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Mean Green End Disappointing Season, Mason Fine’s Last Game

The entire season can be summed up in the third quarter game-losing interception: tough scenario, bold plan, terrible execution, awful result.

North Texas kicked off the last season of Mason Fine’s collegiate career with much fanfare. There was a little G5 Heisman talk, some beat writer-led division hype, and the lingering good feelings from back-to-back nine-win seasons.

Instead North Texas finished 4-8, with three straight losses. Seth Littrell and Mason Fine produced their second losing season in four season’s time and miss out on a bowl game for the first time.

Readers of this fine publication will no doubt remember that we warned and cautioned and talked about how when we talk about the wins that could have been we have to acknowledge the losses that were nearly there as well.

Two seasons ago the Mean Green went to the league title game and lost. The louder part of the internet fandom complained that it was the beginning of greatness but it was a few bounces away from being nothing.

This season felt like that one — but with all the bad luck and none of the good. It was difficult to enjoy but Mason Fine said the right things about it in the end. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that’s life and that’s football.”

It is true. Life does not always reward hard work with triumph and immediate glory. The “mysterious ways” cliché comes to mind.

For supporters and interested parties, it was difficult to enjoy. There is little shame in finding something else to do besides watching a seemingly meaningless game in a losing season.

It did mean that Fine got to go out like Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs: in front of empty crowds.

Ultimately it reinforced his feelings that the people he cares most about are the guys in uniform with him that went through the grind every day. “I’m excited to see what [his teammates] do. They are going to become better men, husbands, and fathers because of this season”.

Sure.

We all want to give a greater meaning to our efforts to justify it to a critical eye, and yes, every moment can be learned from in some small way.

Ultimately, the program put together a bad season and fell victim to its weaknesses: limited depth, unbalanced recruiting, coaching turnover, and well, some misfortune. Oh yeah, and the other teams played well on the day.

Another truism: If this was easy they would not pay the coaches so much.

The young defense was learning big the seemingly stacked offense sputtered and cane up short too often. Last week NT could not score the game winning TD against Rice despite having the ball in the red zone.

This week NT threw a game losing interception in the third, because the offense got shut down and sacked too much.

Seth Littrell said he was proud of the team because he saw effort and fight. That’s all we want out of anything we spend our precious attention on. Let us applaud them.

It has been clear since about midsession that the real root causes were systemic and not something that would be fixable in-season let alone in-game.

Yes, Jyaire Shorter and Deonte Simpson grew as recovers, but it was not enough to get the offense unstuck for long periods. The line was still allowing sacks, still snapping low or high, and they were not going to be able to improve quick enough for it to matter. There were big numbers but the inability to get first downs and touchdowns in the fourth against Rice and UAB were the reason for the losses.

It’s Blame Season across the nation and coaches are getting ready to pack up and move. NT fans want Seth Littrell to do like Herman at Texas and fire the defensive head man. There are more still that want Bodie Reeder gone for the sin of coaching Mason in a losing season.

Littrell practically turned over his coaching staff last off-season and the scientist in me dislikes the idea of changing another variable. The offense will be led by a new QB — one of Jason Bean or the other guys or maybe a transfer? — and so much change while breaking in yet another staff sounds like a recipe for another losing season.

Note: It has since been reported that Bodie Reeder is out as offensive coordinator, but that has yet to be confirmed by the program.

That said, the strength of the team was not well, strong. That means there is some soul-searching. The good news is that Littrell and his staff are the kinds of people that are willing to put in work and take accountability.

For the fans and stewards of the program that means adjusting expectations a bit. Do we want progress or perfection? If the former (as it should be) then we must acknowledge that progress is not always linear.

So while we should not blindly demonize a set back season, we also should not blindly trust every and all decisions. Littrell hit big on Harrell and Fine, but maybe not so much on Reeder (pending) and has some work to do building a more consistent defense.

Recruits like Simpson, Shorter, Tre Siggers, KD Davis and the young guys have impressed while some of the transfers have not. Compared to the rest of the league NT is in good shape. Finding one QB is a hell of a way to get a program on its feet. NT did that. Finding the next one is how a career is made. That’s yet to be seen.

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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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North Texas Loses To Tech 52-17, Mason Fine Injured

For any shot at a division title or a reasonable bowl appearance, North Texas had to beat Tech in Ruston. They accomplished that feat two seasons ago in a tough game that ended with a missed field goal.

This season, they were beat up, but feeling good after two incredible offensive performances against two of the worst defensive teams in the league in UTEP and Charlotte. It was always going to be tough in this one, but there was hope.

That hope was quickly eradicated and stomped and choked and buried. Then it was dug up and beat some more for good measure.

Mason Fine left the game with a concussion near the end of the first half. NT had struggled, but was within 14 points at the end of the first two quarters. From then on, it was all Tech. They took full advantage of Jason Bean as their playmaking defense stepped up and made huge plays.

Bean struggled, but showed some promise here and there. He could not drive his team to a score, however and NT stayed at three points even after intercepting J’Mar Smith once and setting up the offense for a score.

Austin Aune made an appearance and immediately tossed a score to Mike Lawrence, lending speculation that we may see a depth chart reshuffle.

While frustrating to those that expected much more — the oft-repeated league favorite thing — this was always a possibility. The offense needed to be great and it was not to start this game against a quality defense. After the QB switch, the chances of scoring lots of points dropped dramatically.

Jason Bean has talent but is clearly not the QB that Mason Fine is. That acknowledged, Fine amounted only 48 yards in the first half and the offense could not muster more than the three points even while starting in quality positions.

North Texas has a bye week before traveling to Rice to take on the Owls in a game that is needed to reach six wins. NT is 4-6 with two to play, and a bowl game invite is looking dicey, even with six. Meanwhile, Tech controls their destiny at 8-1 on the season, and with UAB getting drilled by USM, they would have to drop two games for USM to make up the difference the rest of the way.

The Future

This was — again — an unbalanced team taking on a good one. There have been some criticisms of the experience level on the defense, and with good reason, but NT has largely made defendable choices. The offense, despite recent events, is record setting. The defense was pretty good last season all things considered. This season has been a disappointment, but there is young talent on both sides of the ball and good reason to think they will develop into a quality team in the coming seasons.

The one issue that is difficult to address is the quarterback position. Ideally, a QB that could learn with the rest of the young talent would get reps but that would mean pulling the best QB in the league. That is a non-starter and so Fine has got the majority of repetitions in the game.

There are a ton of quality graduate transfer QBs out there if North Texas feels they cannot reasonably compete with the current group. The future of the roster is bright.

The other question is the staff. After a 4-win season Seth Littrell is not as hot of a coaching candidate as he was last season, but he is still respected and injuries and roster turnover have been a big factor in the decline this year. If he were to leave, NT would have a big coaching search decision on their hands.

It is easy to get dramatic at a loss like this. This margin of loss makes everyone question everything, but making big decisions after one or two outstanding results is generally not good practice. NT had a set back but is overall trending upward compared to the last time they were under .500.

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Link: Top 5.5 Mason Fine Passes

I posted my opinion. GolfingGomez brought them to life with linkages.

GMG.com

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Football

2019: North Texas at Louisiana Tech Preview

Last year in Denton, this battle was played before a record Apogee crowd and contested by equals.

This season North Texas comes in the clear underdog. We have noted all season that reasonable fans should have expected to see an unbalanced team with a powerful offense and a young inexperienced defense.

That has mostly held true, however the offense has disappointed in most games save for the recent two. The opening quarter duds can be explained by injury, personnel, and the quality of opponent but those are just different names for “excuses”.

The fact is that the offense had all the tools to be good and was not ready to start the games that way.

Two things have happened in the last fortnight: 1) The teams NT faves were very bad. 2) The WRs got a little better.

Playing Tech means going up a level in difficulty.

North Texas needs to win out to have a shot at a division title (need two USM losses, and one more Tech loss FYI) and probably a bowl invite. My thinking is that seven wins — not six — is the magic bowl-invite number for this team. That means no losses the rest of the way.

NT has struggled despite the offensive talent. Some of that was growing pains with new faces on the field and in the coaching booth. Some of that was ill-preparation and ill-execution.

Whatever you think of SMU and Cal, they were beatable. The Houston let down was also frustrating given the circumstances. Losing to USM was understandable but the one to Charlotte was nigh unforgivable.

As Bill Parcells said, ‘you are what your record says you are’. NT is an unbalanced team that is trying to get better every week.

Louisiana Tech

Skip Holtz has had a nice run in Ruston. Close, cynical observers will note that he had a lot fewer league titles than is desired but compared to the league he has been a model of success.

In seven years he has only the one losing season: his first. His teams have had NFL talent and have produced some quality entertainment to boot.

The criticism is right on, however. Going back to his days at South Florida and Wast Carolina, he has never won more than nine games and none of those have come with fewer than four losses.

This year’s team is right out of that mold: talent everywhere, but enough questions that we can have hope they will do North Texas a favor and fumble the ball away.

They have started 7-1, losing only to Texas when they were good. They have played to their competition, battling close against Grambling and Rice, but stepped up and got a big win vs USM at home. That same USM team took apart NT in Hattiesburg.

They have a ton of talent — again– and senior leadership to guide it.

Attacking Tech

Amik Robertson is the name you probably already know. He blocked the kick to seal the game last season. He also nearly intercepted the previous ball to Bussey down the sideline.

He is a tough competitor and intercepted Jack Abraham thrice in the big west division matchup this season.

We cannot expect Jyaire Shorter or Deonte Simpson to win the majority of those battles. He is the league’s best cornerback and our outside guys are still learning to be consistent.

That said, one cannot coach size. Shorter is a big dude and running through a smaller guy does not take any coaching.

The concern will be that North Texas will have to grind out some drives in this one. Sure, throw it up to Shorter here and there, but we cannot expect that will go for six the way it has recently.

In all the ways that UTEP and Charlotte are bad defensively, Tech is much better. The stats show that Tech gets off the field on third downs better, and stops the opposition from gaining any momentum early. UTEP is 129th in stop rate — the measure of a team’s percentage of defensive drives ending in punts, turnovers, or turnovers on downs. Charlotte is 116th. (NT is 99th) and Tech is 40th.

Still, looking down the Tech schedule there is only one win that impresses: 45-30 winners vs Southern Miss. They were scored upon in that game, but they got three big turnovers late to win it.

The other corner is Michael Sam, a redshirt senior at 6’1″ 194 lbs. Safety L’Jarius Sneed likes to come up and make a ton of tackles. OLB Ezekiel Barnett will bring pressure — he leads the team in hurries but Amik Robertson will come on a corner blitz, too.

Best case scenario: NT’s offense continues its run of play, and scores 38 with no turnovers.
Worst case scenario: The Tech pass rush causes interceptions, and NT’s WRs cannot get open against the talented secondary

Defending Tech

J’Mar Smith has all the tools and he has come up big when it has been needed from him. He will not set any league passing records, and that has been something like source of frustration. A lot of fans criticism him for what he is not instead of appreciating what he is. That said, he is a little frustrating.

As we saw the last two seasons, Smith can get the ball to his playmaking wide receivers. That is really the entire job description so in that respect he is a good QB. He does also make the odd mistake here in there. Odd not in frequency, but in character. He will fumble, throw the ball to no one, and take sacks.

It may be in NT’s favor that he is at home and can feel the crowd’s nervous energy instead of drawing inspiration from a bunkered-down mentality on the road. He was great last season against NT, and has come up big for Tech in crunch time this season.

That said, he had to pull out an OT run against Rice so it is not super impressive that he had to be clutch there.

The OL has experience. NT has not had a ton of success bringing pressure, and J’Mar Smith can elude whatever pressure that is brought. See last year’s preview for a little video. His targets include Adrian Hardy again. Last season his acrobatic receivers made incredible catch after incredible catch that helped calm the crowd a bit.

RB Justin Henderson is a load — 218 lbs! — and will run through arm tackles. Jaqwis Dancy is still good, and shifty and a senior.

This is by far J’Mar Smith’s most efficient season. He has 13 scores to only 3 interceptions and one of those was a freak play. NT may not be able to rely on Smith doing self-harm in this one, although they did not get much of that last year either.

Best case scenario: North Texas gets some fortunate turnovers and gets off the field often enough to get the ball back to Fine.
Worst case scenario: An endless conga line to the end zone for Tech players.

Coaching

Skip Holtz is a good coach and Seth Littrell is a proven program-builder in this league. Neither can be said to be an outstanding in-game adjuster. Call this a wash. The home field advantage is well, an advantage.

NT has had solid game plans throughout the season but has also fell on its face to start games too often to discount. The depth chart has changed in reaction to performance — a good thing — but it also means there has been some inconsistency.

Let us count special teams with coaching today. Marty Biagi’s group has allowed some awful returns this season, even while the kick and punt games have been solid. If the offense and defense keep it all even, we cannot expect to have an advantage in this area.

MGN season preview prediction: W 31-24
MGN prediction today: L 28-38

While I have appreciated the offensive explosion the last couple of weeks I absolutely know that has much more to do with the opposition than anything. Tech is good — not great, but good — and NT has had trouble being consistent. If things go the right way, I can see NT pulling this out. This is one of those seasons where NT needs to be perfect on offense and lucky on defense. I do not see it.

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The Best Season of Mason Fine’s Career

All of this stuff is relative.

Mason Fine’s finest season — for me — was probably his sophomore campaign. He was coming into his own, threw for big yards and had clutch moments.

This season, however, he is more efficient, has the best rating of his career, and is doing more with less. Less, of course, meaning a group of receivers that are short on experience.

As Jyaire Shorter and Austin Ogunmakin and Deonte Simpson grow, Mason Fine has also looked the the guy that we thought would set some senior season records.

These last two games against the terrible dregs of the league have seen Fine put up some ridiculous numbers. For those of you quick with an asterisk, consider that UTEP and Charlotte have faced a handful of league QBs and did not get lit up so thoroughly.

Fine last year threw for 27 scores against five interceptions for a 149.4 rating. This year in just nine games he has thrown the same number of TDs, against just six interceptions, for 152.1 rating.

Statistics do not tell much of a story, considering this game is a battle between two sides of eleven players. Situations, circumstance, and chance, man. They happen to them all.

That said, Mason Fine has done as we thought he would: rewrite the NT record book.

This season may be the best of Mason Fine’s career not because he will break his own single-season TD record, but because this has been the most challenging since he was a freshman.

Again, he has a new position coach and offensive coordinator, again he has new targets, and he has a slightly new offense.

If the team can pull off a division title and get back into the league title game all this ugly to begin the season would make the result all the more sweeter. The thing is, even if they don’t it still would not diminish his play this season.

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Football

The Season Is Long But We Should Enjoy It A Bit

The funny thing about football season is that it is so long and also very short. For the players, it begins in summer time and is a slog of workouts, school, and games.

For a lot of people who have checked out of this thing, football is done. There are three more games scheduled which means a whole month.

After that, there is the possibility— however slight — of a league title game and then a bowl game. That is five more football games to be played and at least (in that scenario) five more weeks of preparation.

The repetition can be comforting —- on Thursday and Friday I am ready to watch a new weekend of football. It can also be a grind in the hands of the hacks that fill up the internet.

Recaps, Hot Takes, Silly Stories, essentially Quote Tweeting press conference answers, preview, game blog/tweet, recap etc.

The game is simple, and it is hard to find something new to say about it all. It is easy to get cynical and hardened to the game and lose the ability to appreciate the entire thing.

(That said, it is quite annoying to read complete neophytes ignore all that came before and think this right here in front of us, is the greatest thing hat has or will be).

Thinking about the game from a process-and-results view, you find yourself sounding like a coach. “Go 1-0 every week, we just worry about winning and everything will take care of itself”

The truth about that is that attitude and perspective is important for the players preparing and making their way through that grind of a season. They seriously cannot look around or else they will be unable to keep up. It is like running a marathon — you have to keep the pace and not distract yourself with things outside of the race.

For the rest of us, well, it is not important to do that. This is inconsequential in the grand scheme and while jobs and livelihoods are at stake, it is all for the sake of entertainment. We can have a little fun.

So then it was awesome to see Mason Fine put on the T-Rex outfit and give the presser in costume. He has been a master of coach-speak and his presser was filled with generic answers straight out of Seth Littrell’s handbook.

It was also fun.

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Football

Mason Fine as T-Rex

Yes. More of this please.

Photo: @aldoavina
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Seven Is Fine: North Texas 52 UTEP 26

Mason Fine threw seven touchdown passes, including two in the first couple of minutes as the Mean Green proceeded to handle UTEP easily on Homecoming. The Miners kept it closer-than-expected, but there was never really a point where NT looked like they would be too troubled.

This makes two weeks in a row that NT has exploded on offense. NT finished with 479 on offense and it could have been more if they wanted. Mason Fine threw for five scores in the first half and seven for the game following last week’s five score effort against Charlotte.

Jyaire Shorter caught his first TD pass of the game on a 48-yarder, making it 4 straight catches for 4 TDs across the last two. He finished with two grabs 59 yards and the one score. On the season he has eight TDs on 19 catches, an incredible return.

The star of the game and the season, really was Jaelon Darden. North Texas found a way to execute on short yardage plays and that involves throwing the ball to Darden in the flat on some motion-swing passes. He scored three times in this one, including two from 6-yards out.

Darden is just about un-guardable in space, and NT has recently found a way to make him a threat throughout the game. This has been helped by the emergence of Shorter and Deonte Simpson. Both struggled to start the year — Simpson did not get the start over Bussey and Hair-Griffin but has recently been getting lots of snaps.

Darden finished with 6 grabs for 60 yards and the three scores. He has 11 on the season, putting him just two behind Ron Shanklin’s school record of 13. Darden is tied for 4th. Rico Bussey Jr. and NT hall-of-famer Casey Fitzgerald are tied for 2nd with 13.

He also tied with like, a ton of guys, for the 2nd with 3 receiving scores in a game.

Fine’s seven tosses were a school record at Apogee. Previously, Mason Fine had the school record for scores there with four three other times (v UTEP ’17, v Army ’17, v Incarnate Word ’18). Houston’s Casey Keenum had five at Apogee in the stadium opener way back when.

Fine also becomes just the second NT QB to throw for five TDs twice in one season, with Steve Ramsay throwing for five three times in 1968. The school record for a game is Giovanni Vizza’s 8 in 2007 vs Navy. Fine has now thrown for 12 scores in two games. He now has 27 on the season, which equals last year’s total. He has the school record of 31 set in 2017.

Fine already has the school career record at 91 and counting.

North Texas is now 4-5, 3-2 on the season. Charlotte and UTEP were the easier of the games on the schedule. We saw evidence of that in the way the offense was able to score seemingly at will. The defense did not hold up against Charlotte but was able to dominate UTEP.

The schedule looks like this: @Tech, @Rice, vs UAB.

The Mean Green need to win out. After that, they need Tech to drop another game and have Southern Miss lose twice more. USM has division leading FAU, surprising WKU, and defending champ UAB on their schedule. It is not unreasonable. Tech has NT, UAB, and Marshall and UTSA. Three of those are tough.

There is hope, and really, if NT can just get two of the final three, it will be enough to be eligible. Realistically, the Mean Green need to get to seven wins. Four CUSA squads have six-or-more wins at the moment, including Tech with seven and UAB with six.

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Queen City Let Down: North Texas 38 Charlotte 39

Mason Fine threw for 5 TDs but it was not enough. NT needed two more points to win this thing and they were not there. This was the best offensive effort in some weeks for Mason Fine and HC Seth Littrell, but the defense was shredded late by a Charlotte team in its first year under Will Healy.

Charlotte has some talent — Benny LeMay ran the ball and caught the ball well, and for the first three weeks of this season the 49ers led the league in scoring. All that has been mostly forgotten the last couple of weeks — after getting smoked by Clemson (understandable) and beaten by FAU (self-inflicted).

In the 4th quarter, Charlotte’s effort and resilience were rewarded with a little luck and success. The key was obviously the final 34-yard TD to put them ahead by a point (the 2-point attempt failed after). North Texas had Charlotte pinned back deep but allowed two consecutive big pass plays to allow the score.

The pass rush was not there in time, and the secondary was too small for the big WRs.

Fine and company came up just short on a brilliant offensive day. All season we said this offense needed to be nearly-perfect to pull out wins and they were just short of that. The key failures in the 4th quarter aided the comeback effort. NT scored on a little out to Jaelon Darden late but it was called back because of penalties. The subsequent field goals attempt was blocked.

North Texas only scored three in the final frame.

Mason Fine threw for five scores — three of which went to Jyaire Shorter, who caught all three of his passes for scores and 111 yards. Jaelon Darden also continued his stellar play, grabbing 104 yards worth of passes and a score on a 68-yarder early. North Texas went deep early and often against the Charlotte secondary and it mostly worked.

The issue was that Charlotte kept scoring and NT didn’t keep it up in the final quarter.

This team was always imbalanced coming into the season. The defense is young and inexperienced, with transfers in the secondary trying to replace quality multi-year starter in some cases. The pass rush has been missing consistent pressure this season, also. The departed Ejiya was a leading sack-getter last season and no one really has stepped up in that place.

To be a threat, NT had to score like it did in 2016. Early this season that has not happened, to much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

This game, against a porous defense, NT looked something like the team that we hoped to see all season. Unfortunately, the offense did not get the luck it did even last season, when the would-be tying passes did not always get completed — that UTSA game? — or in 2016, when the offense was always able to deliver late even against poor odds.

Fine threw a deep seam route to Darden with 14 seconds left that, if complete, would have set up NT for a nice chip-shot field goal attempt. Instead, it was incomplete and the protestations for a flag were ignored.

The bright spots are these: WR Jyaire Shorter looked amazing and so did Jaelon Darden. Deonte Simpson and others also shone bright, giving us some hope for their development long term.

The bad news is that Mason Fine is very close to not having a chance to compete for his first bowl victory. NT is 3-5 and the schedule is tough.