North Texas played tough enough on the road for three quarters to win vs. UL Lafayette's Ragin' Cajuns, but unfortunately for Mean Green fans, they could not overcome early mistakes, and once more lost the fourth quarter as the team returned to dead least in the conference.
Redshirt freshmen Riley Dodge showed his inexperience throwing an interception that was returned for a TD, and a second one that lead to a field goal. The Mean Green also allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown as they spotted the Ragin' Cajuns 17 first half points.
UNT hung tough behind Dodge in the first half, playing to a 24-24 tie at the half. UNT continued their tough play on both sides of the ball, and eliminated the mistakes in the third quarter to take a 10 point lead, but the inexperienced Mean Green could not hold on to the lead, and were again outplayed in the fourth quarter.
UNT has flashed a lot on both sides of the ball. If the Alabama game is eliminated from the team's stats, UNT has scored 28.4 points per game, and allowed 29 points per game vs. non-BCS FBS opponents of varying talent levels. The team plays similar caliber teams in the season's second half, so the team should be competitive.
Coach Todd Dodge has a well conceived spread offense. Regardless of personnel, UNT under Dodge has moved the ball between the 20's and scored at a pretty good clip.
Still this year was supposed to be a bit of a breakout year with an experienced proven OL and quality talent and depth all recruited for this offense. QB Riley Dodge, the most highly decorated recruit in UNT's recent memory was supposed to use his familiarity with the scheme to transform this offense into a juggernaut.
Well, that just hasn't occurred.
The coaching staff went with a lighter more athletic offensive line to protect the still undersized and fragile Riley Dodge.
It was a very defensible decision, but the results suggest it has hurt the team in those short yardage situations that are so necessary to win games. The coaching staff (and I think the players) lack confidence in their ability to consistently pick up short yardage by running up the middle. They lack the swagger of top offenses.
Todd Dodge may very well need to consider developing a rotation of personnel designed specifically to give the team the best shot in situations where they need less than 3 yards. They have the depth and are not likely to run slow developing passing plays on 3rd and shorts and 4th and shorts, so why not?
Good coaching staffs put their teams in situations where they have a better chance to succeed. Dodge and his staff have improved a lot in that regard this season, but this is an area where more improvement is possible with help from the staff.
Riley Dodge has struggled at times with the speed of the game (regardless of his father's claims to the contrary) and the weaknesses of the scheme (one of the disadvantages of the Dodge scheme vs. a run and shoot is the fact that it is easier to read a QB and jump the passes because the QB and receiver are not reading and reacting to the DB).
In high school where your opponents are a step slower, you can throw a rainbow deep and not worry about the safety having the speed to make a play on the ball (as happened vs. Ohio). In High School you can get away with telegraphing your passes, but at the FBS level those passes are at risk (as happened vs. Ohio and ULL.)
It is entirely possible that if Todd Dodge is around for Riley Dodge's senior year, Riley may become the mobile version of Ty Detemer that many feel he has the potential to become.
This year, he is still just a promising underclassman starting his first year as a QB at the FBS level. In many ways UNT's struggles are no different from the struggles teams like ULL have with their new QBs.
Riley Dodge and the offense have given up turnovers that have turned games.
The Middle Tennessee game was a close game until Riley Dodge threw an interception that was returned to the six yard line, that tipped off 17 straight MTSU points.
The Ohio game partially turned on a Nathan Tune interception that was returned for a TD.
The ULL game would likely have been a UNT win, if not for Dodge's two interceptions early.
Probably the best way to look at the issue of interceptions is that more precision is needed from Riley Dodge and his receivers to prevent interceptions.
Defensive Lack of Consistent Focus and Intensity
The offense is not solely to blame. When these backbreaking turnovers occur, UNT's defense responds like the inexperienced unit it is. They don't generally elevate their individual games in those situations, and stuff the opposition to reclaim momentum, they allow their emotions to rule them and yield TDs.
Without question one can look at UNT's Defense and see major improvement, but there simply has not been enough improvement to overcome the problems the offense is having transitioning to Riley Dodge, and all the new personnel. UNT boasts one of the most talented back 7's in the conference and has a lot of quality defensive linemen. They are lead by one of the best defensive coordinators in the conference.
This is a unit that should not be yielding almost 30 points a game to non-BCS opponents. It is far too talented for that.
Players like alleged shut down sophomore CB Royce Hill, former all-conference junior LB Craig Robertson, senior DE turned DT Eddrick Gilmore, last year's leading tackler senior S turned LB Kylie Hill, junior DE Sam Owusu-Hemeng, and former JUCO DTs Shavod Atkinson, and Kelvin Jackson need to start regularly making game changing plays. Waiting for the emotional volcano that is senior MLB Tobe Nwigwe to make the big play is simply not good enough.
These guys have been in place long enough to know what they need to do. Watch the films and start making some plays already.
Fourth Quarter Nightmares
For the season, UNT has outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter only once, in their only win of the season vs. Ball State, 10-7.
Versus Ohio, the Mean Green lost the fourth quarter 3-7.
In the throwaway game vs. Alabama, UNT lost the fourth quarter 0-9.
Versus Middle Tennessee, UNT lost the fourth quarter 0-7.
Versus ULL the final period went to the Ragin' Cajuns 0-14.
In the last four games, UNT hasn't scored a TD in the fourth quarter, and has yielded at least seven points. It appears the team is confident that they have the ability to compete in each game, but the team lacks the leadership from upperclassmen, and key performers, to suck it up, and make plays at the end of games.
Howard Schnellenberger Comes to Town.
Schenellenberger has owned UNT. Only the fact that FAU has played so badly this year makes this game winnable for UNT.
UNT has a shot to turn around recent history vs. FAU, and turn around the Mean Green's season this week, but they have to believe they can win. This was probably a game in which the Mean Green assumed they would not be able to compete prior to the season.
What UNT believes will determine the outcome of this game. If that pre-season belief remains, UNT will lose this game.
It seems likely this game could turn around one of these team's fortunes.