second quarter (1:20 mark) and turning it into big yardage, but that is the kind of play that is very intriguing for next year. Thaddeus Thompson did a great job of making those catches for Fine and Morris, but only Goree (of the WRs, Jeff did score on short stuff) took one to the house. Buyers, Tyler Wilson, and Rico Bussey got some yardage but I cannot think of regular big gains off short stuff.


Jeff Wilson got all his receiving yards on screen passes. Against Marshall and UTSA, Harrell called swing and flare routes to get him in space, with the occasional screen mixed in. NT only faked the flare vs Army. I am not sure on what look triggers a screen pass but all were relatively successful. On two plays in the final drive the DE made a hell of a play. Early in the game Elex Woodworth missed a block that could have sprung Jeff for big yards. Sam Rice and the WRs led the way on the Wilson TD from 22 yards out.

These are invaluable for slowing the rush and for getting the ball in the hands of the most dangerous playmaker on the field.


If you have watched closely, you have seen this route before but it usually does not go for big yards. Well, it may have before. If you have broadcast video of Tee Goree’s TD against La Tech, I think it was on this same play.

First we see the blitz coming. I suspect that means the reads go like this:

Some coaches like to read deep-to-short, but usually have a check for a pressure throw. Yes a hot route. Whatever the case here, Morris finds Bussey, who is the snag. Morris finds him in stride and he bursts up the field for a big gain.

Deep Passes

Army started pressing the corners and showing a single-high safety look. For various reasons this season NT has been poor taking advantage of 1v1 on the outsides. Against SMU, Morris could not connect with Goree (or anyone) on these with regularity.

Against USM and UTEP this changed. The above screen shot was resulted in a flag on the DB for pass interference. He held Turner Smiley’s arm and that stopped a sure TD. The ball was on target, and Smiley had beat his man. When NT had single coverage on the outside, they really liked what they had. This is why Army played so much soft zone. Morris took advantage (see above).

This score happened at the end of the Jeff Wilson Double Puke drive. Army played soft zones twice, and NT as moving the ball fairly easily. Given the down and distance and the time left, it was a bit strange that they decided to cover man-to-man. The near corner sits at the sticks, giving up the cushion to Rutherford.

NT is running a shallow-slant combination with a backside fade (Bussey). I am not sure of Morris’ read in this situation, but he makes the right one. The shallow cross is bracketed, while the slant is covered.


The crossing routes would have required a ridiculously accurate pass. The Z-route on the right would have been short of the sticks. Rico Bussey is 1v1 with a corner he can out jump. Great play from both guys.


Mesh was/is a staple of Mike Leach’s version of the Air Raid, and has been featured throughout this season to varying degrees of success. Here are the three times (that I caught it).

Morris made a play here, but he could have probably hit Buyers and let him do the playmaking. This is fine. An important play on an important drive.

This mesh has a ‘post’ tag, which means that instead of the normal corner route from the non-meshing receiver, he runs a post. This tag is called when the safety is ‘down’, meaning when the WR has a good chance of beating the safeties over the top/middle. Often, there will be a wheel route when there is a post tag instead of the usual flat route. I wonder if this was designed to hit the wheel and not the post. As it happened it was a great play, and great execution by all involved — especially Morris and Wilson.

The final time you see Mesh was when Morris hit the Mesher on the FG drive.

In fact, you see all the above on the final drive — play-action, screens, short outs/curls, deep passes (attempts, no completions), and Mesh. I will leave you with the video.

  1. Success includes not getting sacked, or throwing a pick. 
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HOD Triple Option Problems

There are a number of reasons NT gave up 480 yards rushing to Army in the bowl game. NT did not always stop the FB dive for one, and that made the rest a bit easier. Army’s staff is good at countering adjustments, and make calculated risks that help them keep drives going when they otherwise would stall. NT had Army ‘stopped’ on three downs a handful of times but Army converted on fourth.

Each play can be picked apart but we do not have all day to break down 78 Army plays. So we will grab a look at some representative ones.

In this video we see the series that led to Ahmad Bradshaw’s long TD run to put the lead at 10.

The first down run is a designed pitch, not really an option. NT wrangles this easily. Fred Scott shows a run blitz, Jareid Combs shakes off the FB block. Cortney Finney starts the play from nearly 10 yards behind the line (in order to diagnose the play, and get around blocks easier) and scopes out the design quickly. Three NT players are around the ball when he cuts up field.

On second down Roderick Young destroys the FB dive (and runs him three yards back) while Combs (#7) gives the QB a keep look (he turns his shoulders and displays his numbers to him) and follows that up with a nice shuffle to stay between the QB and pitch man. Meanwhile, Fred Scott (#32) shed his block and is trailing the QB.

Here is where it could have been better: Bradshaw shakes Combs, cuts inside and Scott’s tackle gives Army a few extra yards. NT had this schemed perfectly, but Army made the better football play. Bradshaw turned a 1-yard gain into a 7-yard run. Then came the big play.

After two (in this series) straight plays to the boundary, James Gray (#21) sees motion and sprints to the edge – including getting around the referee. His eye discipline is poor as he is looking toward the edge and instead of at his keys. Meanwhile Bradshaw is following his FB up the middle. The FB blocks Fred Scott, who was filling his lane correctly. The LG and LT double up on Andy Flusche, leaving the extra lineman (Army 78?) to block Combs. Two things happen here: (1) Finney is cut by the center, sheds his block, and is delayed just enough to be out of position and lose Bradshaw and (2) James Gray overran the play. If he slow-rolls, he would be in place to fill the gap and make the tackle.

Later in the 10 minute 35 second drive that ate up so much clock, this series (and the others that came before) had an effect. Here is a good example:

James Gray is left “unblocked” insofar as he is the man unassigned. His man is the pitchman, and yes, the fact that he has to travel the furthest is by design. Gray already overran one play and here hesitates for half a second on the pitch. Remember Bradshaw just burned him for a ton of yards earlier and we can see him thinking about it. That slight slow-step allows the pitchman to get the necessary five yards.

Gif and Video:

Stopping the option requires a balance of two things: discipline and athleticism. If you have athleticism and not discipline, you will get optioned to death. If you have more athleticism and less discipline, your speed and strength can make up for the mental mistakes. This is all not new stuff, but we can see that lesson here. North Texas was not disciplined enough to stop Army, and did not have the necessary athleticism to make up for those mistakes. And so we have 480 yards on the board.

If the linebackers or safeties had otherworldly speed to make up steps (Finney on the Bradshaw TD, Gray on the pitch etc) they could have stopped these example plays. Maybe the line throws off the blocks a bit easier and blow up everything before it gets started. In this game Army out-executed North Texas and won the individual athleticism battles in key situations. Look again at Bradshaw scooting around Combs in that second down play and later outrunning Finney.

Its about the Jimmys and Joes and the Xs and Os.


To illustrate my point, here is the 4th and 4 stop. Watch KiShawn McClain fly in to make the stop that James Gray did not earlier. Athleticism and discipline. Number 23 is a really good player. Although for sake of fairness, we should point out that he did not fill his lane on the 70-yard TD in the first quarter, instead trying to shoot in for a stop instead of filling his lane. That was athleticism (he nearly made the stop) without discipline.

ESPN Video highlight of 70 yard run


MGN Film Room: Turnovers vs UTSA

I rewatched the game.

I certainly did not start out my evening intending to do this. I watched the Spurs lose to the Jazz, thought about how those self-inflicted mistakes cost them in a game they had every chance to win.

There are obvious parallels here. I went to with the aim of grabbing clips of the four turnovers. Thanks to a combination of laziness, a comfy chair, a lack of fine grain video controls, and momentum I rewatched the entire game.


  • Our OL got owned, particularly through the A and B gaps on the left side
  • After a slow start, the offense did some nice things with 20 personnel
  • The defense played well but still had a problem on 3rd down

This game has been bothering me for a little bit, not because of the Rivalry, or the Lost Opportunity, but because it was so winnable. In the recap I wrote about the importance of the turnovers and the run game problems. Having watched this game a second time, I am even more confident in that assertion. Really, the worst two turnovers were the 3rd Qtr one. Wilson’s fumble was unlucky, but given the time I do not know if the the team is getting even three points there. The Mason Fine throw-fumble was a gut punch, because it killed the second half excitement in the team. Mason Fine had just ran 80 yards, the defenese pushed UTSA back 5 yards and the sideline was hyped. After that one-play turnover, the defense still was solid, only allowing a FG after a 6-play 20 yard drive.

Then Mason Fine got cooking, everything was looking good and NT looked to be having the kind of drive they were all set to have. Then he over threw Jeff Wilson on the screen. The defense gave up a 2nd-and-18 31-yard completion and then UTSA ran the ball in for a TD a couple of plays later.

By this time NT had a high defensive pitch count. The next defensive drive was also a TD drive, the longest of the day for them. The D was a bit exausted, and the pass rush was slow.

None of these are excuses. I am sure Ekeler and Reffert have higher expectations than ‘good enough’. Still, I am a reasonable guy and want to have reasonable complaints. I cannot blame the defense for those last two TDs, as UTSA is a good enough team to score against even the best CUSA squad.

Now that the scene is set, let us analyze those TOs:

The first came with NT down 14, having done very 2016 NT offense to that point — holding on the very first play of the game for example — with four punts on the first four possessions. There were overthrows, stuffed runs, slips, and bad execution mixed with some good defensive line play from UTSA.

Two things from this: 1. It is hard to see over 6′ 4″ lineman as a generous 5′ 10″ player. So I can possibly see how he did not see Thadd Thompson sitting pretty, wide open. 2. Do not throw that pass to our RB, like that. It was first down and 10, NT had just got the offense moving. That was the time to toss it out of bounds and move on. Freshman mistake.

The defense really stepped up here, and prevented an early blowout. This is a big difference from last year. UTSA managed only 4 yards on the next 7 plays over two drives (sandwiched around an NT 3 and out for 0 yards)

We’ll skip the fumble, but lets note that was a great drive sparked by throws to the RBs Wilson and Ivery. Run game was stuffed throughout this thing.

The second TO was right after the Mason Fine 80 (!!!) yard TD run, and subsequent defensive stand. Things were looking good.

Wut. Just bad luck I guess.

Then next TO was awful particularly because this play was destined to get YARDS. NT still could not get yards with the backs but Mason had a 20 yard run on 3rd and 2. NT was at the UTSA 39 … and then threw that pick.

Before the video, look at this blocking set up.

Two OL and a WR for two LBs
Two OL and a WR for two LBs

Two blockers for two UTSA guys, a blitz on so you know that this was going for some YARDS (unless Jeff slipped like he did in the second quarter).

Maybe this gets chalked up to Mason Fine getting hit, or being tired from running 100 yards in this quarter. Maybe it was just adrenaline. Maybe, it was just an overthrow at the wrong time, the way Army had all the bad luck last week. Maybe maybe maybe. That is what is so frustrating about this game. While the first TO was a bad read that can be corrected, the throw-fumble and this pick were simply bad luck?

How do you correct that?

Things like this can be corrected. Do not throw late over the middle.

This is why I mostly point to the run game. While we cannot reasonably expect 8.5 yards per carry from Jeff Wilson, we can hope the offensive line creates some push to give him a chance. We saw what he could do when he had space to make plays. He was being met in the backfield often, or running into walls. When he had some room, he usually made someone miss and got more than he should have.

Some Notes

NT Alumnus Don Harris called the game along with another local guy named Chuck. I want to root for Don for obvious reasons but they were bad. They called an inside zone run that went to the A gap an ‘off tackle’ run. They called a designed short pass a ‘check down’. Chuck called Jenkins Rutherford, because did not notice the double number situation going on. Non good.

The raw broadcast is on, where you can find the random talk they have on hot mics. They also noted that Jeff Wilson hustled back to save the day on the goalie fumble. “It is probably not worth mentioning because this is not a North Texas broadcast but look at that hustle!”

Other random things:

  • “Are you going to protest” — Don to Chuck, before the anthem.
  • “Ooooh Say” – Chuck singing at the start of the broadcast.
  • Hector Ledesma not making a case for sideline reporters as reporters.
  • You can see the Scrappy stomp there.

What If Screenshot of The Game: UTSA 10.29.16

Playing What If is a dangerous game. Let us call this film study instead. Look at this play. If Fine puts this on Wilson instead of overthrowing him for an INT, he has two blocks and gets at least 10 yards. With Jeff’s talent for escaping tackles, he might even get six. Mason Fine will want this back. I do too. Here’s hoping he is money on these passes against Louisiana Tech. They are good and NT will need all the offense it can get.