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Football Football Recaps

Rice Beats Up North Texas 20-14

HOUSTON, TX — As usual, the traveling North Texas crowd looked bigger than the home supporters, but that did not matter. Mike Bloomgren’s Rice Owls came to play on Saturday at Rice Stadium, and Seth Littrell’s Mean Green did not.

Of course, things are not as simple as effort and desire and the twenty-two starters on each team cannot be summed up by a simple adjective. Still, North Texas preaches being the “most excited to play” and it looked like the green team was not.

NT went down 20-0 and the same old problems emerged: could not protect Fine, mistakes in execution, and some questionable play calling. Defensively, Reffet’s player okay but could not generate the consistent pass rush that would have put Rice in reaction mode.

Late in the game, needing a stop, the defense surrendered two first downs that sealed the game for Rice. They ran out the clock and celebrated their second win of the season, and their first at Rice Stadium.

Rice had that to play for — Bloomgren has done a great job of keeping his team ready despite so many close calls — and NT had just a chance at a bowl game in a season that started with much higher hopes.

This season is effectively over. There is one game to play: next week vs UAB on Senior Day. Outside of sending off Mason Fine and the other guys who helped revive the program, there will be nothing extra to play for.

Long time North Texas fans will remember that the last time the season ended this way it was 2015, and we had a coaching change. Seth Littrell will not be fired, but he will still he sought after despite this season’s outcome. He can point to the record book, the young talent on the roster, and the three bowl appearances as proof that he built something at NT.

The setbacks can be explained by acknowledging that he is a first-time coach and learning mistakes happen. There probably could have been some better decisions made in recruiting and hiring but it all has been for the good and this has been one of the most successful eras of the program that does not include a trophy case.

It is important to keep that perspective when attempting to digest an ugly loss such as this one. Rice, for all the very due praise they have gotten all season for being tough, is not as talented as NT from 1-85.

They made that not matter for a large portion of this game, however. A lot of that is coaching.

Offense

putting their The offense had only 238 yards on 57 plays. Rice wanted to choke the game by holding the ball but the real culprit was the poor execution. Fine threw an ugly early interception and missed a few receivers — including Greg White in the end zone. The line could not create space for Siggers not protect Fine often enough to get a rhythm.

Later, NT had a shot from the red zone after Rice fumbled. The refs did not call an interference call on 3rd-and-12 but NT was not exactly not exactly putting the Owl defense on their heels. They needed a 4th down conversion the previous drive and a ball to go through a defender’s hands on a pass to Lawrence.

Ultimately, NT had their chances to win and did not capitalize.

Defense

The Rice offense was solid and unspectacular. They scored 20 in the first half, aided by some short fields but scored when they needed to. The NT defense allowed some conversions early and that hurt them. Later in the second half they did well to force punts except on the final drive when they allowed a big first down on third and long.

NT brought heavy pressure and left Nick Harvey in single coverage. QB Tom Stewart lofted a pass to his big target Austin Trammel who had inside position and used his superior size to go up and get it. Rice used up more clock and then converted a game-sealing 3rd down on the ground.

Defense should be judged in two ways: comprehensive and situational. North texas did well overall and poorly in the latter category. The overall numbers are solid. Holding a team to 20 and under 350 is usually winning defensive football.

However, allowing red zone touchdowns and game sealing drives when you need a stop is not. The staff takes a lot of heat and some of it is very deserved — how, in a scheme that is designed to get pressure, does the squad not get enough pressure?

Some of it is undeserved — this defense is young and getting better weekly.

In this one everyone will remember that the defense was the last unit to make a losing play, but the gave the offense enough possessions and therefore opportunity to win.

Coaching

We wrote that Seth Littrell would earn his paycheck this week, as he had to motivate his group in a game that is very easy to dismiss against a team with nothing to lose, and hunger to impress.

There are a string of bad starts to this season — on the road and at home. SMU, Cal, this game come to mind quickly. North Texas is simply not ready to play to start the game. That is coaching.

The head coach is an offensive guru, and handpicked his new offensive coordinator. He said in preseason that he always had changes in mind for this year and wanted to be aggressive and more explosive.

Injuries have taken some of the experience from the team, but the mistakes that have plagued the group all year do not inspire confidence.

The criticism of the Air Raid system Littrell brought with him was of empty calories: big numbers but little in the way of details. Put another way it is “yes, you can have big per-game numbers but can you win a big game, or a big drive, or a high-leverage moment?”

Littrell’s group has pulled off some big plays in crucial moments but also has some huge, glaringly bad performances in others. It is discouraging to see his offense be the inconsistent performer in those games and moments.

Overall

This was a terrible loss. Rice deserves a lot of credit and Bloomgren has them playing well. Still, NT is further along the process than Rice is and had an all-timer at QB.

There is little reason to expect better in the finale against a better team than Rice, and a more experienced coach than Bloomgren. UAB beat Tech this day and combined with the USM loss to WKU, controls their fate in the west division.

Put simply: NT has nothing but pride to play for while UAB has a championship appearance on the line.

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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Men’s Basketball Falls to Oklahoma 73-57

Mean Green basketball was 8-0 coming into this game and had a big regionally televised game against Oklahoma on the road tonight. NT had every reason to figure it could compete reasonably well in this one.

Last year, NT went to Norman and only lost by ten to a Trae Young-led Sooner squad. It could be argued that if were not for the future-NBA first round pick NT would have triumphed then.

Tonight, NT did not play nearly as well. NT shot 29% in the first half … and the second. Meanwhile, Oklahoma figured out how to shoot in the second half.

NT was down just two at the end of the first half thanks to the shooting of Roosevelt Smart — he had 11 in the first — and then sort of fell apart in the final seven minutes.

Why Did They Lose?

Poor shooting.

Oklahoma is better than the teams North Texas beat up on to this point. There is a little debate among the Mean Green fans about this — we knew they had not played anyone of note just yet but there is some value in doing this. It allows you to get a nice run out and work on some things with a little bit of a safety net.

Whatever the situation, the Sooners were more athletic, and more skilled than the previous competition and it sure seemed like that caused some of the early turnovers. North Texas had to go to their second and third options on offense and did not make those decisions quickly enough.

As they settled into things (both teams) stopped turning the ball over a ton, and NT started playing NT basketball, hitting shots, getting to the rim and pushing the pace.

In the second half, the Mean Green fell into the same traps, but couldn’t defend Oklahoma as well. Zach Simmons dunked and put NT up by two briefly (for :13) before Oklahoma went on a run.

What Does It Mean?

In the long run? Not much. This is mostly a learning experience. NT could have used the hype of a win in Norman but the path to any kind of notoriety for this team was always going to come via the CUSA Tournament and a possible NCAA bid through that path.

The non-conference schedule is weak, but again the CUSA Bonus Play rounds will attempt to fix that if NT can win early in league play.

Who Played Well?

Roosevelt Smart came back from injury and put in 13, but did not shoot well overall. He is working his way back into the groove. Zach Simmons did not score as well, but rebounded well. Ryan Woolridge played really well in certain aspects, but was a little loose with the ball as he tried to make things happen late. He finished with 17.

Next Up

Indiana State on the road and UT Arlington at the Super Pit.

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Football Football Recaps

Gutsy Revenge Win: North Texas 41 FAU 38

There is always something to play for.

North Texas and Florida Atlantic met up for the first time since last December when FAU completed the two-game sweep that saw Lane Kiffin’s Owls put up 1436 yards and 110 points. At the very least there was revenge to be had.

North Texas jumped out to a 17-0 lead that felt precarious only because of recent history. The Mean Green lost three games this season when leading big — 21-6 after one quarter vs LA Tech only to lose 29-27, 21-10 at halftime vs UAB only to lose 29-21, and last week up 28-0 vs ODU before losing 34-31.

That fear was realized again as FAU stormed back to take a 21-20 halftime lead. Mason Fine had 280 passing yards at the half, but the entire Mean Green team managed only 3 yards rushing by then. Sure that included -9 rushing/sack yards on Fine, but DeAndre Torry had only 10 on 7 carries and Nic Smith was at 2 on 1 tote.

To make matters worse, Mason Fine threw two interceptions by the 14:51 mark of the third quarter. He threw his third on the year in the first half to a line backer — all three to that point were to LBs sitting in a zone (UIW, UAB, FAU). The third quarter interception came on yet-another dropped pass.

FAU had begun to stymie Mason Fine by dropping back 8 men in a zone. The run game was stagnant and NT had no answer. That is, until, a couple of QB draws and a nice 46-yard run from Torrey got NT into position to score. Then what looked like a disaster: Mason Fine took a big hit and immediately called for the training staff. He left the game clutching his wrist and the FAU defender was assessed a 15-yard penalty for roughing.

Player-of-the-Game and Spring Game HOFer Quinn Shanbour stepped in and ran for a score. His next possestion he did the same again. He finished with 34 yards rushing on four carries and 2 TDs. Way to be clutch.

In between series NT got a Nate Brooks interception, his fifth on the season. He was incredible all night, flying around to deflect passes and firing in for big tackles.

Khairi Muhammad sealed the game with an interception of his own on the final FAU drive. You might recall that he was ejected in the first half of last week’s game against ODU for allegedly spitting in ODU WR Jonathan Duhart’s face. Muhammad denies this.

He played incredibly all night — flying in for at least one big third down stop on a WR. He finished with 9 total tackles one behind fellow safety Taylor Robinson.

The entire defense was clutch.

While Devin Singletary had a solid game that included a couple of scores added to his ridiculous career tally, he did not manage over 100 yards and had to work for his night. He finished with 93 on 23 carries — 4 pards per tote. North Texas racked up 11 tackles for loss in this one led by Brandon Garner’s 2.5.

The defense came up big when it mattered and that is how winning is done.

Offense

Mason Fine was great again. He showed the entire package: accuracy, toughness, cleverness, and judgement.

He made the right play most of the time even though he was intercepted twice — once through his own poor read. He finished with 295 yards on 22 of 33 passing and 2 scores to go with the 2 picks.

The run game was abysmal until it was sublime. Sparked by some quality second-half runs, NT finished with 208 on the game, helped in large part thanks to DeAndre Torrey’s incredible 92-yard run late in the fourth quarter.

Torrey followed his 145-yard effort last week with a 184 yard game in this one. He added 38 yards and a receiving TD, also. He is creeping up the single-season TD list.

Rico Bussey Jr. had his usual 86 — he averages 90 – on 5 catches (7 targets). Jalen Guyton had 4 grabs for 62 yards and a TD on 7 targest. He started out hot but late he dropped some.

Despite the good feelings NT was just 2 of 12 on third down. NT also found themselves in two 3rd and 18s. Mason Fine was hit too much — again — and this time he left the game with a gashed wrist.

Defense

This side of the ball impressed again. There were some big plays allowed, but FAU has the kind of talent that does that to teams. Kiffin had his guys playing well. Two weeks ago FAU beat the presumptive East representative FIU on the road handily.

The entire defensive line was active and got into the backfield often. Motor Singletary had his moments, but they were confined and he had to work. He was hit in the backfield by two-or-more NT defenders often enough and when he got into positive territory, he was met with a gang of Mean Green.

The secondary was impressive even though Chris Robison had a nice night. The FAU plays came on big plays via play-action, which is understandable given the calibre of the run game faced.

NT plays aggressivley, and while that will allow the occasional big play, it is supposed to create negative plays and turnovers. That was the case again in this one.

Everyone was flying around with energy on a cold night in front of a relatively sparse crowd (compared to the Tech game).

The defense forced stops and got clutch tackles and huge turnovers. That’s all we can ask for.

Coaching

Much has been made of the collapses in recent weeks with good reason. Overall it is important to realize that Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell are relatively inexperienced and are learning.

North Texas is a well-motivated team that executes for most of the game. Putting all that into timely production is a work in progress.

What Does It All Mean? and What Is Next?

North Texas is 8-3 with a chance to even up the all-time series against UTSA at 3 a piece. NT is 0-2 in the Alamodome, and can grab the 9th win of the season next Saturday.

UTSA is awful, and are enduring one of the worst offensive seasons in the nation.

NT needs a win in that one and a bowl win to get to 10 wins, which would be a program first.

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Football Football Recaps

Another Collapse: North Texas 31 ODU 34, Mean Green Blow a 28-0 Lead

North Texas was up 28-0, and if you have been paying close attention all season you know this was a bad sign. For some mysterious reason, North Texas has been unable put together a full game. Everyone on the internet has their own reason to offer for this situation, but no one has the answer for unlocking it.

Were NT not 7-3, one of the better records in NT history at this point in a season, there would be more than a little bit of concern. As it is, there is frustration.

Coming into this game North Texas had to find some kind of motivation after dropping the Division Championship game to UAB in Birmingham. NT followed that up with a nice win over Rice that took a fourth quarter explosion to make the scoreboard look nice. In this one, NT jumped out to an easy 28-0 lead where the offense looked explosive and the run game powerful. The defense intercepted Blake LaRussa on the first possession and went down and scored a TD.

NT got their first two TDs from Rico Bussey on a 23-yard score and the second from DeAndre Torrey ran in from 37-yards out. Torrey finished with 145 yard on 25 carries. He also added 34 yards on five receptions. Unfortunately, he also fumbled early in the fourth quarter.

NT moved the ball easily and often early. NT went 7 plays and 54 yards for the third score, Torrey’s second TD of the game without seeing a third down. On their fourth TD that made it 28-0, Rico Bussey took a 4th and five pass for a 26-yard TD. That would all the TDs for NT this day. Cole Hedlund added a third quarter FG but NT was otherwise shutout.

ODU would go on to score 34 points beginning with the late-second quarter TD from LaLa Davis.

This would be the third time NT has failed to show up in the second half after going up big. They led Tech 21-6 (after one quarter), UAB 21-10 at half, and ODU 28-0 at half. All three ended as losses. The fans think it is play-calling. Littrell has credited the opponents and blamed his team for poor execution and his own staff (himself included) for preparation and coaching.

Whatever the reason, NT has failed to execute in short yardage in crucial situations and also turned the ball over. In the third quarter of this game NT went 1-5 on third down and 0-1 on fourth. The fourth-down attempt came at 4th and 7 from the ODU 9 on a fake field goal attempt. It was a curious move, but ultimately somewhat understandable. When being aggressive, you risk failure. NT still led 28-17 at that point. NT ultimately forced a three-and-out and then got their lone points — the field goal — to make it 31-17 with a little over a quarter remaining.

In the fourth quarter of this game, after ODU scored to end the third and make it 31-24, DeAndre Torrey fumbled on 1st and 10 on the ODU 36. NT had moved 33 yards in 6 plays, had overcome a 1st down sack. Torrey had just picked up 16 yards on a pass on 3rd and 6. This was the last good drive NT had.

In the fourth quarter NT was 1-3 on third downs and 0-1 on fourth.

ODU kicked a FG. NT turned it over on downs. This was a six play drive that ended with a failed Torrey 4th-and-1 attempt. Of the 19 yards NT gained that drive 14 of them were rushes. That is what makes the whole thing frustrating. The run game can run but also fails when it counts.

NT forced an ODU punt on a three-and-out and then followed with their own. Fine lined up to throw three times but scrambled for a yard, and completed two to Torrey for only five yards. NT punted on 4th and 4. Then ODU went on their 14-play 71-yard game-winning drive.

What Does It All Mean

Look, none of this is new now. NT has had trouble with efficiency. This blog thinks the lack of a Jeff Wilson type runner has meant NT is without a go-to play or series of plays. Jeff Wilson was a reliable source of grinding yards and explosive plays. NT could build their entire offensive game plan on the threat of Wilson and the counters built on that. This season Mason Fine is the threat — but in what context?

Sure if Mason Fine has the time to throw he can be dangerous but increasingly teams are flooding the field with defenders and getting pressure with their front-four. Jalen Guyton has been off the pace he set for himself last year when he was the Newcomer of the year. He has had the dropsies all season and that happened again in this one. Mike Lawrence has been schemed out of the game. Bussey and Darden are the only consistent performers.

The run game has been boom and bust and mostly bust when it comes to crucial conversions. The team has been able to convert early in games, but late against UAB and here in the fourth quarter when NT needed a 4th down conversion, it came up short.

Contrast that with Old Dominion’s 4th and 6 conversion (and the 4th and three earlier that drive). QB Blake LaRussa threw a 36-yard pass to Jonathan Duhart, who made the grab over Tyreke Davis. When it came time to make a play that wins or loses the game, ODU made it and North Texas did not. That, is this season in a nutshell.

Other

Everyone wants someone to blame and I do not know where to lay it. Sure, it is easy to blame the coaching staff but what exactly is the problem? What did the staff do to make Guyton the newcomer of the year and then let him develop the dropsies?

“Adjustments” need to be made, but failing to get a 4th and 1 is just a failure of execution. Most of the focus is on the offense, for failing in the same way for the third time (they have also done this inconsistent thing for longer than that) but the defense deserves a little attention. Allowing 34 points is not good. Sure, ODU is good and has talent, but some of the plays were silly. Big plays to their wide receivers and allowing a second-effort on 4th and 3 on ODU’s final drive.

Tyreke Davis getting burned on 4th and 6 is just one bad play, but the series of poor defensive plays before that set that up to hurt much more than it should have.

It takes a village to blow a 28-0 lead, y’all.

Next Up

North Texas hosts a renewed and reinvigorated FAU squad on Thursday night. This was supposed to be a marquee game. Now? Well, it will just be a game.

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Football

Late Show: Mean Green Pull Away From Rice 41-17

Let you think this was the blowout that was expected — NT came into this game 28 point favorites — it was not. North Texas was tied with Rice at 17 late in the third quarter before scoring 24-straight points to win.

DeAndre Torrey had all three of those final three touchdowns including two rushes from 14 and 12 yards out respectively, and one TD pass from five. For the game he has 130 yards on 15 carrie and three scores on the ground to go with two grabs and four yards and a score through the air.

The Mean Green struggled throughout the game, repeatedly hurting their own cause by fumbling — three in all — and allowing Mason Fine to take sack after sack. Rice totaled three sacks and four QB hurries and countless shots on Mason Fine throughout the afternoon.

For the game, North Texas averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down, emblematic of their struggles to get anything going early. After a long TD drive from Rice, NT came out and got a field goal after Fine was sacked at the Rice 16.

It looked like the rout was going to happen after all after Fine connected with Bussey Jr for 68 yards on 1st and 10 from the NT 32 — Fine rolled out and found Bussey behind the Rice secondary. He made the catch and outran the safety for six. NT added another TD the following drive after another Rice punt. DeAndre Torrey scored his first from 11-yards out as he danced passed three defenders for the score.

NT was up 17-7 and it looked like things were going to be easy. That was not the case.

North Texas struggled on the next couple of drives and then Anthony Wyche fumbled after gaining 11-yards on a pass. Rice kicked a FG after a short drive to make it 17-10. North Texas was in good position to extend the lead after halftime as they got the ball first. Rico Bussey Jr. fumbled on the kick off return, however and Rice scored to tie the game up.

North Texas went 2-6 on third downs in the third quarter, and produced just one field goal. Rice punted and put NT on their own five yard line. Instead of getting sacked — Mason Fine nearly did — NT drove for a TD. The onslaught of TDs to close things were what Mean Green fans expected and hoped for in this game, but they hid some of the poor play early.

As it is, North Texas is 7-2 entering a much-needed bye week before taking on ODU in Hampton Roads, FAU at home, and UTSA in San Antonio. North Texas has three very winnable games in the way of reaching 10 wins for the first time. NT has reached 9 wins in 2017, 2013, and 2003 in this century.

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Football

BHAM Bust: North Texas 21 UAB 29, North Texas All But Eliminated from CUSA Race

When Mason Fine fumbled at the six yard line early in the 4th quarter, it was only fortunate that the referees — already hated by both sides of the internet fandom — blew the whistle way to early because it prevented a sure UAB touchdown return.

As it was, UAB’s QB AJ Erdely completed a 36-yard bomb to Xavier Ubosi — his only grab on the night — to get them out of the shadow of their own end zone. That set up a long UAB drive that ate up 6:14 and went 87 yards in 13 plays. It resulted in a Nick Vogel field goal that put the Blazers up by the winning score margin.

Mason Fine’s final pass to Jalen Guyton on 4th down was a yard short — clearly — and the potential game-tying drive ended at the UAB 18.

The Mean Green started well, scoring an electric 21 points in the first half. Rico Bussy Jr. had a 57-yard TD score on a quick slant that saw him out run everyone on the way to the end zone. Jaelon Darden pulled off some highlight-reel moves on the way to accumulating a career-best 10 catches and 143 yards to go with his 2 first half scores.

Those three touchdowns — all in the first half — were all of Mason Fine’s scores, as he put up 336 on 29/40 passing. He out-dueled Erdely, who had 189 on 14/22. Both QBs were sacked four times — Brandon Garner, EJ Ejiya, Joe Ozougwu, and Rod Young combined — but the run game for UAB did the most damage.

UAB’s big offensive line and powerful back Spencer Brown were able to lean on the Mean Green in the third and fourth quarters, extending drives and killing the clock long enough to keep the Mean Green off the field.

Echoing the performance against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs back in September, the Mean Green only had the ball for 4 minutes of the third quarter. A failed 4th down attempt gave the ball to UAB at midfield. The Blazers drove 3:53 before fumbling at the six. Mason Fine was forced into an intentional grounding by Garrett Marino that caused a safety. Then UAB drove for another three-and-a-half minutes for a TD. It was 21-10 and NT had not had the ball in ages.

The offensive rhythm gone, and the defense unable to get off the field thanks to 3rd down penalties, NT struggled to find the form of the first half. The adjustments the Blazers made were along the lines of hitting Mason Fine more. The possession after the TD, Mason Fine hit Kelvin Smith for five yards, then was harassed into two incomplete passes while taking big hits from the defensive line.

In the fourth, after going down 26-21, yet another 4th down conversion failed when Mason Fine threw incomplete when Jack LB Stacy Keely knocked down Mason Fine’s pass.

The defense did enough to get the ball back once more, but the drive ended on the six when Mason Fine clearly fumbled. After UAB drove, NT had one last gasp in them but could not convert. A mishandled snap cost NT a third down and on fourth down, Fine avoided pressure and found Guyton for 9-yards, just a yard shy of the first down that could have extended things.

Offense

The offense came out, well, blazing. Mason Fine was accurate, quick with his passes and finding playmakers in space. North Texas has 222 total yards to UAB’s 140 at the half, and 212 passing. The run game was a concern, and that never improved. DeAndre Torrey and Nic Smith ran hard, but could not find much space against the huge UAB defense.

In the second half, NT simply could not execute. Misfiring on 4th and 2 (run game) gave the ball away. A sack in their own end zone ended another drive. A misfire on 3rd and 2 (run game) and the failed subsequent 4th and 1 (pass game) killed another.

Finally, the fumble by Mason Fine ended yet another possible scoring drive. North Texas was good enough to win this game — much like they were in the Louisiana Tech game — but mistakes against good teams — like against Tech — will cost you wins.

This was unsurprising — both aspects — as North Texas has been playing this inconsistently all season. Every post-game review has remarked on how the offense struggles for a quarter or two, but also puts together a remarkable run of points where it looks like the team we expect it to be.

In this game, the total numbers mask the fact that NT had an awful third and fourth quarter. NT went scoreless in the second half and largely through their own doing. Credit UAB for making things difficult — the defensive line was good — but there were too many mistakes in short yardage to think that NT was simply overpowered. They just did not execute when it mattered.

Defense

The defense has been the most consistent and best unit this season. They held this UAB defense and gave the offense more than a few opportunities to win things. Nate Brooks ripped the ball away from a UAB running back that saved a scoring drive — shades of last week when Khairi Muhammad did the same against Southern Miss. EJ Ejiya racked up 10 tackles and flew all over the field. AJ Erdely was sacked four times and the run game was held in check until late, when the defense played way too much.

Even then, they held UAB to a FG in their final drive, giving Mason Fine one more shot to tie things with a TD+two point conversion.

Special

UAB had a huge return that set up a short field. That drive resulted in a TD for UAB. Outside of that, NT did not have any return chances. No one muffed a return. Kentworthy punted four times and had one over 50 and two inside the 20.

What It Means

Well, as we explained earlier this week, it is all but over for NT. This UAB team — a very good one — would have to drop three of their next four to the likes of UTEP, UTSA, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee.

NT falls to third in the division behind UAB (4-0), and LT (3-1).

Next Up

Rice. The Owls played better this week but are still struggling.

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Football

Defense Dominant as North Texas Beats Southern Miss 30-7

North Texas moved to 6-1 and 2-1 in C-USA play after a nice, business-handling win over Southern Miss.

Perhaps you wanted some kind of 44-26 win where Mason Fine shows off his arm and his weapons? This blog wanted that but is more than happy to sit here with a 30-7 victory in which the defense held an opponent to under 10.

This was an old-school dominant victory. The Golden Eagles came in looking to exploit the NT secondary — ahem, young Cam Johnson — and did all that. They forgot to score points.

The defense was greedy and did some thievery again, intercepting Jack Abraham once and Khairi Muhammad ripped the ball away from USM’s Trevensky Mosley for a fumble recovery. Muhammad finished with six tackles — four solo — and one TFL.

The defensive line was ferocious, with L’Darius Hamilton (Hambone) getting two sacks, including a flying, diving one on Jack Abraham early in the first.

The offense came out throwing the ball — looking to stay ahead of the chains and go with the strength. That method was mildy successful, as drops and a good USM pass rush on Mason Fine forced some early scrambles and two early punts.

Fine eventually found Guyton for six — a beauty of a toss that travelled 58 yards in the air — and NT looked like it was beginning to get unstuck. He finished 24/38 for 292 and a TD.

Unfortunately, Jack Abraham had a nice day throwing with 318 n 29/42 and a score to Quez Watkins from 44 yards out in which Quez out ran the entire secondary.

Watkins and fellow wideout Jordan Mitchell each had over 100 yards receiving, the first time NT has allowed that situation since the New Orleans Bowl against Troy.

Jalen Guyton also had himself a day, with 7 grabs for 124 and a score on 10 targets. That puts him at 21 grabs 335 and 2 scores in two seasons against USM. Mason Fine found 9 different pass-catches including Caleb Chumbley, who grabbed one for five.

Fine was greater than the numbers in the box score. He scrambled, spun out of sacks, and did the things that turn negative plays into positive plays. That is the stuff of winning, and a good reason why NT is 6-1 on the year.

All told, this was a nice effort if you look at the box score. DeAndre Torry had another 3 TD game, including the bow on the game in the form of a 34-yard score with under a minute left.

What It Means

North Texas is 2-1 in conference play and 6-1 on the season, bowl eligible in the third season of Seth Littrell’s career. Just a few short years ago NT was advertising the #Hit6 tag, to reach this point. Now? It almost barely registers.

With Tech’s loss last week to UAB, North Texas can claim a portion of the division lead with a win at Birmingham next week.

The offense could use a game with some efficiency. Mason Fine will play tougher defensive lines (next week) and the run game has to improve some if Graham Harrell does not want Fine to take too many hits.

As it is, this was yet another 400+ yard performance and a good outing by the QB. There was winning football played, and 30-points is enough to get wins. Unlike last season when the offense needed 45 points to win, this year, 30 is plenty.

Next Up

At UAB 6-1, 2-0.

It will be tough as UAB looks amazing right now. They dominated a terrible Rice squad and got to play the second and third teamers. That should prove to be the toughest game NT has played this season. Sure, Tech won, but that was at home.

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Football Football Recaps

Struggle Win: North Texas 27 UTEP 24

The North Texas Mean Green went to UTEP and struggled with the Miners. This has been a theme for some time. NT lost the last two in El Paso coming into today, including that awful 52-24 defeat in 2016 that served as the Miners’ most recent win.

Senior Ryan Metz started in place of redshirt freshman Kai Locksley and perhaps showed a little bit of why he should remain the starter. He brought another dimension (passing) to things, while retaining just enough of the ground attack that makes Locksley so dangerous.

He threw for 313 yards on 16/33 passing. A good number of those yards were so much luck that it was infuriating and frustrating and perhaps a little reminiscent of last year’s defensive performance. So it goes. North Texas was always going to have a bad game this season and it came against UTEP, a very beatable team that — despite the offensive explosion — only managed 24 points on 417 yards.

The offense had a similar fall-off, but it managed 27 points — the same number as it produced last week against Tech but in much different fashion. We have concerns about the Easly-less run game, and the struggling pass game. That said, those are relative complaints as MGN remembers when a struggling pass game looked like barely getting 100 yards.

Mason Fine put up 294 yards and threw two scores (one on another one of those jet-sweep ‘touch’ passes) on 23 of 34 passing. Rico Bussey dominated the game with 8 grabs for 117 and a score. Jaelon Darden reappeared for five grabs and 91 yards. That was all good, but why does it feel bad? Well, UTEP came in looking terrible and we all expected an offensive show. Instead we got a solid game and it required some tough yards late to put things away.

All in all that was a winning effort when we did not think we would need one.

Let us obsess about this game that was horrible to watch:

Offense

Again, the offense put up good numbers 428 yards, 294 passing and 134 rushing. The Mean Green added 21 first downs and converted 8/17 first downs. NT ran only 69 plays and came in averaging 81 per game. The good news: NT averaged 6.2 yards per play and came in at 6.08. So yes, by at least one measure this offense was better than it had been.

Okay, but 27 is not 44, which was the per-game average coming in. Part of that was that the first and third quarters saw some bad running. NT could not get the easy runs that get them ahead of the chains and then saw Mason Fine run for his life on later downs. Mike Lawrence had a drop, and Rico Bussey lost the ball over his shoulder again. Little things like that were overcome, but against a good team those can be losing plays — see last week.

In the second and fourth quarters Nic Smith and company did some nice things. Mason Fine led some TD drives and NT won the game by scoring when it had to. Mason Fine was 9/9 for 105 and a score in the third quarter when the run game struggled.

Ideally, he is tossing TDs early — something like we saw in the first quarter against Tech — and NT is running to close things out later. Credit to the UTEP defensive line that showed it is good in its own right. The D-Line helped UTEP produce five tackles for loss. They were tough.

Defense

That was not fun to watch. We can forgive the NT defense for being caught a bit off guard. There was no tape of Metz in this UTEP offense. Gone were the QB-centric run things that UTEP had relied on so much this season and in place were more of the passing things that Locksley is not so good at.

UTEP broke out the K-State jump pass on the QB-play action thing and kept NT honest about it by actually running Metz some times. Former NT coordinator and interim Head Coach Mike Canales called a good game, catching NT sleeping on some plays and finding the fullback — son of UTEP head coach Dana Dimel — and Q. Wadley big plays on play-action.

There was some bad luck to deal with: A couple of catches were the result of miracles or falling down (Cam Johnson on the 67-yard TD to Keynan Foster). That is frustrating but the defense did come up with a couple of interceptions to extend the nation-leading lead in that category.

Tyreke Davis and Nate Brooks grabbed one each. Davis’ was a diving one across the middle that was the best of the night.

There were two sacks (shared among four players) and five tackes for loss. The defense swarmed and gang-tackled, which is nice to see.

Ultimately, there were a few mistakes but it was a good effort. Ryan Metz was able to escape and extend drives on some third-and-longs. It was not the defense’s finest hour. Again, we should commend the UTEP squad for executing and pulling out some nice plays. They mixed in surprise with power runs that got them to 24 points.

You can see the outlines of the team they want to be in the coming years.

Special Teams

Cole Hedlund had a 52 and a 29 yarder. Kenworthy had four nice punts that flipped the field and the coverage was solid. No muffed punts this time, so that is nice.

NT blocked one UTEP kick that ultimately decided the game.

What It Means

North Texas is 5-1 and 1-1 in conference play. Elsewhere, Louisiana Tech dropped their home opener to UAB. The Blazers defensive line held J’Mar Smith to 9/23 for 107 and an interception. UAB rushed for 229 yards and three scores.

The Blazers do a lot of what UTEP tried tonight but with success and have a defense to be very afraid of. That matchup is coming up in two weeks but next week is a very good USM team that is coming off a bye.

North Texas was always going to have to battle for this division, good start or no. The squad has not been playing that well on offense, but there is still time to correct that. North Texas was expected (by MGN) to come out more crisply, but there was a lethargy there. I suppose it could be chalked up to human nature, but coaching and play is supposed to bring teams beyond the natural inclinations.

NT might have escaped this one, and that is good. It means that the squad has a chance to control some aspect of its fate. There will be tougher teams and less room for awful play.

Next Up

Southern Miss who had a bye. Apogee Stadium gets a chance at a re-do against a good squad that can score and has talent on defense

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Light Work: North Texas 58 – Incarnate Word 16

North Texas beat Incarnate Word 58-16 on Saturday Night in front of a paltry crowd that mostly was concerned with staying warm and dry. There is some kind of lesson there about remembering that what happened last week was no accomplishment worth dwelling on. SMU has proved to be a bad team, and in front of them was an FCS squad that had designs on an upset. Instead of 29,519 there was about half that, looking wet.

Winning in this fashion is what good teams do, and North Texas did its best to prove that it is a very good team even if the rest of CUSA has none with a confident claim on that label.

First, the numbers:

  • Mason Fine had 418 yards on 25/40 and 4 scores against one bad interception.
  • DeAndre Torrey had 16 carries for 35 yads and 3 one-yard scores.
  • Rico Bussey had 8 grabs for 128 yards, 3 scores on 11 targets.
  • Jalen Guyton had 5 catches for 111 and one score on 13 targets. He dropped more than was comfortable.
  • North Texas produced 607 yards of offense, 32 first downs, went 8/15 on 3rd downs, ran 91 plays, and scored 9 of 10 times in the Red Zone.

The defense looked good again, grabbing two interceptions but did allow UIW’s Ra’Quanne Dickens to run for two long TDs — one for 55 and another for 42. He totalled 139, largely on those two runs. UIW freshman QB Jon Copeland managed only 152 passing, though he found Phillip Baptiste 6 times for 79 including a 32 yard double-move. \

Did We Do What We Needed To Do?

Yes.

The idea here was to win big and get the backups some repetitions. Cade Pearson, Kason Martin, and Quinn Shanbour all made appearances and threw a combined 9 passes (and completed 7).

North Texas was comfortably ahead by halftime but kept Mason Fine in to seal the deal and pad his stats. He went over 418 late, on a nice strike to Rico Bussey that served simply to get him over 400. In so doing, he became the first NT player to go over 400 yards in consecutive games.

Most importantly North Texas is 2-0 for the first time since 1994. Much was made of this, and it matters only in that NT is still in line to accomplish goals: winning a league title and going to a bowl game — to look for a win.

North Texas is not going to compete for a Playoff spot — especially since the league is so poor — and so winning is winning just for winning’s sake at this point.

That is to say NT should be happy to win this because it was a game in front of them, and not to achieve a 2-0 record. Make sense?

Incarnate Word was overmatched, but North Texas fans still shudder at the mention of Portland State (I saw them on TV and quickly changed the channel) and will never, ever overlook an FCS squad again.

The defense was good again. Brandon Garner was all over the field, Jamie King was good at the Jack, and EJ Ejiya was flying all over.

The secondary got two interceptions — one from both corners — and harassed a solid FCS offense into mistakes. There were gashes — something to work on — but this defense looks really good at the moment.

Improvement Points

The offense was not perfect. Jalen Guyton had a few drops, and Mason Fine threw an interception. The run game was still struggling until Anthony Wyche got in and started gashing the backups.

There was a personal foul penalty that had Seth Littrell upset, and NT kicked too many field goals. The good news? The special teams was good again and nearly broke some.

No one was injured. That is probably the second most important takeaway.

Next Up

NT fans have circled Arkansas for months, and their loss at Colorado State will make it more difficult for North Texas and less impressive if the Mean Green got a win.

So it goes.

Chad Morris is still the coach of the Hogs and he has NT’s number. His guys should be better at home, and there is still a talent depth advantage to fear.

What Does It All Mean?

North Texas is far and away playing the best football in the league right now. That does not mean anything, because the only FIU ends the night with a win in league play. If this team is going to stick to the philosophy of getting one week better, this all bodes well for the future. Good football should become great football by the time the league season comes around.

One week better is the mantra, and NT has lots of room for improvement. Arkansas is talented, deeper, and has a coach who has won three straight over North Texas when he had a slighter talent advantage. Oh, and this is on the road in SEC country, where 29,519 is a poor crowd.

Arkansas is not good but they are talented and the room for error will be smaller that it was in the last couple of weeks. Mason Fine may well throw for big yards again, but the little things — hitting a couple of defenders in the chest with the ball, and one in the hands today — will go punished.

Categories
MGN Podcast

90: CUSA West Division Champs

Adam and Aldo discuss the 2017 CUSA West Division Champs, and the impending showdown with FAU

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

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