I try to be a positive writer. I look for positives in defeat because defeat can teach you more then winning if you are willing to play attention. Plus, if you cannot find positives on which to improve, losses are devistating.
UNT has has a number of "learning opportunities" this season. While even in this loss there were positives, sometimes your team just gets their butt kicked and that demands to be addressed.
I have said many times this season that I am not as taken with Troy as most. I still am not.
Sure, they may run the table in the tissue paper weak sunbelt and may beat CUSA's #5 team in the Sunbelt's lone bowl game, but what does that really mean? They are the 70th best team in the country? The 50th?
I mean the Associated Press doesn't even know what conference Troy plays in! Check it out:
"TROY, Ala. -- Levi Brown threw for a school-record 469 yards as Troy remained unbeaten in Sun Belt Conference play with a 50-26 win over North Texas on Saturday.
Brown, who has been the Big South player of the week three of the past four weeks..."
Big South? You mean the FCS conference,The Big South?
Still, you have to give Trojans credit for this win. They played mistake free ball and unlike every other team UNT has faced this season (outside of #1 Alabama) Troy refused to let UNT into this game.
Troy has the best defense in the sunbelt and a good solid sunbelt offense with a good offensive line. All game long the Troy offense rolled over the UNT defense like a tank grinding out 3-6 yards a play.
They pushed UNT's defense down the feild like a push broom moves dust.
You can come up with a million disturbing anolgies for UNT's defensive performance.
UNT's defense in many ways is a bend not break defense. They expect an opponent to make mistakes and kill their drives. The plain facts of the matter is the Troy starters played very disciplined ball and didn't make a mistake all day long.
Troy played an excellent game.
UNT was never in this game.
Troy throughly dismantantled UNT. I may not think Troy is a great team, but there is no denying they destroyed UNT.
To me, as a Mean Green fan, this was the worst loss of the season. Not because UNT was dominated. It is because UNT was dominated by a team that in the grand scheme of things isn't dominant.
Enough dwelling on the loss, where are the positives?
After losses like this, sometimes despiration ploys to climb back into a game reveal golden facets of players' games. That was the case today.
UNT found a top level kick returner. I wish I had thought of it before, because it makes a world of sense, but Jamaal Jackson was dynamite on kickoff returns. Jackson, UNT's most elusive and fastest WR, has been the biggest threat in the UNT passing game for most of the season.
He is very capable of making one or even a couple defenders miss, but has a bad habit of east/west running.
As a kick returner, Jackson is in full gear running north/south with his team best 4.4 speed before he hits the opposition. If this experiment continues, he may end up being the best in the sunbelt.
Additionally, playing him as a kick returner likely will only make him a better runner as a receiver.
On the negative side UNT also rolled him out as a punt returner. I am a lot less enthusiastic about that. That does not look like it will work. I'd stick with CB Royce Hill or WR Darius Carey in that role.
Several offensive players had good games.
Michael Outlaw was one of the few UNT players who delivered when hopes of making this a game existed. He was the primary reason UNT scored in the first half. He also caught a 4th quarter TD.
I have been probably more critical of Outlaw than any other member of this team, but when UNT faced their best potentially beatable opponent this season, Outlaw came to play and took his game up a notch. Good on him.
Nathan Tune's second quarter interception may have put the nail in the coffin for UNT this game, but Tune played a very solid game completing 22/33 for 267 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.
The Troy defense shut down the UNT OL and as such bottled up 202 lb scatback Lance Dunbar until the third quarter when Troy was up by 34 points. Once Troy started substituting liberally, gaps began opening and Dunbar came to life. Dunbar ended the game with great stats --- 114 yards and 2 rushing TDs on only 14 carries and another 90 receiving yards on 4 catches for another TD, but was a non-factor when the game was in question.
UNT won fourth quarter 13-0. That may not mean a whole lot to most reporters. It may not mean a whole lot to a lot of fans as Troy had their backups in and was more than willing to trade points for time, but it is a positive for UNT and a real one.
Teams develop habits. UNT's habit has been not to score in the fourth quarter this season and has lost a number of games over 4th quarter collapses. They are much better about that lately.
They tied FAU 7-7 in the fourth last week and regardless of the circumstances won the fourth this week. If UNT makes this a point to focus on and it becomes a trend, it may very well help them win some close games in the season's second half.
Any Defensive positives?
Well, not really. But sometimes that in itself is a positive.
In the last two games UNT has given up 94 points. In this game UNT surrendered just under 700 yards.
To put this in perspective, UNT's defense that was by far the worst in the nation last year only gave up 45 to Troy.
The Mean Green defense forced 1 punt in Troy's first 10 drives. The only other stop the Mean Green had against the Troy starters in those 10 drives was a 4th and 1 stop at the UNT 1 yard line ---sadly that was after an 11 play 79 yard march down the field by Troy. Every other drive resulted in points.
Troy used this defense like toilet paper.
Sometimes that is what it takes to deliver a wakeup call to the head coach and defensive coordinator that changes are needed.
This defensive philosophy may work next season when every defensive lineman has added 10 lbs of muscle, but it is garbage for this year's personnel.
Dodge and his staff assume that they will score 30-40 points a game minimum. Their defensive philosophy is based on the idea that teams will be forced to play catchup with UNT and will become one dimensional, allowing UNT's DL to tee off on the pass rush.
The back seven was selected to cover, read, and tackle. When pressure from the pass rush disrupts timing, UNT's back seven can make plays and generate turnovers.
None of that is happening.
UNT is not running out to big leads.
UNT's defense doesn't play like they believe they can make stops.
One may argue that Tobe Nwigwe could have dramatically changed the game, but does anyone really beleive that? As good as he is, this defense has played with a little less confidence every week.
UNT cannot mount a pass rush. While the back 7 is pretty decent in coverage in most games, it has few playmakers.
And the team is vulnerable vs. the run.
Very few defenses can stop the pass and the run. A competent defense usually stops one or the other and count on a one-dimensional offense to make mistakes on long drives.
UNT has sacrificed their run defense to sell out on the pass.
It isn't working.
UNT has to win out to finish a bowl eligible 6-6. Every remeaining game is winnable, but they have no margin of error.
They won't go even 3-3 if the defense continues to surrender 40+ points a game.
If UNT hopes to pull this season out of the toilet it needs to develop defensive confidence that they can stop SOMETHING.
They have already proven in their minds that they cannot rush the passer and as such they cannot stop the pass.
Why not sell out to stop the run?
This team has the talent to do it.
It is time to put in some run stuffing defensive ends in. It is time to sit true freshmen DE KC Obi. It is time to end the Eddrick Gillmore to DT experiment. It is time to look at moving Draylen Ross back to his high school position of Defensive End. It is time to give Tevinn Cantly more time at DE and put more pressure on him to produce. It is time to consider moving Kyle White into the DT rotation.
Why not look for playmakers? I'd love to see more of S John Shorter and LBs Daniel Prior and Jeremy Phillips.
Coaching and the Athletic Director
When you get spanked like this, you open the door for a lot of second guessing from the fans. That could ultimately be good too.
Last week, I laid out the reasons why it would be foolish to fire Dodge, but I think it may very well be high time for the AD Rick Villarreal to pull Dodge in for a "come to Jesus".
I think it was pretty likely that the AD worked with Dodge over the off-season to come up with strategies to overcome team and coaching weaknesses last year.
It may be time for him to offer pointed advice to Dodge like, "Stop freaking running out of the shotgun in short yardage situations!"
Dumb stuff like that only incites all of the UNT fan base. Considering the protection Villarreal has provided Dodge over the years, It probably is not too much for Villarreal to ask Dodge to return the favor and take that out of his playbook.
I never thought I would say this, but man what I wouldn't give to see a QB sneak!
Hell, put your 5 biggest strongest linemen out there with Draylen Ross at TE (He played TE in high school too). If you feel a need to protect your top 2 QBs, have 6-4 225 lb backup QB Derek Thomspon, your biggest QB, run the sneak. Hell have Micah Mosely take the snap and stick his head into the line if you have to, but jeez --- figure out a way to run a successful sneak!
You can't continue to play an undersized OL to nurse Riley through the season. Riley will be a great player as a Junior or Senior, but as a redshirt freshman, he is only marginally better than Nathan Tune.
You cannot gut your short yardage running game just to allow Riley to take snaps. It simply is a losing proposition.
We can all make that argument, but it may need to come from Villareal for Dodge to really consider mid-season changes.
Hopefully this game leads to big changes by Dodge and his staff. They are needed.