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Darden Time: North Texas 33 MTSU 30

Jaelon Darden fell backward as he backpedaled and adjusted to a ball thrown over his left shoulder with less than 10-seconds left. Mason Fine had rolled to his left three steps, and floated a ball to the hash, in the only spot that Darden could get to but away from the defender. Darden made the grab, and NT was set up for a nice chip shot field goal. NT wins, 33-30.

The win stopped something like a skid. There were 16,094 announced for this one, but even if there were that many scanned into the stadium, they were not around by the time NT was kicking the game-winner. That is life in CUSA and in a disappointing season like this one. Yes, it does say something that NT is just 3-4 on the season and just four seasons removed from barely squeaking out one or two wins in a lucky year.

This is how it all works, so we can save the reflections for later. Right now NT is still in the fight for a bowl appearance, which is necessary if Seth Littrell is ever going to get a chance at a bowl win with Mason Fine at the helm.

The conference chances improved after the day’s results as well. Southern Miss fell apart late against La Tech in Ruston, with Jack Abraham throwing four interceptions. Tech is on the NT schedule, and on UAB’s too. That means everyone has a chance if they get a little luck. NT needed a dash of luck and execution in this one. There were many self-inflicted wounds in this one: NT dropped something like two clear interceptions offered by MTSU QBs. They finally grabbed one in what seemed to be a the final defensive stance before Loren Easly fumbled it away soon after.

The poor snaps were ever-looming over the offense, and many a FG was attempted. In the end, Mason Fine threw some strikes, playing just a week after he was knocked out of the USM game and playing through more pain sustained in this one. He was hit often — as he always is — but found Darden 13 times on 14 targets, for 125 and a TD.

The new, young WRs stepped up in this one — Shorter, Ogunmakin, White, and Simpson all grabbed two or three or more.

NT looked a little more crisp in the face of some injuries. Tre Siggers dressed but did not play. His backup DeAndre Torrey played but did not impress. Loren Easly fumbled, but he did rack up 99 on the ground. Nic Smith played in spot duty but grabbed a huge screen pass late.

In shades of the UAB win two seasons ago, NT blew a lead, allowed a game-tying TD with under 40s left. Deion Hair-Griffin, demoted from WR duties, returned a big one — 50 yards — to set up the drive. Nic Smith got a screen pass for 11 yards. Then Mason Fine found Darden down to the 7-yard line.

It was not pretty but it did not have to be. This league is still winnable and we all would much rather be complaining about the ugly in a win than the pretty in a loss.

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North Texas Cannot Handle Houston, Lose 46-25 In Front of Record Crowd

Houston losing D’Eriq King after he redshirted was never going to be an automatic win for NT. In fact, this site cautioned against thinking the defense would continue the streak of touchdown-free quarters. Dana Holgerson is too good of an offensive mind to let his teams go without a score.

We also were concerned about Marques Stevenson, he of the many targets and ability to change the game returning the ball.

We also thought the run game would be the focus of the Houston defense. It was.

We hoped that NT would have the answer for all these things. They did not.

No, North Texas lost 46-25 to Houston in front of the largest crowd in Apogee history. Mason Fine mustered 353 yards passing but a good portion of that was while chasing the game.

The run game was the focus, and Houston got lots of pressure. NT was unable to find the necessary counter measures early. The essential takeaway from the first quarter was that NT had a 4th-and-22, and two 4th-and-1s.

They punted twice and were stopped short of the sticks the other time. Houston scored 14-first quarter points. One was on a 68-yard TD by Patrick Carr. The other was on a 9-play, 81-yard drive.

North Texas held Houston to a FG after that turnover, but only managed a FG after that.

NT had a better second quarter but totaled six points, and needed a buzzer-beating FG to do it. The good news was that that the defense managed three stops of the Houston offense in that time. It could have been worse earlier.

Houston scored on their first drive, 8-plays, 60-yards that included a big pass-interference call on Taylor Robinson on 3rd and 4 from the NT 23.

NT scored six on the next drive, an 11-play, 75-yard drive that saw Siggers get into the end zone from four.

Then it kind of fell apart. NT kicked it off to Stevenson who returned it 82-yards for six. The next possession saw NT score again — this time a 33-yard score to Jyaire Shorter

NT managed another stop after 5-plays and only 14 yards. NT could not move, punting to Bryson Smith who returned it 60-yards for six. Houston added a 2-point conversion to make it 39-18.

By then it was desperation time. NT failed to convert on 4th and 2, getting stuffed in the backfield with 12:32 left.

Houston punted after 4 minutes, and NT scored after 3:16 to make it 39-25. Houston scored again, on four plays. Clayton Tune got free for 55-yards. Patrick Carr scored from 12.

NT turned it over and then Houston kneeled it out.

So where did it go wrong? Let us analyze this loss.

Offense

NT had yet-another slow start to the the game. They were not quite sure if they wanted to be aggressive, and we can look at Seth Littrell and criticize. The run game was the focus for both teams, and NT was unable to power through the Houston line like they did UTSA’s.

The pass game was not crisp. The snaps were low, and that seemed to throw off the timing. The early shots were just sort of the sticks and that meant the WRs needed to get a yard. They failed to do so.

That set up some big decisions. NT punted early, then was stopped later in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the situation was the same. Mason Fine throws incomplete on 3rd-and-5 to Lawrence. That led to a field goal.

Later, NT got to the Houston 27 after a big 4th-and-9 pass to Lawrence that got 12. NT followed that with a four-yard-loss, a Fine sack that lost 9, and an incomplete pass. Punt.

The next time NT had the ball, on 4th-and-1 from the NT 40 Mose had a false-start that caused a punt. Mose had a bad game, losing his man, snapping high, and this play here.

The next drive was promising but the half was creeping up. NT found points but the earlier blunders kept them from the end zone.

The second-half first possession was better. NT looked complete, mixing up pass and power runs that kept Houston off-balance. The pass game was crisp, getting the ball out of Fine’s hands faster, and the run game managed to get yards in short-to-go situations. There were some more mishandling of the ball, however.

Later, NT got out of a tough situation twice. The intentional grounding call put NT at 2nd-and-22. A couple of big completions helped the cause but NT scored on 3rd-and-10. Not nearly the best down-and-distance management.

Last drive that mattered: NT threw three-straight but couldn’t get the blocking on the Darden screen. NT punted from their own 8.

There were compounding problems here. NT had trouble blocking up front, snapping the ball, and throwing on-time passes, and then catching those passes. After they were caught — if they were caught — NT did not have many plays made.

Shorter, Darden, Lawrence, Simpson, Hair-Griffin made some good catches but did not get enough YAC to turn these drives into TD-scoring drives.

NT needs the pass-game equivalent of those Siggers runs where he powers through arm tackles.

Mason Fine was hit entirely too often early, and then of course, when NT was chasing the game he took the brunt of the hits.

NT managed 456 total yards, scored 25 points., went 8/22 on third downs and 4/7 on fourth.

Defense

NT had a nice second quarter after a terrible first. The 68-yard score from Carr was a great effort from him, finding the cutback lane and exploding to daylight. NT did not fill the run lane gap and that is a mistake we have seen before. Talent will make you pay for mistakes, and Carr is talented. Chalk this one up to inexperience.

The second drive in the first quarter was more inexperience, and miscommunication. Marques Stevenson took a pass 32-yards and make people miss in open space.

The second quarter saw better pressure on Tune, better gap-integrity in the run game, and better tackling overall.

Early in the third, NT allowed an opening TD after a big return from Stevenson. They got beat on some check downs. Later, Patrick Carr powered his way into the end zone.

The next Houston drive was a great exercise in discipline.

Overall NT held Houston to 359 yards, 235 through the air, 4/11 on third downs and sacked Tune once. It was not always pretty, but 15 of the 46-points were thanks to special teams.

Special Teams

Marques Stevenson had 112 kick return yards, one of which went for six. The other set up a short field that led to another TD. Bryson Smith had 2 returns for 63 yards including the big 60-yard score.

Biagi’s group has been praised heavily recently, especially after the Arkansas game last season. He deserves praise for the good, and criticism for the bad. This game was a reminder of the time NT kicked twice to ODU’s star returner and yes, he scored on both.

This game was not lost because of Special Teams, but it certainly wasn’t helped by it. Houston scored only 31 offensively and NT’s offense only mustered 25, so that would not cut it. The coverage teams did not help the cause, however.

Coaching

Seth Littrell has a troubling trend where he loses all the big games. Three is no real definition for “big”, but the ones that immediately come to mind are these:

Bowl games: 0-3. Two were by blowout (Utah State, Troy) and one was an OT loss.

Championship game: 0-1. The embarrassing blowout to FAU in the title game.

Big Regular Season Games: 2-4? He beat UTSA in 2017, albeit via miracle comeback. He beat FAU in a big game last season. He lost to Louisiana Tech, and UAB in big games, and this one where NT was favored by 7.5 in front of the largest crowd in NT history.

It is an unfortunate truth that eventually fans will become accustomed to success. If the program wants to maintain the growth and success, it needs to win some of these 50/50 games.

Dana Holgerson called a good game and had some good playmakers. NT did not capitalize often enough, and the special teams killed them.

Overall

NT was always going to drop off compared to last year’s team. The biggest concern has been the offense. Last year we hoped it would be more consistent, even though it had big overall numbers. Seth Littrell suggested they knew this was the case anyway, and that changes were coming even before Graham Harrell moved on to USC.

This season, the pass game has been lacking, while the run game has carried the offense. NT has the same old problem it has had for three seasons: it cannot protect Fine that well, it cannot find consistency, and it comes up short in crunch time.

There is a lot to play for this season. All of CUSA is weaker. Defending Champ UAB just lost on the road to a weak WKU, that is starting a new QB. Southern Miss looks good and talented but they have questions still. La Tech was taken to OT by Rice, a program that is still rebuilding.

Over in the East, favorite Marshall was demolished 52-14 by Cincinnati. FIU is a shell of itself. FAU just beat Charlotte, but has not looked like that championship-winning side from 2017 until today.

The point is that NT very well may be bad vs the rest of the nation. But so is the rest of the league and well, the hardware is what matters. Last year’s team was better but faced a better UAB team, and a luckier La Tech team at the wrong time.

Darrel Dickey won Sun Belt titles but few remember the quality of the league then. In fact, few people go back and assess the quality of any trophy in the display case. To modify the famous Herm Edwards words, “you play to win the trophies.”

There is still a trophy to play for and NT is 1-0 on that road.

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Football

North Texas vs Houston Preview

This has been an strange week. The Houston Cougars star QB D’Eriq King abruptly announced that he is redshirting the rest of this season — a prelude to a transfer perhaps — that would remove him from the upcoming game vs North Texas. 

Incredibly, his backup is Clayton Tune, Hebron HS’s own steps into the shoes. You might recognize the family name. Yes, he is the brother of former NT QB Nathan Tune. He of the dog and the losing and the hip injury.

Further down the depth chart is one Logan Holgerson, son of the Houston head coach Dana Holgerson and one-time NT target. This duo has some talent and the head coach is a certified offensive master-mind but De’Eriq King is special so it is a bittersweet announcement that he will not play for the Cougars this Saturday.

North Texas went from three-point underdogs to about a six-point favorite with the announcement. Two things about the last time Houston was at Apogee: 1) they were quarterbacked by Case Keenum. 2) It was the Apogee opener.

The University of Houston Cougars

We have an interesting matchup then. North Texas is favored, feeling good, coming off a thorough beatdown of UTSA at home last week. Houston lost a heartbreaker in which Tulane pulled off a miracle play on the back of a some aggressive trickeration. The football gods rewarded the Green Wave’s playing to win.

This was always going to be a measuring stick game for Seth Littrell and North Texas. The U of Houston program has been ripe for P5 head coaches — Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, and Tom Herman. Those guys have been helped by some quality assistants that are making, or have made their own names: Kliff Kingsbury, Major Applewhite, Kid Briles, and yes, the current head man Dana Holgerson.

That Houston was able to wrangle a P5 coach — Holgerson coached at WVU for seven years — is significant even if the result of a special set of circumstances. Houston is something like a model for the non-P5 schools as it pertains to hiring and keeping an identity.

The Houston reputation has historically been one of offensive prowess. Andrew Ware and David Klinger tore up the record books and when Briles came to town, he and others helped push a new era of offensive success.

Tom Herman was able to recruit talent to the program, and everything culminated with Ed Oliver and the Cougars upsetting Oklahoma to start the season a couple of years ago.

Since then, Herman went to UT, Ed Oliver quit, Major Applewhite was fired, and well now we are at Dana Holgerson and his QB is going to sit the rest of the season.

Thus far, the Coogs are 1-3. The opener against Oklahoma was a blowout that saw new transfer Jalen Hurts destroy the team without much of an effort. Houston beat Prairie View — but not by the margin we would expect. Holgerson’s mentor and former coach Mike Leach and his Washington State Cougars came to town to play and Leach got the better of that matchup.

Last week, Tulane won 38-31 thanks to a sneaky fake kneel-down and a Minnesota-vs-New-Orleans Hail Mary.

Houston comes in allowing 33+ppg but three of the opponents faced are quality offensive teams. North Texas is in that conversation, as well, but the loss of Rico Bussey and some questions about execution perhaps put NT on a lower tier compared to the competition they’ve faced already.

The real question for Houston was the relative lack of cohesion offensively. These things take time. Holgerson’s offense still has Air Raid underpinnings and that means a lot more focus on repetitions and rhythm. Holgerson has mentioned how good the production of his second-year QBs is — this is also one reason why King sitting out a year to try again next season is not such an outlandish idea.

The Houston roster is adjusting to its fourth staff combination in four years, so there are parts that do not necessarily fit with the rest of the others. The offense averages 30.8 a game — compared to NT’s 35ppg — which is lower than perhaps they expect, but still a solid number.

Last year Applewhite’s squad averaged 43 per game and lost only five. Unfortunately for the Major, two fo those losses came at the end of the year and included a 70-14 blowout to Army. That got everyone fired and paved the way for the new regime.

Defending Houston

The Houston offense will look very different without its trigger-man. King has put up his worst number since his freshman year. He has thrown 58/110 for 52.7 completion rate for 663 yards and six scores against two picks. His rating is 117.2

His junior year he threw 219/345 for 63.5% 2982 yards 36 TDs and 6 interceptions for a rating for 167.04.

He was, however, averaging about about 17 more yards rushing per game (78) than last year and already had six scores. Last year he had 14 on the ground. He is and was a true dual threat. His highlight reel against Tulane included freezing a safety in his tracks, and evading a number of tacklers on the way to a NCAA record 16th straight game with a running and passing score.

He is good and NT is lucky to not have to face him. We fans are unlucky to not be able to watch him live in Denton. So it goes.

The line has five upperclassmen, including one graduate transfer in Justin Murphy out of UCLA. North Texas was able to create some pressure against Cal’s young line, and UTSA’s um, bad one. This group is solid and big.

The X and Z positions — outside receivers — have not produced too much thus far. Bryson Smith, and Jeremy Singleton have combined for 11 catches and 100 yards and no scores. Inside WR Marquez Stevenson has produced 17 grabs for 234 and 3 scores, however. Keith Corbin, we should note, is the second leading WR with 11 grabs for 192 and two TDs, and will also join King as a redshirt sitting down this season.

Stevenson has nearly double the targets of Corbin thus far — 32 to 18 and for good reason: he is a playmaker.

Stevenson was the leading receiver a year ago, with 1019 yards on 75 receptions and 9 scores. He also returns kicks and punts.

UH likes to give it to him on jet sweeps and reverses. He is agile, quick, and speedy and tougher to bring down than expected.

Outside of that, it will be hard to gauge what to expect from this offense this weekend. Clayton Tune is not the same type of player, and his stats from last season are from a different regime. Dana Holgerson has the upper hand, ironically.

At RB, Patrick Carr was the main runner last season, with 800+ yards but Kyle Porter as the most totes this season with 47, just eight behind leader King with 55. Carr did not play against Oklahoma or Prairie View and only logged 9 attempts vs Wazzu. He had 17 for 63 against Tulane last week.

The thing to be concerned with, is the ability for Holgerson to scheme up some say touchdowns. The opening play looked like an RPO that turned into a speed-roll-out for King — something easy and that Tulane had seen on film. In actuality, it was a clever play designed to get their most dangerous receiver one-on-one in space with a flat-footed DB.

Houston’s First Play

As you can see, it worked. Football is about the players, but making it easier for those players to be successful is what makes good teams great. That is the coaching and scheming that can produce even greater teams than the sum of their parts.

While Houston will be down two tremendously talented players, this staff can still scheme up a touchdown or two and that is something NT DC Troy Reffett will be charged in looking for.

Best case scenario: the moment is too much for Tune, who is rattled and makes mistakes
Worst case scenario: Tune has enough of an unknown factor that is supported by some clever play-design that makes Houston even more dangerous than if NT had to prepare for King. 

Attacking Houston

Good news, friends. North Texas has an identity. On the podcast this past Sunday, we talked up Tre Siggers and all he means to this program. North Texas is Air Raid in philosophy, but when we are honest with ourselves, we do not trust the pass game to grind out a drive.

Mason Fine is great, but his relationship with his receivers is still a work-in-progress at best. Tre Siggers is something like a sure thing, averaging 131 per game on the ground. He runs aggressively, through arm tackles, and seems to seek out contact. 

Siggers is 27 for 196 and 2 scores on first down runs. That is a blistering 7.26 yards per carry. He is better on second down: 20 tote, 187 yards and a score.

He has only one carry on third down and 1-3 yards to go, but NT as a team has only 9 plays in that situation and has produced 8 first downs. He seems like he would be an obvious battering ram, but in reality he is more like a cannon ball.

The last guy in Mean Green to run like this is scoring touchdowns for the 49ers in the NFL. It really is not like NT has had a bad rush attack. DeAndre Torrey nearly had a 1000-yard season last year. Loren Easly looked like the number-one guy before he went down against Louisiana Tech. 

Tre Siggers has just brought something extra to the run attack that makes him someone to account for with extra-special attention by the defense. 

Every offense needs a player that can make 40/60 plays. The ones that turn a 3-yard loss into a 10-yard gain, and 5-yard gains into 50-yarders. With his ability to run through defenders, Siggers is turning gains that are blocked up for 7-yards into 45-yard scampers.

North Texas is doing well to not over-use him either. He is at about 17 carries a game and he put up 143 on just 14 against UTSA. NT has the aforementioned talent in this group, so a handful of Siggers carries go a long way toward establishing the fact that the defense will need to account for the run game.

Beyond that, Mason Fine just needs to be something like a caretaker. He is best when he does not have to throw 50 times in a game. Every quarterback is. The game plan against NT has been to bring pressure and hit Mason Fine early and often. This has worked in every big loss NT has suffered for the last four years.

Everyone likes Jyaire Shorter, but he is still more potential than production at this point. His 8 grabs on 15 targets for 116 yards and 2 scores is great for a run-first team, but not as the Z-receiver in a spread team.

Jaelon Darden continues to be the number one receiver. He’s scored in every FBS game, even if last week was a garbage time TD grab.

Houston plays a 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid defense that nearly every team does in 2019. Payton Turner (6’6″ 288 Jr) is the bandit player, the hybrid DE/LB/QB Destroyer type.

At DT there is Young and Fleming — Fleming being the NG. Those two are the more typical 4-3 DT types, in that the are in the 280 range. Olivier Charles-Pierre is 345lbs and is the space-eating type. He will play situationally. Anenih, Parish, and Chambers are at the other DE spot, being typical “other” DE type size at 6’2″ and mid 200s. 

Behind them are two good LBs in Kirven and Mutin. The leading tackler is Nickel back 3 Grant Stuard 6’1″ 210 Jr. He has 3.0 tackles for loss, putting him third on the team behind two DL guys.

Gerverrius Owens at 200lbs is the bigger of the two. Damarion Williams is 170. Deontay Anderson is the bigger safety at 217 and he can hit.

North Texas probably likes that Tulane’s line got some real push against this defense, putting a few DLs on their backs. That opened up the play-action and they got big plays over the top with some speedy guys. Tulane threw to a guy they thought could win some jump balls and he did.

NT does not have Rico Bussey to do that, so Deion Hair-Griffin is the speed option, and Shorter is something like the jump-ball option. I would not be surprised to see a little bit of Deonte Simpson get a look in that role. He made an appearance and NT likes the freshman’s talent.

Best case scenario: North Texas is able to power-run with Siggers/Torrey/one-of-Easly-Johnson-Smith getting over 200 yards, while Fine throws 2 TDs on 19 passes. 
Worst case scenario: The run game is unable to find its footing, and Fine is hit, intercepted, or there are dropped passes that kill drives. 

Coaching

Seth Littrell and Bodie Reeder have put up some prolific offenses in their time. Dana Holgerson has done so as well, but at more places and as the head coach. He has produced at Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State, WVU — as coordinator and HC — and now at Houston as the head man. He has seen a ton and found ways to produce offense and scores.

All that is to say that we have to respect his ability to get offense from Clayton Tune.

Reffett’s group is getting more reputations but has faced two poor offenses with less-than-impressive schemers coaching them. Cal has not scored well in any game this season and UTSA has had offensive challenges for the last three seasons. That is to say we will see more of the defense that was burned by SMU than the one that has only allowed six points in the last seven quarters. 

The scheme is sound, however, and lessons have been learned.

MGN eBook Season Prediction: L 38-41 
MGN Prediction Today: W 31-24

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Football Football Recaps

North Texas Destroys UTSA 45-3

Ladies and gentleman, North Texas destroyed rival from San Antonio UTSA.

The final was 45-3 and it was not even that close. North Texas put up 501 yards of offense and 290 of that was on the ground. Tre Siggers, newly appointed star running back, ran for 143 himself (on 14 carries), knocking UTSA dudes aside as he ran through them.

North Texas fans had hoped for a playmaker to help Mason Fine and it turns out it is the stable of running backs. DeAndre Torrey had 62 yards running on the ground and added 60 through the pass game and a score. The two starting backs combined for 265 yard, four scores through the air and on the ground.

Mason Fine had a pedestrian 195 and 2 scores, on 15/22 passing.

The defense that played so well for three quarters against Cal last week was outstanding against UTSA’s questionable QB talent. The thought was that if UTSA could hurt NT it would be through missed gaps, and the QB extending plays with his legs.

That proved true, but there was not enough of the execution that would hurt NT. UTSA put up 295 total yards but only 128 through the air. Frank Harris, the star sophomore QB who was an NT recruit, was hurt again on the 2nd play of the game and did not return. His backup Lowell Narcisse played well in spots but his passes were not catchable by the UTSA WRs.

He overthrew his targets, and one was intercepted because it was thrown to hard at his WR. He finished 16/36 for 124 and 2 INTs. He was most dangerous on the ground, running for 98 yards, including a 42 yard scamper that put UTSA into NT territory.

Dangerous freshman RB Sincere McCormick had a nice 20-yard run that saw him break some tackles but he was held to 62 yards. UTSA was held to 6/20 on third downs and 2/7 on fourth.

That was the story here tonight. NT’s defense is suddenly ferocious against teams without quality offensive minds calling the shots like SMU’s Sonny Dykes. SMU, by the way, upset TCU earlier this afternoon and Cal beat Ol’ Miss in Oxford.

NT is now 2-2 on the season and has a conference win to boot.

Offense

Mason Fine did not have to do much, and that is always nice. He sat for the final quarter as we saw a couple of drives from Jason Bean and Austin Aune. The run game is the driver for this group and that is fine. We have an identity now, and a spread-power run game is fine by me.

UTSA is a poor tackling team and but we have seen four games where NT has powered through tackle and showed their ability to run. Tre Siggers is much of that. When Easly went down last year, NT struggled to find the power, even though DeAndre Torrey was slicing through defenses. Their combined attack is devastating so far.

NT still can use some help in the pass game, but it was nice to see the ball move crisply through the air when it was needed. NT was 7/14 on third down and 0-2 on fourth. Not bad.

NT’s points-per-drive: 3.214. That’s excellent and includes the time-wasting at the end. Offense added 14 combined chunk plays to the total.

Defense

This unit was great. We can throw a lot of caveats about how UTSA sucks on offense and all that but the thing is you are supposed to beat up a bad team. North Texas harassed the QB all night, got turnovers, and kept UTSA off the scoreboard.

Ultimately, that is what this game is about. Stats are great, but points are the only thing that wins or loses games. Three points in four quarters against a conference opponent, and six points in seven quarters against Cal and UTSA combined.

I am feeling better about this defense as I hoped I would. We thought this unit needed time and repetitions and so far it has paid dividends. KD Davis was the leading tackler and Dion Novil was a monster up front. He created pressure, and collapsed the line from a three-man front.

NT had six tackles for loss, three sacks, five QB hurries, and two interceptions. That is quality defense, folks. Defense allowed only six chunk plays and only one of those was in the pass game.

Special Teams

Hey, a missed field goal. Mooney made another and was not needed. Just the way I like it. Kenworthy had three punts and got one inside the 20. No returns for UTSA went anywhere, and NT had some decent ones of their own but nothing noteworthy.

Coaching

Hey well NT won by 42-points and was never really threatened. They subbed out the starting QB in time to get reps for the future signal-callers and everything ended fine. Those are quality coaching results.

Thoughts

This felt real nice. It is always nice to destroy a team, but it feels extra good to do it to one of the ones that has been so close to NT for so long. No game in this series has been a true blowout — even the one in 2016 in San Antonio was close before UTSA got up two scores.

The UTSA fans are thinking of firing their coach and well, that reminds me of when NT beat SMU so bad that June Jones up and quit. SMU beat the hell out of NT and well, it is nice to be on the other side of that again.

Next up: Houston, who lost on national TV on Thursday night to Tulane. They bring a dynamic QB in D’Eriq King and a quality offensive head coach in Dana Holgerson.

Corrected Lowell Narcisse’s name. S/O to Adler on gmg.

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General

North Texas Gets Stomped by SMU: 27-49

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

This is football, after all.

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams

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

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

Categories
Football Football Recruiting

2017 National Signing Day Recap

National Signing Day came and went with few surprises. Tre’von Bradley did, in fact, get flipped by Houston, but even that was not very surprising considering the rumors after his visit with The Major.

Here is the class and some thoughts.

PlayerPositionHeightWeightTown
Jacob BrammerOL6'4"278Richmond, Texas (Foster HS)
Jaelon DardenWR5'9"160Houston, Texas (Eisenhower HS)
Tyreke DavisS5'10"194Denton, Texas (Billy Ryan HS)
Kody FulpLB6'2"225China Spring, Texas (China Spring HS)
Jalen GuytonWR6'1"190Allen, Texas (Trinity Valley CC)
Cameron JohnsonCB5'11"176Houston, Texas (John H. Reagan Heights HS)
Evan JohnsonRB5'6"175Loranger, La. (Loranger HS)
Tony KrasniqiDL6'1"249Sachse, Texas (Sachse HS)
Manase MoseOL6'1"306Euless, Texas (Trinity HS)
Dakoda NewmanOL6'3"329Benbrook, Texas (Mansfield Timberview HS)
Dion NovilDL6'4"240Abilene, Texas (Wylie HS)
Jevin PahinuiOL6'2"260Mountainlake Terrace, Wash. (College of the Siskiyous)
Brian ParishOL6'4"262Arlington, Texas (Seguin HS)
Cade PearsonQB6'2"193Texarkana, Texas (Texas HS)
Makyle SandersS6'0"188Tyler, Texas (Robert E. Lee HS)
Tre SiggersRB5'8"180Duncanville, Texas (Duncanville HS)
Chris ThorntonLB6'1"210Amarillo, Texas (Palo Duro HS)
Greg WhiteWR6'3"175Riverdale, Ga. (Riverdale HS)

Billy wrote a primer that covers most of the ins-and-outs coming into today that still holds up. Let us quickly assess some things about this class:

This Is Not A Public Relations Win

On NSD, there are three unofficial ways to win the PR campaign: 1. Flip a high profile recruit 2. Finish with high/top recruiting class 3. Sign the best class in school history.

In CUSA, our winners are 1. FAU — who signed Deandre McNeal, formerly of Texas and flipped from UCLA. 2. UTSA/FAU/FIU – UTSA had the top class all year, but FAU/FIU shot up the rankings in the conference 3. FAU/UTSA

Jalen Guyton is a good WR, and there is some talent here, but the other CUSA schools are going to get the hype.

Needs Were Met

North Texas lost three OL (Rice, Gunter, Keenan) and signed five in this class (plus a likely blueshirt). Littrell said OL and WR were the top priorities coming in, and that they wanted to get longer and bigger along the front. Harrell called it a ‘home run’ offensive line class. Brian Parish is 6’4″ 262, and Dakoda Newman is 6’3″ 329. There may be a starter among these five, and there should be at least one or two in the rotation early. Ideally, the lineman will get the time to develop, but NT could use contributors right away.

NT lost Thad Thompson, Kenny Buyers, and Tee Goree out wide. This was a from an already thin position group. Jalen Guyton is a playmaker and highlights the class. Greg White was a late target that brings some of the height that Goree had. Littrell mentioned that RB recruit Evan Johnson can play a little of slot WR, also.

RB Willy Ivery is also gone, and NT “got a couple [RBs] after this year that will graduate.” Getting two backs to fill out the depth chart here is solid.

Signed Another QB

Cade Pearson is taller than Mason Fine and probably has a bigger arm. This is good ‘competitive’ depth to have at the very least, and might be the guy at best. He is already on campus and is eager to learn. Having the tools and desire is a good combination. It will be interesting to see if Littrell sticks with his ‘Gotta play two QBs’ aphorism, when he has a couple of young QBs instead of the senior + exciting freshman. Pearson came in thinking he has a real chance to compete with Mason Fine and that makes the competition interesting. Also of note: Pearson’s noting of Graham Harrell’s resume.

There Will Be More

NT plans to blue shirt a couple more players, which likely will include more lineman and more LBs and DBs.

Final Thoughts

Ideally we would have liked to have seen a breakthrough class that got headlines. The good news is that NT has mostly hit on a good number of roster moves in the Littrell regime. From the JUCO signings before last season — Eric Jenkins especially — to Mason Fine and Tyler Wilson, generally speaking Littrell’s staff has a high rate of return.

The staff noted repeatedly the high number of quality character guys in this class. While that is an oft-repeated refrain, it is important considering some of the schools above NT in the 247 ratings signed some guys with questionable reputations. I realize this is the type of thing that mid-ranked teams say, but it is not untrue. Also not untrue: that if NT signed a highly rated class, everyone would be pointing to the number of stars.

Overall I like the fact that this class met the important needs. The OL was a sore spot, and the DL needed more bodies. The rest of the class is at worst a man-for-man swap. NT did not get worse and is taking steps to fill out the depth that is sorely missing. The real test of this class — like all classes — is if in three years or so it is mostly intact, with contributors among its ranks.