Offensive Discussion, Ahead of UTSA Game

Our offense still is not very good. Let’s not get anything confused, here. There has been improvement. The QB play has been markedly better, statistically speaking. The run game is still the yard-winner, but isn’t explosive enough to win games alone. That is to say, we can’t hand it off three straight times and expect great things.

Jeffery Wilson is clearly our best offensive player right now. He’s getting about 6.4 yards per carry and had 8.1 against Marshall, who is fairly stout against the run. As the game notes tell you, his 6.4 is the most since Lance Dunbar’s 6.9. That makes sense considering he has 4 of the top 11 longest rushes on the team.

Like Lance, he is not getting the ball enough. The last two games have seen UNT put up greater than 200 yards rushing, and they came on the backs of Smith and Wilson, but in both they were playing catch up and a good number of yards came late. Still, this team can run the ball if Canales will let it. I complained about the iffy playcalling against Marshall that killed drives or failed to adapt to Marshall’s defense, already so I’ll point out some good things in a second. Right now, Wilson is only getting aroudn 15 carries a game and that shoudl be at least 20. At least.

Wilson and every runner we have has been able to get yards from a variety of formations and runs. We have gotten yards on inside and outside zones, sweeps, counters and power. It’s been really nice to see. We’ve long known that this roster is chock full of quality backs. Really the only complaint is that Senior Antoinne Jimmerson and Sophomore Wily Ivery have been relatively prone to fumble. Wilson hasn’t.


Here’s Wilson in the first half on a counter trey. Note that speed.

Here he is again on another in the second half. The linebacker nearly blew it up but Wilson made up for timing mishap with the explosive speed he has.

Here is another sweep — Buck Sweep, it looks like, with some different action for the backside tackle. It may just be a sweep.

You can go back to the Southern Miss and WKU games and see similar postive runs on these. Willy Ivery’s longest runs have come on some of the above action. I want to say that the Counter Trey runs were new for Marshall, but I can’t be sure.

Against Southern Miss Canales called an inside zone but that may have been because of how USM aligns against that really wide 2×2 set. USM’s David Duggan runs a version of 4-2-5, which is similar to what we’ll see against UTSA. Marshall runs a base 4-3 Under so this maybe why we saw so much Counter. In any case, we saw the similar Buck Sweep a few times against the Golden Eagles and I expect to see more of that against UTSA on Saturday.

More Stuff

Remember that swing / flare pass to the flat? It had to be something the staff saw on film on the way Marshall reacts to motion out of the backfield. No linebacker moved with the tailback and he had 20 yards until the safety. Easy yards. There was a similar situation later that only got about 7 yards but added a facemark penalty to the total.

Swing Pass
Swing Pass to Wilson vs Marshall

This is stuff I don’t really like — I’d rather QBs rushed outside where they can go out of bounds. With Wilson threatening the edge so often, a QB dive into the line does the job of keeping the defense off balance.

Inverted Veer against Marshall
Inverted Veer against Marshall

I didn’t see much counter against USM’s 4-2-5, but that might the sourcing I had. That doesn’t mean we won’t pull lineman against UTSA’s 4-2-5. Also, we might see more inside zone even from the doubles formation that we ran the Counter stuff from above.

Wilson sweep vs USM
Wilson sweep vs USM

This final one is to illustrate the point I made on the podcast about how anyone on the roster can run this thing. Willy Ivery was just as explosive here 1 as Wilson was above.

Sweep against USM
Sweep against USM

  1. Against backups. Sure. I’ll give you that. 

The (Half-Ass) 2014 North Texas Sports Media Awards

2014 started with so much promise. We traveled deep into the Heart of Dallas, felt its rhythmic, tribal beating, and took what was rightfully ours. I remember when the game started and UNLV marched right down and scored early, that familiar “ol’ North Texas can’t have nothin’” dread quickly washed over and started numbing my extremities in a way only this fan base understands. Then, the team just beat the crap out of them and there was joy and a sense that anything was possible.

Now, we’re a year out and all of those happy thoughts have been replaced by anything ranging from this

to this

depending on a number of factors ranging from world view, age to political preferences. On the plus side, the last sports match of the year featured our Hoops Benfords on the road holding Texas Tech to 43% shooting (and still losing by 15.)

Wait — was that last sentence a compliment?

I’m glad you asked, because the only thing that seemingly evolved this season was the media coverage around the program, including how things were reported out, spun and otherwise covered. That is why I am proud to present the first Mean Green Nation media year in review. This is by no means comprehensive or coherent, so please direct any and all hate mail to your personal twitter account and hashtag appropriately to fully capture your outrage.

The Quoner Memorial “Hey – Remember When Johnny Quinn Was Everywhere?” Award: Johnny Quinn, for being everywhere
Who else but Olympic hero Johnny Quinn. Now that he broke down the walls to everyone’s hearts, we surely won’t hear the end of him, right? See, he’s right there between the TCU/Baylor controversy and Donald Sterling forever!

The George Dunham Bravado Award: SMU speech at the coach’s show
George usually finds ways to show how little he cares for the message board/blog crowd on his show, but that didn’t stop him from firing up his own YouTube comment section-worthy “HOT TAKE” on SMU before the game:

“I am a North Texas grad,” Dunham said on the radio show. “That is our rivalry. I hate SMU and always have. If they were playing Russia State, I would root for Russia State to beat them by four touchdowns.”

Two theories here – he’s been watching Red Dawn between film study and show prep, or he just hadn’t fired up the old Taketronic 6000 since the Reagan years. Don’t worry, those sea legs come back quick.

“I Bet Coach Wants This One Back” Award: Dan McCarney on how hard it is to win at North Texas
Of all the Dan McCarney decisions that can be second guessed this year, I think the one to complain about his situation is the worst one – because if he doesn’t win next year, you’re going to read it endlessly from every angry internet hot take artist with a pulse.

Weirdest Twitter Feud Award: The SID and Student Body President
It all started with an attempt by the North Texan to explain why people aren’t attending basketball games anymore (probably a major mystery we should put out best men on), and ended with a very weak quote to come out of a student representative’s mouth. That said, I think most of us would have missed it if not for some hot Twitter action a few days later. It looks like they hashed it all out and even came to an understanding, but it just seemed weird to do it publically. Thanks internet.

Best Rehash of an Untrue Origin Story Award: Each CUSA Broadcast team who recited the Mean Joe Greene story.
We didn’t name the team after the player. It is a fun story but untrue. Do we want it to be the origin story? Doesn’t matter. Do we think it would be easier to just let the announcers run with it and keep up the fun? Doesn’t matter. Is it laziness on the part of the announcing crew, who are either inexperienced weatherman doing a gig where they get to be Pat Summerall and John Madden; or a couple of pros who actually wish they got the TCU/Baylor game on FSSW? Doesn’t matter. Is it on the SID’s plate o’ facts that are always ignored? Doesn’t matter. Where is Snopes when you need them?

I Hope That Guy Does Well Award: The kid that did the sideline reporting during the CUSA broadcasts that writes for NT Dailyit turns out he doesn’t write for the Daily. Where did I get that from? — and also does the Green Guys show. Green Guys isn’t particularly great, but it is a show about MG and I love them for it. Three cheers for good ol’ Evan Nemec, who was miles ahead of any of the other school’s sideline kids. A special shoutout to UAB’s sideline reporter lady, whose less-than-awesome dispatches spawned a bit on the Deranged Pengwin Podcast that no one understands. Woot!

Most Random/Optimistic Tweet in the Face of Sorrow Award: Mean Green Sports Social Media
Running the official social media feed is a thankless task – so why start thanking anyone now? They knew what they signed up for. Sometimes, when things are going poorly or the situation is a little odd, you got to just dive in and make the best of it. [You can totally pick which one here]

SID Intern Working OT Fun Fact of the Year Award: (Tie) November Record vs. Four Year Record
We won November, which is more than Indians can say. Also, it was pointed out we have 22 wins in fours years in some game notes. Don’t be depressed about that – just the number make you feel like you just got 4 Dodges worth of wins.

Best North Texas State Reference: All of Them!

I didn’t get a chance to see the LHN coverage of the first game from the crowd, but dammit I know one of them called us North Texas State. Damn you 1961-1988! Damn you SCOTT BAKULA!!

Craig Miller Memorial Allegiance Award: Mike Taylor of the Ticket in San Antonio
Imagine if Randy Galloway’s less talented clone from another dimension was trying to do Ticket (Dallas) bits and you have imagined Taylor. In his defense, he is the best San Antonio has on the air and when his bosses let him be fun he was fun. He went to NT (for a while) , but insists on rooting for TCU (he’s from FW) and throwing shade this-a-way. Like purposefully calling us NT State in the lead-up to the UTSA-UNT game (it’s as genius as calling a guy named Chuck Charles until he politely asks you to stop for the 50th time.)  Its grating after a while and when you are in San Antonio and the only bit of Fortune 500-funded-media (iHeart Radio, neé Clear Channel) that is talking UNTvUTSA is Taylor, it is relatively inescapable.

Citizenship Award for Classiest Opponent Play-by-Play: Rice Owls Soccer Announcer Calls Our Soccer Coach a Prick on the Air
Watching women’s college soccer is an interesting activity when placed in the context of larger college sportsball watching activities. One of the things you realize is that the broadcasts are unrestrained, un-good, and sometimes unhinged.

Here is the audio!

Football Football Recaps

MGN Film Room: Texas

Welcome to the first MGN Film Room session of 2014. Unfortunately we do not have many fun plays at which to look. The best thing to do is look at our worst passing plays of the first half. Why the first and not the second? Well, we combined for three interceptions and a couple of back-breaking sacks in the only half where we had a chance. Let’s take a look at them in order.

First up: Josh Greer early in the first half. North Texas was on its second possession and the defense was playing well. A decent drive would — at the very least — give the defense some good field position to challenge Texas’ offense with.

Here is how it ended:

Greer's First INT
Greer’s First INT

Let’s go through the above. The play call is a version of Levels , a play that does a great job of beating Cover 2. That is exactly what Texas was in so this should have been a successful pass play.

Texas had three down lineman and the linebackers showed blitz. Instead of bringing everyone, they brought only five, and dropped a linebacker into the middle. Greer and Marcus Smith both see the LB. Smith adjusts his route enough to get open in space. Greer simply misses him badly. If he puts the ball about knee-height we’d likely have seen Smith make the catch and avoid the big hit.

Conclusion: This was the right read, the line had good protection, the receiver ran a decent route.1 This should have been a completion.

Next Interception: Josh Greer’s second interception of the day was his worst.

greer INT
Josh Greer’s second interception

The play call is all hitch routes. The idea here is to have an easy read and throw for the QB, and get most, if not all, of the yardage necessary for a first down. It is a fairly conservative play call. The problem was that Texas had this completely blanketed. Because Greer never looks left, he misses the “hot” read in the left slot. This wasn’t going to be open to him unless he saw it immediately. Greg and I discussed the reads Greer has on the podcast. It very well may be that Canales has him only reading half the field here. As both receivers are blanketed by one Texas defender, a normal read would be to the left. This play was designed to get the ball out quickly, and Josh was likely going to get sacked if he did anything else but throw it away. Instead, he tries to force the throw to Darius Terrell, who is doing a good job of adjusting his route. It looks to me like he was going to head for the space int he middle of the field behind Hicks. He wasn’t going to be open, but at least he was trying.

Conclusion:This was likely the only read Josh had so we’ll say it was wrong. I’m not sure, but I’d bet the QB is reading the flats defender. If he takes the outside away, the throw is to the slot (Terrell). He never saw Hicks and that is why he threw it right to him. He didn’t see him because he was staring down his target. There was nothing fancy by Texas defensively, nor was there any great pressure. This should have been a pass into the second row above Carlos Harris’ head.

Greer was benched right after this.

Andrew McNulty benefited from some nice runs from his backs before had a pass play called for him.

It wasn’t pretty.

Minimac sacked
Andrew McNulty sacked

At first glance this looks like RB Reggie Pegram’s fault. I certainly blamed him from my vantage point in Section 31. Texas brings seven men, and UNT blocks with five. If Reggie had stayed in and blocked the free man down the middle Andrew would have had his pick of open guys before the free blitzer got close. Look again how open his outside receiver is when he reaches the end of his drop.

When we look at it from a different angle we can see why Coach McCarney and company were so angry with the offensive line.

Sacked again
Endzone view of sack-eration

Texas had their defensive end lined up wide and the Mean Green offensive line slide over to compensate. I’m not familiar enough with the NT protection scheme to tell you exactly what should have happened, but you can see the miscommunication. It seems to me that Kaydon Kirby should have picked up Texas’ 99 and Y’Barbo should have picked up Texas’ 7. The rules might be that the entire line was supposed to slide, in which case it is Antonio Johnson we should be upset with. We do know that there was miscommunication.

Conclusion: Here is the poor line play that we heard about all week from the coaches, and Y’Barbo himself. This could have been a big gain if Mini-Mac had some time to throw. Instead, NT was forced to punt, and Texas scored on the ensuing drive.

Down 21-0 with no offense to speak of and the defense tiring quickly without any rest, any hopes of keeping it a game vanished after Andy threw his first interception, North Texas’ third.

Operating from midfield with just under a minute remaining, there was plenty of time to get in scoring position. Facing 2nd and 5 against a soft Texas prevent defense, Mike Canales called Four Verticals, the best passing play in football.

Mac's 2nd INT
Andrew McNulty’s first interception

If you’ve watched Mike Leach’s Texas Tech (or any Air Raid team for that matter) you’ve likely seen this play. If you’ve played any NCAA Football you’ve likely called this play. Andrew McNulty’s man was running right down the middle and was overthrown at fifteen yards. This particular play has a play-fake built in. The blitzing DB didn’t bite on the fake and McNulty did not step into his throw. You can judge for yourself if he is avoiding contact or just doesn’t step into his throw for some other reason.

Conclusion: This should have been an 18-yard completion that would have put North Texas in a good spot with plenty of time left and three time-outs.

If North Texas was ever going to produce an upset they needed each of the above plays to have been successful, or at least not as bad as they were. It is simplistic and pretty obvious but football isn’t an overly complicated game. Squandering opportunities so easily was frustrating and you can see why the quarterback competition is going to be re-opened.2 The other passes called ended with a kneel down, poorly thrown balls, and a few more sacks. Take the poor throws you see above and imagine them hitting the ground instead of the other team. That was all the variety we saw.

  1. He should have taken his route to the first down marker or right underneath to put vertical pressure on the secondary. That would create the space he would need in the middle. As it was, the DBs were waiting on this route combination. 
  2. I don’t know how much of this is just motivation. We shall see. 
Football Football Recaps

Film Room: Stopping The Run

Much was made of the Rice team’s ability to run the ball. North Texas’ defense did a hell of a job corralling that phase of the game, and despite allowing Charles Ross 101 yards, Rice’s run game wasn’t much of a factor. They couldn’t run when they needed to (ahem, goal line?) and most of their yardage came between the 30 yard lines, where it looks good on paper, but didn’t have much effect on the game.

Here is an example of Rice trying to get a little counter going and run to the edge with Ross. The biggest asset to NT’s defense has been the tremendous play by the defensive line. Here, Sarge and Richard Abbe get into the backfield, forcing Chuck Ross outside. Will Wright has been tremendous this year in shedding blocks or avoiding them altogether. Here the H-back is supposed to stick Wright and spring Ross outside the hash marks. Will Wright instead avoids the block, gets contain (that’s what they teach you!) to force Ross to cut back. That normally would be fine with Rice except the defensive line got so far upfield that Ross already had to take the long way. His cut back is right into the the waiting arms of Aaron Bellazin who does a great job flowing down the line to the ball.


Here is an example of Rice trying to get something going inside after failing to go East-West. Fortunately, James Jones was running a corner blitz that forced Ross inside into the waiting arms of Derek Akkune. Notice Will Wright and Bellazin have McHargue accounted for (which is why he optioned to Ross). Rice did have some success on these plays, which is why Ross got up to 101, but not much. Even when NT didn’t have a CB Blitz on, Ross was wrangled by Jones and Buyers. Marcus Trice and Lairamie Lee also did a good job flying up to make tackles on the edge. The fumble that Zach Orr ran in for a TD is an excellent example of that.


Finally, take a look at the sheer bravado of Skladany and company for having the defense line up in basically a 4-4 look. This play had no chance from a numbers perspective. Offenses try to discourage this by taking advantage of the soft coverage behind such a run-defensive look. The problem? Well the great tackling by the corners. All that soft coverage looks tempting for a quick throw, but when the corners come up, stick the WRs and hold them to a three yard gain? Well there is no incentive for the defensive to get less aggressive. Rice did find some success play-actioning off of this action. Zach Orr did mess up one where he was clearly beat — he recovered and tipped the ball that led to that interception. That is Brian Urlacher-type stuff there. Last year Arkansas State ate the defense up with that play-action type stuff. Also, the tackling on the edges wasn’t nearly as good and so the interior wasn’t able to do the aggressive things they are doing now.



Film Room: Kenny Buyers vs Rice

So I was going though the highlights and grabbed all the Kenny Buyers tackles on the edge. There is a bunch of great stuff from the defense in that Rice game, but this stood out most because of how difficult it is and how unheralded it can be. Though the defensive line, safeties, and linebackers are getting lots of praise (rightly so, and MGN Film Room will highlight some of those outstanding plays later this week) I wanted to start with this.

Although this is only Kenny Buyers, James Jones had a couple of great tackles including one on that epic 8-down goal line stand.

Kenny Buyers

Football Football Recaps

Ball State Film Room

The defense had a solid game, but it was far from perfect. There were some things that Ball State did that played right into our hands, and helped us along. I say that not entirely sure if it was just great scouting by Skladany and company knowing Ball State’s tendencies, or if Ball State underestimated our defense’s aggressiveness.

Let’s look at three plays where there was some read-option looks. Ball State may have a called hand-off here with an option look, or Wenning just read it poorly. Judging by how few times Wenning runs in general these have to be the former. Wenning does such a great job deciding when to throw the ball away when there isn’t a pass that I can’t believe he is that poor at reading these scenarios. Conversely, the success of the North Texas reads are a testament to Derek Thompson’s decision-making.

First play:


Here, Ball State gives a packaged play look. WR #8 looks to be setting up for a quick screen. This was one of a few situations like this throughout the game. On a true read, Wenning would likely have seen the advantage outside and hit the WR. The second read is the North Texas DE crashing. Wenning could have kept it and got a good five or six yards.

Let’s watch Derek Thompson run the same thing:


DT is reading the DE #11 and keeps when he sees him clearly unconcerned with the QB keeper. The Mean Green have been very run-heavy, and Reggie Pegram and Brandin Byrd had already got some good gains. This is just great play-calling by Mike Canales, and even better execution by the entire offense.

Here is another Ball State read look situation:


If this is a straight handoff call, then the TE completely misses his block. He should be hitting Chad Polk crashing down. Instead he floats off into space. Wenning had a nice seam there that likely would have gained more than the handoff did. Also of note: the WR #2 has tons of space to catch and run. Watch for CUSA teams to look to exploit that.

Let’s watch UNT run this thing better:


Again, Ball State is over-pursuing the potential Brelan Chancellor jet sweep. (That may have been a good idea after all. It looks like Brelan had tons of space to run.) North Texas caught Ball State in man coverage. This very well may have been a called run the whole time. If it was they did a great job selling the fake by pulling the guard. I doubt it though. It was an inverted-veer look


In taking a look at some of the turnovers forced, I noticed that mostly they were just the result of solid hits by Lairamie Lee and Zach Orr. James Jones’ was really just fortune smiling on him. The other forced turnover was Hitstick Lee showing some ball skills. Watching live I thought it was just a great jump by Lee, saving Kenny Buyers from getting beat for a first down. Instead it looks like Skladany baited Keith Wenning into that throw.


Because Ball State needed a first down here, I bet the progression was the Dig, then the TE. Most coaches teach a deep-to-short read progression, however. Wenning made the right throw … if the safety was playing over the top. He wasn’t. I’m wondering if we knew that Ball State liked to throw short stuff and so hedged our bets, accordingly. They did hit some longer outside stuff against Hilbert Jackson, but it looks like they missed a few opportunities. I pointed out that Wenning should have gone to the top mostly because he was reading that side of the field but if he looked over at Zac Whitfield, he would have saw Marcus Trice peeking in, and Zac beat by about a yard or two.

Interesting stuff.