DENTON, TX — On a humid, hot evening in Texas in front of some 25,000 people, North Texas was beaten handily by the rivals to the southeast. The Pony fans were in force, but a small force of quietly smug, slightly reserved people. The green-and-white were held back by the heat, apparently, and also a lack of hope. People stayed home fearing a blow out and SMU fans decided there was little reason to drive up to Denton for the same.
They were right, apparently.
North Texas looked less talented, less prepared, and simply less good than their opponents in this opener. The mistakes, and questions that we saw early vs UTEP were there. The week of actual game experience in hand was not put to good use. Instead it was the Mean Green that looked a little hesitant and conservative early. SMU got big plays and showed their quality throughout. They picked on the North Texas CB1 often and got three TDs from it.
North Texas looked limited, trying to run with Adaway (with success) and some play-action/RPOs off of that. There were some good things and on a different day maybe those dropped passes, or fumbles, or bad snaps equal some scores and NT makes SMU think they will have to compete in this one for a bit longer .
After one: SMU a punt and two TDs. North Texas had a punt, a fumble, and a blocked kick. In the second SMU scored twice in one-play drives and NT continued the struggle-fest. They ended two drives after three short plays.
We knew coming in that SMU had the better squad. The question is always is can that gap be overcome with preparation, coaching, motivation, and luck? I think a team can make their own luck, or at least increase he number of “fortunate” situations but must capitalize on them. NT got some good fortune, but squandered it (Missed FG, no TDs on fumble drive, etc) There were mistakes — how about two false starts from the guy with 50 consecutive starts? There were errors in execution — how about the QB regressing in accuracy throughout the second half? Mistakes can be overcome, however. If North Texas needs to be perfect to win, chances are they will lose. That is simple. We are not asking for perfect, but simply competitive.
So the answer was the prep, coaching and motivation didn’t do much. Maybe the gap is too big? I doubt it.
On the podcast, we set the expectation at “compete.” SMU was going to win, in all likelihood, but let it only be because they have a better roster and not because we hurt ourselves. A 38-24 game where NT used up the offensive clever juice and SMU just had more talent and found more TDs? I can live with that. This one where it looked like NT couldn’t touch their QB, stop the run, or get a yard? Meh. There weren’t even any garbage time scores. Grant Gunnell came in the game to cheers and immediately stumbled into a pass to a guy’s foot — 4 yards away.
There is good news, my people. North Texas has a bye week before UNLV. There is plenty of time to heal up, and do some adjusting.
I realize I have fallen into the Time To Move On camp when it comes to the coach question, but it is not without evidence or a knee-jerk reaction. I think he has an ability to coach a team, build a program, and even build an offense. I think he probably could use some time and thought at game planning and motivating a team. We liked to compare him to Lane Kiffin for a while, because they coached similar programs and had similar challenges. Kiffin wan two titles, one at Littrell’s expense, and out coached SL at every point. Talent accrual? Yep. Coaching hires? Yep, did it. QB-identifying? Uh-huh.
Littrell is in year three the annis post Mason and it has been rough. It is job one for a modern football coach. Find a QB, build a team, make week-to-week adjustments. None of those things are simple, but that’s quite literally why you get paid big money for doing so. Right now it is pretty clear what kind of coach Littrell is. He can build an offense that has big season numbers. That is to say, the total offense will be impressive. He has trouble finding the winning yards, however. The latest example was at the goal line in the second quarter. The game was still ready to be won, and NT could not get a yard. Then a bad snap. We can point to similar scenarios in previous seasons and it is the same problem.
He can build a team with some talent, but not a squad with balance. Nate Brooks, Kemon Hall, Jeff Wilson, Hambone, Guyton, Darden, et. al were all on a Seth Littrell squad. This year’s squad has some nice talent on both sides, but they aren’t performing in unison. Last year the defense was good, but the offense was mediocre. Before that the offense was a diamond, while the defense was historically bad. College football, through its very nature creates this kind of dynamic, but the best teams have some level of consistency.
Beat downs like this are helpful, if you are willing to learn the lessons from it. SMU exposed some of the personnel and the staff and the players will have to meet that challenge. One of the great things about football is also a scary thing: once you show a weakness it will be exploited forever and always, until you do something about it. It is like nature itself. You can thrive with disadvantages in this world, but you have to make up for your shortcomings, or be undone by them.
It is drawing board time, and NT will have plenty to think about.
MGN was in Denton for this one and had a good time. The tailgating was fun, though we spent a lot of time in the alumni pavilion, as we had Kid MGN in tow. Having just been up to Columbia, MO for the Mizzou-Tech game this past Thursday, I can tell you with absolute comparative certainty that the Apogee game day is at least the equal. Navigating the highway in MO was treacherous, as the shuttle was inconsistent. Apogee has a nice little tailgate scene, fun for the kids, and good stuff for the alumni. Sure, it doesn’t span city blocks like UT, but for what it is, it is good.
The game day public address announcer had some flubs, including messing up the ‘Mean Green First Down’ thing.
Kid MGN says “I liked the tasty snacks there. It is my favorite part of a stadium, eating the tasty snacks”. This is true, but my favorite tasty snacks are the beers. Apogee beat out Faurot Field in that there was better selection than “bud light, Michelob ultra, and that’s it.”
It was hot and I wonder about the climate and the effect on outdoor stadia. At the alumni tailgate while watching the UTSA-Houston game (go Coogs, even temporarily) I was asked about the Alamodome and the atmosphere there during game day. I am an advocate of outdoor venues, as it connects you to the world, and makes each game a little more unique. However, with all of the turf and ultra-manicured fields, the ugly random parts of a competition that happen when you are on real grass is taken away. There are no weird bounces or mud or anything and it takes a bit of the connection to nature away. Might as well play inside and get the benefit of air-conditioning, also.
Tailgating was limited by the heat, and I am sure attendance was as well. I am no architect, but an awning or something to put over the student section during the hottest part of the games (that 7pm hour) would be great. Sure, the sun sets behind the grand stand eventually, but even sitting there for a bit in the sun is draining. That, and the weak entertainment on the field surely limits attendance.
UTSA, La Tech, looked better this weekend than NT. Charlotte looks awful, yeah? What happened there. I also paid a little attention to ODU, even though they aren’t CUSA anymore. It is a reminder that college football is crazy and wild precisely because of the drastically changing rosters and staff turnover. Turnarounds and dramatic falls are possible.
It was great to see Jyaire Shorter play again. The PA announcer acknowledged it after his catch with a “first time in a very long time” comment. Ja’Mori Maclin got loose down the middle and Aune hit him with a beautiful pass. There were a lot of fans wondering why we don’t choose to look Shorter/Maclin’s way when they seemingly have single coverage on that side. Lots of questions.