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MGN Podcast

57: Deuces

In this extra long edition of the podcast, Adam and Greg discuss the end to the 2015 Football season. They give thanks the seniors, discuss the UTEP game, and then the season in detail. Also a long discussion of Carlos Harris and ‘leadership’.

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Football

Goodbye Mike Canales

Mike Canales is a passionate guy. He really believes that positive enthusiasm is the lifeblood of coaching. He lived it as interim coach here in two stints five years apart. The first was far more successful than his second, and although much of the goodwill surrounding coach Canales stems from his 2010 tenure, it was his contributions to the firing of Dan McCarney that ultimately doomed both Mac and Mike Canales: HC, Part 2.
Ed note: This article has been updated with the archived version of some links that were removed later.
A QB coach by trade, he lived off the reputation gained from coaching up Phillip Rivers at NCState. A closer look at his previous stops reveal a lot of similar complaints to the ones we had about him this season. QBs that don’t improve? Yep. Offenses that seem unoriginal and robotic? Yep. Play calling that doesn’t adjust to the game? Yep.

While initially I was skeptical of the hire, I was eventually won over. He showed some things in 2010, and even throughout his tenure under McCarney. He still seemed innovative . . . sometimes. He had some real gems here and there, and even this season brought some wrinkles that played to his team’s strengths.

Here are some times I praised him:

Here is probably the most damning evidence against him:

The fact that we had very poor QB play these last two years, and only mediocre play before that is damning in and of itself. The 2013 team set offensive records but that was largely due to the number of games played (13). For example, the 2013 team’s yards per play? 5.61. The 2009 team (pre-Canales)? 5.89. The totals aren’t much better. The 2013 team peaked at 410 per game, which was good for 64th in the nation that year. That was only slightly improved from the low 70s the team ranked before and after.

The point is that whether you blame Dan McCarney for limiting him or not, he had plenty of opportunity to put his imprint on the team. His job was to coordinate the offense and the numbers say he was okay-to-poor. He might be better as a Head Coach, where he can help imprint the offense but let someone else call the plays on game day.

Like many Canales observers before I will add to the chorus of praise for him as a person. He seems like a great guy. His former players are effusive in their praise — and I don’t mean only the former UNT players. However, I won’t say he “deserves” a head coaching job, because my definition includes results and not just personality. I will say I am rooting for him to get one, because I want good things to happened to good people.

Here is an excerpt of Mike Canales’ farewell statement. You can read the rest on Vito’s blog:

I believe in my heart the Mean Green program will be back stronger than ever in the near future. I look forward to Saturday with a heavy heart, but I can walk away with my head held high for I will forever know how special North Texas and Denton have been in my life and my coaching career.

He was part of the HOD win, and he’ll always be a part of Mean Green lore because of it. He got he first victory over UTSA, and with that probably saved this season from being winless, and so he will get some kudos for that.

Happy Trails, Mike! Here’s hoping you get that head coaching gig you’ve always wanted 1.


  1. UTSA? That would be very interesting for this rivalry, wouldn’t it? 
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Football Football Recaps

Same Old North Texas: LaTech 56 NT 13

We don’t have a good football team. We knew this before this game, but maybe the win over a now 1-8 UTSA team distracted us from the problems on this team. As a collective hive mind we were unsettling okay with the idea of Mike Canales as head coach. Sure, the win last week was cathartic and notable. Sure, we looked amazing defensively, and potent offensively but Louisiana Tech is better defensively and better rushing offensively than WKU.

The rain didn’t help us on a day where we needed every break we could. DaMarcus Smith already has ball security problems and the wet ball helped Jeffery Wilson fumble also. Add to that the back-to-back snap problems on special teams and we handicapped ourselves against the second-best team in the conference.

Offense

Oh man. I mentioned the rain, but let’s mention the weight of being the Future of the offense causing Jeff Wilson trouble. To my eyes he tried to make A Big Play a couple of times and paid for it by fumbling. The quick screen that he tried to reverse ended with a fumble and a negative yardage play. He fights for every yard, and the Bulldog defense stood him up and forced a fumble on another play. That said, the run game showed signs of potency. Wilson had 70 yards, including 54 in the first half. That punt snafu lost 35 yards. Smith was sacked / lost 20 yards and Wilson only 3.

The pass game was very poor. Although DaMarcus Smith ended with a reasonable stat line, he missed some open throws early that could have kept drives alive, or got scores. For some reason he needs to have the pressure in his face to complete a short throw accurately. There were more than a few times that short passes were tossed incomplete because they were wide open. It’s weird but understandable. Hopefully it is the kind of thing that repetitions and practice time will fix. If not, then the new coach will have to find a guy on the roster or elsewhere to make those. DaMarcus is explosive while running, can make a killer deep throw, but is iffy when throwing short. You can win with a guy like that — look at Cam Newton — but the team needs to be built around that kind of offense.

Date Opponent Surface Result Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Rating
11/07/15 @ Louisiana Tech Turf L 13-56 45 25 55.6 234 5.2 2 1 109.47

Defense

The good news: When LT’s Driskel dropped back to pass, they looked vulnerable. When they lined up to run at us with All-Conference RB Dixon? Well they cut through this team easily. Obviously the headlines are all about Kennth Dixons 195 yards and six touchdowns, as they should be. He exceeded his previous 2-game composite against us by a very large margin. It should be noted that this was the second-highest yards-per-rush allowed this season, and the fourth 270+ yard game allowed, and the fifth time there were 3+ rushing TDs allowed this season (every game we’ve allowed at least 2). That is to say, if you want to set records running the ball this team is the one to do it against.

There really isn’t much to say. The defense has real struggles stopping the run — or even containing it. Whatever you think of the offense, no team can win games against decent teams with defending like this. Chris Cosh has a handful of injuries and young players running his scheme so you might be inclined to cut him some slack. The occasional confusion or occasional blown assignment would be reasonable or expected but a consistent series of destructions are demoralizing to everyone.

Canales mentioned the physical differences in his press conference.

“They’re a big, strong football team that has great speed, and we don’t. We’re going to have to develop to give ourselves a chance in this conference.”

That’s frustrating to hear again, after hearing it so much during Dan McCarney’s first couple of seasons. Recruiting and development have been two of the main criticisms of this coaching staff these last four years. The next guy — and there will be a next guy — will likely use this as an excuse for the first couple of years also. Let’s hope he addresses it and we never have to refer to this subject again.

Special Teams

All Hail Tre’ Johnson. The dude hasn’t had the opportunity to show much of his abilities. He took over return duties from Darvin Kidsy a few weeks back and we finally saw why. He nearly broke a couple of returns. It is very unfortunate that he had so many kick returns. We briefly saw Jeff Wilson back there, and that was encouraging but after his fumble, I think we’ll stick with Johnson for a long while. He looks likely to break one soon.

Less encouraging was the punt snap team. The ball nearly sailed on the first punt of the game and then actually did the second time. That unit allowed a scoop and score TD and that simply should be unacceptable.

Coaching

We praised Canales for his motivation last week so we should criticize him this week. How much of last week was simply playing a bad team at home? How much was Mike Canales limiting practice reps during the week, holding the chain up, giving inspirational quotes, limiting cursing on the sidelines, and putting on the helmet and jumping up and down? How much of that affected the Louisiana Tech loss? Did any of that make us lose by less points?

There is no way to reasonably know whether Mike Canales is helping or hurting this team right now. How can we point to last week and say “here is the evidence that he should be coach” and not do the same with this week’s embarrassment?

Overall

Let’s give credit to the winners. La Tech is a good team and good teams make you look bad. TCU also lost to a very good team this week. Their Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin looked like a Sun Belt QB yesterday. I’d normally say that this game should require some perspective, but putting this game into context tells me that this game was more in line with our previous performances than last week’s. That doesn’t give me warm and fuzzy feelings about next week’s matchup in the annual Money Game. I’ll be in Neyland Stadium ready to watch it all first hand.

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Football

The Case for Canales

Count me among those who do not want to see Mike Canales continue as head coach. The team is 0-7, the program is still inching it’s way from its nadir, and the quarterback position has been woeful. He has been responsible for much of this. He was hired as “associate head coach” and thus bears some responsibility for the disaster that ultimately felled his friend and boss Dan McCarney.

He recruited and championed Josh Greer whose career thus far can only be generously described as iffy. He was unable to muster much progress from Andrew McNulty, Dajon Williams, Brent Osborn, or Brock Berglund despite being the QBs coach. Right now his best chance for redemption in this area is DaMarcus Smith, and he is completing passes at 43.8%.

There are other recruiting-related stories that work against him. He was allotted the DFW area to recruit and he has failed to produce significant numbers of quality players — or so say the recruiting pundits. There are anecdotal things about him ignoring targets, passing on guys who he shouldn’t have and more. I won’t hold those unverified things against him, as I have little or no proof of those. Suffice it to say these anecdotes merely serve to provide color to some of the harder evidence against him in this area.

The above said, let us remember the title of this piece. What is the case for Mike Canales, Interim Head Coach, to become Chico, Head Coach of UNT Football?

Well let’s make said case.

1. He’s passionate about this University.

There’s a lot to be said for a guy that wants to be here. Many Mean Green faithful have had it drilled into their heads that this university is less-than, unworthy of quality coaches, and should be happy that anyone would deign to consider the job. Here’s a guy that openly campaigned for the job back in 2010, after Dodge was fired. He actually wants to be here. He’s lived and breathed North Texas (and third person references) for six years, recruited these players, been here for the ups and the downs, and wants to remain. Should we turn away a man that actually wants the gig?

2. He’s unfettered

Dan McCarney was a famously stubborn man who wanted a certain kind of offense and a certain kind of quarterback to run said offense. He believed in a certain set of rules about depth charts and practices and definitely did not believe in ‘gamers’. Mike Canales holds a different belief. Under his watch his best players get the ball the most (probably only) and he rides his horses. Thus far it has meant Jeffery Wilson and DaMarcus Smith– two of the most talented players on the team — have played significantly more under Canales than under McCarney.

It has also meant a less conservative playbook. Chico mentioned “there’s nothing to lose” in his introductory press conference and we have seen some evidence to back this up.

https://vine.co/v/e3J0leBVaKJ

Would a McCarney team have called the above play?

We know D. Smith, the man who has produced two 100-yard rushing games from the QB position, a handful of highlight plays, and — perhaps most importantly — hope to the offense would not be playing. It could be argued that a full Chico Canales team would see even more of these types of benefits with the his players, his practice, and his philosophy if given more time.

3. He’s done it before

On the interim level he’s coached North Texas to wins before. As of this writing he hold a career record of 3-5 as head coach under the most awful of circumstances. He went 2-3 in 2010 when his predecessor only mustered one win that season. This year he’s already tallied a win when McCarney managed zero in five tries.

4. He has player support

Perhaps the loudest cry for a Canales hire has been from former players. Their arguments have been “I’ve played for him, I have a better idea of what this program needs than pundits and I think Chico is right for this team.” “He just needs the right players and he’ll do great things here.” “He’s just what the program needs.”

Here’s UNT great Marcus Trice in his own words:

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Football Football Recaps

Revenge: UNT 30 UTSA 23

That was a relief.

I mentioned how much that the two UTSA losses hurt before. It felt so good to 1. Beat that UTSA team and 2. Not be winless. The latter may seem like a stupid goal to have but considering everything it really began to gain importance as we lost more. If we had any CUSA title hopes before the season they were quickly dashed. Bowl aspirations were tossed as soon as the losses piled up.

So forgive me if I feel good after our team beat a 1-6 team that I thought we would beat before the season. It’s been that kind of year.

The offense was better than the score lets on, even though we scored 30. Nine points can be directly attributed to the defense and special teams, and that makes me feel good. It’s almost like the ghost of 2013 came back to avenge the loss they had on that cold November day. Still our team left 10 points on the field tonight. DaMarcus Smith, rusher of 137 yards and passer of only 104, fumbled at the one yard line while trying to dive over a UTSA defender. Reliable Trevor Moore shanked a gimme field goal right before half.

The defense was able to continue the solid play that was hinted at against Marshall. They got to UTSA’s QB Sturm, and mostly shuttered the UTSA run game. Aside from some longish drives and some questionable drives, they won the game twice by holding UTSA on the final two drives.

UNT lost the yardage battle 475-371 but they won the special teams battle, missed field goals included. It is a three-phase game after all. That basically separated the two evenly matched teams. And yes, they were evenly matched teams. Much was made from the Roadrunner fandom about NT’s standing as the “Worst Team in the Nation” and yeah, the stats can’t be argued with. But anyone who watched this team in the weeks since McCarney was fired has seen the incremental improvement. This team tonight would not have lost to Portland State so badly.

It’s almost like the ghost of 2013 came back to avenge the loss they had on that cold November day.

Speaking of it, that Portland State loss was really hanging over this game wasn’t it? For our guys, it was to say that they aren’t that team anymore. I’ve noticed marked improvement since then. We should mark the season BPSU and APSU. Before, the Mean Green fandom loathed the thought of losing to an FCS team. For UTSA fans, losing to the team that lost to an FCS team would mark the nadir of the season and the beginning of the end of the Larry Coker era.

And so it goes. North Texas beat a team a lot of people felt they should have beaten and UTSA lost to a team the oddsmakers felt they should have beaten. Ergo two evenly matched teams.

Before we go further into the dissection of the game, lets point out something about this rivalry. All three games have come down to the final drive, with the eventual losing team needing just 7 or 8 points to tie. Two years ago Derek Thompson led his offense to the one-yard line before throwing an interception, with the team down 8. Last season, UNT forced a punt down 7 and Zac Whitfield tried to return a short punt but muffed it. UTSA ran out the clock. This season North Texas held UTSA on two straight fourth quarter drives while defending a 7 point lead.

Prediction Check

I said on the podcast that 1. We’d be able to run successfully on this team 2. We’d be able to sack this team and 3. We’d win this game.

I’m happy to say I was right on all the above counts, not because I like to pat myself on the back, but because it is confirmation that I’m not crazy, and have a decent handle on this team.

Offense

Whoa. DaMarcus Smith is dynamic isn’t he? Well I suppose that’s code for “he can run and pass” but it seems he is most dangerous when running. Then again, he fumbled twice while going for the goalline. The first was a slippage and the second was trying too hard. I can’t really blame him for trying to dive into the endzone from an effort point of view, but he has to make better decisions. That was a first down play that didn’t require an epic dive into the endzone there. That said, he rushed for 137 yards including a killer 54-yard run in the 4th while the two teams were tied on 3rd down. That is the kind of game-breaking ability we’ve needed from that position. McNulty’s 93-yard TD to Carlos Harris aside, what other plays can we point to from that position beside DaMarcus Smith plays?

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to have a QB debate. Instead I want to talk about Jeffery Wilson. He continued his dominance of CUSA foes by slashing through UTSA’s 48th ranked rush defense for 127 yards on 22 carries. Were it not for a couple of 1-yard dives in the final drive, he would have been near his season average of 6.4. He finished at 5.8. His longest on the day was 27, but quoting stats at you won’t do his night justice. He ran through way more UTSA tackles than he had any right to and was essentially the only offense UNT had. The run that put him over 100 in the 4th quarter was incredible. He reversed field on the entire defense, got a block from D. Smith and turned it up field. It was on this same drive earlier that he made some ridiculous cuts that made defenders look silly. His explosive yardage — basically yardage after the first 4 yards (those belong to the lineman) are ridiculous. He makes people miss in the open field, has incredible speed, and hard to tackle easily. He’s special.

The offense was doing what I hoped it would — 1. Wilson 2. DaMarcus Keepers 3. PA passes. When they did any of the combination above, they did well. When they didn’t — it didn’t go so well. UTSA’s defense isn’t very good, and we shouldn’t be overly excited. These last three week’s have seen the team score 28, 13, and 30. That’s a real improvement, you guys. Improvement is all we can ask for at this point.

One note about DaMarcus Smith. He was inaccurate again, completing only 50% of his passes but they were experience problems. We cannot complain about him missing practice this week while attending the funeral for his best friend. He’ll be better next week.

Defense

I expected the defensive line to get sacks against the Roadrunner front line. Jarrian Roberts, Malik Dilonga, and Chad Polk all tallied sacks when UTSA dropped back to pass. There were numerous QB hurries. The problem was that UTSA got smart and began to throw only on PA passes. They took a looong time to make that change, much to the chagrin of UTSA’s twitter fans. Every member of the secondary did a great job of tackling in the open field, something that UTSA really makes difficult. Nate Brooks in particular made a great tackle on the first of UTSA’s final two drives on 3rd and 12. UTSA’s Kerry Thomas took a short pass and was headed for a first down were it not for Brooks’ drive-saving tackle. Zac Whitfield knocked the fourth down pass away to earn the ball back for NT.

Chad Davis made some really nice tackles, also. James Gray had some hit sticks. The real star was the man who has been dominating the defensive statistics charts all season — Kishawn McClain. He not only led the team in tackles again, he also scooped up the UTSA fumble and scored the first defensive TD of the season. Late in the second quarter he made a hell of a play defending UTSA’s best receiver David Morgan in the corner of the endzone that was the difference between going down 14-7 and going down 10-7. That was the drive where Sturm should have been called for a grounding penalty.

The defense is making improvements. They aren’t the 2013 squad but they aren’t the team that was gashed by Portland State either. UTSA, one of the worst offensive teams in football, was able to move the ball easily at times — especially running straight ahead. In the 4th quarter drive that briefly put UTSA ahead 23-21, they spread out our defense, picked us apart with some throws, then ran straight at us with Dalton Sturm on a couple of play action runs. Then they went heavy and ran, then play actioned for the TD.

Next week the defense face Louisiana Tech, a really good offense. That is followed by Tennessee. We’ll likely allow way more points and yards but look for the good things we saw today — the defensive line penetration and the solid tackling by the secondary.

Right now let’s enjoy the fact that they made game-winning stops, scored points, and generally made plays when they were dominated in time of possession 37min to 22min.

Special Teams

Trevor Moore shanked a would-be tying field goal right before the half. Outside of that we dominated special teams. James Gray had a nice kick return, Tre’ Johnson had one amazing return, Austin Orr blocked the extra point that Chad Davis returned for 2 points. That turned a 3-point deficit into a tied game. UTSA wasn’t able to get anything on returns, averaging only 3 on punt returns and 19.8 on kick returns. Our guys generally hustled on special teams and that was evident in every chance they got.

Coaching

This team came out ready to play. They out hustled UTSA 1. Still if we know anything about Mike Canales it is that he’ll coach with passion. You can see that in the team. After the game the team posed with the chain, the chain of “Lock the Gate” fame. That’s quality motivating 2.

Other

That inverted veer I complained about? Well DaMarcus Smith gashed UTSA on that a couple of times. Upon second viewing that fist D.Smith fumble was so ridiculous. A guaranteed TD. The following play UNT tried the fumblerooski play but there was a procedure penalty. The following play was a bad read from Smith — he should have given on the read — but he made the read defender — a DE — miss badly and then eventually fumbled. Both fumble plays were 100% DaMarcus Smith good and bad. The dude is incredible.


I don’t have video of it, but Jeff Wilson’s TD was on a sweep. I had thought they’d have success on that — they did — but the run was all Wilson. He should have been tackled short but powered through. He’s special.


UTSA really tried pressuring Smith and he was able to only have two sacks. He would have really burned them if he were able to hit some of the deep stuff. He and Thaddeus Thompson are absolutely not on the same page.


North Texas really wasted that Carlos Harris incredible catch along the sideline. UTSA had just went up 10-7, did that awful onside kick and Smith found Harris on the right sideline. After a couple of runs, Smith missed badly on a throw to Harris in which Carlos had absolutely BURNT Bennett Okotcha, their star cornerback. That drive should have come way with 7 points instead of the 0 that it did. I suppose the miss was karma from the football gods for not going again toward the endzone with 10 seconds remaining on second-freaking-down.


Dalton Sturm can run and he’s okay when he sets his feet and throws. I bet Jeff Driskel will be a bigger handful next week. LaTech only managed 34 and allowed 31 against this UTSA squad so that should give you hope.


UTSA did a lot to beat themselves. They had two huge fumbles — one to begin the third quarter drive on 4th and 1. The second was the big scoop and score that McClain had. Our defense did great to get them in 4th down sure, but it could have been different if UTSA had scored on that drive. I’d rather be lucky than good, obviously. Their final drive was essentially killed on a holding call. That turned 2nd and 5 into 2nd and 20, of course plenty of credit should go our defesnive line’s way as they nearly sacked Sturm, forcing him to scramble and causing the offensive line to hold.


Some of my favorite tweets that came across the TL.


  1. Which may be more of an Larry Coker problem than our quality coaching but whatever. 
  2. If not strange. But hey, it’s not me that needs to be convinced. 
Categories
Football

Offensive Discussion, Ahead of UTSA Game

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

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

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

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

Runs

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

https://vine.co/v/eY9t3x0dIOB

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

https://vine.co/v/eY9xlTXgYu1

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

https://vine.co/v/eY9xOHFtanj

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

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

More Stuff

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

Swing Pass
Swing Pass to Wilson vs Marshall

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

Inverted Veer against Marshall
Inverted Veer against Marshall

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

Wilson sweep vs USM
Wilson sweep vs USM

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

Sweep against USM
Sweep against USM

  1. Against backups. Sure. I’ll give you that. 
Categories
Football Football Recaps

Improvement: North Texas 13 Marshall 30

The last time these two programs met it was a playoff game as Div-1AA opponents and Marshall won 7-0. This one didn’t have nearly the same stakes, but an argument could be made that the defenses here were similar if adjusted for ~30year inflation.

That’s all a long, unfunny attempt at saying both teams played some solid defense in this era of offense. For Marshall, that wasn’t unsurprising as they came in as the CUSA leader in scoring defense at 17.4. We came in as the conference’s worst at 50.2. The defensive line showed some signs of life that we hadn’t seen since they chased Matt Davis at SMU in the first three quarters. We saw sacks, and near-interceptions, and defensive backs making plays on the ball. We saw gang-tackling, and pass deflections at the line, we saw tackles for losses and most pleasingly, we saw 3-and-outs.

We came in as the conference’s worst scoring defense at 50.2.

I had hoped that Marshall’s relative lack of explosiveness would make for a game that DaMarcus Smith could thrive in. Sure, I expected the very good Marshall defense to make things difficult (they did) but unlike in the WKU game in which QB Brandon Doughty led his team on lightening scoring drives, Marshall would be a bit more methodical. This was my hope. Instead of methodical, Marshall marched on a couple of scoring drives and made it 17-0 early. DaMarcus Smith looked over-excited and the offense went 3-and-out twice in the first three drives. The other was only four plays.

Still after the early scores by Marshall the defense made some stops. Marshall was stopped on first down for -7 yards. Then punted after three plays. Their next drive Malik Dilonga sacked Chase Litton for an 8-yard loss. Whoa! What was this? Defense?! This was nice considering that in beginning of the game, Marshall had lots of running room and lots of time to pass. From the late second quarter on the defense held MU to four punts, two field goals and only one touchdown.

That’s solid football defending. Let’s not forgot that the Herd got an extra first down and subsequent score after a penalty on the punt attempt. And later had to fake a punt to drive for a field goal. Yes that means they had to resort to trickery to score points against our worst-in-conference defense. That is because Chris Cosh’s crew were making plays. Fred Scott, Malik Dilonga, Austin Orr, Nate Brooks, and Anthony Wallace all made some notable plays during the stretch.

From cfbstats.com

Rank Name G TD FG Points Points/G
1 Marshall 7 16 4 122 17.4
2 Western Kentucky 7 22 5 168 24.0
3 Florida International 7 21 7 169 24.1
4 Southern Mississippi 7 21 11 181 25.9
5 Middle Tennessee 7 25 8 201 28.7
6 Louisiana Tech 7 24 11 202 28.9
7 Florida Atlantic 6 24 7 191 31.8
8 Old Dominion 6 24 8 192 32.0
9 Charlotte 6 24 9 194 32.3
10 UTSA 7 30 12 246 35.1
11 Rice 6 31 4 227 37.8
12 UTEP 6 33 9 258 43.0
13 North Texas 6 41 5 301 50.2

So let’s quickly go through some observations before you continue on with your weekend.

Offense

Mike Canales has some good ideas. I have criticized his QB recruiting, and we think he’s play calls have been limited by having to go through Dan McCarney’s conservative filter. Today, he wasn’t at his best. He believes in DaMarcus Smith’s talent like most of us. However, in his enthusiasm to showcase the QB, he is forgetting the most effective player we have on the team is Jeffery Wilson. He averaged 8.1 yards per carry and until the 3rd quarter he had only 16 carries. He finished with 17. I said after the WKU game that this offense should build around the following:

  1. Jeffery Wilson gives
  2. DaMarcus Smith keepers
  3. PA passes deep/otherwise.

Canales got away from the above selections too early too often. When he did the drive would stall. I have no complaints about throwing the ball deep or even throwing without play-actioning first. Lord knows that being predictable can be an offense’s kryptonite. Smith is still struggling when in a pass-first offense requiring lots of decisions right now. He famously has missed a ton of practice and Marshall has a good defense. So why go pass-first?

Three times we went empty-set and Marshall owned us. They sacked Smith, got that interception, and generally wreaked havoc. Instead of being aggressive, and putting pressure their defense by spreading them out (which is the idea of going 5-wide), we let them pressure our QB by overwhelming the offensive line. If the responsibility is on Smith to change the protection or pick the right place for the ball to go pre-snap, well that illustrates why I am frustrated already. Putting our ill-prepared QB in a situation like that is the exact opposite of putting him in a position to succeed.

The play-action passes were successful. The quick game was successful, and oh-my-goodness the run game was über-successful. Instead of challenging the Herd to stop Wilson, we help them beat us.

While I know the final TD drive was second-string vs second-string, it illustrated my point. They ran the ball for 80% of the drive and scored on a play-action pass. Next week, while we hope we get a more accurate, more decisive DaMarcus Smith leading this offense, let’s hope that we also get a Canales that is making the defense beat us and not helping UTSA’s cause.

Other things to complain about: getting Carlos Harris more involved, receiver’s catching ability (so many drops ugh), and Smith’s footwear (so many slips).

Defense

This unit has had lots of deserved criticism. In this game, after the second quarter it showed signs of being the unit we all hoped we’d see. Instead of the one being blasted off the ball, this one had guys getting into the backfield and getting to the quarterback. I’d like to see some more speed to change those almost-sacks to actual ones, but the pressure was transformative on the secondary. Nate Brooks and company were able to make plays on the ball, get pass deflections, and stay in coverage with the pressure we got.

Marshall had their way with us, improvement or no.

Still, there were too many gashing runs. The Marshall halfbacks hit us with huge runs early. In the first quarter Hyleck Foster was averaging 10 a carry. He finished with 105 on 17. Keshawn McClain fished as our leading tackler again and that’s a statistic we need to break. Whereas Marshall’s Foster has speed and found lots of running room, next week’s opponent has a shifty feature back that can break tackles in the open field. That means instead of 10 yard gashing runs, we’ll see Portland State-esque 70 yard runs if the defense is unable to shore that up.

That said, let us not forget that Marshall had 4.95 ypc which is higher than their season average of 4.62, and totaled 213 rush yards.

Marshall had their way with us, improvement or no.

Other things to complain about: defensive conditioning, defensive backs’ hands (dropped picks).

Overall

This was one of those games that we could have won, if we had the kind of season we hoped we’d have. Marshall is great at home, but this is a rebuilding reloading year, so they were vulnerable. They have a frosh QB, some injuries here and there, and haven’t been nearly the explosive team as in years past. We did over the spread for the second straight week, though. That’s yet another sign of improvement (I suppose) though it feels like we are grasping at straws considering the program is yet again without a win, and with a coaching search hanging over its collective head.

I was hoping for more improvement from DaMarcus Smith, and better play calling from Canales, but I tried to remember that Marshall really does have a good defense. I was not expecting such a good showing from the defense, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had hoped for something good considering the Marshall situation, but as Greg said on the podcast, Portland State wasn’t exactly expected to light things up. So it could have been worse. The situation seems to be improving and there are two winnable games in the final stretch. So we got that going for us.

Remember to leave things you think I can improve in the comments, the “forum”, the twitter machine and wherever else.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

DaMarcus Time: WKU 55 UNT 28

Let’s be real, you really didn’t think North Texas was going to bounce back from that 66-7 loss and pull off an upset against the conference’s best team. I wanted to believe. I wanted to be dead wrong.  I wanted to feel like Greg did, but WKU has looked too efficient this month and our defense too porous to feel differently. I predicted 55-21 and it ended 55-28.

So yeah. I guessed right.

The real question of the night was “How Will This Team Look?”

They most obviously quit on Dan McCarney last week. There is no reason North Texas should have been beaten 66-7 by anyone in CUSA on down to FCS. 2015 North Texas wasn’t expected to rack up very many wins but they weren’t expected to be the nation’s worst team, either.

Offense

The great news is that tonight the offense looked full of promise with DaMarcus Smith at the helm, but promise does not equal production. Smith can rocket the ball down the field but struggles with short throws. This, if anything, was where McNulty looked better this season and probably the reason McCarney was choosing him in practice. Having watched DaMarcus tonight — despite his mistakes — I can declare him as obviously the best QB we have on this team.

Unfortunately, this offense still looks like one tailored for McNulty, because only a few plays seem to fit Smith’s skill set. Those plays would be the reads, the QB draws, and the ones where he was able to unleash the cannon that is his right arm.

Given the questionable short-range accuracy 1, this offense really should be built around Wilson dives, Smith keepers, and play action passes deep. Canales mentioned on the broadcast that Smith was a bit too excited. That accounts for the wild throws, and hopefully with nine days of preparation as the starter, he’ll be more comfortable and settled and maybe can run this offense that likes short, accurate passes. Next up is Marshall, and after that a showdown with rival UTSA. One of these is a very winnable game if we have our QB playing well.

Whoever the next coach will be will have at least a seed of ability to build an offense around. This team can run really well and hit deep passes as a change up. His main problem will be the defense.

But before we go there, lets acknowledge that the offense benefited late from WKU substitutions, and the low pressure of a blowout. North Texas was offense-ing below WKU’s averaged allowed. At one point NT was at about 5.5 yards per play and the Toppers allow about 5.9. We ended at 5.8. They allow an average of 439 a game and we ended with 431. WKU averages a 20 point lead at half and we were down . . . 20 at half. So we can maybe take solace that we are an average WKU opponent. That’s good in that we look like every other team they’ve destroyed and not a historically bad team that could only manage 2.75 yards per play against Portland State.

Jeff Brohm’s charges are the offensive class of the conference. They can run and throw with equal explosiveness and efficiency. Contrasted with our unit, we look very poor. Whereas Wilson and Smith can occasionally break open a 10+ yard run and we can toss an occasional 50-yard strike, we mix in far to many drops and fumbles. This is from seniors and juniors, to boot. Mix in the terrible snaps that killed the opening drive of the second-half (and the later ones that nearly killed the final drive) and you can see why this offense has been historically bad up to this point.

Thankfully, we had a playmaker with the ball in his hands. DaMarcus is explosive, and has a cannon arm. He makes plays. Period.

Were the defense the 2013 version — or at least 75% of it — and the run game able to control the game, then I could totally see why you would want to have a mistake-free, low risk quarterback as starter. Smith is feast or famine at this point and especially against a WKU team that is so complete, every mistake hurts double. That said, we need the occasional feasts he provides.

Give him the week-plus before the next one and he has the potential to be a game-winner, and not just a game-changer. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt since he was the most exciting player on the field. Next week we should be a slight bit more critical. Tonight he gets a pass.

After all, the offense put up 28 points — a season high — and second highest yards-per-play average of the season (6.2, after 7.71 against Rice).

Defense

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

This defense allowed 683 yards on 82 plays — an 8.2 yards per play average. We came in allowing 547 on 369 plays — 7.42 per play. This was the second straight 670+ yard allowed game, the third straight 8.0+ yards per play allowed game. It was the fifth game in six that we allowed over 200 yards rushing. (Rice only tallied 189.) It was the fourth in six that we allowed over 300 yards passing. It was the third game in five that we allowed 49+.

Tackling looks horrendous, and the defensive line is getting blown off the ball so much that the linebackers are unable to make a play anywhere near the backfield. The secondary is allowing chunks of yardage and can’t step up and make tackles like previous teams did. Oh, and they are getting beat deep.

Is the entire blame on the players? Like, is it all their fault? No. It is hard to say exactly how much is just talent differential and how much is inexperience. We knew that it was going to be another difficult year defensively considering the Chris Cosh coaching change, and the injuries to quality players. The secondary is going as deep as it can right now, and has played some quality quarterbacks.

The bad news is that CUSA has good quarterbacks all the way through.

Defensive Coordinator Chris Cosh doesn’t have the greatest reputation among fans of our team, or fans of his previous teams when you look around. Even though the players seem to like him, he has presided over the worst defenses since the Dodge Era. Some individuals have played well, but there hasn’t been one complete game.

Even the one game where they played solidly for three quarters — against SMU — has an asterisk considering the Ponies are winless against everyone else but us. We patted ourselves on the back and excused away the fourth quarter melt-down by saying it was because they were gassed. I don’t know how much of that is true.

Canales apparently asked the defensive coaches why we couldn’t blitz more considering we have ‘nothing to lose’. Blitzing wasn’t going to stop this WKU squad 2. Still, we all kind of hoped that we’d be able to slow them a bit. A few times we forced a stop, but mannnnnn they turned it up a few times and made everything look hopeless.

How much of that was WKU being awesome and how much was our defense being porous? Can you tell absolutely? I can’t.

It’s easy to complain every time a team drives easily down the field, but we have to remember that our secondary is very young. Our best tackling cornerback was lost for the year, the other starting corner was suspended, and we have a converted linebacker playing CB. This was to be expected, if you remember the the value a secondary with experience plays in defensive strength.

I want to believe the defense was finding it hard to play for an offense that couldn’t hold possession, or move the ball let alone score. It was hard to tell tonight, considering how good WKU is. Next game we’ll see them against a Marshall offense that isn’t nearly as good as they were last season. Compared to the Hilltopper’s blistering 7+ yards per pay, the Herd are only mustering a paltry 4.95. They aren’t explosive, nor efficient. Here’s hoping for something a bit better.


  1. He completed about 60% of his passes at Butler 
  2. Also, considering my TL, it is hard to know exactly how much weight Canales’ press conference talk had with his players. Lots of tweets, y’all. 
Categories
Football

Prediction: Western Kentucky vs North Texas

Game Information

Time: October 15, 2015 6:30 pm CT

Location: Apogee Stadium – Denton, TX

Line: WKU -32.5

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: KHYI 95.3 FM KNTU 88.1 FM KGAF 1580 AM

Weather: Clear, 90 to 75 degrees. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Chat:


Team Information

WKU

North Texas


 

Predictions

Adam – Western Kentucky 55 – 21 North Texas

I talked to a couple of folks that cover / follow WKU closely and asked them what the chances were that the Hilltoppers overlook is in this one. They told me very slim. Whereas previous incarnations of that squad might have, this one is more special.

That said, my heart is hoping WKU is looking toward LSU after they destroyed their rivals MTSU. Jeff Brohm is rumored for some coaching gigs which could help by distracting everyone.

But WKU is a legit monster offensively. We’ll give them a game — Canales’s teams do, and that pride will do the rest — but I just can’t predict an upset. I hope I’m dead wrong.

Greg

Look this game isnt about match-ups or stats its about pride at a time of crisis. These types of games never go the way that the experts think. They never do. Western Kentucky wont respect North Texas. WKU has said that North Texas doesnt look good on film. That says it all right there, the WKU players are looking past North Texas straight to LSU. The most important thing for North Texas tonight is to come out and jump right on Western Kentucky. North Texas needs to have something big happen early in the game. Onside kick or touchdown to take the lead an then onside kick. Something needs to happen to fuel the belief. Once that happens its all about battling till the fourth quarter and having a chance. If North Texas can get to the 4th quarter with the lead or within a TD then anything can happen. I havent picked North Texas to win any game at all this year. That changes today and I’m picking NT to win. I just have this feeling that the North Texas team will play beyond belief in front of 1,000 fans. North Texas wont go 0-12. Nope they come out and beat WKU in dramatic fashion.

 

North Texas 38 – Western Kentucky 35

Categories
Football

Canales Intro Press Conference

http://youtu.be/0nvch2OEXGQ
Mike Canales begins his second term as Interim HC, nearly 5 years exactly from his previous stint after UNT fired Dodge in October 2010.