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Vindication: North Texas 45 UTSA 23

After the game, amid the joy and fun and jokes and drinks that come with ruining a rival’s perfect season, I heard that North Texas as a program believed that they could run on this UTSA squad. We wrote in the pre-game that there was reason to believe that this could be the case, but we did not think that UTSA would lay down like FIU did.

North Texas absolutely ripped UTSA on the ground, rushing for ridiculous yardage in every way imaginable. They ran around, through, over, and Deandre Torrey even did a Barry Sanders impression a couple of times.

North Texas took the simple game plan: run the ball, and play great defense and did it to the maximum extend possible. The dominated the run game. Questions about Austin Aune? Didn’t matter, because he was not needed.1 Questions about the pass defense? Didn’t matter because the Murphys were in the backfield the entire game. Questions about the defense holding up? No matter, because the return defense units jumped on their opportunities and won fumbles.

NT tired a little razzle/dazzle and while it didn’t go anywhere, it looked like North Texas as a program was ready to win and locked in. Meanwhile, the UTSA Roadrunners were cold, wrapped in bright orange ponchos while NT was sleeveless, unfazed on the NT side. The football obsession with being mentally and physically tough is a cliché, but it has merit. UTSA was looking ahead to the next week (Jeff Traylor already asked for a plane and not a bus because he wanted to prepare for the championship game), they were cold, they were emotionally drained from the near-loss the week before vs UAB.

The truth is there are many reasons to not play hard, or give a great effort. Football is hard, and college football is harder still. Championship college football is even harder. If you want to call your self a championship team that means your opponents will be giving you their best efforts every week. That is the price of being good.

Was it easy to grind out five straight wins for North Texas? Was it easy to go on the road and work hard when all the causal fans said NT football was done? Was it easy to win at Southern Miss, FIU, and Rice? No it wasn’t. That’s what makes this win sweeter.

The fans that follow the sport and appreciate the work and effort the squad puts in simply ask for the effort. Just give a damn. They did. They put the work in, and it is a beautiful thing to reap the rewards of that work. It was some of the best times I have had as a Mean Green fan.

The Game

North Texas jumped out to a 10-point lead early thanks to a nice drive that ended in a FG, and a forced fumble and a powerful drive. The teams traded punts, with NT stuffing and stopping UTSA quickly, but allowed a FG. Then NT punted again, but got the ball back on a muffed return. They scored again to make it 17-3. Then UTSA scored twice, with NT nearly intercepting the ball (Grayson Murphy dropped it) before Frank Harris got loose for 69 yards and a score.

That set up the best drive by North Texas: 8 runs for 77 yards capped by Ikaika Ragsdale’s 15-yard rush for six. NT never was threatened again. Frank Harris fumbled the wet football on the next possession, it was recovered by the good guys, and Torry did his Barry Sanders out there. NT was up 31-13 just like that.

The second half started with UTSA punting after a three-and-out, the backup QB in the game. NT drove 13 plays for 70 yards and another score. The route was fully on by then. Ayo Adeyi added a 42-yarder to end the NT scoring and there would have been more but for some fumbles by NT late. UTSA scored a field goal and a 67-yarder to close the gap.

And that was that. NT has now scored 45 in the last two games at Apogee and holds the all-time lead 5-4 in this series.

The Day

MGN (me) flew up to Denton. I enjoyed my time around the little d and caught up with friends old and new. I did not take the family, as we have some youngsters and we didn’t thin the rain and cold would be great for a tiny baby. I *had* to be there. I have to say that flying and traveling solo is so much quicker without children. Gah. Haha.

S/O to the people who let me hang at the tailgate, the people who tolerated my cheers, and yelling, and antics (fun), and I think we all had a great time.

I got a little nostalgic for my time as an undergrad, going to and fro to my old haunts. I skipped any Denton visits during 2020, but for whatever reason it felt like I hadn’t been there in 10 years when I have been up there like every year for one reason or another. Time does that to ya’, and life is weird like that.

Having experienced that, it reminded me of the sillier aspects of the trash-talking I’ve read. The “you’ve haven’t done what UTSA has done in your 100 years” or whatever. Like, logically it is very silly but knocking NT for having 100 years of football is silly. Supporting a team, as anyone who had to get UTSA’s football program started knows, is a major endeavor and the fact that North Texas has supported the football squad for 100 years is a major accomplishment.

Beyond that, the bonds, friendships, stories, and memories made because of it are priceless. I have made so many friends and have had memorable experiences chronicling the Mean Green in my silly little time doing this and it makes it all worth it. Reducing the experience of college football to mere wins and losses misses the whole entire point of it all.

That said, it sure was fun to watch NT absolutely push around the UTSA defensive line.

Quality Control

Okay so I like to make sure I am holding water, so to speak, when I do this analysis. Let us look back on the preview and see if I knew what was what:

A win … puts North Texas in the bowl conversation, and while the Mean Green aren’t the sexiest candidate they will have the biggest win on their resume of any other 6-6 G5 program, probably. It will also get Seth Littrell a little shine right before recruiting season ends, and it is the chance to convince a fence-sitting prospect that NT can be where big wins happen. It would put a blemish on UTSA’s season, although it would not end their chase of a championship. Seth Littrell would shake a little bit of the Can’t Win A Big One reputation that he has (at least with me) and re-establishes North Texas as a competent program for a bit. For the players, it would be a little vindication and proof the season “isn’t a bust” and not to mention it would be great to end a team’s undefeated season. NT would take a one-game lead in the head-to-head (5-to-4).

Are these things true? Yes. NT is in the bowl conversation BUT it is a possibility that they will not actually attend one given the crunch of bowl-eligible teams. Seth Littrell coached the hell out of this squad and gets the benefit of the doubt. NT still needs a QB long-term, and probably some more talent at WR to bolster the injured depth chart. Not to mention rebuild the defense that had a lot of seniors on it.

That is a recipe for distraction — obvious enough that head coach Jeff Traylor tried to cut off that discussion of it during the post-game press conference by saying “North Texas can ruin our season but we can ruin theirs”. He also admitted he asked his boss if they could fly back from Denton rather than take the bus, as they usually do. 

Smells to me like they are thinking about the title game and that is mighty understandable.

Was it true? Yes. Traylor said they came out less enthused than NT. NT was also more ready for the conditions, having played at FIU the week before in the rain. UTSA was emotionally drained and also cold. I also noted that NT was in its second rivalry game, having played SMU and gotten beat down. So I think that helped a bit.

No scenario ends with a win comes if NT is not running the ball for at least 3.5 yards per tote, but mixing in a little dazzle to get an otherwise unearned touchdown is what is necessary. 

Was this true? Yes, but partially. I made the point that NT was going to get wrapped up a bit eventually in the run game. I hoped for some good and solid defense and some extra touchdowns from some clever plays. What happened is that UTSA coughed up the ball a ton and gave NT more chances. This happened vs Liberty, but NT didn’t take full advantage. They did here, and that made all the difference.

North Texas likely will give up a frustrating missed gap long touchdown because that is On Brand for this squad, but will otherwise play well enough. They will also get to Frank Harris once or twice but will also get toasted like they did vs Liberty. The key is getting enough stops, getting enough turnovers, getting enough opportunity to win. WKU’s defense got a stop — practically the only one — vs this UTSA offense to give themselves a chance. That is what we are asking of Phil Bennett’s North Texas defense.

Was it true? Yep. NT gave up a 67-yarder through the air and one 69-yarder on the ground but the defense dominated otherwise. They were helped by the weather but who cares. That’s the game.

I also said that intellectually, it made sense to pick UTSA but that my heart told me NT was going to win. I’ll call that a push.

  1. He played well enough, and put the ball on his receivers when it was needed

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