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Football

2019: North Texas at Rice Preview

This has been a frustrating season, but one that was very predictable given the circumstances. The defense is young, and the offense has struggled to score enough to keep up. Mason Fine is the linchpin, and he has not finished something like four games this season due to injury.

It is easy to become “entitled” as a fan, especially in 2019, when every form of entertainment is a version of on-demand in your hands. Watching a college football program progress is very slow, and not as binge-able as Disney+ shows.

So it goes.

There is beauty and drama in this whole thing. All of the stories and entertainment we consume is because we love stories about other humans and while there is no unified, coherent, narrative beamed at your face there are lots of great stories here.

Mason Fine’s is the oft-told, and most compelling, obviously. He is a talented kid but undersized and under recruited until Seth Littrell’s staff took a chance and he made the most of it, becoming the all-time leader in practically all the passing statistics that North Texas tracks.

The frustrating thing about these stories is that we do not know where we are in the tale. Is this the end of a chapter or the entire tale of Mason Fine: Athlete Who Overcame Being Short? That kind of uncertainty can be off-putting because it is scary. It can remind you of your own life and how you cannot know what chapter you are on.

This weekend very well may be the end of your tale or mine. So we like the neater ones, buttoned up and ready for consumption and decidedly not existential.

So it is with our fandom of this program. There is some amount of over-caring about this football program because the rest of life can be so unwieldy and unmanageable. Some people treat the college football team with more oversight than they do their own local government — this site included.

It is not wrong, necessarily, but it is worth a bit of reflection. This site and this author can only tell you that I will be in Houston this weekend and that does not make me a better or worse fan. I will be there trying to enjoy my favorite college football team.

Rice

The best one-loss team in the nation was previously the best no-win team in the nation. Yes, the Rice Owls finally won a game — last week against Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. Head coach Mike Bloomgren is all-in on the Stanford-like offense he wants — Intellectual Brutaility he calls it — and he has built a program in that image.

As you might imagine, it has taken a while. Rice is not a particularly easy place to recruit to, but that is why the brass picked the former Stanford coordinator. So far, they need a quarterback, but they have the running backs.

In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the UTEP squad under Sean Kugler. Remember the Mean Green lost to that squad in late-season games also. Rice has the second-worst offense in the league (ODU) and cannot seem to get out of their own way.

North Texas is still playing for bowl eligibility while Rice is looking for a home win.

Defending Rice

Well, Rice does a lot of the defending for you, because they are not good. Yes, they are physical, but they are predictable. They run, run, pass, and when they do pass it is about a 50% proposition they will complete it.

North Texas has done well against poor offensive teams this season (UTSA, UTEP) and we can expect a lot of the same. A good portion of the game will hinge on the desire of the squad. If NT has checked out mentally, this can be a Rice win. If NT is hungry still, well they should beat Rice handily.

The Vegas line reflects this a bit: they have NT as about six-point favorites. Bloomgren has done a remarkable job of keeping his guys focused despite numerous near-misses. North Texas had higher expectations and has essentially failed to achieve them. That is the most compelling part of this matchup.

RB Aston Walter is nice, and has run for 100+ in four games this season. He can break one. QB Tom Stewart was not asked to do much for a large part of this season, but had a nice game against Middle’s poor secondary. He went 18/22 for 222 yards and three scores.

Attacking Rice

Rice is ranked 12th of 14 teams in the league in opponent passer rating. The teams below them are UTEP and Charlotte, the two squads against whom Mason Fine tossed 12 scores. The two above are UTSA and Middle, and Mason tossed three scores against those two combined.

Against all four of those, Mason Fine has a QB Rating of ~176, which is very good. All told, he should be able to put up numbers against this Rice squad. If he is unable to go, and we have to see Jason Bean or Austin Aune, they should be good in this one.

While Rice was able to hold USM to a muted game offensively, Southern Miss is known for their play at home, and poor road performances. The same can be said for Louisiana Tech, which struggled with Grambling also. Essentially, the teams that Rice defended well against are known for self-harm. The good teams they played were unaffected.

North Texas has been able to tear up the bad defenses in this league — Charlotte, UTEP, UTSA. All things being equal (everyone playing hard) this should not be a difficult game.

Every time NT goes to Rice, it is a satellite home game, as the NT section is loud and populated.

Random Notes

The last time NT played here (2017) they were sacked a ton, and we were upset with the performance. NT went on to get blown out by FAU in the title game and then again by Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.

Last year, NT started slowly at Apogee before blowing the game open and going on to win big. In 2016, we also played at Rice because of the change in league membership (UAB came back) and North Texas got its first big win in OT against the Owls.

Mason Fine finished 8/15 for 58 yards vs LA Tech. Last year he finished 8/12 for 59 yards against Utah St.

Fine is still 8 TDs away from 100 for his career.

The 2017, 2018, and 2019 teams all rank in the top-5 points-per-game in school history. This year’s squad is at 33.2. The 1951 team set the record with a 36.2 mark.

Since 2017, this year’s team has the lowest yards-per-game of those three teams at 449.6. In 2018, it was 460.5 and in 2017 it was 455.1. However, this year’s yards-per-play average is 6.22, which is the highest of the three seasons by a slight margin.

In Littrell’s four years, NT has not led the league in scoring or total offense but has been 2nd in each of the last three seasons.

Bowl Thoughts

We have said this year looks like seven wins is needed to guarantee a bowl appearance. That is out of reach, so NT is hoping six will do it. Rice is the easier of the two. UAB comes to Denton the next week, and that will be tough but UAB is going through some QB issues right now.

My gut tells me if NT gets invited to a bowl it will be close by, and that is probably best for all parties. The season has not built up anyone’s appetite for travel and NT has already been to New Orleans — the nearest “destination” bowl.

If NT can take care of getting eligible — a gigantic ‘if’ — my guess is like a Frisco Bowl.

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Football

North Texas vs Houston Preview

This has been an strange week. The Houston Cougars star QB D’Eriq King abruptly announced that he is redshirting the rest of this season — a prelude to a transfer perhaps — that would remove him from the upcoming game vs North Texas. 

Incredibly, his backup is Clayton Tune, Hebron HS’s own steps into the shoes. You might recognize the family name. Yes, he is the brother of former NT QB Nathan Tune. He of the dog and the losing and the hip injury.

Further down the depth chart is one Logan Holgerson, son of the Houston head coach Dana Holgerson and one-time NT target. This duo has some talent and the head coach is a certified offensive master-mind but De’Eriq King is special so it is a bittersweet announcement that he will not play for the Cougars this Saturday.

North Texas went from three-point underdogs to about a six-point favorite with the announcement. Two things about the last time Houston was at Apogee: 1) they were quarterbacked by Case Keenum. 2) It was the Apogee opener.

The University of Houston Cougars

We have an interesting matchup then. North Texas is favored, feeling good, coming off a thorough beatdown of UTSA at home last week. Houston lost a heartbreaker in which Tulane pulled off a miracle play on the back of a some aggressive trickeration. The football gods rewarded the Green Wave’s playing to win.

This was always going to be a measuring stick game for Seth Littrell and North Texas. The U of Houston program has been ripe for P5 head coaches — Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, and Tom Herman. Those guys have been helped by some quality assistants that are making, or have made their own names: Kliff Kingsbury, Major Applewhite, Kid Briles, and yes, the current head man Dana Holgerson.

That Houston was able to wrangle a P5 coach — Holgerson coached at WVU for seven years — is significant even if the result of a special set of circumstances. Houston is something like a model for the non-P5 schools as it pertains to hiring and keeping an identity.

The Houston reputation has historically been one of offensive prowess. Andrew Ware and David Klinger tore up the record books and when Briles came to town, he and others helped push a new era of offensive success.

Tom Herman was able to recruit talent to the program, and everything culminated with Ed Oliver and the Cougars upsetting Oklahoma to start the season a couple of years ago.

Since then, Herman went to UT, Ed Oliver quit, Major Applewhite was fired, and well now we are at Dana Holgerson and his QB is going to sit the rest of the season.

Thus far, the Coogs are 1-3. The opener against Oklahoma was a blowout that saw new transfer Jalen Hurts destroy the team without much of an effort. Houston beat Prairie View — but not by the margin we would expect. Holgerson’s mentor and former coach Mike Leach and his Washington State Cougars came to town to play and Leach got the better of that matchup.

Last week, Tulane won 38-31 thanks to a sneaky fake kneel-down and a Minnesota-vs-New-Orleans Hail Mary.

Houston comes in allowing 33+ppg but three of the opponents faced are quality offensive teams. North Texas is in that conversation, as well, but the loss of Rico Bussey and some questions about execution perhaps put NT on a lower tier compared to the competition they’ve faced already.

The real question for Houston was the relative lack of cohesion offensively. These things take time. Holgerson’s offense still has Air Raid underpinnings and that means a lot more focus on repetitions and rhythm. Holgerson has mentioned how good the production of his second-year QBs is — this is also one reason why King sitting out a year to try again next season is not such an outlandish idea.

The Houston roster is adjusting to its fourth staff combination in four years, so there are parts that do not necessarily fit with the rest of the others. The offense averages 30.8 a game — compared to NT’s 35ppg — which is lower than perhaps they expect, but still a solid number.

Last year Applewhite’s squad averaged 43 per game and lost only five. Unfortunately for the Major, two fo those losses came at the end of the year and included a 70-14 blowout to Army. That got everyone fired and paved the way for the new regime.

Defending Houston

The Houston offense will look very different without its trigger-man. King has put up his worst number since his freshman year. He has thrown 58/110 for 52.7 completion rate for 663 yards and six scores against two picks. His rating is 117.2

His junior year he threw 219/345 for 63.5% 2982 yards 36 TDs and 6 interceptions for a rating for 167.04.

He was, however, averaging about about 17 more yards rushing per game (78) than last year and already had six scores. Last year he had 14 on the ground. He is and was a true dual threat. His highlight reel against Tulane included freezing a safety in his tracks, and evading a number of tacklers on the way to a NCAA record 16th straight game with a running and passing score.

He is good and NT is lucky to not have to face him. We fans are unlucky to not be able to watch him live in Denton. So it goes.

The line has five upperclassmen, including one graduate transfer in Justin Murphy out of UCLA. North Texas was able to create some pressure against Cal’s young line, and UTSA’s um, bad one. This group is solid and big.

The X and Z positions — outside receivers — have not produced too much thus far. Bryson Smith, and Jeremy Singleton have combined for 11 catches and 100 yards and no scores. Inside WR Marquez Stevenson has produced 17 grabs for 234 and 3 scores, however. Keith Corbin, we should note, is the second leading WR with 11 grabs for 192 and two TDs, and will also join King as a redshirt sitting down this season.

Stevenson has nearly double the targets of Corbin thus far — 32 to 18 and for good reason: he is a playmaker.

Stevenson was the leading receiver a year ago, with 1019 yards on 75 receptions and 9 scores. He also returns kicks and punts.

UH likes to give it to him on jet sweeps and reverses. He is agile, quick, and speedy and tougher to bring down than expected.

Outside of that, it will be hard to gauge what to expect from this offense this weekend. Clayton Tune is not the same type of player, and his stats from last season are from a different regime. Dana Holgerson has the upper hand, ironically.

At RB, Patrick Carr was the main runner last season, with 800+ yards but Kyle Porter as the most totes this season with 47, just eight behind leader King with 55. Carr did not play against Oklahoma or Prairie View and only logged 9 attempts vs Wazzu. He had 17 for 63 against Tulane last week.

The thing to be concerned with, is the ability for Holgerson to scheme up some say touchdowns. The opening play looked like an RPO that turned into a speed-roll-out for King — something easy and that Tulane had seen on film. In actuality, it was a clever play designed to get their most dangerous receiver one-on-one in space with a flat-footed DB.

Houston’s First Play

As you can see, it worked. Football is about the players, but making it easier for those players to be successful is what makes good teams great. That is the coaching and scheming that can produce even greater teams than the sum of their parts.

While Houston will be down two tremendously talented players, this staff can still scheme up a touchdown or two and that is something NT DC Troy Reffett will be charged in looking for.

Best case scenario: the moment is too much for Tune, who is rattled and makes mistakes
Worst case scenario: Tune has enough of an unknown factor that is supported by some clever play-design that makes Houston even more dangerous than if NT had to prepare for King. 

Attacking Houston

Good news, friends. North Texas has an identity. On the podcast this past Sunday, we talked up Tre Siggers and all he means to this program. North Texas is Air Raid in philosophy, but when we are honest with ourselves, we do not trust the pass game to grind out a drive.

Mason Fine is great, but his relationship with his receivers is still a work-in-progress at best. Tre Siggers is something like a sure thing, averaging 131 per game on the ground. He runs aggressively, through arm tackles, and seems to seek out contact. 

Siggers is 27 for 196 and 2 scores on first down runs. That is a blistering 7.26 yards per carry. He is better on second down: 20 tote, 187 yards and a score.

He has only one carry on third down and 1-3 yards to go, but NT as a team has only 9 plays in that situation and has produced 8 first downs. He seems like he would be an obvious battering ram, but in reality he is more like a cannon ball.

The last guy in Mean Green to run like this is scoring touchdowns for the 49ers in the NFL. It really is not like NT has had a bad rush attack. DeAndre Torrey nearly had a 1000-yard season last year. Loren Easly looked like the number-one guy before he went down against Louisiana Tech. 

Tre Siggers has just brought something extra to the run attack that makes him someone to account for with extra-special attention by the defense. 

Every offense needs a player that can make 40/60 plays. The ones that turn a 3-yard loss into a 10-yard gain, and 5-yard gains into 50-yarders. With his ability to run through defenders, Siggers is turning gains that are blocked up for 7-yards into 45-yard scampers.

North Texas is doing well to not over-use him either. He is at about 17 carries a game and he put up 143 on just 14 against UTSA. NT has the aforementioned talent in this group, so a handful of Siggers carries go a long way toward establishing the fact that the defense will need to account for the run game.

Beyond that, Mason Fine just needs to be something like a caretaker. He is best when he does not have to throw 50 times in a game. Every quarterback is. The game plan against NT has been to bring pressure and hit Mason Fine early and often. This has worked in every big loss NT has suffered for the last four years.

Everyone likes Jyaire Shorter, but he is still more potential than production at this point. His 8 grabs on 15 targets for 116 yards and 2 scores is great for a run-first team, but not as the Z-receiver in a spread team.

Jaelon Darden continues to be the number one receiver. He’s scored in every FBS game, even if last week was a garbage time TD grab.

Houston plays a 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid defense that nearly every team does in 2019. Payton Turner (6’6″ 288 Jr) is the bandit player, the hybrid DE/LB/QB Destroyer type.

At DT there is Young and Fleming — Fleming being the NG. Those two are the more typical 4-3 DT types, in that the are in the 280 range. Olivier Charles-Pierre is 345lbs and is the space-eating type. He will play situationally. Anenih, Parish, and Chambers are at the other DE spot, being typical “other” DE type size at 6’2″ and mid 200s. 

Behind them are two good LBs in Kirven and Mutin. The leading tackler is Nickel back 3 Grant Stuard 6’1″ 210 Jr. He has 3.0 tackles for loss, putting him third on the team behind two DL guys.

Gerverrius Owens at 200lbs is the bigger of the two. Damarion Williams is 170. Deontay Anderson is the bigger safety at 217 and he can hit.

North Texas probably likes that Tulane’s line got some real push against this defense, putting a few DLs on their backs. That opened up the play-action and they got big plays over the top with some speedy guys. Tulane threw to a guy they thought could win some jump balls and he did.

NT does not have Rico Bussey to do that, so Deion Hair-Griffin is the speed option, and Shorter is something like the jump-ball option. I would not be surprised to see a little bit of Deonte Simpson get a look in that role. He made an appearance and NT likes the freshman’s talent.

Best case scenario: North Texas is able to power-run with Siggers/Torrey/one-of-Easly-Johnson-Smith getting over 200 yards, while Fine throws 2 TDs on 19 passes. 
Worst case scenario: The run game is unable to find its footing, and Fine is hit, intercepted, or there are dropped passes that kill drives. 

Coaching

Seth Littrell and Bodie Reeder have put up some prolific offenses in their time. Dana Holgerson has done so as well, but at more places and as the head coach. He has produced at Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State, WVU — as coordinator and HC — and now at Houston as the head man. He has seen a ton and found ways to produce offense and scores.

All that is to say that we have to respect his ability to get offense from Clayton Tune.

Reffett’s group is getting more reputations but has faced two poor offenses with less-than-impressive schemers coaching them. Cal has not scored well in any game this season and UTSA has had offensive challenges for the last three seasons. That is to say we will see more of the defense that was burned by SMU than the one that has only allowed six points in the last seven quarters. 

The scheme is sound, however, and lessons have been learned.

MGN eBook Season Prediction: L 38-41 
MGN Prediction Today: W 31-24

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Football

North Texas vs UTSA Preview 2019

It is rivalry week, no matter what the message board people say. There are many flavors of rival, and they do not all look like the Iron Bowl. In CUSA, this is what it looks like: two struggling teams with relatively small fanbases (compared to the P5 programs) going at each other.

Long time NT fans will remember 2013, when UTSA came into Apogee and ended the home win streak, ended the chance for a CUSA title game appearance for a really good team, and made everyone very disappointed on a cold day in Denton.

The players on that team still are upset about it. The players on UTSA still like to brag about it. Those are the seeds of a rivalry. Snowflakes are formed by microscopic dust particles and so we can build something fun out of something as small as that game.

That these two programs come into this week with pride a bit wounded is secondary to the game. Imagine what happens if NT were to lose to this team?

That is the storyline coming into this one. The defense is feeling good after last week, with some reason to feel that way. Littrell at his weekly conference:

But I think we learned a lot about this team with the way the fought and grinded on the road against a very good Cal team … Overall I was really proud of the fight, determination and resilience our team showed. They just battled out and continued to come back and play a physical game. I think there’s a lot to be learned and we can definitely grow from an experience like that.”

Yes, that is a lot of words that say, essentially, “moral victory.”

UTSA’s head coach Frank Wilson basically said the same about his team’s loss to Army:

They saw (Army) in a bowl game, they saw (Army) a week ago vs. Michigan. They watched (Army) play Oklahoma. They know that they were a worthy team that played well against top-10 teams in the country and knew that they had opportunities to be in position to win. There was not the dejection. Keep on hammering guys, we are that close.

For what it is worth, both coaches quoted the record (3-3) and said it is a rivalry.

Frank Wilson: “It is a rivalry. I don’t think we’ve had a game decided by more than seven points. 

Seth Littrell: ““This is definitely our rivalry game. You look at the past three opportunities this group has gotten against this team, it’s been a battle.”

So we have a rivalry, and two teams smarting from 1-2 starts looking for momentum and both looking at all of their goals in front of them. Wilson likened the non-conference schedule to pre-season NFL. Seth Littrell said that conference play is the “first chance to accomplish our goal”.

Goal-time, y’all.

The Opponent: UTSA

The Roadrunners are 3-3 lifetime against North Texas They started out the series with that gut-punch win at Apogee. People forget that Derek Thompson led NT down inside the red zone and was two plays away from tying the game late.

NT lost at the Alamodome the next season, blowing a chance at a game winning drive after a muffed punt.

The next season was an awful one for NT, but the lone win came at the Runners’ expense and there was posing with locked gates (oh, crazy Chico).

This will be Mason Fine’s fourth UTSA game and he is so far 2-1. The first one was a loss that was closer than the score indicates. NT had a ton of turnovers, mostly because of a freshman Mason Fine, but he did bust out an 80-yarder on the ground.

There was of course the drive that was all-but-a-loss. Last year was an unbecoming win, that UTSA nearly pulled out late. There was an over-throw on a slot pass that would have won things for UTSA.

UTSA comes into town boasting a talented quarterback that NT wanted. Frank Harris is mobile, and is accurate but still learning the job after three seasons recovering from various injuries.

The defense is still talented, but there is no Pete Golding coordinating them any more.

Attacking UTSA

UTSA plays a multiple 4-2-5 defense, as they have for pretty much their entire history. They boast good defensive lineman and that spells trouble for NT usually. The last few years UTSA has been able to at least hit Mason Fine and mess up the offense.

We will see them go two or three deep along the line with names like Eric Banks – -the DE in the old Marcus Davenport spot. The DT spot has guys that go 300lbs in Baker, Haynes, Newton, and Matterson. The DE spots are quick and mobile — Danzler, Carter-Mclin, Wise, Henry, Hicks.

The two linebackers do not have the name or the hype as did their former LB with the hair and the NT recruiting story, but they are experienced.

The secondary is experienced, but has some youth.

Baylor was able to truck this team over, but it is hard to blame UTSA when apparently the Bears are monsters. They are averaging 59 points per game. Army exploded late against this UTSA team, but it is difficult to gauge any game against the Black Knights.

Incarnate Word looked like they were going to give UTSA a game but were flustered early and that explosive offense was held in check all game.

NT will probably be without Rico Bussey, and the way things are looking that means Mason Fine will need some help from a robust run game. Good thing that Tre Siggers is in the game to bring some physicality. Frank Wilson said we are a spread team, and that is true. He means that we do not look to the pass as our primary means — and while we have a good QB we do not trust our pass game as a go-to.

NT’s Z-wide receiver Deion Hair-Griffin is talented, but he is also still looking for some production out there. He has been targeted 13 times by Mason Fine and grabbed only 3 passes for 36 yards.

Our leading yards per target man is Jason Pirtle, with 22. But he has been absent since his big game vs ACU. The TEs have not been a part of the game plan since. Bussey is at 15 yards per target, and beyond that it is Jyaire Shorter and Jaelon Darden with 8, and 7.

Not much doing there. Darden is likely going to be the focus, as he can take it to the house, and one of Shorter, White, and DHG need to step up and get 8-10 catches for 80-100 yards.

Shorter seems to be built for the role, but he dropped a big TD against Cal, and later a couple of tough opportunities. DHG is explosive, but again, lots of targets and no production.

Reeder and Littrell like his speed to take the top off the defense, but if he is not getting the ball?

Best case scenario: North Texas is able to move the ball with the run game and some quality completions to Shorter/Darden/Lawrence.

Worst case scenario: More penalties and drops and NT is turning the ball over and needing big TDs late.

Defending UTSA

It all starts with the quarterback. This is cliché in 2019 but very true with this team. Frank Harris can do some D’Eriq King-type things. He can escape the pocket and take it to the house. UIW didn’t have the foot speed on defense to close him down in space. He was able to extend the play and find his options to move the chains.

Baylor shut him down through talent and scheme. They forced him to sit back and pick out options and he was unable to do so. The ideal UTSA possession uses RB Sincere McCormick and Frank Harris as a one-two punch with bubble screens and the occasional downfield shot as constraint plays when the defense creeps up.

NT likes to bring pressure and loves a QB that will drop to a spot. NT faced a QB that liked to escape the pocket in Cal’s Chase Garber and we likely will not see too much of a different game plan in the first quarter. NT shut down Cal for three quarters and was able to wrap up Garber after allowing some big runs early.

Harris is more explosive than Garber, but maybe not as polished as a passer just yet.

McCormick is quick and explosive, and we have already seen NT make mistakes in gap assignments. This site and Seth Littrell agree on one thing however: The defense just needs more time and they will gel.

The mistake this unit have made are ones from inexperience and youth. Tyreke and KD Davis have talent and fly around at the LB spot. Tyreke was the nickel safety last year, and has enough in coverage that NT can bring some flexibility to their looks.

NT has proven thus far that you cannot simply line up and lean on this group, and that there is enough speed on the field that you cannot try to just run around it. The best bet? Well, take advantage of NT corners Nick Harvey and Cam Johnson as they are on islands out there.

Again, Frank Harris can throw the ball, is he Tom Brady just yet? Nah. Make him stand tall in the pocket and think about the closing pressure and deliver on his third read. Do not let him run to his left and find guys on the run.

The UTSA O-Line is all big and tall. NT so far has seen their pass-rush fall down on the initial push, and that may be a concern.

TE Carlos Strickland is 6’4″ 230 lbs and has 10 catches on 16 targets for 75 yards and a score. He is something of a safety blanket. Blaze Moorhead is the shifty slot receiver and leading pass-catcher with 11 on 12 targets for just 58 yards. Tykee Ogle-Kellogg is a big 6’4″ 210 lb WR with 8 targets.

The backs have 14 grabs between them, as safety valves and on designed stuff.

Best case scenario: NT is able to continue the three-quarter run and bottle up an offense with about two really good options and a handful of maybes.

Worst case scenario: Frank Harris escapes contain and makes plays with his feet or finds playmakers on 3rd down to extend drives.

Coaching

Seth Littrell has had the clear better team once, the home field advantage once with a couple of evenly matched teams, and the second best team once. He is 2-1 in that span against UTSA.

North Texas has been down 20 at the end of the first quarter in the last two games. Littrell has lots of good words about how and why that happened, and his plan for addressing it.

NT has the better, and deeper team in this matchup and the home field advantage. NT needs about 30-40 points per game from its offense to make sure that things are not dire, as the defense is still gelling.

Right now, the offense is still struggling while the defense looked good last week for three quarters. The good news is that Tre Siggers looks to have taken the top job at tailback with DeAndre Torrey being the changeup.

Jyaire Shorter has the talent to be a quality CUSA WR, and Jaelon Darden can take a short pass for a score from anywhere on the field.

Whatever happens in this game is what this team will be. Teams do not typically get too much better or worse beyond week four. The defense will be the exception, as they grow into their roles, but that will only be so much.

CUSA is having a down year and this thing is ripe for winning. It all starts this week, and Seth Littrell is charged with getting his program started right.

MGN e-book Preview Prediction: NT W 38-17
MGN Prediction Today: NT W 34-17

Categories
Football

2017: Quickie Rice Preview

Good teams will finish the job.

North Texas is still trying to prove that they are a good team.

Yes, they are playing like one, and that is a subtle but important difference. When Seth Littrell says this team is not good enough to simply show up and that a full effort is required every week it is coach speak but true speak also.

Rice is not definitely not good team. But they should not be taken lightly as they are tough and are led by a good coaching staff. David Bailiff is a CUSA-winning coach and over his years as the head man the last 10 years he has won 10 games twice, 8 games once, and 7 one other time. He’s the winningest Rice coach this side of 1967.

He is to be respected.

That fact acknowledged, Rice has been poor for the last two seasons. They come into this one 1-10 and having had some absolutely awful losses — to UAB, Army — and others where they scored but gave things away — La Tech, Southern Miss, ODU — and others where the offense was terrible — UTSA, FIU, Houston.

There are surely a number of reasons why Rice has struggled so much this season, but one contributing factor is simply talent. The pass rush has been soft and the tackling has been poor.

Offensively, the QB play has especially been poor and when it has been okay, it has not been consistent enough to build a decently sustained attack.

Rice did beat UTEP, who are awful, and did play a close one against ODU, but no team has really had too much trouble with the Owls. While La Tech did struggle against Rice in Houston, it was more self-inflicted than it was anything Rice was impressing upon them.

In the last four contests, Rice has been improving and the offense in particular has been looking like something that could do some damage. Freshman WR Aaron Cephus (6’4″ 205 RS FR) is tied for 7th in the conference with 5 TD grabs and 10th in the league in total reception yards at 572. He leads the league in yards per catch at just over 24 per grab. For comparison, Jalen Guyon is third in the league with 16 per.

Another potential home run hitter is Austin Walter who has run and caught a pass for 70+ yards this season. He has 219 yards receiving on 18 grabs (12.1 per reception) and 385 rushing on 63 carries (6.11 yards per carry).

Starting QB Miklo Smalls (6’0″ 200 FR) is young and is not allowed to sling the ball much but he has completed 62% of his passes. He’s thrown just over 16 passes per game the last three (for 148 per) and run for just over 13 times per game in that same span for 225 yards.

He has not been great, but with him Rice has improved their 3rd down conversion rate. It is up to 55% in November (the last three games) vs the mid-thirties earlier in the year. That is partly why their scoring is up to 25 per game in November, up from the mid-teens in October.

Fun Facts

Rice has won its last nine senior days. North Texas is down 4-3 in the all-time series vs Rice, but is 2-2 in CUSA play against them.

Elsewhere

North Texas is expected to roll in this one by every measure and so we won’t go through them all to save time and get you back to turkey-consumption.

Overall

Put simply, North Texas’ offense is explosive and can only be stopped by a fierce pass rush and self-inflicted wounds like dropped passes, fumbles, bad throws, and ineffectual, uninterested blocking.

Rice is working toward getting better for next year by playing a collection of promising freshman. They have done well — offensively — against some teams that are working on things as well — UAB, USM, ODU. North Texas’ defense is prone to allowing big pass plays but rice is not built to exploit those issues. Rice also does not execute at the same level as Army or UAB.

North Texas should roll easily and get out of Houston with the 9th win of the year relatively easily.

MGN Prediction: North Texas 45 Rice 17

Categories
Football

2017: Army Preview

For the third time in thirteen months, North Texas and Army will contest a football game. The previous two have been entertaining and interesting — one with 7 turnovers and the other an overtime affair — and we can only hope this one can reach that bar.

For North Texas fans, a bit of dessert is deserved after a season with thrilling close wins and close finishes. North Texas is undefeated at Apogee with one November game to play for the second time since it opened. In 2013, the Mean Green famously lost on an ice-cold November game against UTSA.

There are parallels to the teams — both put together promising previous years, and found a nice balance between offense and defense though one side of the ball was the clear strength.

For the fans of the program who sat through the coldest NT football game in memory, this will be a nice do-over.

Army comes in at 8-wins, matching the number from last year (that they achieved by beating NT in the bowl) and their best at this point since 1996. The Black Knights (neé Cadets) have not had this two-year consistency since the 80s and 90s. Jeff Monken has truly returned Army to respectibility. This version of Army plays smart and tough.

Much was broadcasted last year about Monken’s use of analytics to decide when and where on the field to go for 4th down conversions. Army did four times in the bowl, converting twice. The most important one was late in the OT to go up a touchdown.

Army: Defending The Option

Above is a link to last year’s Army preview.

Here are the parts that need updating:

Advanced Stats Predictions:

Massey: Chance of Winning: 39%, Army #55 NT 94
FEI: Chance of Winning 24.5%. Army 50th NT 92nd
Sagarin: Army 7.5 point favorites . Army ranked 63rd, NT 91st
ESPN FPI: Chance of Winning: 38.2%. Army 62nd, NT 92nd
S&P+: Chance of Winning 62%. Army ranked 59th. NT ranked 46th.
SRS: Army ranked 56th. NT ranked 82nd

Defending The Option

I recommend you read the Defending The Option series by Shakin The Southland. I’ll link to a few things later in this post also. It will help you football nerds really get into it. The great thing about the above series is that Clemson ran the 3-3-5 (like NT) and had to defend Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech. I already told you Jeff Monken is a PJ disciple so you see how valuable this will be in your footballing education.

Again, not much has changed since the last time NT played this team. Army will still try to do the same things it has done against NT’s smaller defensive line and discipline will be the order of the day.

Below you will find the issues NT had defenidng Army the last time these teams play. NT gave up 480 yards rushing mostly because of one or two big misses. The defense was able to stop Army at some crucial points but got down by 17 early. NT was able to force a fourth down stop before marching down to get the game tying FG to force OT.

HOD Triple Option Problems

The key to the bowl game — and to a lesser extent the Oct 2016 game — was the offense’s ability to score quickly. Army dominated possession last December but NT was able to score in the limited time. One key was the then-burgeoning pass game. Alec Morris had his best day as an NT QB and Mason Fine is in better command of a more powerful version of that offense today. NT will mix in a few more bunch sets and other wrinkles but look for these staple plays as Army tries to keep the offense in front of them.

HOD Bowl: North Texas Pass Game

Finally, the run game was explosive. NT’s run game has not changed much at all, and relies on execution of the same inside and outside zone runs with a few gap runs to keep the defense off balance. For the most part, the run game was effective but had short yardage issues. That might sound familiar as NT still has those issues. Jeff Wilson will again be the focus for Army, but NT has enough outside in this matchup to keep Army honest enough to keep the running lanes open for Mr. Wilson.

HOD Recap: NT Run Game

Milestones

The Record Watch continues. Even the NT game notes are getting in on things.
Jeff Wilson is 9th on the single-season list at 1,143 and can psas Malcom Jones’ 1980 season (1,144) and Patrick Cobbs’s 2005 year (1,154) today. Jeff is three TDs away from tying Jamario Thomas’ 2004 and Lance Dunbar’s 2009 years with 17 TDs in a season. Jeff’s next 100 yard game will tie him with Jamario Thomas for 4th all time in career 100 yard games at 13.

Mason Fine is just 14 yards away from Steve Ramsay’s 1969 record of 2,828. He’s just 291 yards away from reaching the single-season mark held by Mitch Maher in 1994. He’s four TDs away from equaling Maher’s 26 TD in 1994 which would set the single season mark. Fine is 27 completions away from Derek Thompsons’ 2013 mark of 251.

This is the best offense in NT history at 476.2 per game.

Summary

North Texas is a much better team than it was in 2016. Army is only slightly better. The Mean Green have not played exceptionally well in the last few weeks, but still have enough offensive firepower to make up for the inevitable Army TOP advantage. The Black Knights are tough, and NT’s defense is a bit more thin up front than last year. Instead of relying on superior athleticism, Reffett’s group will have to execute the game plan.

For the most part, NT has been able to do this against nearly every team they’ve faced. Army will score, but should not dominate the game or the scoreboard. NT’s offense has enough quick strike ability, and enough of a run game (Jeff!) that the game should not get away from them.

Alec Morris had a lower quality group of recivers and threw for 300+. Mason Fine has a burner in Jalen Guyton, a fully healthy and weaponized Rico Bussey, Turner Smiley, Mike Lawrence and a healthy Kelvin Smith at his disposal. That, and Jeff Wilson is in better condition for this one and is coming off a phenominal game against UTEP.

Simply put, NT’s offense has too many weapons for Army and will be the best team they have faced not named Ohio State. For NT’s defense, while this offense is unusual, it is not completely unfamiliar nor is it the first group that will try to run directly at NT’s lightweight line. Andy Flusche and company have answered every question asked of them outside of Boca Raton and they should have enough to slow this Army attack.

MGN Prediction: NT 35 Army 26