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The Defense Looks Solid? North Texas 17 Louisiana Tech 24

Down by seven and the clock ticking away. North Texas’s defense gave up two first downs to Tech — one on a penalty and the other on a run out left. Still, they fought and forced a missed field goal. It sure looked like North Texas was going to be the latest Tech opponent to play down to the wire.

Tech, for its part, has looked like the far better team in each of its three games for at least a quarter or so. They lost two of those by blowing late leads and getting beat on the final play. In this one, they had NT down 24-0, and the gaping runs and suffocating defense looked like it was a “pick your score” kind of night.

Phil Bennett’s defense continued its renaissance, raising their game grade from a poor C- to an solid B+. They shut down Tech for a good portion of the rest of the game and those final two first downs aside, looked like the better group for the rest of the night.

The NT offense, again, was poor. Jace Ruder looked terrible, getting happy feet and not looking at his targets. His early benching was low-lighted by his sailing a fourth down ball to Deonte Simpson so off-target that you could see Seth Littrell beckon him as he came off, an exasperated look on his face, and saying something like “You have to put the ball in bounds, Jace”.

Yes, that is bare minimum. On came Aune and he played much better — running when there was nothing and getting yards and leading two touchdown drives. That was it though, and he left a lot of meat on the bone. I honestly cannot say he even took a bite of the meat. He got NT into a one-score position on a 4th down strike but also blew a few earlier opportunities with some poor accuracy before that.

It was an odd spot. The announcers and twitter and myself were all praising his play but a quick show of the stats showed him at 10 of 20 for like 70 yards. The bar is in the basement, folks.

North Texas’ two touchdown drives were grinds, an aching, fourth-down requiring slog that were also the two best drives this offense has had all season against FBS competition. Injuries, coaching, play-calling, performance, defenses, and line play are all partly to blame for the state of the offense and there is much work to do still.

The NT defense earned the ball back late enough to give the offense one final opportunity. Aune fired a couple in the dirt and the final 4th down throw was behind the WR — but hit his hands — and was dropped.

Stats and Observations

North Texas ran for 241 and a good portion of that was Aune scrambling for his life after WRs could not get open / he could not find anyone. NT threw for 92 yards. 92!! We should just run the option since we are doing so already. Ruder and Aune were a combined 15-of-37 for those 92 yards. 92!!

92 yards

It was awful. It IS awful. I am at a loss.

That means that the offense banged 86 plays for 333 yards which is something like 3.9 yards per play which is also very bad. North Texas was also 7-of-17 on third downs and a terrible 1-of-6 on fourth down. The lone conversion was the touchdown. The final failure was the ending.

Meanwhile Tech ran the ball 40 times for only 2.0 yard per pop. That’s right, only 79 yards on the Mean Green and that includes that poor effort on the Marcus Williams Jr run for a score. He was the same guy that ran for about 70 yards on one play in the bowl game vs App State. He transferred to Tech in the offseason. Tech’s QBs — Allen and Head — looked good in spots but also poor. NT’s hounding defense forced out Head on a big hit then took advantage of Allens’ lack of touch. Transfer Austin Kendall did not suit up and all that added up to 207 yards through the air.

The momentum shifted after Tech’s Smoke Harris got to the 2-yard line on a punt return. NT held Tech to the field goal that made it 24 and didn’t allow another point. Tech had 150+ yards passing in the first half. They had less than 50 in the second. Tech had 164 in the first quarter and that was 42 more than the rest of the game.

That’s a hell of an effort against a team that has talent. The defense was not perfect but showed up and competed all the way to the final play. That what we ask. The offense? Well they were about as anemic as the defense was good.

That is the stats. Now the observations:

  • Torrey still looks hurt.
  • Ragsdale looked good in spots
  • The wide receivers look terrible and that has a lot to do with …
  • The QBs were awful

There is just a lot of bad happening. The QBs have poor technique — the announcer mentioned some elbow mechanics — and Ruder is throwing off his back foot. All of that partially explains the inaccuracy. Mason Fine was known for his technique and attention to detail and that went a long way to helping him be the all-time leader here. Ruder and Aune do not help themselves but can be helped by coaching.

The wideouts are dropping a ton of passes also. There are a lot of body-catching attempts happening and some poor routes being attempted. NT has lost a lot of the staff that helped Fine and Guyton/Bussey/Darden turn into scoring machines. Last year NT didn’t have a QB coach. The coordinator was fired. There is a lack of development happening where it was once a source of pride. It needs to improve. That, or NT needs to recruit more polished players.

Consider that Tech got Austin Kendall, and Western Kentucky got Bailey Zappe. Why and how did those guys got to other teams and NT got Jace Ruder — a 4-star dude, for sure — but surely not one as accomplished against FBS competition as those other two? In the offseason we could give Littrell and company the benefit of the doubt. Right now, it clearly was the poorer decision.

Next Up: Bye but after that Missouri

North Texas does not match up well with anyone on the roster based on how they have competed thus far. It is a chance to regroup and recharge and heal up a bit. The offense is down a handful of WRs and at least one of them will likely return by the Missouri game. That will NOT solve all the problems but it will help a ton.

By then we need to decide if Jace Ruder was just seeing ghosts for one game or if Austin Aune and his terrible accuracy but experience in the system are the guy. If not, then its time to see if Kason Martin is more than just a guy who holds a clipboard and fills out the roster or what. Longer term I think there needs to be a top-to-bottom reevaluation of the offense because this is awful. Someone with new ideas and some authority like Phil Bennett who came in and steadied the defense needs to come in and steady the offense.