The offense has gone heavy uptempo and heavy pass against UTEP this game. With the help of a special teams fumble recovery, Mason Fine scored three touchdown passes in less than three minutes of play in the first quarter. This is what the uptempo offense has hoped to be all season. The major factor in wins and losses has been the defense’s ability to stop scores.
The receivers have been getting open at will against UTEP’s defensive backs. Because of the pass game success, the running game has been quiet. This was likely part of the game plan going into this matchup.
So Mason Fine has got five (FIVE) touchdown passes. Two to Jaelon Darden, one to Jason Pirtle, one to Deonte Simpson, and one to Jyaire Shorter.
The special teams group had been performing very well this half, up until they allowed the kickoff return for a TD. The punt coverage has also wanted a piece of the pie and has stepped in and tipped at least one punt.
The defense allowed UTEP to march down the field on only a couple drives, giving up one offensive score. Additionally, the defensive backs have played aggressively – even with a few missed assignments here and there. An added wrinkle in this game is UTEP’s Treyvon Hughes being used in the wildcat, leading to UTEP’s lone score. That man is 6’1” and 235lbs. He is difficult to bring down.
It is easy to get excited for games like Louisiana Tech or UTSA. It is much more difficult to get excited for the worst team in the nation — UTEP — especially on the road. What of USM, a good team with little sizzle at the moment? Well, after a disappointing outing in El Paso (but still a win!) North Texas returns home to Apogee for a game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
Last year, this matchup brought out the debut of Jalen Guyton, destroyer of secondaries. If you ask the average NT follower, they are wondering aloud if this NT team is headed for a disappointing conference schedule after going undefeated in the non-conference portion.
I suppose we should begin this preview with a few words about the last game. North Texas struggled, yes, but that can mean so much. UTEP came into the game playing awful football but if you looked closer you saw a team that was improving ever so slightly. Meanwhile, North Texas had issues even if the play of the defense was hiding a lot of those things. With the defense missing Kemon Hall at corner, there was the slightest drop off in play. Cam Johnson struggled against LA Tech and allowed a 67-yard TD against UTEP when he fell late in the fourth quarter.
The real issue, as we will detail later here, is the defensive line. Ryan Metz was able to force the defense into some zone looks, and that meant NT brought only four. EJ Ejiya, in his post-game comments after the Tech game bemoaned the time given to J’Mar Smith, remember. That was top-of-mind as NT gave Metz lots of time to throw and then a huge lane to run through as he scampered for 23 on 3rd-and-14.
Meanwhile in Ruston, UAB’s ferocious defensive line got to Smith five times. When Hall and Nate Brooks were locking things down out wide, DC Troy Reffett could bring pressure with LBs Ejiya and Brandon Garner.
UTEP OC Mike Canales saw some weaknesses in the defense in the match up zone and Ryan Metz was accurate enough to exploit those. For the most part, the defense played well, only allowing 24 points and intercepting two passes. The offense is the concern. Where was the 40-burger NT was supposed to put up with regularity? Before we discuss that further, let us look at the opponent.
Jay Hopson has his team fighting against the momentum of roster turnover. He lost Kwadra Griggs, presumed returning starter, to an undisclosed university suspension, but was fortunate to get Jack Abraham in. The young transfer has had a rocky career thus far but has found a nice niche at USM where he has completed 70% of his passes.
If there is a trend with this team it is that it has been able to find capable replacements and remain a good team. This is not quite the talent level that Nick Mullens/Ito Smith/Allanze Staggers/Korey Robertson was, but it is still dangerous.
North Texas benefitted from poor QB play the last two years (both wins) with Keon Howard (now transferring) prone to fumbles and Kwadra Griggs prone to incompletions.
Abraham is going to complete passes and that is something NT has not faced thus far. Hopson is the lowest paid coach in this league and that is a disservice to him, as he has managed to keep USM solid with savvy recruiting and good schemes. His DC last year, Tony Pecoraro, was poached by Lane Kiffin and given a little raise.
USM has a good footballing history but little financial support as of late. They desperately need to make a little more noise in this league. Beating a resurgent NT will help them nicely.
Well, last week USM had a bye, so they rested and presumably used that time to recruit and get a little extra film study of NT. Before that they took on a weak Auburn team that has terrible offensive issues at the moment. USM’s sports information department will use that close loss to sell a few more donors on the possibilities, but we can be less than impressed. Before that, USM beat Rice 40-22 on 9/22 and has a loss to Louisiana-Monroe 21-20 on the résumé.
Highlights from Rice Game
Back when Rice was a little better and running the ball well, they gave the Golden Eagles something of a scare. Abraham’s ability to move and throw ultimately was too much for the Owls ast they weren’t built for a shootout. Still, Bloomgren’s crew gave them a scare at the Rock for a good half.
Southern Miss on Offense
New QB Jack Abraham can throw the ball. He’s completing 70% of his passes thus far, which may make all the difference for the Golden Eagles.
2017 Kwadra Griggs 10 games 148 of 265 55.8% 1879 yards 7.1/attempt 16 TDs 2 INTs
2018 Jack Abraham 4 games 107 of 151 70.9% 1263 yards 8.4/attempts 11 TDs 5 INTs
Sure, against FBS competition, he has not been as good. He has thrown all five of his pick against teams not named Jackson St. The two against ULM were hugely important in the loss, and he threw two against Auburn also. He still is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and that is telling.
The good news is that Southern Miss runs a very similar offense to the Mean Green, so there will be very little that is different to prepare for.
Out wide, sophomore 16 Quez Watkins, 6’2″ 190, leads the team in receptions. He is explosive and has scored in each game thus far. He has good size, and good speed. He ran a kick back against Jackson St. Southern Miss likes to get him the ball from a variety of starting spots — in screens, from a tighter split where he is almost a TE.
UTEP found some success — to the chagrin of many a NT fan — with some play-action. Kid Dimel found room on QB play-action and out wide, Warren Redix got yards. If you recall the Louisiana Tech review, we mentioned this.
NT likes to stop the run with numbers in the box and dare teams to throw.
Teams often try to play-action, max-protect, and try to win a matchup outside. Thus far NT has been great at defending this.
There have been mistakes, however.
Calvert ignored his TE down the middle and stared down his man, throwing incomplete.
LA Tech did not take advantage of this, but UTEP did. It helps that this kind of thing is part of their playbook.
Here is the video — that is just a nice play.
Skip Holtz mentioned how North Texas’ defenders play downhill and are really aggressive. This is the kind of thing that happens to over-aggressive defenses. North Texas knows this, and figures they can give up the occasional 33-yard pass to the full back as long as they are picking off a pass or two per game. So far, this has worked.
As teams get more film on the NT defense, there will be more exploits taken advantage of. Moreover, as the quality of the teams faced improves, the room for error decreases.
Expect Southern Miss to move the ball well and score easier than say, UIW did. The Golden Eagle run game leaves something to be desiredThey, like NT, are facing the loss of a program all-timer. Ito Smith is gone and the “deep” group of running backs has dwindled due to defection and injury.
Trivenskey Moseley (22), freshman 5’11” 195, has 116 yards on the year, four more than starting redshirt senior back 8 Tez Parks, 6’1″ 210, on sixteen fewer carries. The run game has been bad. Raw counting numbers have the team ranked 118th in the nation. S&P+ has the advanced rushing numbers in the 120s.
USM will try to run, but likely will have the most success throwing the ball. The game will come down to whether NT can continue to single-cover accross the board and bring pressure with the linebackers EJ Ejiya and Brandon Garner without getting burned by Quez Watkins.
I mentioned Watkins’ ability earlier. This is the kind of thing Jack Abraham and Watkins will be able to do if NT cannot control the yards-after-catch (YAC).
If NT has to drop into a soft zone, it will be a matter of getting to Abraham with four. This was an issue against Ryan Metz last week, and J’Mar Smith the week prior. NT sat in zones and were burned by a QB with time. J’Mar found his pass-catchers and Ryan Metz scooted for first downs. Abraham is accurate enough to find the holes in the zones.
Southern Miss on Defense
Surprisingly, the USM defense is stout again. Rice had some success against this team, but overall, the offense has been the barometer for success. USM lost their entire secondary for the most part. Hopson went the JUCO route to replenish. Starting boundary corner Ty Williams (7) 5’10” 163 JR, is one of those. Rover safety 19 Ky’el Hemby, 6’1″ 195, is another.
For a team with solid rushing numbers, they do not get many tackles for loss. Nose Tackle 43 LaDarius Harris is just 6’1″ 280 (senior), and his backup Delmond Landry (17), senior 6’3″ 308, are not the biggest guys. That helps explain why they have given up so many first downs in short yardage.
Overall, the defense has good raw counting numbers but the advanced stuff suggests there is room for exploit. Auburn, ULM, and Rice are not offensive juggernauts and that is probably all that is preventing USM from getting toasted — the competition was not up to doing so.
That said, UTEP was not very good and NT only scored 27. A good portion of that can be explained by simply not doing the little things.
This is a missed block on the outside zone. If this is sealed up, then Nic Smith gets a first down and probably more. This is a missed block on the power, if this is blocked, Nic Smith probably gets the first down and NT does not have to defend the final UTEP drive. Earlier in the game, this is a missed block on another outside zone run.
In each of those examples, the defender missed was the man who made the tackle. It is not on the running back — Nic Smith and DeAndre Torrey have done well at times. It did help that Loren Easly was able to shake off blockers and continue to run. It made everyone look good.
Beyond that, if Mason Fine connects with Guyton when he was wide open, the explosive numbers look better. Once again, NT should have the advantage on offense here. Short yardage conversion has been good — NT is ranked first in S&P+ in that department. It really is about efficiency and that starts with getting more explosive plays.
Jeff Wilson last year turned a 4th-and-1 into a 43-yard TD. NT has lacked the game-breaking individual effort this season. Sure, there have been some explosives, but a 30-yard gain is not a 57-yard TD score.
To highlight my meaning, let us return to the Tech game. NT was down two and Tech brought everyone up to the line of scrimmage. Either Mason Fine checked to a pass to Bussey, or it was called. Whatever the case, this was 1v1 for the game. Tech’s Sneed made the better play.
Sometimes football is a simple game.
Cole Hedlund has been good outside of the one miss against Tech. North Texas’s special teams has also been very good outside of a couple of muffed kicks. Quez Watkins and Jaylond Adams are good returners. They can change the game.
Jaelon Darden is also good at punt returns but his muffed kick is still on everyone’s mind. Keegan Brewer is a viral star, and he has done well. DeAndre Torrey also dropped a kick off, but he looks likely to break one soon.
Football season is a long slog through five months. It is very easy to look at any two or three game stretch (let alone one!) and make sweeping pronouncements. That is partly what makes this whole thing fun to follow, but it can also make small things into big issues.
The truth about North Texas right now is that it is not very different that the team that lined up against SMU. The offense then came out and had a hard time scoring easily — Seth Littrell was upset at halftime of that game with the offense. The offense had a similar issue against UTEP and even in the second and third quarters against LA Tech.
Because there was an actual loss to LA Tech, followed up by a poor game against UTEP, it feels like NT is on a two game losing streak. The truth is that the offense and defense did well enough to win against Tech — the offense drove for two game-winning FGs and the defense held Tech to 3 points in the second half.
Even in El Paso, Mason Fine led the team to 400+ yards and more yards per play than the season average. The defense had an off game by season standards, but got a couple of late stops to win the thing. Last year this team got four ugly wins — against UTSA, ODU, UAB, and Army — and went down by two scores on the road to this Southern Miss team before storming back.
Ugly wins are part of the game. It is important to remember that NT is winning those things. It was not that long ago that these previews could be summed up as “If everything goes perfectly, this offense can score 24 points and NT will lose by 3”. Now? Well, NT can have a few mistakes and pull out a three-point win.
With the home crowd behind them, I think NT gets back to feeling good and puts this to bed early.
The North Texas Mean Green went to UTEP and struggled with the Miners. This has been a theme for some time. NT lost the last two in El Paso coming into today, including that awful 52-24 defeat in 2016 that served as the Miners’ most recent win.
Senior Ryan Metz started in place of redshirt freshman Kai Locksley and perhaps showed a little bit of why he should remain the starter. He brought another dimension (passing) to things, while retaining just enough of the ground attack that makes Locksley so dangerous.
He threw for 313 yards on 16/33 passing. A good number of those yards were so much luck that it was infuriating and frustrating and perhaps a little reminiscent of last year’s defensive performance. So it goes. North Texas was always going to have a bad game this season and it came against UTEP, a very beatable team that — despite the offensive explosion — only managed 24 points on 417 yards.
The offense had a similar fall-off, but it managed 27 points — the same number as it produced last week against Tech but in much different fashion. We have concerns about the Easly-less run game, and the struggling pass game. That said, those are relative complaints as MGN remembers when a struggling pass game looked like barely getting 100 yards.
Mason Fine put up 294 yards and threw two scores (one on another one of those jet-sweep ‘touch’ passes) on 23 of 34 passing. Rico Bussey dominated the game with 8 grabs for 117 and a score. Jaelon Darden reappeared for five grabs and 91 yards. That was all good, but why does it feel bad? Well, UTEP came in looking terrible and we all expected an offensive show. Instead we got a solid game and it required some tough yards late to put things away.
All in all that was a winning effort when we did not think we would need one.
Let us obsess about this game that was horrible to watch:
Again, the offense put up good numbers 428 yards, 294 passing and 134 rushing. The Mean Green added 21 first downs and converted 8/17 first downs. NT ran only 69 plays and came in averaging 81 per game. The good news: NT averaged 6.2 yards per play and came in at 6.08. So yes, by at least one measure this offense was better than it had been.
Okay, but 27 is not 44, which was the per-game average coming in. Part of that was that the first and third quarters saw some bad running. NT could not get the easy runs that get them ahead of the chains and then saw Mason Fine run for his life on later downs. Mike Lawrence had a drop, and Rico Bussey lost the ball over his shoulder again. Little things like that were overcome, but against a good team those can be losing plays — see last week.
In the second and fourth quarters Nic Smith and company did some nice things. Mason Fine led some TD drives and NT won the game by scoring when it had to. Mason Fine was 9/9 for 105 and a score in the third quarter when the run game struggled.
Ideally, he is tossing TDs early — something like we saw in the first quarter against Tech — and NT is running to close things out later. Credit to the UTEP defensive line that showed it is good in its own right. The D-Line helped UTEP produce five tackles for loss. They were tough.
That was not fun to watch. We can forgive the NT defense for being caught a bit off guard. There was no tape of Metz in this UTEP offense. Gone were the QB-centric run things that UTEP had relied on so much this season and in place were more of the passing things that Locksley is not so good at.
UTEP broke out the K-State jump pass on the QB-play action thing and kept NT honest about it by actually running Metz some times. Former NT coordinator and interim Head Coach Mike Canales called a good game, catching NT sleeping on some plays and finding the fullback — son of UTEP head coach Dana Dimel — and Q. Wadley big plays on play-action.
There was some bad luck to deal with: A couple of catches were the result of miracles or falling down (Cam Johnson on the 67-yard TD to Keynan Foster). That is frustrating but the defense did come up with a couple of interceptions to extend the nation-leading lead in that category.
Tyreke Davis and Nate Brooks grabbed one each. Davis’ was a diving one across the middle that was the best of the night.
There were two sacks (shared among four players) and five tackes for loss. The defense swarmed and gang-tackled, which is nice to see.
Ultimately, there were a few mistakes but it was a good effort. Ryan Metz was able to escape and extend drives on some third-and-longs. It was not the defense’s finest hour. Again, we should commend the UTEP squad for executing and pulling out some nice plays. They mixed in surprise with power runs that got them to 24 points.
You can see the outlines of the team they want to be in the coming years.
Cole Hedlund had a 52 and a 29 yarder. Kenworthy had four nice punts that flipped the field and the coverage was solid. No muffed punts this time, so that is nice.
NT blocked one UTEP kick that ultimately decided the game.
What It Means
North Texas is 5-1 and 1-1 in conference play. Elsewhere, Louisiana Tech dropped their home opener to UAB. The Blazers defensive line held J’Mar Smith to 9/23 for 107 and an interception. UAB rushed for 229 yards and three scores.
The Blazers do a lot of what UTEP tried tonight but with success and have a defense to be very afraid of. That matchup is coming up in two weeks but next week is a very good USM team that is coming off a bye.
North Texas was always going to have to battle for this division, good start or no. The squad has not been playing that well on offense, but there is still time to correct that. North Texas was expected (by MGN) to come out more crisply, but there was a lethargy there. I suppose it could be chalked up to human nature, but coaching and play is supposed to bring teams beyond the natural inclinations.
NT might have escaped this one, and that is good. It means that the squad has a chance to control some aspect of its fate. There will be tougher teams and less room for awful play.
Southern Miss who had a bye. Apogee Stadium gets a chance at a re-do against a good squad that can score and has talent on defense
Sometimes the hardest game to play is the one after a big game. Coaches are paid lots of money to motivate players to get over the natural desire to let down after a big effort. The game against Louisiana Tech was a heartbreaker. By most measurements North Texas had that won. Lining up for a make-able kick with just seconds left all but won the game for the Mean Green.
It was blocked.
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Cliché? Why yes. But very true.
Depending on the situation, a good salve for a loss is a woeful opponent. Other times it can be an impediment. North Texas is still a good team and last week’s loss was not one that came from overlooking an opponent, but self-caused mistakes. So a UTEP team that is “trying to instill their culture”, as Seth Littrell put it, is a good next opponent for a cathartic win.
Barring a complete no-show, UTEP should not be a match for this North Texas squad that played very well in the loss. The Miners’ primary offense — new QB Kai Locksley — is hurt with an ankle sprain suffered last week in the contest against UTSA.
He is everything they do.
He’s young, and turnover-prone. He has talent but there is more on the Mean Green side on both sides of the ball. NT should be mad and angry, even if they try to ‘reset’ every week.
Littrell blamed himself — in part — for the loss, saying he let his emotions get out of hand. There was too much good in the Tech game to be overly upset, although losses do motivate. Littrell said at halftime that having some adversity is good, and LB Brandon Garner did also. The defense stepped up and held the Bulldogs to just three points in the second half. This was with an undisclosed injury to CB Kemon Hall’s shoulder.
NT has more than enough defense to shut down this young UTEP attack.
Dana Dimel is in his first year as head coach of the Miners. He is tasked with rebuilding the mess left by Sean Kugler, the last Miner head coach. Kugler did not do a bad job at first, but had trouble restocking the shelves. Dimel is faced with a near-empty cupboard and a poor culture. In many ways it is reminiscent of the 2015 UNT program. The difference here is that there is not a talent reservoir in the nearest Metroplex to draw from.
Complicating things is the fact that UTSA and Texas St started programs (Runners) or moved up (Bobcats) and so UTEP’s comparative advantage is gone. UTEP cannot simply offer San Antonio-area kids a chance to play D-1 football and expect that to be all that is required. Incarnate Word head coach Eric Morris said one reason he took the Cardinals gig was that he recognized the talent in SA.
That is all to make the point that things will be rough for the Miners for the foreseeable future. This challenge is partly why Dimel was hired in the first place. He comes from the Bill Snyder tree at Kansas St, a guy that had been through that rebuild twice. For those of you who do not know, way back K-State wasn’t a spunky challenger in the Big 12, it was a dormat in the Big 8.
The struggling Miners might have just the guy to turn that program around. Dimel has the Miners playing similar to the Wildcats of the Little Apple. That is it, however. The offense looks bad, the defense looks over-tired, and everything just looks about two years away at best.
UTEP played at UTSA, losing 30-21 after a spirited comeback from down 21-7 in the second quarter. QB Kai Locksley is everything UTEP has. Again, he is talented but does not quite have the full complimentary pieces to endanger the league’s better teams.
He is prone to mistakes, as all young quarterbacks are. UTSA loaded the box and went man on the edges. Here, Lockley misses his open TE streaking and looks out wide for his WR on a little stop route. UTSA’s corner was sitting on that, and broke for an interception. This set up a short field TD for the Roadrunners.
As with any QB run game, the threat of Locksley changes the run-fits. UTEP had Locksley 1v1 with a UTSA defender a handful of times and the young QB won his share of battles. Here he gets outside on the power-option and beats the safety to the outside. This is where being 6’4″ 220lbs pays off.
Not shown is an earlier run where he stutter-stepped Josiah Tauaefa and beat him for 5-yards between the tackles.
A little comeback failed. There was simply not enough variety from UTEP to overcome the earlier mistakes.
UTEP on Offense
If you stop Kai Locksley, you stop the UTEP Miners. He is most of what they do and if he is full-strength, expect lots of QB-Power, options, zone-reads, power-reads, counter-reads, QB-Isos and various play-action off of these looks. Quadraiz Wadley has talent and he must be accounted for.
The offensive line struggled against the quality of UTSA’s front-four. When your offense is so one-dimensional, executing on every pull, every block is crucial. Too often UTEP’s front five will get pushed back, blowing up some of the more exotic calls.
When it works, it is simply putting talent against your talent. Here, Locksley went against Josiah Tauaefa again and beat him at the point of attack.
UTEP on Defense
It is hard to get a read on how good or bad this defense is, considering the struggles of the offense and the opponents they have played. UTSA has a terrible offense but were gifted short fields. Allowing 30 points is somewhat reasonable. Of the squads faced, Tennessee managed just 24, but that has more to do with the Vols than anything. New Mexico St, UNLV, and NAU just out-talented the Miners.
The Miners lost a few guys from last year’s respectable defense, and while they are not bad they do not look anything like the Tech defense that boasted a monster in 45 Jaylon Ferguson. Junior Nose Tackle Chris Richardson (99), 6’3″ 298 lbs can move in space for such a big man. He made some plays against UTSA chasing down backs and getting his hands up in the pass game.
Corners Nik Needham (5), senior 6’0″ 203, and Kalon Beverly (1), senior 6’1″ 195 are good. They are willing to come up and make a tackle and are solid in coverage. North Texas’ quartet of wideouts should be too much to handle for nearly every team, and UTEP is no exception. After doing well against Tech’s good secondary and succeeding for the most part of the game, NT should have a much easier time throwing in this one.
We are going to focus on the NT group right in this section. North Texas came into last week’s game with a quiet question mark: how would the kicking game respond to adversity? The answer was: ‘not well’. Cole Hedlund finally missed and then got one blocked. The latter was on the protection, but the former was on him. It happens, and is forgivable over the long-term but it severely damaged the team’s chances.
The muff punt allowed Tech to score 7 on a day when the defense was holding the Tech offense to little-to-nothing. So it goes.
UTEP Kai Locksley 98 attempts for 363, 4 TDs
UTEP Quardraiz Wadley 53 attempts 293, 3 TDs
NT Loren Easly 74 attempts 386 yards, 4 TDs
NT Nic Smith 27 attempts 146 1 TD
UTEP Kai Locksley 48 of 99 for 527 yards 2 TDs 3 INT
NT Mason Fine 127 of 197 1624 yards 13 TDs 1 INT
UTEP Terry Juniel 7 receptions 141 yards 1 TD
UTEP Warren Redix 13 receptions 113 yards
UTEP Kenan Foster 6 grabs for 100 yards
NT Rico Bussy Jr. 33 receptions 415 yards 7 TDs
NT Jalen Guyton 23 receptions 333 yards 3 TDs
NT Jaelon Darden 17 receptions 243 yards 1 TD
Advanced Numbers, Odds, Etc
We are going to spare you the tediousness of viewing UTEP be in last place of nearly every metric. They are 130th, the worst in the nation, at most everything.
Vegas has North Texas 27-point favorites and the O/U at 53. That is to say they figure the score is something like 40-13.
North Texas is just a whole football generation better right now in most phases of the game. If Locksley cannot got or is limited, UTEP will rely on SR Ryan Metz. Unless he can pull an ODU/Blake LaRussa, this should be a rout from start-to-finish. LA Tech left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and the squad wants to fix that.
The Mean Green clinched the west division with a win over UTEP on homecoming. Jeff Wilson had 20 carries for 155 yards and a score, including a 66-yarder before the 4th quarter started. He moved up the all-time ranks and went over 1000 in a season for the first time in his career. He also led the team in receptions and yards (7 for 58).
Wilson is now fourth all time on the career rush list at 3,133 just behind Jamario Thomas, Patrick Cobbs, and Lance Dunbar. He tied his 2016 single season record for TDs in a year with 14. He’s also tied for fifth all time in NT history with his 12th 100-yard rush game. His 1,143 yards are 9th all time on the single-season NT charts.
Mason Fine had his first career 4-TD game this season and his 7th multi-TD pass game of his career (all this season).
North Texas started slowly, which has not usually been a problem. Jeff Wilson fumbled and Kahani Smith returned it 45 yards for the opening score. NT followed that with a turnover on downs.
Despite the help from NT’s offense, UTEP was stuck on offense. NT then tied things with a 13-yard TD to Jaelon Darden (on mesh) which covered 10 plays and 64 yards in 3:55. NT then scored another on a Darden TD to make it 14-7. UTEP battled and controlled clock. and that’s ow the half ended.
North Texas then put the game to bed with three straight TD drives to begin the second half and added a field goal on the fourth drive. By then NT was up 38-10 as UTEP could not do much of anything offensively despite an occasional nice play from Greenlee in the pass game.
Zack Greenlee finished 13/25 for 109 yards and one bad interception. He was replaced by Mark Torrez, who completed three of seven for 22 yards. RB Josh Fields was held to 45 yards on 16 carries, and Zach Greenlee managed 39 on 7. Eddie Sinegal had 38 yards receiving on 6 catches and Terry Juniel also 38 on 4.
North Texas’ defense was aggressive all night and feasted on the anemic UTEP offense. Nate Brooks got the start over Eric Jenkins and led the team in tackles with five solo. La’Darius Hamilton had four and an INT. Rod Young nearly had one himself but dropped it. Joe Ozougwu had a couple of QB hurries and looked good despite Zack Greenlee getting the best of him twice. Once he pump-faked Joe O and completed a long pass, the second time on the same drive he evaded him on a blitz and got yards along the sideline.
For the NT offense, it was all Jeff Wilson. He led the team in receiving and rushing while Jalen Guyton was held to one catch for a 2-yard TD. Rico Bussey got free for a big 60-yard score and finished with three catches for 65 yards. Mike Lawrence had five catches for 63. Jaleon Darden had five grabs for only 11 but 2 scores.
What It Means
North Texas have clinched the CUSA West division in convincing fashion. This was the biggest NT win since the opening week win over Lamar. The crowd was listed as 26,108 which is just behind the 26,119 in 2013 vs UTEP, also at homecoming featuring an NT team entering the year at 6-3. Tonight’s crowd was the 3rd largest at Apogee (Houston opener was the first).
As of this writing FIU is playing ODU and needs win tonight and next week over FAU in the Shula Bowl to take the East division lead. EDIT: FIU lost to ODU 37-30. FAU currently leads the division after destroying La Tech in Ruston 48-23. All signs point to a rematch with the Owls in Boca Raton. Florida Atlantic would need an incredible two-game losing streak to FIU and Charlotte to lose the division.
Next week North Texas hosts 8-2 Army in a rematch of last year’s Heart of Dallas bowl.
The usual preview tidbits are less useful today because the stakes are simple: win and clinch the division. Lose and throw away a season of good will and damage next year’s prospects.
UTEP is good enough to make this a game, and North Texas is still early enough in the renovation project to be vulnerable. The key to this game is simple: hit UTEP early with a couple of haymaker and take the fight out of the Miners.
Against UTSA and WKU there was just enough offense to put a little scare into those teams, but MTSU did not allow those kinds of plays last week.
The UTEP defense still has talent and will happily make this a game if the NT offense lets it. They will gain confidence and maybe just enough field position to help the anemic Miner offense score enough. NT should have put ODU out early but the special teams helped the Monarchs. Then ODU’s Steven Williams was able to put his team in the lead.
That kind of situation is how the Miners can make it interesting. Mean Green fans are hungry for a blowout after too many nail-biting games late. Beating UTSA was fun in retrospect, but the returning alumni deserve a big win to cap off homecoming week.
Jeffrey Wilson is one yard away from his first 1000-yard season and 117 yards away from Lance Dunbar’s 2011 tenth-place single-season record at NT. There are possibly five games left and Jeff is averaging 111 yards every time out. He is on pace for 1554 which would just eclipse Lance Dunbar’s 2010 season and put him third all time. Another 100-yard game would put Jeff tied at fifth with 12. Jeff is also just over 100 yards behind Johnny QUin for 4th place on the all time all-purpose yards list.
Mason Fine is in line for some big things also. He’s at 18 passing TDs with five games to play. His 2-a-game pace puts him at a projected 28 for the year, which would set the single season record. He’s three away from fifth and tying Steve Ramsay’s 1967 mark. If Fine has a 287-yard day (average) he will be third in the single-season list, just behind Derek Thompson’s 2896 in 2013. Fine is just under a 1000 away from passing Giovanni Vizza on the career list for 6th. Two TDs against UTEP will put Fine just above Vidal Carlin’s 25 for sole possession of 8th place in the career passing list. If Fine completes his average of 22 passes today that will put him tied with Giovanni Vizza’s 2007 season for 4th all time on the single-season list.
A blowout win will not only be good for everyone’s psyche — fans and players included. It has practical purposes also. Army comes in here next week and North Texas will need every ounce of mental and physical rest for the kind of discipline that is required for defending option teams. Army won today and is now 8-2, losing only to Ohio State and Tulane.
NT can’t get caught looking ahead and the easiest way to prepare for Army is to take care of business against UTEP and sew up the West division in front of the home crowd.
In lieu of a podcast appearance with Alex Nicolas of the SBNation UTEP blog Miner Rush, we exchanged questions. Here is MGN over there.
1. Where does UTEP stand in the AD/Coaching search?
There were reports earlier this week that UTEP is down to three candidates, and the AD announcement should come later in November.
The report says Lisa Campos, Chris Park, and Citadel AD Jim Senter are the final three, and I’ve heard the same through sources. Once the AD is chosen, first duty would be to hire a football coach so the real football candidates and rumor mill rumblings will start surfacing once UTEP has an AD in place.
2. Mike Price was not a popular interim choice and there were concerns. He said recently that he is going to get a bit more involved – -what does that mean and has the Price hire been a success?
Honestly, not sure what that means since UTEP has been a big pile of (insert proper poop reference). To me he needs to take a hold of the offense and quarterbacks, and maybe even play calling since UTEP has regressed to new levels of suck since Brian Natkin took over the play calling duties.
Not sure how to measure Price’s success as the interim either, honestly I don’t know how to act with a 0-9 team. UTEP hasn’t won a game under Price, but there are competing hard and together until the offense totally implodes, so he’s certainly failing and fans can’t wait for this season to be over with.
3. How did UTEP nearly beat WKU and also get completely owned by MTSU? Also what killed that UTSA comeback?
UTEP was able to keep WKU’s run game in check, but inept offense caused L’s against WKU, MTSU and UTSA. Lots of people will blame UTEP’s kicker for the WKU loss, but again, UTEP’s offense just can’t get going at all.
The Miner D has actually been respectable since that WKU game, but UTEP’s inability to sustain drives, and put up points kills whatever momentum, and close game the UTEP defense creates early on in games.
4. NT had a bad season in 2015 and that was capped by the embarrassing Portland State loss. Is going winless — a real possibility — worse than getting destroyed by an FCS team? Also, how concerned are you about the winless possibility?
Yeah going winless is worse, because that year ya’ll beat UTSA, a rival, and if UTEP beat just NMSU this year, it would be a little easier to chew even though UTEP is certainly the worst FBS program in the land.
It’s going happen (going winless). North Texas will be tough, LA Tech is struggling but will beat the Miners, and UAB is also good. UTEP just doesn’t have the offense to compete or erase the goose egg and I was sort of prepared for a bad season back in August. Thank god for basketball season.
Hopefully UTEP catches North Texas sleeping early, and makes this interesting for a half or so, but again, UTEP’s offense no-shows for the 10th straight game.
North Texas 45 UTEP 14
Miner Rush does a good job (can’t always be said for college football blogs). Alex keeps a good eye on CUSA as well.