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Football

2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview

Surprise is important in football. One of the reasons #WakeyLeaks was effective was because the guy leaked trick plays and formations that were only used in preparation, but not in games.

Teams usually only meet once per season and the slightest edge gained by surprise can turn a game.

North Texas is in a relatively unusual position in college football in facing a rematch against Army. Most of the MGN preview of the October game applies here. Defending the option is still about stopping the dive, hitting the QB, hitting the QB, and hitting the QB.

When we are watching North Texas play defense — and given the time of possession for Army this season, that will be a good portion of the game — we should watch the interior lineman. Monken will call a few straight handoffs to see how Mike Ekeler and company are defending the run, and adjust accordingly. Watch for them leaving DL unblocked and attacking the second level. That will mean it is an option play.

Projections

ESPN FPI: North Texas chance of winning 26%. NT #117 Army #76
S&P+: North Texas #111 22.4-29.9 Army #82 with an NT chance of winning at 33%
SRS: North Texas #114 Army #81
Sagarin: North Texas #147 15.94 – 27.76 Army #94
Massey Ratings: North Texas #144 20 – 28 Army #98 with an NT chance of winning at 25%
[FEI:][11] North Texas #111 19 – 32 Army #79. NT chance of winning .204.

The chances of winning are only slightly better than they were in October. The point spread was 18 then, and it is 11 now. North Texas is still and underdog, but the major difference being the venue. This bowl game is about as close to a home game as is possible.

At least three North Texas starters are compromised from that game, however.

A list of guys that will not play on offense:

  • Willy Ivery is out for academic reasons. He comprised 156 yards (98 rushing + 58 receiving) of the team’s 304 against UTEP in the final regular season game of the year. He had 108 (111 rushing + -2 receiving) of the 378 against Southern Miss.
  • Tee Goree is out permanently, kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons. His numbers are mediocre (36 catches 328 yards, only 2 TDs) and that is largely a function of the quarterback play. Still, he did not live up to the hope we had for him (see below).
  • Willie Robinson. His loss is more of a depth problem. After his 8-catch 73-yard debut against SMU, he never topped more than 2 catches nor 39 yards in any game after.
  • Mason Fine. The starting QB for much of the season hurt his arm. Mason Fine and Alex Morris are very comparable throwing the ball — especially at this point in the season — but Mason can make plays with his legs that Morris cannot.

Army will be out a couple of DBs who hurt their knees. That bodes well for the depleted North Texas WR corps led by Turner Smiley. Smiley was projected to be The Guy in preseason (by lazy magazines) on the strength of his returning numbers (read: having any numbers). He has only come one in the last couple of weeks thanks largely to some trickeration in the Southern Miss game.

Army

Since we saw them last, Army went 3-2.

  • W at Wake Forest 21 -13
  • L Air Force 12 – 31
  • L N1 Notre Dame 6 – 44
  • W Morgan State 60 – 3
  • W N Navy 21 – 17

The win over Navy was impressive at first glance, but upon close inspection the circumstances favored Navy greatly. Army had sat idle between Nov 19 and Army-Navy on December 10th, while Navy had six straight weeks of games including the previous week’s conference title game.

Army beat Navy and ended a 14-year losing streak but needed a late score and stop to pull the game out. Things lined up perfectly for Army and not so great for Navy, which was suffering from multiple injuries. Army is about as dangerous as they were in the beginning of the season and will not have any appreciable advantage in rest.

Offensively, they are still a triple option team, and the turnover-plagued team in October should be more prepared and more careful with the ball. When they weren’t turning it over at home, they did a nice job of moving the ball against NT’s defense on 4th downs. When you are lacking in size and strength, you need to pull out all the stops. Army did then and will again on Tuesday.

Given all this down time, Army has no doubt been game-planning the hell out of this one. NT presents a nice second chance for Army to right some wrongs after winning their most important game of the year. They will be looking to correct mistakes with the confidence of a team that has thrown off a decade-plus long yoke.

North Texas

Our guys are coming into the finish line barely fielding required numbers. This kind of depth problem was always going to be an issue and ironically the success of the season has heightened the concern. If NT did not qualify for this bowl game, then we would not be as concerned about Jeff Wilson’ knee, Willy Ivery’s grades, or Mason Fine’s shoulder.

Alec Morris will start, as Seth has hinted throughout the month. What is new is that he probably would have gotten time even if Mason Fine were healthy. Morris has shown some of the ability we hoped he would preseason, but still is frustratingly iffy when throwing deep. Mason Fine was at his most fortunate against Army in West Point in one of the signature wins of the year (The signature win?) and so Alec Morris does not have much to live up to in this one.

In October NT came out and tried to exploit some things in the pass game and went away from a healthy Jeff Wilson in the first half. Seth Littrell said “that was our (coaches) fault”. He believed the Mean Green are the more talented team, and in the second half the line and Jeff Wilson imposed their will. Mixed in with this were a few choice lucky catches.

Oh yeah and seven turnovers.

Lucky Seven: North Texas 35 Army West Point 18

The run game will be led by a hobbled Jeff Wilson. If he is a shadow of his October self that would be a blessing. Willy Ivery was coming into his own in the last two games, but Jeff Wilson remains special. North Texas had a semblance of a pass game with Morris able to move the chains enough to mount a TD drive or two. Efficiency remains a problem and a couple of weeks of practice likely will not have improved that. We can hope, but we cannot expect a jump in efficiency against an Army team that has been preparing.

NT’s depth problem and subsequent attrition mean that there is no one with a Go-To tag in the receiving corps. Unlike the rest of the league, which has showcased their talented wide receivers, NT is still tossing passes to Thaddeus Thompson and hoping someone else will make a play. It is here that Terian Goree will be missed most, although Turner Smiley has finally used his speed to stretch the defense a bit.

The Game

Army’s advantages: Relatively healthy, rested, confident, out for revenge, removed element of surprise.

NT’s advantages: De Facto home game, confidence of previous win, better athletes man-for-man.

To win North Texas will have to rely on the defense that played so well early in the year, and hope the version that (didn’t) show up against UTEP does not allow gashing runs. Aaron Jones took advantage of every crease to explode for gobs of yards. Army has good players but no one of the NFL caliber that can make every mistake fatal. Last game the secondary played outstandingly well, the defensive line shed blocks and stopped the dive, and the linebackers made enough plays. In essence, they played brand of smart football that is necessary against a good triple option team.

If the defense is not helped by turnovers again, they make get tired and allow some bigger gains late. It will not necessarily mean they are playing worse.

Offensively, the Army linebacking corps is smart and tough. There were not as fast as Jeff Wilson (or Willy Ivery) last time, and so the question becomes: can NT score with a recovering Wilson, and Tucker? One reason the run game was so effective in the second half was that they did not have to pass protect and thus hurt themselves with holding penalties. Littrell chalks up some of the sacks (and holding calls) to the QB, for not getting rid of the ball quickly. We will defer to the expert on this, but the effect is still the same: stalled drives.

The pass game is good enough to stay on schedule, but is not good enough to overcome a loss of ten yards. To be fair, most offenses are not good enough to do this.

Without Ivery and with Wilson struggling, the offense that for the last few weeks could reasonably get five scoring drives — three TDs, two FGs —will likely struggle. The run game —and the threat of a run game — was usually good for a couple of those drives. The answer against Southern Miss was some trick plays.

So I expect some unusual formations and maybe some fun stuff from Harrell and Littrell.

Other Stuff, Poetic and What Have You

I am old enough to know these games Do Not Matter but mature enough to recognize that That Is Fine. Bowl games are about money but knowing this does not prevent us from enjoying the time with friends and family and this moment in our lives. I will be at the game with my wife and kid and I will enjoy the little moments.

The cash grab that is a bowl game should not stop you from enjoying the day. At the very least it gives you a reason to spend some time together.

Goodbye Tee Goree

In three years Terian Goree had three touchdowns. Two were spectacular( here and here ), and one tied the game against Army in West Point.

He leaves under relatively mysterious circumstances. Littrell never announced the reason (and won’t) for kicking Goree and Willie Robinson off the squad for whatever happened at the team hotel prior to the Southern Miss game. He tweeted a picture of himself in a SFA jersey, where he will look to fulfill his potential.

This bowl season has put the conferences’ wideout talent on display. Southern Miss’ Allanze Staggers balled out at the New Orleans Bowl while both Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson turned heads at the Armed Forces Bowl. While Goree’s numbers suggest it was not probable that he would explode for a bowl record, his exit from the team ensures that it he definitely will not.

The Coulda Shoulda Woulda wide receiver list at North Texas is lengthy, and we will add Terian Goree’s name as the lastest. While some members (Darius Terrell) never really shone, Goree’s scores and spring game prowess make his departure all the more frustrating. While a good portion of his struggles can be attributed to the previous staff, his punishment was his own doing.


  1. Neutral site game at San Antonio 
Categories
Football

North Texas vs UTEP Preview 11.26.16

What are we supposed to make of UTEP this week? College football is funny for a number of reasons and one of those is the quirkiness of the 18-22 year old college student.

There is a lot on the line for we, the adults who follow this program, but we are still relying on kids.

This is a trap game.

  1. North Texas is slightly favored.
  2. UTEP is playing at home.
  3. Aaron Jones is really good.
  4. UTEP was projected to be pretty decent this season.
  5. They are playing for their coach’s job.
  6. NT is down Jeff Wilson (probably), Mason Fine (probably), Tee Goree, Willie Robinson, and one or two other guys who are a little banged up.

As you have likely heard, North Texas is likely going bowling. It would take a miracle situation for North Texas to be left out at 5-7. That miracle situation would mean at least 15 of these not including NT won this week:

That leaves 18 teams having an opportunity to win their way into the postseason before 5-7 teams are become eligible. Their records and remaining schedule:

Akron (5-6) – at Ohio
Arizona State (5-6) – at Arizona
Boston College (5-6) – at Wake Forest
Indiana (5-6) – vs. Purdue
Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6) – vs. Arkansas State, at Louisiana-Monroe
Northwestern (5-6) – vs. Illinois
Maryland (5-6) – vs. Rutgers
Miami (Ohio) (5-6) – vs. Ball State
Mississippi (5-6) – vs. Mississippi State
North Carolina State (5-6) – at North Carolina
North Texas (5-6) – at Texas-El Paso
South Alabama (5-5) – at Idaho, vs. New Mexico State
SMU (5-6) – vs. Navy
Southern Mississippi (5-6) – vs. Louisiana Tech
TCU (5-5) – at Texas, vs. Kansas State
Texas (5-6) – vs. TCU
Texas-San Antonio (5-6) – vs. Charlotte
Vanderbilt (5-6) – at Tennessee

According to Erik Smith of the USA Today, a 6-6 team with two FCS wins would get in over a 5-7 team with one FCS win (us).

This is good for us, but probably bad for college football. There are probably way to many bowl games, but then again, there are probably way to many college football teams.

Bowls do matter, in the way that everyone’s particular experiences are important to them. So if you feel like the Cure Bowl is unwatchable, don’t watch it. That’s fine.

End of Bowl Rant

UTEP is coming off a drubbing at the hands of Rice. Rice. While Sean Kugler has discussed continuing the fight to improve, it is hard to see how that loss to Rice was anything other than the team losing interest in the message.

NT’s bad losses this month came against two of the conference’s best — WKU and La Tech — and Rice is neither of those. Still, Kugler said playing spoiler is its own motivation:

Spoiling North Texas’ bowl bid is a major motivation factor

“You never want to see a team celebrate on your field. They have an opportunity to go to a bowl and go 6-6 – which would be a great accomplishment for them. They’ve done a great job this year, coach [Seth] Littrell has done a great job with that program. But it is our Senior Day and it is our home turf and it is the Sun Bowl. Our kids have a chance to defend it one last time. And certainly we don’t want to see [them celebrating] at the end of the game. Yeah it is a motivation factor. And another motivating factor is bouncing back from the game we just played. The competitiveness comes out in you and you want to wipe that stench out.”

Predictions

SRS: #105 North Texas vs #126 UTEP
S&P+: #98 North Texas 32.9 – 23.9 #124 UTEP. Win probability 70%.
ESPN FPI: #116 North Texas vs #126 UTEP. Win probability 58.9%
Sagarin: #134 North Texas 29.26 – 21.69 #173 UTEP
FEI: #101 North Texas 34 -22 #127 UTEP. Win probability .778.
Massey: #136 North Texas 27 – 21 #213 UTEP. Win probability 66%.

UTEP

I vividly remember the Lance Dunbar years. He was quite literally the entire offense for a couple of seasons. Aaron Jones at UTEP reminds me of that time. He might be better than Lance was, but is certainly a different style.

He carries so much of the Miner offensive load despite little help. He is the Miners’ fourth leading pass catcher — which is not altogether unusual — and he can catch it in a variety of ways. UTEP can swing the ball out to him the way NT does with Jeff Wilson, but also likes putting him in wheel routes — like NT and Ivery. What has caught my eye is Jones’ mini-highlight reel of incredible catches. The guy has great hands for back.

Some highlights:

It is unsurprising that UTEP is ranked first in Rushing IsoPPP (1.43) because of Jones’s abilities. Outside of his penchant for breaking 50-yarders, there is nothing much else to fear from UTEP’s attack. QBs Ryan Metz, Zack Greenlee, and Kavika Johnson have combined for pedestrian numbers throwing primarily to the TE Plinke. When it is working as intended, Kugler’s offense is a power run team with complementary throws deep. This season UTEP has been unlucky and bad. Outside of one or two games, they have not been able to capitalize on the attention paid to Jones.

You might recognize these problems as ones NT has had this season, also. Simply put, they are very similar to North Texas except in one very crucial aspect: They are not nearly as good defensively.
NT could very well play a great game and still lose.

Kugler switched from the 4-2-5 to the 3-4 and blames a lot of the issues on the learning curve involved in making that switch. Sure.

Defensive woes noted, we should also remember our offense isn’t exactly the 2005 USC Trojans out here.

Before NT had injuries and suspensions, I figured this matchup would be a battle of one-dimensional teams. It still is that, but with NT having a better defense, and a reason to play.

UTEP Five Factors:

NT Five Factors:

Anything can happen in college football and especially so in CUSA so they should be taken very seriously. Under Littrell, this team has not had a hard time showing up to big games and playing hard.

NT

While the coaching staff has his team playing hard, they do not always have them play well. The defense ran into good teams — La Tech and WKU — and came away bruised and a little embarrassed. The offense showed some nice things against Southern Miss but still has not put together a complete, consistent game.

UTEP likely will be the last winnable game on the schedule, and probably the last chance to put together that elusive Complete Offensive Game. Willy Ivery will need to do the things he did last week, and probably a little less fumbling. We are still waiting for a Morris start that does not include an interception. This might be the day. Might. He is much more calm and decisive with the ball now than he was against SMU, but he is missing Goree and Robinson, who are suspended.

Goree, in particular, has not produced to the level we hoped he would, but he was still productive. For all of Turner Smiley’s production last week, he has yet to live up to the preseason expectations, also. The trio of Thadd Thompson, Turner Smiley, and Kenny Buyers is enough to get points and first downs against this UTEP defense.

We are looking for NT to play to average — not potential — after all. So 24 points and five scoring trips is what we can expect to see. If we get more we’ll be excited and less would disappoint us. Here at the twelfth game of the year, the team is the team. This team, however injured and suspended, can produce that against this UTEP defense.

The future will hopefully hold more important, and more pressurized games than this one, but playing for (official) bowl eligibility on the road, against a tough team is a good place to start. The program is still at a place where we look more at the way they played than the result — especially here. UTEP is not playing well but they are not significantly worse than our guys. Littrell has repeatedly made that point in the press conference and MGN has made this point on the podcast. The range of quality from top to bottom in CUSA is not that great.

NT could very well play a great game and still lose.

I think NT wins this going a way, though. Prediction: NT 31 – UTEP 21

Categories
Football

SL Press Conference 11.22.16

Seth Littrell had his weekly press conference yesterday.

There was lots of talk about being this close to the six wins after outside expectations had this team much lower.

He mentioned Willy Ivery’s ball security, and how well he played otherwise. Mason Fine is day-to-day, but we learned today that Alec Morris will start. Jeff Wilson will be a game-time decision.

Honestly, I would like to keep Jeff out until the possible bowl game appearance. That’s just me though.

There were some forced quotes about defense and things. Nothing amazing.

Also, the big news was obviously that Tee Goree and Willie Robinson broke team rules and will be suspended for the rest of the season. Goree has underperformed relative to our expectations, but has managed to be a reliable possession receiver. Last week, Elijah McIntyre stepped up in his place (among others) and performed admirably.

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Breakdowns Football

Opportunity Game: Southern Miss Preview 11.18.16

North Texas has an interesting opportunity this weekend. The scenario looks like this:

Beat Southern Miss at Apogee + Beat UTEP in El Paso = Bowl Eligibility

That is tremendously exciting. The predicted upper limit of wins by those paid to do this kind of prognostication was something like 4 wins. Seth Littrell has reached that mark already.

The hype for this game is nowhere near the levels of Oct 23rd, when NT had reached .500 with their fourth win and for good reason. This Southern Miss game is not as winnable as the pre-Halloween match vs UTSA. Forget the fact that the fightin’ Littrells are down a quarterback in Mason Fine and their best player in Jeff Wilson. Southern Miss has injuries also, but the Golden Eagle ceiling is much higher than UTSAs, even though the Runners beat USM in a ridiculous upset earlier in the season.
A great offense is explosive and also efficient.
We are all smart enough to not believe in the transitive property. No one is as good or as bad as they play in one game. The body of work matters, and the body of work is itself subject to analysis of context. For example, SoMiss is not the same team that beat Kentucky on Sept 3rd, Kentucky is not the same team that lost to SoMiss. Right now Kentucky is ranked 75 in S&P+, and Charlotte is 121. Southern Miss beat the former and lost to the latter.

Predicting the season so far ahead is dumb, but fun, I said in the season preview prediction section. There was no real way to see so far ahead clearly. We were concerned about injuries to the Offensive Line, Jeff Wilson, the QB … wait. We were right on.

Then, we thought injuries to these players would kill any hope for even the one or two wins that were ‘reasonable’. We did not know that the injury to the QB would mean we would simply be starting Alec Morris again. Mason Fine has not been ruled out for the season — or even this game — but it sure does feel like this is Alec Morris’ show to run for the time being.

Even he is not the same guy he was on September 3rd. Littrell said he has been good recently and really, both QBs need more help up front and out wide than anything.

Seth Littrell Press Conference 11.15.16

Morris stepped in against WKU with little pressure, and performed well enough to get a drive going. Later in the game, he forced some passes and looked less confident. When he is protected — like any QB — he can fire nice passes in the short-to-intermediate range with authority and accuracy. At his worst — again like most QBs — he is tentative, and locks in on one route, forcing throws. Since his Alabama days, Morris has had a problem firing accurate deep passes. This problem is compounded by the fact that getting anything deep requires lots of pass protection time, and WRs that can get open deep.

That NT has not had many step-back-and-launch-a-deep-pass highlights should be no surprise, then. NT does not need that type of play, though I will note that every offense could use that kind of thing.

A great offense is explosive and also efficient. They achieve this state by either being good at every aspect that playing a base defense means you will give up a series of 3-and-4 yard gains that you cannot stop. The other option is being so good at one aspect that a defense has to overload to merely slow down the onslaught which leaves room to hide the weak or merely average parts of the offensive attack.

Right now NT is neither. The pass game is not crisp and efficient because the QB play has been at various times inexperienced, out of practice, hesitant, under fire, and forced to make tough passes. The run game is only explosive and not efficient. Essentially we hope for a Jeff Wilson (or Andrew Tucker) to hit a home run while they strike out other times (strikeouts being no-yard gains).

Obviously these are interconnected. The run game has opened pass lanes that have not always been fully exploited. The pass game has caused the run game to be overloaded and makes it difficult to get efficient gains.

The inconsistency that is the root of the problems will not go away anytime soon. NT will need an offseason and new players to correct this. I have hope. Mike Leach began his run at Washington State with an iffy line, and an inefficient attack and five years later that line is the strength of the team.

These things take time.

Predictions

SRS: #112 North Texas vs #96 Southern Miss
S&P+: #105 North Texas 36% win probability; 25.2 – 31.3 #71 Southern Miss
ESPN FPI: #117 North Texas 34.6% win probability vs #95 Southern Miss
Sagarin: #141 North Texas 26 – 33.85 #102 Southern Miss
FEI #105 North Texas win probability .459; 26 – 28 #89 Southern Miss
Massey: #139 North Texas 28 – 31 #126 Southern Miss

Southern Miss

Head Coach Jay Hopson velt vindicated by beating Kentucky, as there were some questions about him replacing the departed Todd Monken (left to coordinate Tampa Bay Bucs). Now the mediocre season is being attributed to the coaching staff changes, and the graduations of some of last year’s players.

Forgive me if I do not feel empathy for them.

The question for us is this: Which QB has Ekeler prepared for more? Nick Mullens is the clear best choice, but he is questionable after going out with “concussion-like symptoms”.

These things take time.
Last week true freshman Keon Howard ran 28 times for 98 yards and threw for 230 with 50% completion rate. He turned the ball over three times on the first three possessions.

I think you have an idea of who we want to face. That said, Southern Miss has allowed lots of yards and points and that was even with Mullens pulling the strings offensively. They can still score, as they are talented at the skill positions, so even with the boost that comes with a turnover prone QB and a porous defense, NT has to produce offensively.

They are explosive in the pass game, but Ito Smith is a great back in the run game. He can catch the ball out of there too, so tackling in the open field will be a concern.

They throw the ball to the TE Allen and he’s big and can break tackles. Looking at the highlights against ODU, we can see what they like about Keon Howard in the future. He’s big and fast and when he figures out how to play the position efficiently, he will be a problem.

Defensively, Southern Miss has a ridiculous havoc ranking — the DL in particular ranks 5th. That said, they are prone to lapses. The defense rankes 119 in first quarter S&P+ but improves as the game goes on. They are also 124th in first down S&P+. In a nutshell, the Golden Eagle defense is near-great in stopping the pass, but abysmal in stopping the run. This would mean good things for NT if Jeff Wilson were healthy but he is not. Ivery and company have talent enough to take advantage but there still is a clear difference between a healthy Wilson and the rest of the roster.

North Texas

The question is simply this: can the NT offense make enough plays to keep this game within reach for the offense. The length of the offense’s reach is undefined right now, but I put it somewhere near the season average in points and yards. Alec Morris can approximate the total offense produced by Mason Fine with his slightly better field vision and experience, even though he is not as mobile.

Can a Jeff Wilson-less run game be as productive? NT managed 115 yard on the ground last week, but 71 of that was on Tucker’s TD run.

The better question is Can the OL block the disruptive USM DL? If we look at the body of work the answer is a resounding ‘no’. NT had a problem with UTSA’s disruptive DL in short yardage. Against WKU and La Tech the issue was not that NT had zero positive plays, but that the pressure on the OL often caused penalties that cancelled positive plays.

Much of my hope regarding NT’s chances are related to USM’s tendency to give up plays like this:

Morris and Goree can exploit busted coverage like this. North Texas is not so bad that they cannot get big plays or score. Avoiding situations like last week wherein the deficit was so great that FGs were not an option is one goal this week.

Five scoring drives is about the reasonable limit for the offense. This week, the defense has a chance to show the scoring ability it did against Marshall and Army. If Keon Howard is the starter, there will be opportunities.

Conclusions

On paper Southern Miss is the more talented team. Keon Howard probably would have started over Mason Fine this season, for example. North Texas does have home field, a coaching staff that has everyone playing hard and moving in the same direction.

My interpretation of the last two games is that NT was simply overmatched. In this one, they will not be, at least from an execution standpoint. That, and the tantalizing opportunity in front of everyone — a bowl game — makes me think NT has the edge. Southern Miss has had a chance against “lesser” competition the last couple of weeks and has underperformed. In fact, this has ben a theme all year. Not once all year did they look like the complete team we expected. This was written off or explained away, but USM has never gotten it together like LT or WKU.

For NT, it is hard to remember the team that was playing well on defense, and making improvements on offense through the fog of two beat downs. It is hard to remember how good the offense looked in the first half of the La Tech game through the fog of last week’s beat down. While the pessimistic complain that there is very little improvement — I disagree — there has not been much regression either. This team still has the same problems and outside of the injuries to Mason Fine and Jeff Wilson, the same good aspects.

In any situation all you can ask for is a chance. NT has theirs. Two very winnable games to become bowl eligible for only the second time since 2004, and to reach five wins for only the third time since then also.

Categories
Football

Meh: North Texas 24 LaTech 45

The problem with playing nearly well enough to compete against a good team is that when they do not hurt themselves and display their superiority, you can get frustrated and demoralized.

North Texas played well in the first half of this game offensively. The defense was torched by big plays and an efficient offense. That is not good but it was expected. At some point when you say a team was bad you are really saying they were poor relative to their standard.

If you have been following closely, you know that NT’s defense, while capable and maybe even stout against the right opponent, did not match up well with this Louisiana Tech team. The Mean Green defense has struggled with mobile QBs that move and find open players. Remember last week when Dalton Sturm avoided tacklers and found UTSA players for a crucial first down or two? Well Higgins was looking (and finding) guys for TDs or 40-yard gains.

North Texas has not faced a team with a burner like LaTech’s Carlos Henderson. He made the speedy NT defense look slow. Nate Brooks has not gotten beat so badly all season, and he was torched on the first LT score. On the screen pass TD, Henderson caught it and burst up the field for six. He’s good.

Coming into this game Trent Taylor caught 93 for 1274 and 9 TDs, good for 13.7 yard per catch. Carlos Henderson has cuaght 51 for 1035 11 scores and 20.3 yards per catch.

Tonight Taylor was held to 5 for 44. Henderson was not held to anything. He took what he wanted, including a big run on a reverse for 24 yards. The last time we had this much trouble in the pass game was against the talented duo at SMU.

Tonight North Texas had a hard time wrapping up the QB, defending a scrambling QB, and getting off the field on 3rd down. While these things are all areas in which to improve, this is week 9 and that is how NT has played all season. By this point, expecting them to play differently is expecting a chair to not be a chair anymore. This defense is what it is — attacking, prone to allowing big plays, bad on third down, and decent enough in coverage except against truly talented/speedy WRs.

That said, the penalties (that were deserved) did them no favors. Chad Davis subbed in for the injured Eric Jenkins, broke up a pass, and earned an unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting him to his face. Let us set aside the discussion on over celebrating by defensive backs and simply note that doing anything in an opponent’s face is going to earn a penalty.

Still, on some level even these penalties were to be expected. As far back as the Rice game, NT displayed their penchant for helping the opponent by committing untimely penalties.

We can point to the run game being gashed, but part of that was those big throws early opening that up. It also did not help that the starting corner was hurt, and that McClain was ejected. La Tech was moving the ball well anyway, but the leading tackler was gone. NT is a bend but-don’t-break defense that got broken.

Against this Bulldog team, the best hope was controlling the clock, scoring, and getting some turnovers. For the fist half, NT was able to score with them nearly every time. Graham Harrell called a good game that was built on the threat of getting Jeff Wilson the ball on the swing pass in space. He finished with 127 total yards on 20 touches and a score. The problem was the bag of tricks only went so deep.

Ideally as Louisiana Tech adjusts to the swing passes (they did) and the immediate counters (the screen passes away from the swing) you hit them over the top. Unfortunately that stuff requires good pass protection that still was not there. Mason Fine was dealing early, hitting short throws on the money and letting our best players make plays in space. When the space available required a deep throw, that is where NT struggled.

It is no fun to watch Mason Fine take sacks, but like with the defense, at this point expecting much different is a mistake on our part.

Let us unnecessarily deep dive now:

Offense

Mason Fine struggled last week. He did not see the field well, and forced throws into coverage. He was slightly off, which contributed to some incomplete passes and one of the interceptions. This week, he was dealing.

He began by completing his first 11 passes, hitting his guys on the money, and moving the chains. After half time when La Tech made adjustments to sit on the shorter throws, Mason Fine struggled.

North Texas lacks a consistent deep threat, in part because the line cannot protect long enough to allow a longer play to develop, and also the lack of a true burner like Henderson. While Robinson, Wilson, and even Goree have some speed (Goree displayed some of that on his catch-and-run) they do not scare defenses enough to change the way they defend.

While the argument can be made that Goree should be farther along in his development, he played well tonight. Lately, he has been finding the open zones and making catches. Those possession catches and the catch-and-run he had are the types of plays this offense is designed to display. We saw more than a glimpse of what this offense will be in the games and years to come. The ball found players in open spaces and those players made plays.

Next year, finding exactly who those playmakers will be is something of a concern, but assuming Seth Littrell follows through on his promise to recruit players that fit the system over guys with Hudl talent we should see more progress in this area. It was exciting, even if some of the progress was due to Louisiana Tech’s defense being a little bad.

Still, the offense finish the game with a non-Florida season worst in yards per play. To my eyes, this was a function of the third quarter disparity. NT came out and threw a pick, and only managed a FG drive, while LT had two TD drives that covered a total of 8-minutes. By the time NT had the ball back, they were in full desperation mode and it was over.

Defense

While Mike Ekeler’s unit has been the strength of the team, it is by no means a perfect group. At best, this group ranked somewhere in the mid-50s in areas like 2nd down defense, or run success rate. Louisiana ranked in the top 10 in these areas offensively.

Nationally speaking, this was a case of a very good offense going up against a relatively bad defense. Barring a bit of luck like UTSA had earlier in the day (Stockstill went out in the first Qtr), there was little hope.

Coaching rhetoric aside — can play with anyone, no excuses, etc — this was always going to be a huge ask. They would need to play perfectly and even then there were question marks. It will be the same way next week against Western Kentucky.

While North Texas played exceptionally well against Army and much was made about the discipline of defending the triple option, the hardest offense to defend is not necessarily a well-executed one. It is a well-executed offense with system-breaking talent.

Basketball fans might remember that Michael Jordan famously broke the Triangle offense. Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, Steph Curry have broken the rules through sheer talent.

No Louisiana Tech guys are at that level, but I am exaggerating the comparison to point out that Louisiana had talent that could and did break our defensive scheme. Henderson ran by Brooks, who is fast and played decent technique. Higgins scrambled, kept his eyes up and fired a great pass for 50 yards. On the reverse Henderson outran our defense.

La Tech does a good job putting their talent into good-to-great position.

Let me point out here that Florida was probably more talented but did not make good use of it. Their offense needs work.

Coaching

On twitter I mentioned a few times that Graham Harrell did a great job of play calling. He seemingly learned from last week’s film that teams will load up on the inside zone and drew up some plays that got the ball in Jeff Wilson’s capable hands early and often. The swing passes from last week were back, and they were executed crisply. Mason Fine got the ball to Wilson and Ivery on the run, allowing them to make plays.

When those plays were figured out, he used some of the same motions and formations to screen the other way, or counter the defense’s plans for it. It was quality stuff.

NT came into this game averaging 25.9 points per game and scored 24. They scored on 4 of 11 drives (excluding the 14 second possession before the half) and only turned the ball over once. The run game tonight came in the form of the swing passes and screen game; the missing pieces are the deep and medium range stuff. Again, those are not likely to improve in the 2016 season. Another season of OL improvement, and recruitment will (hopefully) help Mason Fine find more time. Another season of Fine growing in the system and seeing the field better will help extend plays and then drives.

Mike Ekeler and Tony Reffert are going to have an easy coaching job this week, as they drill home things about mental discipline. Chad Davis’ penalty was not a game-losing play but free plays to an explosive offense are stupid things to hand out. McClain’s targeting penalty looked iffy to me — it looked like Higgins began his dive right as McClain attempted the hit. Still, a more controlled approach probably keeps our defensive leader out there for longer.

Mistakes like these fall into the coaching bucket for correction. The defense as a whole has been penalized repeatedly, and while that is not really going to be magically resolved soon, the staff should make this a point of emphasis.

Season Implications

North Texas did not play particularly well, but they were not embarrassing. The huge crowd saw a entertaining first half, and that is fine.

I have already seen some narrative-setting about this being an ‘abysmal’ performance and disagree. But then again I watch this team all the time. For the casual fan, a blowout is another blowout and that does not help the program in the marketing effort.

Unfortunately, barring a WKU complete meltdown (perhaps helped by injuries) next week will be more of the same but without the home field boost. If NT avails itself this way next week I will be satisfied. It is not great but basically North Texas is playing to expectations — a median performance — and that is all we can ask for.

Notes

How about ESPN3? How about that music playing continuously through the broadcast early, never ever stopping and making us all crazy? Good stuff. Eric Capper tweeted that they spent a lot of money to make the broadcast good. They probably overspent on the music. Heh.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Lucky Seven: North Texas 35 Army West Point 18

Ladies and gentleman your North Texas Mean Green went into West Point as 18 point underdogs and came out with a 17 point win over Army. Spurred by a ridiculous 2nd half run game featuring North Texas’ best offensive player Jeff Wilson rushing for three TDs and a defense that forced SEVEN turnovers!

By my rough count, there are three miracle passes this season. The first came against Rice when Mason Fine floated a fade pass to O’Keeron Rutherford into double coverage. Both defenders fell down, and Rutherford made the catch.

The second was today against Army to Tee Goree for the opening touchdown of the game for NT. The ball was a bit under thrown, the defender slipped, Goree grabbed it for the score.

The third and most recent was again against Army. Mason Fine floated a pass to Willie Robinson along the sideline. The corner — eyeing a sure interception — slipped and fell. Willie Robinson got down to the one-yard line.

Given the choice, I would rather be lucky than good. Army came into this game as favorites because they are good. They move the ball and defend well. On another day when Army better protects the ball, maybe it turns out like it “should” have. This is why coaches obsess about details and possibilities, however. It is cliché to say any given Saturday anything can happen but it is cliché because it is true.

Last week North Texas were 10 point underdogs at home and 18 point underdogs on the road this week. They won both games convincingly through the strength of the defense. That and running the ball with Jeffrey Wilson. He was quiet in the first half as North Texas struggled but managed to end the game with 160 yards. In the last two games he has totalled 348 yards and 5 TDs on 41 carries. That is a little under 8.5 per tote. He has been ridiculous.

In the second half of this game NT totalled 197 yards on 26 carries including a blistering third quarter with 10 rushes for 110 yards. Most of that was Jeffrey Wilson.

All Hail Jeff Wilson.

As usual, let us go through this game in detail for posterity.

Offense

Once again this unit was led by the run game. North Texas debuted a slightly different look — a Pistol set with the FB offset to the left and Jeff Wilson directly behind the QB. The Pistol set was ‘invented’ by Chris Ault at Nevada precicesly so he could get better angles in the run game. It seems NT’s move was to do exactly this. The first play came on an outside zone stretch play that sprung Jeff Wilson for six from 41 yards out.

The run game gained most of the yardage from this look, as Graham Harrell mixed in the inside zone after scorching Army with the outside variety. It was great play calling and exactly what is required from the offensive coordinator.

One of these days both the pass and the run game will click. Today was not that day. Despite Mason Fine’s two long throws to Goree and Robinson, there was little else to be excited about. Fine was uncharacteristically over throwing his targets who were running free. The front five were not especially poor in pass protection, but again put Fine in danger often. Still, they allowed only 2 sacks, down from te 4.5 season average. That is helped by Mason Fine’s ability to scramble and he was able to make some clutch plays. Late in the game he had a 3rd down conversion that was reminiscent of the Rice run on the Miracle Drive that kickstarted that comeback. In this case it allowed NT to keep hold of the lead for just a little bit longer.

Seth Littrell talks often about consistency between plays let alone games. This game was a great example of that inconsistency as the first half NT squad was the one oddsmakers thought of when they created the spread. The second half version was the one that is blowing up those predictions.

Each TD run from Jeff Wilson is a glimpse into what this offense can be when it is not in its own way. Each confident throw from Fine is a glimpse at the future. Each penalty, sack, and fluttered pass is a reminder that NT is not quite there yet.

Littrell mentions getting a week better. Can we say the offense did that today? Yes. They did. The weeks ahead will involve more inclement weather games and the confidence gained by beating a good Army team on the road in poor conditions is huge. Bigly.

Defense

Stars of the show: Eric Jenkins, Brandon Garner, Kishawn McClain. Really the list can and should include every member of the defense. Before the game this blog mentioned the importance of being disciplined. As a whole the defense was not gashed. Army, being a good offense this season, was able to score and move the ball on occasion. North Texas took away the FB dive and force Army QB Bradshaw to make a living on edges. There, Kishawn McClain flew up to make tackles. The NT linebacking corps were able to set the edges and force the action inside.

Yes, Army helped out by being loose with the ball. It was gift-wrapped but NT was ready to pounce. This defense hits hard — that causes fumbles. This defense has active hands — Jenkins stripped a receiver after he caught a pass for a long gain. This defense swarms to the ball — recovering fumbles is random, but NT improves those chances by being around the ball.

Oh yeah and the interceptions. INTs are not random, and somewhat a function of getting to the QB, and putting the opposition in obvious passing downs. North Texas’ streak of games with an interception this season was at six — every game — looked to be in danger as Army does not pass. The stout defense against the option, and the lead the offense provided, forced Army to put the ball in the air. NT capitalized.

The first was fortune. Bradshaw threw the ball too high and Army’s WR only managed to tip it. Eric Jenkins jumped on it and took it to the house. Sure, it was a gift, but Jenkins did the rest.

That aggression and confidence in the scheme is infectious. North Texas is playing with the confidence of a team that has seen Florida, Army, and MTSU and come away with solid performances against them all.

Another INT:

If you have not paid attention to North Texas football since last season’s debacle against Portland State (I do not blame you) you may not appreciate how awesome it has been to see the defense not get pushed off the ball on run plays this season. Last year Iowa, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Portland State, Southern Miss, Marshall and really anyone else all ran with success right through the A gaps. This season the defense boasts some of the same names on the line and has looked light-years better. While somewhat expected — again, the team had zero belief in the coaching staff — it is nonetheless amazing to watch. Army boasted a good offense with a scheme that is difficult to prepare for mentally and physically.

The defense handled it beautifully.

Without the benefit of a second watch, here is a quick list of things I liked:

  • Defensive line stuffing the dive
  • Linebackers, DL getting off blocks — Josh Wheeler, Garner, E.J. Ejiya
  • Defensive backs making tackles — everyone — Dee Baulkman, Nate Brooks, Eric Jenkins, James Gray
  • Staying disciplined with trust in teammates to make the plays
  • Teammates making plays

Coaching

I mentioned Graham Harrell’s switch to the pistol look. We can praise Ekeler for days for his staff’s preparation for this triple option. The MGN Slack took issue with the play calling right before the missed field goals. The rationale there was questionable. Trevor Moore was not put in a good position to succeed.

The pass game struggled again. While I appreciate the desire to hit 15-17 yard gains, the screen game is absent. We see more swing passes than anything and even those are poorly executed. More quick pass game to Buyers, et al would help Mason Fine get a better rhythm. Whatever the rationale I am not seeing it. It very well could be that this squad is so poor at this in practice that they scrap it altogether. It also could be that Army took those looks away. Going forward, something else besides the boom or bust nature would help things some.

Defensively, the penalties hurt. Offside calls are still a problem although they have not been as bad as they were against Rice. The defense does not have to be quite perfect for this team to manage wins in the coming weeks, but it would help a ton.

Next

North Texas travels to UTSA, where the Runners play well. Last time these teams played at the Alamodome Andy McNulty had himself a great game passing but North Texas lost the game on a muffed punt in the closing minutes. NT managed its lone win against this UTSA squad last season and there is no doubt the UTSA guys want a measure of revenge. Depending on how UTSA-UTEP shakes out, UTSA and NT could be playing for a fifth win.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Week One Offense

We all were looking forward to the first offensive series. It was very anticlimactic, ending on an Alec Morris interception to SMU’s Darrion Millines.

From then to the final series — when Mason Fine was sacked for a 7-yard loss on 3rd and 25 from the 14 — there were some good things, some bad and a lot of things to talk about. Yours Truly is without the aide of a second viewing — no one had a copy of the broadcast they could get to me 🙁 — and so I will rely on third party accounts, my own memory, and the play-by-play.

The quick game was solid. Greg charted the passes, and that read like I remembered it: Alec Morris had trouble throwing deep. That will be a problem as teams scout him more and force him to go over the top. In the mean time (against Bethune Cookman) if he completes 61 percent of his passes in short-to-intermediate range, I will be content if there are no interceptions.

It probably is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room: flashbacks to Andrew McNulty. While Andy Mac had a reputation for throwing short and tossing interceptions, Alec Morris had a much better day than Andy’s average day at the park. When McNulty threw greater than 20 passes he never completed greater than 60 percent of them. Also, he only exceeded Morris’ 6.1 yards per attempt (again, when throwing more than 20 passes) five times in ten games.

We could go on, but there is no need to bash Andy Mac. Alec Morris did not have a good day but his 114 rating was better than all but two NT passing games last year, and his 237 yards were better than all but one NT game last year and three games in 2014. Littrell said that there were plays available that could have helped this team win the game. I mostly agree. The offense was productive but turned the ball over. Football is a simple game.

The wideouts played well. Tee Goree and Willie Robinson were obviously the stars, although some folks thought they could have competed for the Morris toss-ups better. I did not see much quit there, but I had a bad angle for all of them. Goree fumbled once, and was lucky it went out of bounds. The entire position group got themselves open, caught the ball and made plays after the catch where they could.

The run group was dominated by Jeff Wilson. We did not see Ivery, but instead only Wilson and Wyche. Jeff was the guy we saw last year — slicing runs on handoffs and short passes. He was the best player on the field on offense.

Anthony Wyche was disappointing in both the special teams and from scrimmage. He was hesitant and Littrell called him out (by inference) in his press conference. My angle was poor, but reports are that the run on 3rd and 1 (before the INT) could have been successful if Wyche had “done his job”. The criticism is deserved. He is a JUCO guy that should know better.

About that run, “We gotta be able to line up and get a yard” says the coach. He is right. He hinted at the mistakes by both Wyche and Morris by suggesting the run could have been better (the former) and that the decision to check to Goree after was a poor one (the latter). Then he took the rest of the blame by saying it is the staff’s job to emphasize down-and-distance and situation. All three criticisms are correct.

I like that Morris felt comfortable enough to check to the pass. This offense and his experience afford him lots of authority to make decisions. I really like the aggression but the execution was poor. I generally do not like playing what if but the situation is important. That one yard should have been a 90% success call, and he checked to a 70% success call. I am being generous. Play the odds. If the offense were able to only manage a FG, it would have cut the lead to 7 and given the defense some rest.

I was encouraged by the urgency and effectiveness of the squad in responding to the gut punch TD (the 46 yard bomb). The offense had the ball at the 25 with 1:59 and scored in 1:21 in 6 plays, going 75 yards. The offense clicked as designed. Wilson got the ball running and passing (and got 10 yards both times), and Morris found Kelvin Smith after being flushed out of the pocket.

He is not completely immobile and his best quality is that he looks downfield to make plays when he’s flushed. Unfortunately, on his next two drives his accuracy was off and a chance to make it a one-score game was lost after SMU scored again.

Morris was taking big hits during these, so that contributed to the inaccuracy, but facts are facts. His three third quarter drives stalled and SMU extended the lead with 10 points of their own. A ten-point third quarter deficit is not desperation time, and the pressure he was facing was not coming because SMU knew NT had to take 7-step drops. Lawler was good, but Morris was (a) not seeing the field as well and (b) was not throwing accurate passes.

This was why Graham Harrell and Littrell pulled him for Fine. The freshman came in and completed five straight passes that were available to the senior in the three previous series. Fine has the added run dimension — he ran for 15 yards on three carries in the next few plays — but he completed 6/7 passes for 54 yards on the drive.

Mason Fine came in and provided the ‘spark’ that Littrell was looking for. That spark will cost Fine a season of eligibility. I could not quite glean meaning or intent from SL in his press conference, only vague football platitudes: “can’t make it through a season with only one QB.”

Week one of 2016 was a showcase for QB rotations, both good and bad. Everyone loves the Texas version, but that was more of a thrower + runner. Mason Fine can move better than Morris, but he is not Tyrone Swoopes. If he comes in for a series or two, we run the risk of both quarterbacks throwing the offense out of rhythm. I mostly believe if you have two quarterbacks then you have none. That said, we will see more of Fine this season. If he steps in and runs the offense with the authority he did that first drive, this thing might be what we hoped for.

The offensive line was shaky. Littrell said two sacks were on them. I will reserve more judgement as I do not have much more beyond that. Bad angles and all that.

Let’s check in on our speculations:

  1. I thought that we’d pass a bunch.. Other contributors weren’t so sure. I predicted 490 attempts for Morris and he is right on pace. The 50 attempts as a team were the most since the Dodge era, when NT threw 54 passes (completed 35) for 313 yards, no TDs and 3 picks vs MTSU in 2009.
  2. I thought we’d get space to run with Wilson. He was able to gash SMU when he had chances. He had a big 31 yard run and a TD.
  3. I didn’t mention it here, but there was an MGN slack discussion about targets. We all predicted high numbers for the H and Y guys, but the outside receivers took most of the targets and the catches. Kenny Buyers was not targeted once from what I saw.

The offense looked good. Outside of the self-inflicted turnovers, there was plenty to like. I can see a scenario where the defense gets the stop on 3rd and 45, and we have an entirely different ball game. I have no idea how long it takes to get back into playing mentality after four years on the sideline. I am hoping Morris got what he needed from that game experience. Next week’s game is a perfect scenario for him. While BC is good and ‘quick twitch’ they are not as good as SMU from top to bottom. He will get a chance for more playing time with slightly less pressure on him. He has game memories fresh in his mind, and that will do him more good than practice and game film.

We are looking for 2nd quarter Morris: decisive, accurate, poised. We do not want 1st quarter (rusty) or the 3rd quarter one (panicky, shell-schocked). I have a good feeling about it and I expect we might get a big stat line from him. He can continue his assault on the record book.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Familiar Things: NT 21 SMU 34

The play of the game — the one that encapsulated the night — was Matt Davis rolling left on 3rd and 45 from the NT 46 and chucking up a bomb toward Courtland Sutton in the end zone. He was guarded by SR corner Chad Davis and he out-leaped Davis and the safeties that came over and caught it. That made the score 21-7.

It was a frustratingly familiar sight for long-time North Texas fans. Right when the Mean Green had something good they blew it.

After making up for the previous lengthy pass play that beat Nate Brooks, the defense battled Matt Davis and forced him into scrambles, forced a couple of holding calls and pushed SMU back further. Then they gave it all back.

That said, I came away from this game disappointed but not demoralized. Sure, any new coach gets a measure of slack before the criticism reigns down upon him. Section 109 was relatively forgiving. “At least they are competing”, said a guy.

MGN will have a more intensive recap thing as we all get nerdy and overanalyze this opening college football game. Right now, let us just jot down some thoughts about the game as we settle in for the night.

In no particular order:

  1. Alec Morris still has a lot of rust on him. He threw wobbly interceptions and missed wide open receivers.
  2. Mason Fine had his redshirt burned. While it was a possibility, it was a bit unexpected at the point in the game it occurred – when the game was long decided.
  3. Jeffery Wilson is still the best player on the squad.
  4. Kelvin Smith did pretty much exactly what he did in the spring game – take short passes and run.
  5. Six guys caught passes and none of them were Kenny Buyers. He wasn’t obviously open often from what I could see, but Morris did miss him a few times before getting sacked. Buyers also was running deeper routes that I expected him to.
  6. The defense was able to get to Davis but Davis was able to dance away. It was exactly as we feared.
  7. In the first half the defense gave up 369 yards of offense. But three of those plays totaled about 150. It is encouraging to see the defense not get blasted off the ball and give up chunks of 15 yards at a time. Still, you don’t like to see so many huge plays –especially in the pass game.
  8. It was hot.
  9. Mason Fine had his shirt burned. I’m intrigued as he was way more decisive than Morris was — especially after AM got hit hard a few times. Fine is well-thought of and mobile. He led a TD drive that made the score more respectable but was ineffective on the next.
  10. That O-Line was exposed late, when the pass was obvious. This is where we expected them to struggle. More screens/short stuff to take advantage of the rush is absolutely necessary. Wilson got loads of yardage on these things.
  11. The line nearly killed Morris.

I went back to my hotel, ate pizza and slept the sleep of a guy who spent a lot of time in the North Texas late afternoon summer sun. I am awake, making plans to see friends today before heading back to MGN HQ, and so I have a clearish head.1

I absolutely do not want a Mason Fine / Alex Morris controversy. Littrell and Harrell did not help matters by pulling the latter for the former. They were not happy with Morris’ play, and made mention of Fine getting playing time early helping his development. I also believe his development is important, but I also know how important this season is going to be for the development of the program.

That said, I cannot defend three first half interceptions, of the type that reminded the Apogee faithful of the terrible past (last season). What is that? A QB wearing #5 tossing wobbly interceptions?! Holy 2015 Batman!

Let us break out the organizing HTML elements:

Offense

It was hyped. It had a slogan. It was supposed to be fast and aggressive and score points. It sputtered. It accumulated 394 yards. That was the most since DaMarcus Smith’s breakout game against WKU last October. The 311 passing was the most since McNulty’s 303 against Rice last September. The 32 completions were more than any game last season and the 50 attempts were the most since 45 against La Tech.

What does it all mean? We knew it was going to happen this way. We thought and hoped it would be a little more effective. The quick game and the screen game were really effective. Morris (and later Fine) were able to get the ball to Goree and Willie Robinson outside quick and for some nice gains. When the pressure came, the screens to Wilson especially were effective. In fact, he had 6 catches for 55 yards.

We saw glimpses of a fully functioning offense. There is reason to believe that it will improve as the season goes on. Goree and Robinson had their men beat deep and Morris simply missed them (throwing picks or did not see them).

The run game was not racking up yards, but that had to do with the pass game not really threatening early. The philosophy is to set up the run with the pass. As the pass was not being really set up, we did not see many effective runs early. This is fine. Jeffery Wilson was the most effective back, as expected. Anthony Wyche looked okay at times, but had a hard time finding the holes Wilson did, was not able to use the blockers in the screen game that Wilson was, and muffed a return. Not the best start for him, but he will improve.

The offensive line was getting destroyed early. The quick and screen games are very important to this offense, as the 3rd and long situations are the weakest for this team. An immobile QB and a shaky offensive line is the worst combination to have. Staying on schedule early is vital. Sure, these are all important to every offense, but this team has an even lower percentage change of success in those situations.

Defense

I said on the podcast that we should be okay if we saw a squad that played well but gave up the occasional big play. That was the case against SMU, but man was that ‘feeling okay’ tested. It is hard to feel good about a converted 3rd and 45 with a 46 yard TD. It is hard to feel okay with a 88-yard TD on 3rd and 11.

Still, the attacking scheme was able to get to the QB. Matt Davis was just able to extend plays and get the ball to Courtland Sutton, another all-conference type player.

Scheme is about putting players in position to succeed. Chad Morris had Sutton on Jameel Moore — our freshman corner — on 3rd-and-11 and he will take that match up all day every day. Sutton had his two other scores against Chad Davis (46 yard bomb) and Nate Brooks (lob). Great players make scheming easy sometimes.

Against the lesser lights of the year,2 the defense will gel and play better. Matt Davis has been difficult to tackle for every squad he has faced, and so I do not think we can reasonably hold our squad to different standards.

That said, there was some poor tackling on display. Kishawn McClain nearly allowed another TD when SMU’s running back pulled up lame after dancing past him in the open field. There were a couple of spin moves that led to slightly more yards than we would want.

The poor tackles are easy to spot because there were not many green shirts around the white shirts so often. Chad Morris’ offense is designed to get you going one way, and then hitting you the other. To be fair, so is every offense ever. Still, the dives opened up the sideline passes which opened up the deep stuff which opened up the dives. When an offense works as designed it is beautiful. Unless you are rooting for the defense.

All that sideline-to-sideline running by SMU was what led to the two big runs up the middle.

Special Teams

The punt team punted and covered well enough. The kicking team was only there for extra points and kick offs. Nothing really special to note here. If you are a special teams buff, then feel free to expound in the comments.

One complaint — Anthony Wyche muffed a punt. Something about those who wear #4 and muffing kicks &hellipse;

Implications For The Season

There are games in which the score doesn’t represent how close the game was and vice versa. This was somewhere in between. The score and yardage represented the game by the end. But you had to watch to see it fully for what it was. SMU played about as well as they could hope and really leaned on their talent advantage at QB and WR to win this game. North Texas played poorly — some of that was pressing to impress, some just talent disadvantage — and really suffered from some matchup disadvantages. Alex Morris needs to play better — nearly perfect — for this team to compete better. That isn’t because he is the best player on the field, that is just because he’s the quarterback of a quarterback-heavy system.

Mason Fine’s best quality is his decisiveness. Alec Morris could use a little of that. His poise in the pocket was shaken, once he came under pressure. Quicker, more accurate throws will relieve pressure and make up for his inability to run after the play breaks down. To really back up the QB pressure, he absolutely has to hit the deep stuff. Goree, Robinson were open a few times and the passes were ducks. The good news is that he can make throws on the run. The pass to Kelvin Smith was great.

I predicted a close one. This could have been closer if SMU did not get most of the breaks — that bomb, the Jameel Moore thing, Morris tossing terrible picks but SMU deserved to win. That is how football go.

Next Time

Bethune Cookman is a good team. They are FCS and we lost to a good FCS squad last year in horrible fashion. In the season preview I said we should win this fairly easily but that it probably will not be by as much as we want it to be. I still stick by that.


  1. Less beer is in me now. 
  2. The less mobile, and the ones who can’t just chuck it up to NFL caliber WRs. 
Categories
MGN Podcast

62: Season Preview

Adam and Greg discuss squad ahead of the 2016 season, go position by position and even predict the season.

    • Offense 6m
    • QBs 12m
    • RBs 25m
    • WRs 40m
    • OL 45m
    • Defense / DL / LBs 50m
    • DBs 1:04
    • predictions 1:14m

Click here for the podcast feed. That should get you everything you need. You can play the episode from there or subscribe via your favorite podcast catcher.

We are also in the iTunes store.

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

Important Links:

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Categories
Football

2016 North Texas Football Stat Predictions & Projections

OFFENSE

 

Team Offense
Stat 2016 Projection
Points Per Game 28
Passing Yards Per Game 280
Rushing Yards Per Game 149
Total Yards Per Game 429
Passing TDs 28
Rushing TDs 12
Passing
Name Comp Att Comp % Yards TD INT QB Rating
Alec Morris 254 410 62% 2870 25 10 149.4
Mason Fine 42 70 60% 490 3 1 130.1
Rushing
Name Carries YPC Yards TD
J. Wilison 183 5.1 933 6
W. Ivery 95 6 570 2
A Wyche 53 4.5 239 3
N. Smith 40 4.1 164 1
Receiving
Name Catches YPC Yards TD
O’Keeron Rutherford 63 12 756 10
Tee Goree 55 14 770 3
Rico Bussey 42 15 630 5
Kelvin Smith 36 10 360 4
Kenny Buyers 23 9 207 2

DEFENSE

Team Defense
Stat 2016 Projection
Points Per Game 33
Passing Yards Per Game 247
Rushing Yards Per Game 188
Total Yards Per Game 435
Passing TDs 22
Rushing TDs 27
Sacks 24
INTs 9
Tackles for Loss 73
Tackles
Name 2016 Projection
Fred Scott 91
James Gray 82
Cortney Finney 73
Kishawn McClain 70
Sacks
Name 2016 Projection
Josh Wheeler 7
Jarrian Roberts 6.5
Jaried Combs 5
INTs
Name 2016 Projection
Nate Brooks 3
Eric Jenkins 2
Chad Davis 1