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North Texas Gets Stomped by SMU: 27-49

I have an unofficial rule that when two teams are evenly matched it will result in a blowout. SMU came in with talent and depth in certain positions, and NT with talent and depth in others.

What happened was that their best players played better than the Mean Green versions. It is no more complicated than that. SMU’s Shane Buechele finished with big numbers, but his totals came in bunches in a very specific area: max-protecting and throwing lobs to James Proche or one of his colleagues at WR.

North Texas is young and/or inexperienced at nearly every position across the defense and a few busted plays are to be expected. We saw that tonight, as the pass rush — aided by extra LBs and occasionally DBs — was slow in execution and Buechele was left to throw to his talented WRs who were in single coverage.

NT occasionally won those battles, but too infrequently. Jameel Moore was called for 4 pass interference calls. Some were iffy, but some were right on.

All told, NT gave up too much too often and did not help the cause on that side of the ball.

Again, this was to be expected or at least be unsurprising to the knowledgable fan. SMU has a great offensive head coach who has had teams that produced big numbers and tons of yards at every stop in his career.

The thinking was that NT would be able to go toe-to-toe given the personnel on the Mean Green roster: Mason Fine, Rico Bussey, Mike Lawrence, Jaelon Darden, DeAndre Torrey and the like.

SMU came out aggressively, and NT looked like they wanted to finesse their way down the field to little success. Mason Fine was under pressure, and SMU was able to get three scores up quickly — 21-0.

NT found yet another bright spot on the running back depth chart in converted safety Tre Siggers (he played RB in HS). He brought the physicality that was lacking and trucked his way through multiple Ponies. Siggers finished with 164 yards on 18 carries (he had 9 for 124 at the half).

What success NT had on offense came in a spread-and-shred situation — going wide and letting Tre run through dudes. This was a nice change from the first quarter when NT could not convert on short yardage — and issue that has been present throughout Littrell’s tenure.

NT was within two scores but couldn’t hold off SMU in the second half. The Mean Green managed two field goals to start the third, while SMU got touchdowns. That is emblematic of the game.

NT’s offense needs to be a TD-a-possession type unit, and they were not. The NT defense has to come up big in some moments where they should not, but they did not do so early.

Coaching

Seth Littrell is in a tough situation, and he and Bodie Reeder probably got a little to clever to start things out. NT did not match the physicality early, and they paid for it. Aggression is more than just going for it on 4th down.

They did well to adjust and get Tre Siggers in to change the game. Troy Reffett’s defense got a little bit better, and if you squinted, you could see how the plan would work if everything was clicking.

I am not a fan of running Mason Fine in a keeper pretty much ever any more. Also, Fine played about one series too long .Bean did come in and throw a TD when the white flag was a-wavin’.

Offense

I mentioned aggression earlier and North Texas is sorely lacking in that department. There is talent all over the roster but precious little bully-ball on the outside. Deion Hair-Griffin is a burner but he did not challenge for one ball that was intercepted.

Jaelon Darden dropped three passes while he otherwise played fine. No one else could get open or make tough catches that require some fighting. Contrast that with SMU’s Roberson and Proche making some tough grabs while fighting some good coverage. They either won their matchups or made tough catches.

The bullying that Tre Siggers was doing to the SMU defense was invigorating. He got yards that should not be gotten — breaking a tackle and running through guys. For all the benefit of out running, out faking, out scheming the opponent there is much benefit to being stronger than the guy in front of you.

This is football, after all.

Bussey was held without a catch and Mason Fine managed just 152 yards on 17/32 throwing. There were too few NT guys open and when they were, they did not do much with it.

No one group wins or loses the game but this group had the ball 35 minutes and produced only 20 points in the competitive portion of the game. That is about 20 points fewer than the defense needs to keep in this thing.

Defense

We knew they would struggle this season but it was not fun to watch it happen. The pass rush was nullified early by some tempo, some good pass blocking, and some good scheming. Eventually LaDarius Hamilton and company were able to get to Buechele.

Sonny Dykes and Rashee Lashlee made some great adjustments — calling for a tunnel screen right after Buechele was laid out by Hambone. The defense is most vulnerable to screens after a sack, after all.

The execution of said screen was amazing and Proche was off into NT territory. The Ponies dialed up great plays to put their guys into winning positions and they won their battles. NT corners Nick Harvey and Cam Johnson had tough matchups and came in 2nd best all night — that is not a knock, just the facts.

Tyreke and KD Davis were able to show their speed at times and overall NT was aggressive in pursuit of the ball. The tackling was not always so amazing and NT had a handful of missed gap assignments that led to big runs for SMU’s Xavier Jones.

Overall this group struggled and missed some golden opportunities to get the ball back to the offense.

Special Teams

NT was 2/2 from field goal range and there was a blocked SMU kick. The punt game flipped the field a couple of times and pinned SMU back deep. Solid, winning football from this group even if it wasn’t in a winning effort.

Next up: California at Berkeley. The Golden Bears have a good defense and a questionable offense, but they have talent enough to take advantage of a young defense.

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Football Football Recaps

Shootout In Denton: North Texas 52 – Army 49, Mean Green Seal Undefeated Home Season

North Texas outlasted Army in a wild game 52-49 on the strength of Senior Kicker Trevor Moore’s 39-yard kick to win it and end North Texas’s home schedule spotless. The Mean Green finished the home slate undefeated for the first time since 2003 and went 6-0 for the first time since 1966.

No game has been boring, with North Texas trailing at one point in every game but the opener vs Lamar. Edit: Or this one. Forgot to clarify that North Texas’ powerful Air Raid offense put on a show in front of the 26,392. That makes the second straight week that NT has packed the house to set a new 2nd-largest-at-Apogee record.

Mason Fine threw for 386 and 4 TDs and 1 TD on 24/36 passing. He became the single-season pass leader at North Texas with 3,198 and three games to play in the year. Jeff Wilson added 72 yards on 19 and two scores which put him at a career-best 1,215 and 16 TDs for the season. Barring a miracle healing regimen, that is where he will stay unless he can make it back for a bowl game.

Wilson limped off the field late, and was seen in a walking boot and crutches on the sideline with teammates consoling him. Seth Littrell said on the Mean Green Radio Network postgame show that it “looks bad” and they will evaluate today or tomorrow.

North Texas scored on 8 of 11 drives, put up 489 yards of offense, 25 first downs, and went 7/11 on 3rd down (and 2/2 on 4th). That is good for 7.1 yards per play on 69 plays. In all, about right on season average accross the board.

For Army, they did equally as well, putting up an incredible 561 yards on 534 yards rushing, 25 first downs including 8/11 on 3rd (1/2 on 4th). They ran 70 plays and put up 8 yards per play and held the ball for 34:13. It was the perfect deployment of the Triple Option we have seen — including the 480 yards rushing in the HOD Bowl in Dec. The difference tonight was the chunk plays that came regularly.

QB Ahmad Bradshaw ran 27 times for 244 and 2 scores, while Darnell Woolfolk had 120 on 18 and 2 himself. FB Andy Davidson had 72 on 11 for 2 also. The Black Knights managed an incredible 15 rush plays of 10 or more.

The NT defensive line, already thin because of injury, had trouble stopping the dive easily and Army got all the leverage they could want.

NT went up 14-7 on the strength of the pass game and the return of the same roll out, deep post they hit against UTEP. That would be NT’s favorite play, as they go to that a couple of more times.

It looked like North Texas was going to run away with things after going up 21-7 and later 28-13 thanks to a couple of Army miscues. The first, a muffed punt that led to a quick and easy Jeff Wilson score and the second, where an Army roughing call allowed NT to set up shop at the 10 before hitting Guyton for six.

That wouldn’t be the case. Army would score evey time they got the ball where they had time to drive — that is to say the end of both halves were the only thing to stop them — outside of a punt in the 3rd quarter.

North Texas looked to be able to stay two scores ahead but ridiculous scenario to end the 2nd quarter left NT wihtout Jalen Guyton and ended with a Fine interception — his 10th on the year. On 4th and 1, Jeff Wilson scooted forward for a yard but fumbled. There was a lengthy review but it was determined that NT had recovered. Then Mason Fine rolled out to find Jalen Guyton on what looked to be a definite targetting call.

Jalen Guyton was concussed after he appeared to be knocked out. The following play Mason Fine stared down Turner Smiley and threw that INT.

Army began the second half with a score and a conversion to tie things at 28. From there, the two teams would trade scores until the end of the game with the exception of one punt each.

Army tied the game at 42 with a Davidson 4 yard TD to cap an 11 play-75 yard drive that covered 5:59. Instead of a slow 4+ minute drive to possibly win things, Fine fired a 68-yard strike to Turner Smiley for six. Smiley had beat his man badly, and the Army corner was helpless as he fell and watched him walk into the endzone.

Army followed that up with a quick score of their own, going 75 yards in jsut 6 plays in a minute-fifty. With 1:23 left in the game NT took over and drove 46 yards in 9 plays to put the winner in thanks to Moore’s FG.

Offense

Mason Fine was incredible, and drew lots of hyberbolic praise from BEIN Analyst and former QB Sean Salisbury, who called Fine “special, unique” and later, “Aaron Rodgers-like.” The offense had more explosive weapons and used them all to the fullest extent, throwing deep early and often on the overmatched Army corners. Outside of a couple of miscues — the Bussey drop to seal it — and a couple of sacks.

He was a little upset about it:

https://twitter.com/JellySZN/status/932104710538125312

Defense

It is hard to get upset about the defense considering the circumstances — out English, Syd Moore (off the roster), banged up Tillman Johnson.

The hope was that the familiarity with Army would help cover for the short week of preparation. That was not the case. The line did not blow up the dive plays, the linebackers were pushed back and the safeties were cut too often.

North Texas is built for speed in space and not for stopping a triple-option attack. While Colton McDonald, EJ Ejiya, and Brandon Garner have been solid this season, they are not the dominant change-the-game types. Army was getting solid blocks at every point and the staff was calling a great game.

Bradshaw was amazing, picking out the right decision nearly every time and killing North Texas every drive.

That said, NT stopped Army enough times to give the NT offense an early lead. La’Darius Hamilton had a big stop after the illegal motion penalty brought back the TD early in the first. This performance — allowing 561 yards — does not bode well for FAU’s ridiculous rushing attack in two weeks. North Texas’ depth issues were clear last night and FAU’s up-tempo power run attack did expose that already and likely will again.

This group carried the offense in Ruston, and tonight they were helped carried by the offense. It is a team game.

We should be clear — this was not an effort problem. Ulaiasi Tauaalo was exhausted after giving everything he had.

This was about Army executing to the edge of the rules — they grabbed and they held and they cut blocked and they did everything to the edge fo what they could to win. That’s what they do and that’s what they have to do to compete in this era.

While I do not appreciate the effect it has on the health of the NT roster, I respect that Army does what they have to do to win.

Overall

This was the kind of tough victory that previous version of North Texas could not accomplish. This required the best offense in NT history — it is by yards per game at 476 — to win. This game required a team that could score from anywhere on the field. This required a great QB who has toughness, smarts, and the skills to pull of the throws he made.

North Texas has had a history of strong run games and strong defenses, and those teams probably would try to win this game with a different approach. This new version of of North Texas is better built to compete in college football than those past teams were.

Next Up

Rice in Houston for the season finale ahead of the CUSA title game in Boca Raton. This is the definition of a trap game as North Texas just has the vague goal of “finishing strong” and trying to stay healthy. Beating Rice would be a good win but forgettable, while losing would even be understandable and probably just as forgettable.

The real opportunity is in two weeks in Boca Raton against attention-magnet Lane Kiffin. If North Texas wants the attention deserved for success, it has a chance to earn it with a win. For long time observers, it has been amazing and fun to watch. To get to the next level — the one where NT is a household name and not just NOT NTSU it will have to win these kinds of games.

Still, this season is a step toward something greater. Just as last year was a qualified success, this year is also. Eight wins with one easy game to go is impressive no matter the competition. Winning a ninth game will put this 2017 team right next to the 2013 team in wins, with two more after.

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Football

NT Pulls Shocking Come Back Miracle, Wins 29-26 Over UTSA

North Texas won 29-26 on a miracle 98-yard, 7-play drive that included a 49-yard bomb to Mike Lawrence in double coverage.

Mason Fine had Mesh and found Rico Bussey on the crossing route as UTSA brought everyone on 3rd and 1 from the UTSA 22. He waited for the absolute last second to fire the pass just beyond the dropping defensive Tackle Banks, into the hands of Rico Bussey on the move.

Bussey got a block, found the edge, evaded Devron Davis and tightroped the line sideline for the score.

I jumped for joy and ran accross my living room. My wife screamed.

This was hyped as the biggest game in Apogee history with 3-2 (2-0) North Texas taking on 3-1 (0-1) UTSA in a battle that UNT President called “the CUSA West championship”. North Texas jumped out quickly faded in the middle quarters, and finished strong. UTSA and UNT were evenly matched teams, but NT had the rest and the home field advantage.

North Texas came out and scored on the first three drives — two TDs and a FG. They started 6/6 on 3rd down conversion and then failed on 3rd and goal and kicked a FG. That, in case you hadn’t realized, is how you want your offense to produce.

By the end of the first NT had a 16-7 lead and had dominated time of possession approximately 12 minutes to 3. Mason Fine found Jalen Guyton for 77 yards and a score and things looked great for the green (and black). The explosive offense so talked about was producing as expected and UTSA’s secondary did not have the footspeed. The NT offensive line was holding off the pass rush long enough to allow Mason Fine time to make plays on the ground and through the air.

Still, UTSA managed to hit Fine often, even on the 77-yarder. Mason was able to complete passes in the face of pressure and keep things moving. That would prove to be the difference later.

The second quarter and third quarter were all UTSA as they played their game and found a way to shutter the explosive NT offense by hitting Fine. NT helped things by two poor snaps. One came on the extra point to keep things at 13 instead of 14. The other came with the offense in a groove. The snap flew over Mason Fine’s head for a loss of 17. The drive was stalled and NT would punt.

UTSA had found success getting into the backfield. The next drive was awful for NT as Marcus Davenport sacked Fine twice. Meanwhile UTSA was controlling the ball and moving it enough to manage field goal attempts. By the end of the quarter the score was 17-16 but two TDs and a FG for both sides.

The third quarter was ugly if you were looking for offense. UTSA had 63 yards on 18 plays and NT had 19 yards on 11.

Yuck.

Still, NT came up with two big stops after 1) a Mason Fine INT and 2) a short punt. After everything UTSA was only up 20-16 and NT had the ball near the end of the quarter.

Then came another huge drive were NT finally got unstuck. Guyton got free after a couple of 3rd down conversions and scored his second TD of the game — a 32-yard TD to cap a 10-play 80 yard scoring drive over 4:25.

NT was up. I dont know what happened with the conversion attempt but it was intercepted. NT was up 22-20 and things were not looking so dire. NT finally found running and passing room.

The defense put up yet another great stop on the UTSA offense, helped by the crowd (whatt??) for a couple of penalties — a delay and a false start.

Then NT got stuck again. A three-and-out with a chance to take control of the game was costly. UTSA scored on the next possession.

NT had to that point put up a good fight defensively and the touchdown was terrible but the previous work meant that NT did not have an insurmountable deficit in front of them.

On the next possession, NT went four-and-out and had the worst couple of play-call combinations. NT tried the QB run that worked successfully in the first quarter and was stuff. They followed that with a read with Jeff Wilson that lost two. The majority of the fandom considered this to be poor play calling.

Generally speaking, getting the ball to Jeff Wilson on third down would have been the preferred option.

UTSA took over with 1:29 left at the NT 45. Three rush plays — three, four, no gain — brought up 4th and 3. Rod Young stopped UTSA RB Jalen Rhodes on 3rd and 3 for no gain in a huge stop that saved the game. While most thought UTSA would go for it and try to seal the game, they instead punted and seemingly got a perfect scenario: North Texas pinned at the 2 with no timeouts and just over a minute left.

Then came the drive.

NT had two completions for a first down. Then Mason Fine rolled left — Jeff Wilson got a huge chip block on Marcus Davenport that saved a sack — and fired out of bounds to Rico Bussey. On the next play Fine escaped a rush, set up and found Mike Lawrence for 49-yards. The play looked similar to the INT except Fine managed to get enough air under the ball.

There was some question as to whether Lawrence pushed the defender but the replay showed it was just a great play. Then Fine found Darden for 9 yards and spiked it.

Then came the score.

Mason Fine stood tall and completed the play, allowing Rico Bussey to catch the ball in stride and score. By then there was just :10 left on the clock and a miracle greater than the one we just saw would have been required.

Let’s go through some groups:

Offense

The first and fourth quarter NT offenses were great. The middle two quarters were less good.

Quarter Yards
1 239
2 8
3 19
4 175
total 441

Mason Fine ended the day with 354 passing on 20/34 for 3 TDs and 1 Int. Good stuff. Jalen Guyton had 8 receptions for 182 and 2 scores in his second straight dominant game. He torched Devron Davis for the 77-yarder where he was open by about 15-yards. We speculated he would really dominate this league and it that has been the case.

Guyton also added 12 yards rushing including a long of 9. Jeff Wilson was good in spots but was bottled up by the play-calling and second and third quarter slumps. He finished with 16 for 83 including a long of 35. He was outstanding in pass protection, which is an underrated part of his game. The team finished with 87 yards rushing total, but that includes -17 on the bad snap.

NT did well to use misdirection against UTSA’s aggression and jump out to an early 13-0 lead. The middle quarters had more frustration as NT could not deal with Marcus Davenport adequately. He was a handful and UTSA’s DC moved him all over.

NT converted 9/16 3rd downs (56.3 %) in part because of the success on standard downs (3/6 on 3rd and shorts). During NT’s lull they went 0/5 on thirds.

In the opening quarter NT had 6 chunk plays (passes over 15 and runs over 10). They finished the game with 12 (8 passes, 4 runs).

Ultimately the luck on the final drive was earned. NT is an explosive offense and has made big plays all season. While the circumstances were unlikely, the team battled through and executed. That was just great offense down the stretch. Execution and calm. No holding calls and blocks down the field and in the backfield. That’s a dream scenario.

Defense

The defense was outstanding.

NT came in averaging 400 yards allowed per game and held UTSA to 389, and 5.9 per play. UTSA came in averaging 6.84 per play. UTSA managed only 4.2 yard per carry, and while good, that did not establish enough of a run game to really control the game. Instead, UTSA resorted to long conversions at best. Even then NT held UTSA to 4/14 on third down conversions and forced 6 3rd and longs.

UTSA managed nine chunk plays (5 15+ passes, 4 10+ runs). The two TDs were on 40+ yard passes to RBs off of play action.

Dalton Sturm’s 19 yard rush on 3rd and 17 was both the longest and most frustrating. UTSA did exert their will on NT in the middle quarters but still managed only a four point lead. Credit the defense for the effort.

Reffett’s group gave Mason Fine one more chance to win the thing and were rewarded.

Andy Flusche had two TFLs, McClain, Muhammad, Ejiya, TJ Tauaalo, Wheeler, Preston, Hamilton, Tillman Johnson all had part in others. NT totalled 9 TFLs for the game. This all without Sid Moore and Bryce English.

The defense hurried Sturm 3 times and nearly were rewarded with big plays. Instead Ashton Preston was called for interference (questionable) on one, and the other fell to Josh Steward for a big gain instead of an INT.

Eric Jenkins again put up 2 pass deflections including an incredible break on the ball early in the game to shut down a drive. This defense that has been much maligned held an offense that averaged 35 a game to only 26 points. They gave their offense a chance to win.

Great job by this group.

Coaching

Seth Littrell has changed the culture of this team. So many tweets ambled through the timeline with some version of “This is the same old North Texas” and they ultimately were wrong.

While some luck played a part — that toss to Lawrence! — luck is made. The defense is improving week to week, and the offense remains explosive and the league’s best. Littrell came in saying that he will find players and develop them. Now his guys — Fine, Guyton, Darden, Jenkins — are all rapidly developing and big parts of the success.

Mason Fine went from an undersized freshman who made too many turnovers in this game last year to the hero showing flashes of Aaron Rodgers. That’s development.

Graham Harrell had a good game but a glaring question mark. Reffett squeezed everything from a defense that is now missing two defensive line players against an offense that outweighs them and wants to run the ball down the middle. Late in last year’s game UTSA ran the ball down the throat of the defense to seal the game in a similar situation. This season they were forced to punt.

That kind of effort wins games.

Other

Darden and Johnson did not have much to work with returning. The bad snap on the PAT nearly cost the game. Trevor Moore was money on his one kick. North Texas

What It Means

North Texas won the most thrilling game in recent memory (ever?) and leads the division with a 3-0 record. UAB won against MTSU, while USM did the same against UTEP which means NT does have a bit of room for error but not much. FAU and Lane Kiffin’s powerful run game away in Boca Raton, fresh off a bye week and ready to take advantage of NT’s beat-up Defensive line.

NT had the first 3-game win stream since 2013 and 4-2 for the first time in forever. FAU is a really good and impressive squad and a win in Boca would be huge. The best thing about winning is that it brings bigger and more important games.

Else

The attendance was something like 23K and a little short of the goal. Considering the circumstances, it was understandable. Texas-OU is a 100-year old rivalry and will draw the bulk of the attention of the Metroplex for a long time. Marketing at NT is much harder than anyone wants to realize. The efforts of the administration were amazing, and that kind of work and this kind of game will produce bigger better crowds in future years — and maybe even this year.

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Football

2017 Season: UAB Week

Let us be clear about how much we do not know about UAB: they could come into Denton and do damage. North Texas is favored by ~10 depending on the time you choose to place your bet and with whom. Four of the five advanced numbers have NT above UAB but they all have NT as a projected winner.

The Numbers:

S&P: 127
NT: 105 (LW 103)
COW: 76%

SRS: 99
NT: 95 (LW 113)

FPI: 117
NT: 97 (LW 82)
COW: 76.2%

Sagarin: 129
NT: 128 (LW 128)

FEI: 130
NT: 109 (LW 113)
COW: 83.1%

Massey: 138
NT: 146 (LW 145)
COW: 58%

COW = Chance of Winning

OFFENSE

The Blazers come to Denton good enough to average 33.0 a game but bad enough to only average 34/per against the FCS opponents they played — yes I know CCU is a first-year FBS school. The danger they present is not in generic offensive production, but in the style of play. They can and will want to run the ball. A.J. Erdley has averaged ~15 rushing attempts a game against 19 throwing. His big 6’4″ 220 lbs frame presents a challenge for the relatively lightly built NT defense. While North Texas did well to slow Iowa, they eventually were worn down by the power run game.

On Saturday UAB will try a very similar strategy but with a very different roster level. It is this talent disparity and the home location that give NT the edge. The Mean Green were tough last week but do not doubt that it is easier to get hyped for Iowa than UAB. That could be all the difference.

The Blazers offensive line is big, strong, and has a nice collection of upperclassman. Normally that means they have experience, but since this is an unusual situation we’ll rate that less highly. They average about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. Combined with Erdley and TE Logan Scott’s 6’5″ 240 lbs and you have a powerful running group. Freshman back Spencer Brown run from the backs, but the depth chart lists three ‘starters’. Brown looks like he’ll be really good for a while, however.

The receivers haven’t had many catches and nothing about the numbers stands out in particular. There is not much size aside from 6’4″ JR WR Ronnie Turner, but he is the 7th leading receiver with only 2 catches for 20 yards. JR Andre Wilson is the leading pass-catcher with 8 catches for 101 yards. This be he:

It is possible to become too enamored of their offense and forget that our defense can be stout. The things that make North Texas vulnerable are not under immediate threat by UAB’s system. That is to say, Erdley is not the passing threat that Hicks-to-Sutton or even Nate Stanley was. The question is if UAB can run effectively against a NT defense that has done relatively well against run-first systems.

Andy Flusche played well against Iowa, getting into the backfield as NT was slanting against Iowa’s zone runs. EJ Ejiya, LaDarious Hamilton, and Syd Moore all got in the backfield to create havoc. Nate Brooks, Khairi Muhammad, and Kemon Hall should be able to match up well with UAB’s starting trio. UAB’s power plays also serve as their play-action into max-protection for deep shots. Iowa tried to do something similar but Nate Stanley wasn’t able to find his guys. AJ Erdley is more of a running threat than a passing one.

NT does not need to shutout UAB, but merely slow them. A run-first team is not a high-scoring team and NT thus far has shown they are ready to score.

DEFENSE

The Blazers line up in a multiple defense based on the three-down lineman look with a Jack LB as an edge rusher. Nose Tackle Teko Powell is 6’3″ 320 lbs and his backup Anthony Rush is 6’5″ 340 lbs. DE Keeley is 6’7″ and star LB Shaq Jones is 6’3″ 250 lbs. NT has faced stronger and better defensive lines but UAB is not far off. They have the kind of size that can stifle NT’s run game and bat down passes of our short QB. NT may have the better offense but sometimes size and strength are all that is needed.

I expect NT to try to run around UAB’s guys instead of through them. Coastal Carolina was unable to throw much, but did put up 227 yards rushing on 49 carries. UAB’s defense forced three picks and capitalized on the short fields.

While NT has done well attacking soft zones and has taken shots against man coverage, the offense still hasn’t put together a great full game. Littrell has talked about the search for consistency for two years now. NT is closer to that goal, but still far enough away that we can’t predict the circumstances that are likely to produce it.

If NT is able to get Jeff Wilson loose enough on the edges, the team will be able to stay on schedule and get some points. While Jalen Guyton has been a threat to take the top off the defense, Jaelon Darden has looked especially dangerous in the middle ranges. Unfortunately he is questionable, and so that means Smiley and Bussey will have to step up and be playmakers. Mike Lawrence is the possession receiver extraordinaire and that is perfect. Someone needs to do that job.

Overall

As we said on the podcast, the real danger is in a team that can execute their game plan. I mean, do not forget that every team at the very least has a game plan it usually involves playing to their strengths. Duh. UAB wants to control the game with defense and the run game. You might remember that was Iowa’s plan. Seth Littrell and the staff will have a chance to right that little wrong. They shouldn’t need the luck they got against the Hawkeyes, but it can’t hurt.

While UAB wants a slug-fest, NT wants a track meet. Forcing UAB into pass-first mode is a win for North Texas, and the game will shift toward Troy Reffet’s strengths.

Stakes

UAB is playing with house money right now, and a loss will not do much to the feel-good story. It probably will hurt the attendance figures long-term. UAB is going to do their CUSA challenge next year.

For NT, a win here sets up a very similar parallel to last year: 2-2 after the first four with one FCS and one CUSA win, and one morale-boosting Power-5 loss to pair with an SMU blowout. The Blazers will not fill Apogee on their name, but the decent Iowa showing might bring in a few. NT will need a great showing in this one and against Southern Miss in Hattiesburg the following week to renew fan interest, as this is the last home game for three weeks.

MGN Predicts 34-24 win.
MGN hopes for a 73-0 blowout as revenge for the last time they played.

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Football Football Recaps

Worn Down: Iowa 31 North Texas 14

North Texas opened as 24-point underdogs to Iowa and after seeing the SMU backup QB toss a 47-yard TD late Safeway Bowl blowout it was hard to muster up hope.

Two seasons ago Iowa destroyed NT’s defensive line on the way to a 62-16 win wherein NT was embarrassed and embarrassing. After this 31-14 defeat, there is something like pride in the effort.

What was the difference? Well NT defended well enough to make Iowa work for things this time. Sure, North Texas benefited greatly from the refereeing being questionable, and Iowa hurting themselves with penalties and an early fumble. The sword cut both ways, as NT was penalized — sometimes questionably — 13 times for 199 yards.

This was a very weird game as Iowa’s first TD was less deserved than their first two that were taken away. North Texas continued the terrible streak of being poor on 3rd downs while Iowa had zero respect — and full self-confidence — in continually attempting 4th down conversions. They were 2/3 in the first half and 4/5 for the game.

North Texas, meanwhile, could not convert a 3rd down all game — finishing 0/6.

The same inconsistencies and mistakes from last season returned: holding penalties, drops, sacks. Still, NT was able to get Jeff Wilson free for a 41-yard TD early (he finished with 95 yards on 12 carries) and Quinn Shanbour stepped in to complete his only two attempts including a 13-yard strike to Jaylon Guyton for a score to put NT up 14-10.

That drive benefitted from two Iowa 15-yard penalties. Both squads went into the second half feeling like there were a lot of opportunities missed. Iowa dominated the second half, controlling the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes. NT punted three straight times before the final INT that sealed things.

The drive of the game was Iowa’s first after the NT punt in the 3rd quarter. Iowa went 76 yards on 14 plays in 6:52 to take the lead. The Hawkeyes converted a 3rd and 3, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 1, and the 4th and 5 to score from 23 yards out. Iowa played that drive like it was for the game, and it essentially was. Once they got up, the game played to their strengths: defense and ball-controll runs.

Following that, NT punted again and Iowa used another monster drive to put the game away. A 16-play, 87-yard drive that consumed 8:50 over two quarters put them up 24-14 and sealed things. Iowa leaned heavily on the run. North Texas made them work for it, but Iowa’s backup backs Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin took turns grinding out first downs.

By then the NT defensive line was gassed, although they made Iowa grind for every yard.

What It Means

There was a lot to appreciate here, and a lot to criticize. Given that NT is in Year Two of the Seth (or Sean?) Littrell project, some room for error is expected. In year two, NT added Guyton, Darden, Nic Smith. They were dangerous all game, and threatened things. As the staff continues to find talented players to fill a roster that had much attrition, NT should have the firepower to challenge in these games a bit more.

Beyond that, we have seen Mason Fine mature. His stat line was unimpressive, but he stood tall and fired some great passes throughout. Through three games he has looked in command of the offense and as league play begins, he should have more opportunities to impress.

The defense played much better than last week, but there were still more open guys running free in the secondary. LaDarius Hamilton, Ulaiasi Tauaalo, Andy Flusche all were impressive.

NT is only slightly behind where they could have been. The loss to SMU was uglier than it should have been, and this loss was a little better-looking. The offense is better than last season’s version, and the defense is still coming together. That is a promising place to be.

The special teams, however, are awful. The punt game was a net negative, the return coverage is average at best, and NT had a field goal blocked. Add this to the two muffed punts from the last two weeks and what used to be a strength is a glaring weakness.

Next Up: UAB

UAB is 2-1 after today’s win over Coastal Carolina. NT should be favored in this one but should not overlook this Blazer team. NT’s offensinve and defensive lines should have the advantage if they play at the same level as these last two weeks.