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.


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’.


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.


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.


North Texas at SMU Preview 2019

With all due respect to Abilene Christian, the real season begins this week against SMU. Yes, the Ponies opened as 4-point favorites in something of a condemnation of the North Texas defense and a little faith in the Sonny Dykes rebuilding project.

If for some reason you have not noticed, Southern Methodist has been about as good (and bad) as North Texas since about 1996. From this year’s preview:

Southern Methodist is storied but those who like to tell those stories are getting closer to retirement. The Ponies have not been nationally relevant since the late 1980s. Since 1996, SMU is only 101–174 with five bowl appearances (3–2). North Texas over that same span is 105–172 with eight bowl appearances (2–6)”

2019 MGN Season Preview

Sonny Dykes is doing some Air Raid things on the Hilltop with some famous people to boot. He has former Longhorn QB Shane Beuchele to throw the passes, the dangerous James Proche to catch them, and Xavier Jones to tote the ball in the run game.

North Texas did not perform well defensively vs ACU, but the offense was humming. The Bodie Reeder attack has more RPOs and more tempo, and Mason Fine still may be the best QB in the state.

SMU is favored by 4 points as of last Sunday, but that means little. Head coach Sonny Dykes said the Ponies will have their “hands full” with NT and the same is true the other way. Talent should always be respectfully feared, and that is what coaches mean when they spout those clichés about preparing the right way.

Last year’s blowout win was a bit surprising. NT caught SMU unready and proceeded to hand them a thorough beat down, before Ben Hicks and company managed some points in the fourth quarter.

On a given day, anyone can beat anyone and blowouts are just a couple of plays away. North Texas came out with a vengeance and the Ponies were perhaps still reeling from Chad Morris’ departure and still adjusting to the new program.

The Ponies struggled against Arkansas State, which is understandable as the Wolves are one of the SunBelt’s best. North Texas struggled to keep the score a complete blowout vs Abilene Christian. We can learn a couple of things from that note: Neither team is complete at this point.

If you want to look to conventional football wisdom, the week 2 improvement is the greatest jump a team can make — that according to ODU’s Bobby Wilder. The truth is that it all depends on the team and the type of humans on the team and the potential they have.

North Texas is about as good as it can get on offense. There are some limitations in the run game and in protecting Mason Fine, but the QB is a 4th-year starter, three of the top four wideouts have had two or three years of playing time and all three backs have started games.

They have started slowly and quickly and everything between. Defensively, there is much improving to do. With so many moving parts we are likely to see progression and regression in various aspects each day. There is little reason to be upset about this, as this is what happens in college football. There is talent on the team, and that was evident, but there is talent on this SMU squad and they have experienced coaches that will look to exploit that inexperience.

We should prepare to see some blown coverages and mistakes throughout the game for the Mean Green defense. Nick Harvey was picked on last week, and we might see more of that. NT will be vulnerable in that department but did well to get into the ACU QB’s face.

We might see some personnel chances to get to the QB quicker. We might also see a less vanilla scheme given the opponent quality.

SMU will try to get to Mason Fine and bring heavy pressure to do so. There will pressure on each of the pass-catchers to beat their coverage and get open. It seems simple, but it is an imperative in a spread offense for everyone to beat their man in space. The up-tempo game NT wants to play will not work without an initial first down.

Fine is supposed to be going for broke a little more often, and so we might see a little more of that aggressive down-field game. That could result in interceptions, but again, North Texas’ best group is the offense and going all-in on that is the way to win.

Bussey was held out the rest of the game after hurting himself last week. When he is good to go, he is dangerous and this offense has enough of a vertical threat to operate. When he is gone? Well, that is where NT struggles. Last year vs UAB and UTSA, there were some questions. Jyaire Shorter and Deion Hair-Griffin (DHG) did not overly impress in the pass game last week.

Mike Lawrence had a drop, but ran some nice routes. Jaelon Darden had a ton of grabs, but did not break one. If Bussey cannot go, or is limited, look for Darden to be the deep threat as he was against Arkansas last year.

All of the prognosticators have this as a close one, with SMU getting a lot of love. They are at home, even if that is just down the way from Denton, and are in year-two of a rebuilding process. There are some nice transfers on the Hilltop, including Shane Buechele, former Texas QB.

There has been enough written about the kid for an internet search to help you get a feel for his game, but I will say this: Ben Hicks was a nice QB for SMU last year and is now at Arkansas. NT handled him well in all the times he was not throwing to NFL wideouts.

That is to say that NT should not be scared of Shane but continue to have a healthy respect for the offense and what it can do. Sonny Dykes’ teams have always been able to put up big offensive numbers and we should not freak out if they are able to score.

It is a test, but NT is further along in the process but has a shaky, young defense. SMU is talented and at home but is still putting it all together.


NT 44 SMU 38


Littrell Press Conference, Post SMU

Seth Littrell held his weekly press conference and was pretty excited about the situation (for him). He praised the atmosphere and called it one of the better ones he’s seen across the league. People have called NT a sleeping giant — most famously Dan McCarney saying Why Not North Texas? back in his initial press conference.

He praised the special teams “accounted for 22 points” and Mason Fine. In such a dominant win, there was lots of praise going to go around. He hit the main talking points — being a week better, resetting for the new competition this week.

He praised Eric Morris — a player at Texas Tech when he was a coach there — and discussed the opportunity to go 2-0 “first time since 1994”.

Football Football Recaps

Safeway Bowl Champs: North Texas 46 SMU 23

SMU had a nice hold on the recent series — winning three straight — and there was an ugly feeling among the North Texas faithful. The question of the nature of this ‘rivalry’ is up in the air — no one is getting fired over losing this game, not really. Still, it was not nice to have the squad from Dallas extend their overall lead in this series. Seth Littrell called it a rivalry a little too forcefully in his press conference, like he was trying to make himself believe it. “I just know it is a rivalry and will always be to us.”

Whatever the case, the hype for this game was real. The Athletic Department worked hard to sell this game, and the wrestling match afterward is evidence that no idea is too outrageous. The momentum from last year was not affected by the two losses to end the season. Everyone believes in Seth Littrell and Mason Fine.

The attendance was phenomenal — 29,519 — a program record. They saw a thorough demolition of the Ponies and Sonny Dykes in his regular season debut as the head man for SMU. The defense, much maligned all offseason (for good reason) looked ferocious as they hounded Ben Hicks to under 100 yards passing for most of the game. He did not crack the century mark until well into the fourth quarter and a spurt against backups put him over 250 for the game by the very skin of his teeth.

Linebackers Brandon Garner and EJ Ejiya carried the defense, flying around the field and getting three sacks between them (two for EJ), two QB hurries, and a forced fumble.

They were helped by outstanding play from DE “Hambone” La’Darius Hamilton and the front four. The SMU offense was more than held in check. They were tied up and held hostage. Through three quarter SMU had 46 yards, -9 rush yards, and only 55 pass yards, and two first downs. The dominance was remarkable.

Meanwhile, all that defense helped us overlook the relatively poor start the offense had. Mason Fine and company ended the first half with a 20-point lead but managed only one score. The defense had a pick-six (CB Kemon Hall!) that padded the scoring margin and so it was easy to miss the fact that the offense 1) didn’t run the ball well and 2) was allowing hits on Mason Fine.

In the third quarter the halftime talk worked and NT put up 227 yards (compared to 302 for the entire first half) while scoring 16 (there was one failed 2-point hook-and-ladder attempt). Mason Fine put up 199 of those on 14/18 passing and tossed 2 TDs. The run game did not come unstuck, but here were a couple of gashes.

Things We Liked

Mason Fine balled out. Even when he “struggled” he was finding open guys with authority. The passes were crisp and on-target. He over threw a couple and hit an SMU safety in the chest with a pass that should have been an INT but over all found his secondary options and hit them in stride.

The WR corps was deadly. Rico Bussey had 9 for 109 — all in the first half on 10 targets. Jalen Guyton had 7 for 95 with 2 scores and Jaelon Darden had a spectacular grab to go with some good YAC plays. He finished with 6 for 81 on 6 targets.

Mike Lawrence only had one grab on 4 targets but everyone else was eating good. If Mason can complete 40/50 for 444 and 3 scores next time there will be plenty of opportunity for the entire corps to get their numbers.

Cole Hedlund did not have a clutch kick to try, but he hit three from distance — including one from 51.

DeAndre Torrey had a 96 yard kickoff return for a score.

The defense was incredible and dominated the game thoroughly. They scored, and got a turnover.

Things That Concerned Us

The run game was poor — just 62 yards on 29 carries for the two main guys Nic Smith and Loren Easly. Mason Fine was hit a few too many times for anyone’s liking.

That last couple of minutes was awful defensively. SMU scored all of their 23 points in the final quarter and all of them after the 8th minutes. Two big pass TDs padded their stats but Troy Reffett was very unhappy.

Next Up

North Texas is home against Air Raid squad Incarnate Word, an FCS team from the Southland Conference based in San Antonio and headed by former Texas Tech WR Eric Morris. They were beat by New Mexico 62-30 tonight.


NT vs SMU Preview

It is game day. This is one of the more anticipated seasons in North Texas Football history, one over a hundred years old. The expectations are high and the competition is beatable. The opponent today is a rival and very beatable. SMU vs NT is not Michigan-Notre Dame for a lot of reasons, but it does bring some local fire and this is a good matchup of G5 schools.

One one side — the good side — is the Mean Green and the explosive offense led by Mason Fine and organized by Graham Harrell and Seth Littrell. On the visitor –bad– side is Sonny Dykes, son of a legendary head coach and the man who helped teach Graham and Seth all they know.

There will be easy storylines. SMU has won the last three in this series, as NT dug itself out of a coaching change. SMU was one-year ahead in their own regime change, as Dan McCarney’s Mean Green snuffed out the June Jones-led Ponies 43-6. Chad Morris took the reigns and won three straight, helping McCarney get shown the door.

These two programs are nearer to where they want to be but still far away from where they imagine themselves in their wildest dreams. SMU has the ghosts of the Pony Express teams to live up to, and the demons of the fallout of that era to run away from. The Mean Green are trying to grasp some of the relevance of the 70s, and to find another great player to give Hall-of-Famer Mean Joe some company.

The next step on each’s journey begins today at 6:30 pm.

The above should look very familiar. The Air Raid is built on a philosophy of practicing and approaching the game in a particular way and that has led to a handful of plays that attack every part of the field and are easy to execute but difficult to defend.

The ‘stick’ route, with its accompanying options is one of the staples of the Air Raid and the above is something in the playbook of every non-option team. The difference is in the devotion to its practice and development.

SMU has not had the time or the development in this system and will rely on running the ball — not unlike the first-year of Seth Littrell. SMU is not as bottomed-out as the 2016 Mean Green were, and so there will not be much drop off from last year’s ~38 point-per-game outfit.

During the spring game, SMU ran the ball about 20 more times than they threw it, with a ton of option looks. Xavier Jones will get most of those touches. He is a thousand-yard back if just barely. He ran for 74 yards last year during this game, but 47 of those came on this one scamper late.

Braeden West will get the ball also, and we might see Ke’Mon Freeman.

The WR group lost Courtland Sutton (thank goodness) and Trey Quinn to the NFL, but there is a talented group looking to step up. James Proche will be the number one option but Reggie Roberson Jr. (6’0″ 195 SO) has talent and originally committed to WVU and has experience in a similar system.

QB Ben Hicks returns to helm the Ponies, and says the offenses are similar and that he feels comfortable and ready to play. He is good, but there are questions about his ability to produce without his NFL wideouts. Louisiana Tech’s J’Mar Smith struggled while adapting to his new pass-catchers and we might see something similar here.

The offensive line is experienced and can open up lanes and protect the passer. North Texas has had struggles getting sacks and that will be the case again here. Last season NT went up 10-0 and that was through offensive execution and getting stops. Eventually, the Pony offense exploited the talent advantage out wide and that made all the difference. Without Sutton to throw up heaves to, does Hicks produce on those third downs?

North Texas was able to produce big yards and points but some of that came late. Looking at the film, there was plenty to like about the say the offense played and in the the since everyone has improved and is more comfortable.

SMU’s Defensive Line goes two-and three deep and they have good size in the middle. Line backers Kyran Mitchell, Richard Moore, and Trever Denbow, have good size and can move enough. Corners Sutton and Wyatt also have good size and will look to stop the speed of NT’s X and Z receivers.

The key here is — as always — keeping Mason Fine from getting hit and giving him time and space. SMU head coach Sonny Dykes talked about how good Fine is and he should know better than anyone what rattles a good Air Raid QB. So much rides on that strategic matchup that we could spend the entire post writing about it.

Mason Fine has improved as a game manager, passer, and decision maker in his time. We should see a continuation of that this season in his third year. His legendary work ethic and shoulder chip should forestall any slippage in his focus. While he has a good arm, he does not have a Pat Mahomet-Like cannon that he over-relies on, so we should see good decisions in this one.

Graham Harrell will rely on getting the backs in space while taking what the defense gives him. Shots will be taken — Guyton and Bussey are too good not to let them test the defense. The question will be if North Texas can execute while also hitting home runs.

Defensively, NT should be better than last season. While SMU is still explosive and changing to a new system, they remain talented and the new staff is a proven quality set of coaches. The new run-focused SMU should fall into NT’s hands, as the defense was stronger against the run than it was against the pass. SMU has talent out wide but there is no obvious, proven Sutton type guy that will shrug off a safety on the way to a 40+ yard TD.

In the preview I picked NT 42-33 and still looks good to me. The crowd should be raucous and a possible sell out. There is wrestling on the bill, but this is the main event.

Let us Safeway Bowl.


MGN Podcast

104: SMU Preview

Adam and Aldo discuss SMU and review the initial depth chart.

We are also in the iTunes store.

You can contact the podcast at

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Wrasslin’ At Apogee

The Athletic Department is going to bring some post-game entertainment to the main event against SMU on September 1st. Yes, NT is bringing a handful of Von Erichs to wrestle on the Apogee field after the game.

There were inklings of this last year when Wren Baker tweeted at one of the Von Erichs, and it looks to have become a full-on wrestling extravaganza that is very much in line with the old-school barnstorming mentality that dominated the sport back when it wasn’t quite clear that it was sports-entertainment.

It is a nice nod to local history and a cool way to mix in some alumni of the two schools. Good stuff.


SMU Found a Coach

Apparently new SMU coach Sonny Dykes grew up an SMU fan.

“There’s a picture somewhere of the pile of SMU players in that end zone celebrating,” Dykes said. “I can promise you, there’s a 13-year-old kid in the background somewhere celebrating with them, and that was me.”

This blog had speculated aloud that Sonny Dykes, following his firing at Cal, might make his way back to Texas for some consultancy at little ol’ North Texas. The ties to Graham Harrell and Seth Littrell are there.

Instead he consulted at TCU and then took his ‘dream job’ at SMU. For North Texas, this means the competition for offensive players is raised. Chad Morris was and is a good recruiter but the power spread he ran was different enough from the NT scheme that there was not the same kind of overlap in some of the areas.

Dykes has run an up-tempo spread with tons of offensive success and put a QB in the NFL (Jared Goff) recently.

NT competes with the Ponies for recruits in the same area, and now for those interested in the same system. We also will be competing on the field until at least 2025


SMU Needs A Coach

Smoo lost Chad Morris to Arkansas today and the relatively pedestrian record he put up on the Hilltop (14-22) reminded me of a quote I read by June Jones recently while going down an internet rabbit hole.

From an interview with Sports Illustrated following June Jones’ resignation:

How do you view your time at SMU?

Well, we became relevant again. We went to four bowls in four years and we were like three plays away from going five years in a row. They got some issues at SMU that they’ve got to overcome, and I don’t know if they will ever overcome them. But I know one thing, what we did was miraculous and I’m not looking back on it in any other way than that.

What were those issues?

All the things that I’ve said before, they’ve got to help the kids. They’ve got to get some tutors, academics more toward the student-athletes. They’ve made strides in that area, but they’ve got to go a lot further … The campus is unbelievable. It’s just a tough gig. It will be tough for the next guy, too.

It turns out it is, in fact, a tough gig.

Adam Grosbard of the DMN called this kind of thing inevitable for schools of this type. When he was hired there was a hope he would do more for the Ponies and he has only had the one really decent season despite making a few splashes in recruiting.

Kevin Sherrington wrote that SMU could have tried harder to keep him, what with the terrible attendance and relatively lagging facilities.

Fans simply didn’t support Morris’ efforts. Wouldn’t even come in from the Boulevard. Until they make that short walk, it’ll be difficult to hire — much less keep — a good coach.

Why We Care

Well, of course SMU is a rival and we care that they are in a moment of change. Chad Morris came in after Dan McCarney helped seal the end of the June Jones run. Morris got a three wins over NT in his time, thanks to some rebuilding and some poor execution. Still, SMU never pulled away from NT during the Mean Green’s absolutely terrible season.

While 7-5 in the AAC may be more impressive to those who know, the absolute numbers matter more to the causal fan. SMU will be bowling in Frisco against La Tech — a CUSA opponent — while NT will be letting the good times roll in New Orleans.

Whatever you think of Bowl Season, I know which one is more impressive.

Brett Vito did the blog equivalent of retweeting the Horns 247 report and adding It doesn’t surprise me a bit that his name is being mentioned, though.

Who, exactly is doing this mentionin’?

We’re hearing SMU’s Chad Morris is headed to Arkansas to replace Bret Bielema, and multiple well-connected sources at SMU have told Horns247 that Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is under consideration to replace Morris.

Along with Orlando, SMU interim head coach Jeff Traylor, who was an assistant at Texas under Charlie Strong for two seasons (2015, 2016), North Texas head coach Seth Littrell, UTSA head coach Frank Wilson and former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin are among the possible replacements to fill the vacancy, sources said.

I do not know who the inside source is at SMU but they sure are just listing the closest coaches available. The Texas coordinator, the interim guy, the guy across town, the guy down the way, and the guy who just got fired at the second biggest school in the state.

Either SMU is doing the most generic search or the source is simply throwing names out there.

Whatever the case, I do not think Seth Littrell makes the move to Dallas. He would get a pay raise but also be dealing with a completely different social class of person. Seth wanted to talk NASCAR at the coaching meet-and-greet. That seem like the conversation that goes on in the BMWs of the Park Cities?

SMU is in a tough spot, and will be for the foreseeable future. For all the criticism everyone gave June Jones for the end of his tenure, he was right about his time: He did a good job in a tough gig and it is a lot harder to win at SMU than people think. SMU does not get to bring in Texas and Oklahoma every other year and the last 20 years have looked more like North Texas than like the schools they like to compare themselves with.

Parallels With SMU

SMU record since 1996: 96 – 166 – 5 bowls (including this year)
NT record since 1996: 96 – 167 – 6 bowls (including this year)

I do not see how SMU would be a completely better job for Seth Littrell at this point. The move to the AAC does nothing for his resume that a CUSA title next year over Lane Kiffin’s FAU would not do. The money is better, but the challenge is daunting while the recruiting is more difficult and the apathy is appalling.

Breakdowns Football

MGN Film Room: SMU

North Texas takes on Iowa in Iowa City this afternoon.

After a week where NT helped elevate Courtland Sutton into Hype Mode, the excitement is waning in the Nation. There were real and true good things in the loss. To better gather the crowd and offer some gritos of encouragement on this 16th, let us look back on last week. The first half was really when the game was contested, as SMU turned a 10-point deficit into a 14-point lead. For me, NT came out with a nice offensive game plan, but failed to execute when SMU was scoring. For the defense, there was a solid gameplay underneath the gashing, but 3rd downs were killer.

Some Vids

This is all roughly chronological.

After a nifty little ready play— nifty because handing the ball to Wilson is such an obvious first-down call that SMU over-persued allowing Fine space — North Texas broke out a new formation.

For all of its maverick reputation, the Air Raid core offense is pretty boring formationally. It had origins in a two-back set – ‘Blue’ in the parlance but beyond that there is ‘Ace’, the 2×2 look, and Early and Left (Trips to the right and left).

North Texas has shown some Pistol and and H-back look that is only a variation of its Blue and Green sets. Seeing a Bunch look was unusual for this team. While this offense is designed to attack all areas of the field, NT has been weakest attacking vertically through the seams and horizontally on the edges. Aside from Jeff on swings and screens, NT has been woeful getting the ball to the outside receivers on anything quick.

I had expected NT to get the ball out to WRs like Sonny Dykes’ Cal teams (scroll down for gifs in this link) but that has been a struggle. After a couple of attempts early last year, the screen series has been primarily RB-based.

I expect these new looks were something like an adjustment. The benfit of keeping a small playbook is that there is much more time devoted to mastering the plays. If those plays are never mastered? Well, it is maybe adviseable to add a few others.

Here, is a good discussion of the Snag concept.. Here is more from Brophy football. They mentioned Y-stick, a concept this site has touched on previously.

Here is NT running this to Smiley (apologies for the quality).

What is important to understand here is that this is not a new concept, just new routes. Y-Stick is a staple of our offense and this is yet another triangle read only with different starting points.

That’s good self-scouting & play design.

I wonder if Coordinator Graham Harrell picked up a few tidbits from his NFL time. The idea here, as always, is to get the ball to our playmakers quickly. Mason Fine delivers a good ball, allowing Turner Smiley to catch-and-run. The YAC yards are what make the play highlight-worthy, but it was the flawless execution everywhere else that made that possible. The corner route is crisp, stretching the deffense and the flat route is ran well also.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Or, speak of an issue executing tunnel screens and Jaelon Darden gets loose on a tunnel screen. This is a clever design, as the standard Tunnel Screen (Randy or Larry in the parlance) usually involves an X or Z receiver (farthest guys outside). Here, NT disguised this one by flaring the RB in a very common look. NT has looked for that pass to the RB very often the last two seasons. Here is video of Mason Fine attempting to throw it Jeff last year in San Antonio.

Put a feather in Harrell’s cap. That’s good self-scouting and good play design. The first three plays of the series used our own tendencies against SMU. First, fake to Jeff. Second, new bunch look. Third, screen off a look we show often. Good stuff. NT jumped out early thanks to these things. I liked the variations of the offense, it was aggressive, smart and well-executed.

Defensively, NT got good pressure early and forced some bad throws and scrambles. This is the Reffet defense ideal. We have corners that can stay on the CUSA WRs and they become dangerous if the QB is running for his life and tossing up ducks.

Here is a video example. What is concerning is that Hicks had Proche open, but missed him. He found his rhythm later and made NT pay.

The second possession has NT in the same bunch look, executing an option toss, another read from a Trips Left (Late) bunch look designed to have the defense declare themselves. Finally, a poor throw off another bunched look, and a third-down all-curl from a tight Ace (4-wide, 2×2) that was complete but well short of the sticks. There was nice variety but this drive stalled because of execution. NT was up 10-0.

Again, NT had SMU smothered thanks to some great first 2-down efforts. This is a great play to get to the edge and make the tackle. Hambone out here making plays. Unfortunately right before three of Sutton’s scores NT had made a TFL or a similar good play. So frustrating.

It is 3rd-and-8 and SMU’s Courtland Sutton makes a play. NT brought pressure, Quinn/Sutton ran a dig/curl combination with Quinn as the inside guy doing a curl-out and dragging the interior defender with him. NT safety Khairi Muhammad is left on an island with Sutton and does a decent enough job staying with him but cannot make the tackle.

This sure looks like busted coverage. I cannot imagine NT wanted to double Quinn and let Sutton run free. The corner was at the sticks already. My guess is that the route combination had the defenders thinking it was a kind of smash route — basically that Sutton was breaking on a corner route and that Nate Brooks was bailing. This would (somewhat) explain why Ejiya attacked Quinn so aggressively.

But … the same action happened on the other side. This is the frustrating part of this whole defensive performance. NT was vulnerable deep so sitting in quarters coverage — four deep DBs — makes sense, but that leaves gobs of space for SMU to gain. This should have been a first down, but was a TD. That is the awful part, but a first down at that point is also unacceptable.


NT breaks out the Wild Eagle again. On third-and-three NT finds Kelvin Smith. This play was called back on a chop block by Murray and Jeff Wilson. That essentially forces a punt. Fine is sacked for a yard looking for something as he’s flushed from the pocket.

Still I liked the look of it. Here is the video.

NT’s defense put up a good defensive series after. Kaihri Muhammad did an admirable job defending Sutton in single coverage along the sideline and KiShawn McClain made the play of the drive here. SMU runs a litle mesh/TE drag across the formation. NT does not get confused and stays in man coverage. Everyone stayed stride-for-stride and McClain made a hell of a play.

NT goes All-Curl. This is a staple of this offense that we saw in the HOD Bowl. NT follows this up with a jet sweep that was stuffed, and then a poor throw to Jeff Wilson that took his momentum away. He made the most of it though. Then a drop.

Then a bad snap but a good throw and catch. Good protection. This is more of the offense we want to see. The drop is forgivable but I wanted to highlight it in a series of drives that stalled of the type of thing that happened. SMU did nothing especially amazing to kill any of the drives here, but NT did not always execute as well as they did in their first two.

On this next one we have — from left to right — a curl, dig, corner, and curl. While there was silly criticism about ‘no deep routes’ this is an example of where a deep route would hurt more than help. SMU was playing really soft coverage and intead of doing something silly, like throwing into the coverage they are defendeing against, NT takes what is given. In this case, that is all the yards in the soft belly of the zone just behind the backers, and just in front of the safeties. In the hands of a shifty receiver like Darden, that is gold.

NT’s line does a fantastic job of giving Fine time and space. When the pocket is that clean and the zones that soft, it is pitch-and-catch all day.

Jaelon Darden is a player. I do not mind getting him the ball on things like this all day if it is open. There is no reason to force the ball downfield when the zones are this soft. The key is keeping the defense honest. When NT is failing on 3rd-and-2, and 4th-and-1 the defenses have little incentive to come up and play man-to-man. They are betting they can make enough 3rd-and-mediums and that NT will shoot themselves in the foot enough to be a net win for them.


Iowa presents a much different problem. They might challenge NT’s receiving corps and that means Guyton, Smiley, and Darden will really need to win their battles or else this thing is going to be stuck. Historically, the Air Raid teams that can get shutdown are often because their players are not as good as the defenders. Football is a simple game, after all.

Still, the game plan was solid, and the execution was much improved over last season. There are issues with the front five and NT can look conservative at times but there was nothing overly so early. NT cannot just drop back and launch 60-yard bombs with impunity, as they do not have the personnel to do so. They take their shots, and look for the defense to creep up and take advantage. It is solid, smart football and the kind of thing the team has shown improvement in recently.