Welcome back to this little site folks. No doubt you filled your week with family and soccer, just like me. Maybe you did some work before you left and your holiday week started today? Whatever your situation, I hope it’s a good one. Good luck and good health, colleague Mean Green.
This week the department has been working to fill the seats for Senior Day against Rice. The last game of the regular season – home or away – is always a tough sell for the football program. Thanksgiving Week means most of the students are back home and people in and around Denton are doing family things. Maybe that includes going to a football game in North Texas?
I flew back from Nevada once to do the North Texas vs. Kansas State game. A couple of times I made it to Houston or Denton for the finals. This season, your favorite MGN writer is on the couch. There is a link above this post (at the time of this writing) that will get you $10 off some seats. Listen.
The Mean Green are essentially in a playoff game. If you win on Saturday, NT is allowed to travel to San Antonio next Friday for the CUSA title game in San Antonio. Last year, UTSA hosted a raucous crowd that helped them jump on WKU in the middle quarters. North Texas has already experienced that environment and left the field itching for a rematch.
This weekend is your chance to earn just that.
Rice comes into this week and needs a win to qualify for the bowl. Rice’s Mike Bloomgren era has seen some upsets and some impressive plays and many losses. His predecessor David Bailiff had four winning seasons in 11, a record .416 and four bowl appearances in which he went 3-1. Oh and the 2013 championship. Bloomgren has a record .302 and no winning season. This would be the first of its time.
The Owls come from a sticking at Houston 41-7 that was preceded by a sticking of WKU 45-10 at Bowling Green. Watching a few weeks ago a Charlotte team that fired their coach simply set the second owl on fire with ease gave clues to all who watched closely that they can’t stop the pass. WKU and UTSA are two of the best pass attacks in the league and accordingly dominate the action. This bodes well for NTs Austin Aune.
North Texas has a bye and before that a poor performance in Birmingham against a good UAB. NT exploded for 21 points in the second quarter but was quiet before and after. A little time to readjust and heal – especially the recoil spots – is good.
Attack on Rice
The Rice Owls stopped the pass very poorly. The secondary looks confused, overwhelmed and disorganized. They get caught here and there. The UTSA running game was insanely explosive thanks to Frank Harris and the Barnes kid. North Texas will take care of it Ikaika Ragdale and Isaiah Johnson in this again. The duo was OK against UAB, but NT wasn’t the same type of running team we saw before the injuries.
Mike Bloesch got the offensive to exploit the guns in the NT passing game. NT came out throwing and aggressive against UAB and it didn’t work as well as it has in previous weeks. UAB’s defense is statistically the best in the league and they were able to wipe out Aune’s options. As usual, there was meat on the bone, but if you’ve been following the program all season, you’ll know that’s not unusual. Austin Aune isn’t going to be a top notch Aaron Rodgers or even a top notch Mason Fine, so we can look for the variances in his own game. He didn’t play his best football against UAB but all his goals didn’t help him much.
NT put on 21 against UAB and that’s about enough for a winning margin if the NT defense can hold Rice – more on that later. The Owl Defense will no doubt buck up after being cut open over the past two weeks, but there may only be limited improvements from week to week. Simply put, the Owl High School cannot guard the NT-wide group man for man. Can the NT wideouts make them pay now? It depends on. Jyaire Shorter is a physical specimen, but he gets dropsy too often for my liking. He’s lost a few big ones this season but continues to put up record numbers by being ridiculously open on Go routes.
Damon Ward Jr was amazing and made sticky catches that are gif worthy. Roderic Burns found space every week. Maclin, Smart and Horton were also dangerous and menacing. In addition, there is the tight end spot chewing gums, and Roberts and I think NT has enough guns to move the ball up and down the field. One question is whether NT can get the Rice Owls to bite enough play action to keep the regular RPO offense viable. If not, Rice can sit back and challenge Aune to duck for cover – or open up guys while staying strong against the run.
Rice has been inconsistent and errors in run fits and tackles have allowed for big plays from the opposition. NT has a chance to hit some big ones and score points. Remember NT has one of the best offensive productions in the nation and was incredible against good CUSA defenses. Although NT struggled late against the UAB defense, there was an explosive quarter and there were chances in the second as well. A meter here and there and NT moves the chains and gets within goal range. customs everywhere etc.
One thing about Rice is that they will give you those inches. They give you room for error.
Game schedule: Lead the ball, hit Rice over the top a couple of times and take advantage of the weak secondary.
Best case scenario:NT is capable of hitting big plays early – especially first downs – and doesn’t need Aune to make big timers in awkward down-and-distance situations.
Worst case scenario: NT looks rusty and passes are in the dirt or up. Drives falter and Rice hangs around.
There’s no indication who will be the Rice starting QB this week. TJ McMahon was injured and has been out for a few weeks. AJ Padgett has time against UTSA, and we don’t know who the signal caller will be. McMahon is obviously the more experienced QB, but he’s threw 14 interceptions this season. Padgett has a big arm, but he has few snaps with the starters. When he gets big snaps, expect some special things that take advantage of his abilities (arm), but things that are pretty basic. At the press conference, Bloomgren said he would be giving Padgett a lot of reruns.
We saw something similar at UAB last week. UAB had started Zeno for a few weeks but got their regular starter back. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was good. The running game had a ridiculous tag later in the game that sealed everything for the Blazers.
NT will try to fix these errors. The guys should be a bit fresher and healthier and a few guys should be back from injury.
North Texas will continue to try and keep things to themselves, much like they did against the FIU. Getting Rice to move the ball and run the field with a QB coming back from injury or a QB with only about 20 passes on his résumé is the plan. This is difficult and NT will make them do it about 5 or 6 times if they want to win.
Rice will look to run with power, with Cam Montgomery getting the most carries this season. However, Jump Otoviano has received the most touches and production over the past six weeks. teams that want Running is always dangerous as after a point it can be a battle of willpower. NT didn’t fare well late against UAB but had a two quarter stretch where they bottled the league’s leading rusher quite well.
The Owls aren’t nearly as snappy when running the inside zone for their back as UAB, and that should mean fewer rush yards are allowed on the board.
Game schedule: Keep passing options at the forefront, force Rice to execute in the passing game and work for run yards.
Best case scenario:NT is able to end the running game and – like vs. FIU – force the passing game to throw short. That means tackling in space, something NT has been good at for the past few weeks.
Worst case scenario: The running game is loosening up, making it easy for the QB to execute and find his experienced wideouts.
North Texas had to throw something else at UAB. The running back room was thinning out and NT attempted to make passing the workhorse. It was unsuccessful overall, but had a bright second quarter. It felt like NT needed to go full-on aggressive and pulled back just enough after a lead. By the time it was time to leave, NT had lost its rhythm. This is of course the view from the television. It is more difficult to know the real situation. Was it execution? Was it play calling? It’s probably a little bit of everything.
NT did well in game planning and dropped out early – especially against bad teams. We want to see a few things here: aggression and hunger. Call it the killer instinct or what ever. NT’s coaching staff needs to nurture the kind of mentality that’s all about taking full advantage of an opponent at the weekend.
Consider the situation:
A weakened Rice team with questions at the QB and more at the cornerback comes to Apogee on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Rice is anything that stands in the way of a shot at the title game.
NT needs to seize the opportunity, but also not throw everything away and slip and fall. A veteran, experienced coach knows to nurture the killer instinct but also watch out for over-enthusiasm. Don’t be a cat on slippery ground, you know?
Well, if you don’t know at this point in this post, you’ll never know. It’s a play-in game. The WKU will have already shown their cards. They play at FAU and need a win and a loss in North Texas. NT just needs one win and it’s all official.
North Texas is aiming for their 2nd appearance in the championship game (2017) and first win. It will be in San Antonio where they lost on the final drive of the game.
NT has won five of their last six against Rice. The all-time streak is 7-5 in favor of NT.
It’s Seniors’ Day, which means the boys get a little celebration in the last home game of the year:
Austin Aune, Cole Brown, Tommy Bush, Daxton Byers, Daizion Carroll, Jacob Daulong, KD Davis, Sean-Thomas Faulkner, Zahodri Jackson, Dayton LeBlanc, Landon Maston, Ethan Mooney, Manase Mose, Bernardo Rodriguez and Quinn Whitlock