In preparation for this weekend’s game with North Texas, we reached out to enemy territory and talked with Adam Martinez of MeanGreenNation.com.
Three games into the season, what have you learned about this North Texas team? Would you say they’ve performed as you’ve expected, above average, or below your expectations?
Relative to my own expectations, (2017 Season Preview Schedule and Prediction) they’ve under performed. Really, that just means they played poorly against SMU. Amazingly they are what the vast majority of fans wanted and hoped for: an improved offense in Seth Littrell’s second year and an aggressive defense. There are the same holes in the team however.
Mason Fine was an impressive 32-of-47 for 424 yards in a loss to SMU a couple of weeks back. What’s the biggest difference in his game that you’ve seen early in his sophomore season compared to his performance as a freshman?
He looks more in command, which is funny considering he started last year over Alabama transfer Alec Morris after looking in control and unafraid at the helm. He still looked like a freshman — especially at UTSA — and ultimately was one reason (injuries being the other) he sat in favor of Morris late. He’s always been tough, but he knows where the openings will be and has stood and delivered. Lots of credit to the line for keeping him upright more thus far.
What did you see from your defense against Iowa that either impressed you, disappointed you, or both?
Two seasons ago (MeanGreenNation – Iowa Reaction) NT looked awful against Iowa. I sat with a parent of a player at a watch party and he ranted at length about the staff. The Iowa line completely embarrassed the NT D-line then, and to see this year’s collection do so well was encouraging. NT is still without Bryce English and so it can be even better.
That said, Iowa had no reservations going for it on fourth (down) often. While NT didn’t give up anything easy (long IOWA TD called back excluded) they still were disrespected by the play calls.
NT has been stellar — really outstanding at times — on standard downs for two years running. Third down has been terrible. This is going to be something to watch all season and this week.
For the sake of this Q&A I’ll assume you’ve had a chance to see some of UAB this season. What have you seen from the Blazers that has impressed you early on and which of their strengths do you think could give your Mean Green issues?
I don’t know what to make of UAB given the level of competition. I’ve called them a startup team on steroids. Bill Clark is a good coach, and well-coached hungry teams are the type of team that scares anyone.
Usually with start ups you can rely on a talent advantage, but I don’t know that it is here so much for NT given that NT had only 65 scholarship athletes at Littrell’s hiring.
UAB hasn’t exactly been surprising — I figured the Blazers would rise the wave of excitement for the return for a few weeks. I suppose the most impressive thing is that they are so tough — again, not so surprising considering the coach, etc., but still impressive to see.
Do you think both of these teams will be able to continue to find success offensively Saturday? What is your game prediction?
Air Raid offenses, being so rhythm reliant, typically struggle early and improve later. NT’s was no different last year and compounded that with being newly engaged with the system. This season the struggles against SMU early (before the game got away from them) was mostly because of some execution issues (failed fourth down, holding penalty, a key drop). NT didn’t have the ball enough last week, so the stats aren’t overly impressive, but there were good things. So yes, I expect continued offensive production on Saturday. Both SMU and Iowa had good defenders and a solid plan, but were scored on. I don’t think the Blazers are better than either defensively, and so will allow points even with a good defensive effort.
For UAB, execution in the face of a good NT pass rush is key. Mean Green defensive coordinator Reffet likes to bring numbers and so Erdley will need to find his playmakers. He can run, and that will be useful. NT has real trouble with mobile quarterbacks — SMU’s Davis and UTSA’s Sturm — but execution is the key. Iowa out executed with their commitment to the run (and deep stable of backs). SMU mostly out talented NT’s defensive backs. That brings me to a defensive weakness for North Texas: the infuriating tendency to blow coverage. Reffet likes to put his corners on an island and they occasionally get beat, but on these three games NT has allowed at least one 60-yarder, and they haven’t all been losing 1-on-1 battles.
UAB should score, but I don’t know that they are ready or capable of doing it at the level required. Were this in Birmingham I would give the Blazers more of an edge, but it’s not so I have NT winning 34-24.