Ladies and gentleman we are at that point where we have fans sniping at each other. We have defenders of the defense complaining about the offense. We have people partial to the offense complaining about the 88-yard touchdowns, and missed tackles. We have people calling for last year’s quarterback. We have people calling for scholarships, firings, and for rationality.
Welcome to 2-6!
This isn’t 2013. That much is very clear. You can see that by the calendar and the team playing on the field. For some reason we have people making that point again. So we’ll join in. It isn’t 2013.
Coming into 2014 no one expected to see the defense dominate each game and carry the other two phases every time out. Most people were hoping the offense could go from ball protectors to touchdown threats. Sure, the 2013 team averaged more points per game (31.8) than they had in ages. A ton of that was either the defense scoring themselves, the special teams (Brelan), or short fields.
But you know that. You watched last year. This isn’t last year, remember? This year the offense allows sacks at a .50 per game pace to this year’s 2.29 pace. This year’s team also turns the ball over a lot. A good portion of that is the quarterback. Dajon famously was benched for McNulty after throwing four interceptions in his three games to go with a couple of fumbles. McNulty has thrown a couple of pick-sixes himself, one against Texas and one today against Rice.
Any hopes we had for a slightly less-dominant defense going with a more explosive offense have been wiped away by reality. We have a pretty average defense1 and a turnover-prone offense. Most unfortunate is the fact that we don’t have an offense that can score easily. At first glance that 30.8 points per game looks good. . . until you remove the 77 points against FCS Nicholls State. Which you should. That brings us down to 22 points per game — only 20.7 in conference play.
Wait. A 20-per-game offense and a defense that allows lots of long touchdowns? Yeah. That sounds like 2012. So this isn’t last year. It is two years ago.
Welcome to 2012!
In the spirit of keeping game reviews fun I’ve switched up the style ever time. In case you were wondering. You probably weren’t.
Things started out terribly. A deep post beats a secondary player for a 70+ yard score. If you’ve watched UNT football from Indiana to Rice it might have seemed familiar. Shane Wynn, and Jamarcus Nelson have done it in previous weeks. Now add Jordan Taylor. Those are all the 70+ touchdown scores. There have been more than a few 40+ yard gains. This is a problem and something that every coordinator with any sense is adding to their call sheet.
Then things got better. A few runs, a play-action touchdown to the widest-open Carlos Harris we’ve seen since his TD against Nicholls. It is amazing how he has managed to get open despite being the only receiving threat for three weeks running. He seemingly never drops a pass. Others haven’t gotten open nearly as often, nor have they been as sure handed. This is a problem. McNulty’s interception later in the game as because he stared down (sort of) Carlos Harris. When everyone begins to key on him, things like that will happen.
Rice scores on a longish drive where they do what they please on the ground and in the air. Jordan Taylor is owning our secondary.
Thankfully, we have Darvin Kidsy run it back for 100. He had blocks for days on his run. He throws up the H-town and causes controversy on twitter and on gomeangreen.com. My first reaction: was that a Hook ‘Em?2. I didn’t know Kidsy is from Houston. I was corrected on twitter (begrudgingly so) and GMG went crazy. Someone called for his scholarship. But then again you can’t rely on message board posts during the game to be rational.
We look okay. Defense looks much better. They weren’t getting burned deep and weren’t allowing that specific deep post to work out. Laramie Lee, McClain, and James Jones all made nice plays.
In what looked to be a turning point, the offense went for the TD on 4th and goal from the one. Carlos Harris scored on an end around. We took the lead. Everything looked green after Rice failed on their own 4th and 1 try. The rest of the quarter was a little back and forth. The offense looked good in spurts and terrible at the same time. For example, on 2nd and 21 from the Rice 44 McNulty hit Darius Terrell in the chest for what seemed to be at least a 19 yard gain. He dropped it with no one around him.
The next play McNulty was sacked.
It is hard to get a wide open guy 21 yards down the field twice in a row.
Third and Fourth Quarter
Carlos Harris begins the second half by fumbling. It wasn’t necessarily loose ball handling, but he didn’t wrap up as tightly as he could have. Rice players stood him up and ripped it away. It happens.
The defense stepped up in a situation they are all-too familiar with: a short field to defend following at turnover. They haven’t been particularly good in this situation these last few weeks. This time they were equal to the task, heroically holding Rice to just a field goal.
That’s when it got awful. Remember how I said McNulty was staring down Carlos Harris and that would be a problem? Well he found Harris for six yards on 2nd down and then looked to him again on the same play from the left side. Ryan Pollard read the play (Harris was open, otherwise) and broke from his safety spot to step in and run it back.
Just like that we were down three.
From then on we would see more passes than runs despite the relative success of giving the ball to Pegram and Jimmerson to start the drive. Sure the yards per carry was atrocious, but this team isn’t a Mike Leach squad. We’ve stuck with the run game with larger deficits against better defenses. It was surprising to see the team abandon it so completely. I mean, the score to Carlos Harris came of of play-action. The sacks all came from straight drop backs.
The rest of the game was a blur. The offense didn’t do much, looked tentative, and over-relied on the pass. McNulty as playmaker? He has done much better as a bus driver, letting everyone else do the work. Rice added three more scores (two TDs and a FG) on longish drives that ate up clock and demonstrated their run game.
In his coaches show on Monday night, McCarney bragged about how close McNulty was to 300 yards against Southern Miss, setting yet another personal milestone for coach-speak. I was glad to hear it after his comments about how difficult he has it recruiting to North Texas. I can’t imagine how he’ll spin this game positively. Pegram and Jimmerson combined for 59 yards on 23 carries. McNulty was sacked a handful of times. There were a couple of momentum-killing drops. There was a pick-six.
Mike Canales got pass happy way to early. Instead of staying patient and being true to the team’s philosophy, he relied on McNulty to carry the offense. While that may be an attempt to get the ball into Carlos Harris’ hands more than anything, it didn’t work. It really hasn’t worked for a few games running now. The offense is markedly better than it was under Greer, but without Dajon’s dynamism there have been fewer scores. Sure, Dajon also was turning the ball over but at this point it may be time to let him learn on the job.
After that 88-yard TD catch-and-run, the defense stiffened and played okay. They strung together enough stops that would have allowed a more efficient offense enough time to get some scores. They still do more breaking than bending in this system. The fourth quarter included three 10+ play drives that covered 69 yards at the shortest. What does that mean? It means offenses can move the ball with relative ease. Rice averaged 4.1 yards per carry, 9.0 per passing attempt, dominated the ball and didn’t turn it over. Skladany no doubt has goals that concern these metrics and they all went unmet. Of this I have no doubts.
Were it not for the offense being relatively terrible, the fan scrutiny would have been on the difference between this year’s team and last year’s. It still is hard for me to gauge this unit because of the difficult positions in which the offense has put them. Short fields, early deficits, and no rest. When the defense has managed to grab a turnover, the offense hasn’t done much with it.
Still, the things that plagued the 2012 defense are back to plague this year’s team: some iffy tackling in the secondary, a sporadic pass rush and a predilection for allowing deep passes.
Thankfully we have Darvin Kidsy. Carlos Harris is a much better receiver, but hasn’t been able to do as much returning the ball. Outside of this, the punters punted, and the kicker didn’t get a real shot to show off his leg thanks to the offense. Rice didn’t get much on their handful of returns and knocked in a couple of FGs.
The good news is that there is a bye week to shake off these two losses. So there are two weeks to prepare for a solid Florida Atlantic team at Apogee on November 8th for Homecoming. Woo!
Tune in on Sunday at 9am for the live podcast where we’ll hopefully be in a better mood.