As my wife and I approached the stadium today, a lady came up to us and said that her friends had decided not to show and she had two extra tickets that we could have for free.
It was all down hill from there.
Quiet Stadium, Flat Team
UNT's offense seemed flat all day. Really. The entire team seemed flat.
Looking around the stadium, it was pretty apparent why there was no energy in the building: There were probably about 10,000 people in the stands. It looked like there were about 3,000 students in the student section and another 1,500 or so University of Louisiana-Monroe fans with about another 6,000 UNT on the alumni side (although that may be a little generous).
A good veteran team would not be bothered by the turnout, especially after a much-needed win, but UNT clearly was flat on both sides of the ball for most of the day.
The defense played a solid workman-like game, but the offense was a total no-show.
UNT's first series ended with another dropped deep pass by Michael Outlaw. As I have said before, Outlaw is not a natural receiver. That doesn't mean he won't be dramatically better next year if he continues to work hard. It just means he was limited today. Nine games into the season, one would hope the receivers coach would have figured this out.
UNT's staff continues to try to make him into a deep threat when he is the least-suited for that job of any of their starting foursome. He isn't especially fast. In fact, he appears to be the slowest of the four on the field. He doesn't run great routes on those slow-developing plays. He doesn't adjust well to the ball in the air. And he has trouble catching the deep pass.
He is a somewhat reliable and productive inside receiver. He catches those passes pretty well and is willing to take a shot. Let him be that guy.
Why UNT's offensive staff consistently puts him in a position where he loses confidence is beyond me. Today UNT may as well have been playing with three receivers, because they continue to misuse and destroy this kid's confidence.
Forrest Rucker was in on the next series and had to wait for a late-thrown pass from Riley Dodge. The issue was compounded because Rucker didn't run a great route and had very little separation. He dropped the ball, killing that drive and forcing UNT to kick a field goal.
Rucker has a long way to go in my book. Force-feeding him plays is not going to make this guy a player next season. He is slow, he runs lazy routes, and he doesn't have good hands. Those are issues that require offseason work. Playing time in games won't fix any of those issues.
Why some UNT fans want to see more of him at this point in his career is beyond me. I have repeatedly read suggestions that this guy is our deep threat. This guy is not going to beat anyone deep.
ULM just stopped UNT's third drive with good defense. UNT's fourth drive ended when the offense couldn't dig itself out of the hole that Tyler Bailey's offside penalty created.
UNT's fifth drive ended on an INT where either Riley Dodge over threw Forrest Rucker or Rucker quit on the route. You make the call (Considering Dodge's arm I know where I'd vote).
In between the last two UNT drives of the half, we saw Royce Hill watch as LaGregory Sapp caught a TD right in front of him. He was there and probably could have challenged the play, but instead just watched the ball make it's way there.
And that is how, despite very reasonable defensive play, you end the first half down 16-3.
Throughout the first half, the offensive staff kept trying to run Lance Dunbar and there just were no holes. At the half UNT had ran Dunbar eight times and he had gained 12 yards. It was pretty clear this was not going to be the kind of game where Dunbar would tear it up.
As I said in the preview, Dunbar does not have the strength to carry tacklers additional yards. Against another sound front-seven, Dunbar had another first half like he did at Troy and, just like at Troy, the offense was totally ineffective with a running game that left the offense in long yardage situations consistently.
In the second half, the troubles continued. Jamaal Jackson mishandled a kickoff and the ball went out of the end zone.
The offense did show a little life for a moment, as the offensive staff briefly remembered that B.J. Lewis is a pretty good receiver. But in the next drive he and Riley Dodge missed each other and the staff forgot about Lewis again.
Darius Carey caught three passes in a row before ULM sacked Dodge to force a punt.
Defensively, things got rougher in the second half. UNT had been doing a pretty decent job of controlling ULM's running game, but then the ULM receivers just started dominating UNT's corners.
Sapp beat CB Adryan Adams deep for 52 yards on a play on which Adams did not look for the ball. A few plays later, Sapp beat Hill for another TD.
UNT responded with a decent drive fueled by a throw to Jamaal Jackson, which netted a 15-yard penalty and nice 13-yard scramble by Dodge; but it fizzled out, yielding only a FG.
The following kickoff was a fiasco with UNT's kicker having to make the stop after a 63-yard return. The defense played it tough and was able to force a FG after three plays, getting the game to 26-6.
The following drive appeared to feature an actual adjustment by the UNT offensive staff as they brought in the hard-running senior, Cam Montgomery (Dunbar had 14 carries for 35 yards at that point).
Montgomery carried the pile down the field with runs of four, three, and nine yards before the quarter ended. At the start of the fourth quarter, the elusive Dunbar was back in.
It was apparently just a rest for Dunbar and not an adjustment. Dunbar was immediately stopped after a three-yard gain. Facing long yardage, Riley Dodge was fed two low-percentage garbage plays and on the second, an ill-conceived deep shot, Dodge's pass was picked off on a play that was very reminiscent of the hustle interception vs. Ohio.
From the stands, Riley Dodge looked very disgusted with the play-calling, but perhaps I was projecting.
It should also be noted that just prior to Dunbar returning to the game, one of UNT's best lineman—if not the Mean Green's best lineman—Estaban Santiago, was thrown out of the game on a blown makeup-type call by the referees.
Santiago and the UNT OL were helping power the runs down the field by staying after their blocks until the whistle blew. Montgomery stayed on his feet and the piles kept moving so UNT would gain a few extra yards as a scrum of UNT blockers helped Montgomery move the ball.
A ULM defender took offense with the physical play and threw a punch. Apparently trying not to look like they were giving UNT home cooking, the refs also threw out Santiago, who did not appear to do anything wrong.
Pretty much as soon as Santiago was out, I figured there would not be a comeback to even make the game close.
The following series featured two big passes. Adams again did not even look back at the ball. Royce Hill was beaten deep again. He appeared to be just running with his man—keeping him company really, not actually trying to cover him.
Despite poor fundamentals from the CBs, the defense really appeared to step it up once more in the fourth quarter. Akpunku and Penson stuffed a fourth down play to get the ball back for UNT.
On the series after that, Penson made a play behind the line of scrimage. Eddick Gilmore blocked a pass. Ira Smith made an interception.
Good stuff. That is 1.5 games of solid play from the front seven. Penson, Phillips, Cantly, and Gillmore all delivered in their new roles.
Sadly nothing came of the Smith INT.
Two plays later, Dodge telegraphed a pass, it was intercepted, and that was pretty much it.
If UNT and ULM were cars, UNT would be a hot rod in the process of being restored by a first-time car enthusiast. ULM would be an old farmers' small, 1979 Nissan pickup truck.
At the starting line UNT's highly-touted hot rod would stall out and ULM's pickup truck would do a moderate 40 mph to the finish line.
Based on talent, UNT probably should have won this game. Instead, ULM dominated the Mean Green.
What This Game Taught Us
Quite a lot, really. The defense didn't shut down ULM by any means, giving up 454 yards to ULM, but they were decent.
Recall that ULM entered the game with the Sun Belt's No. 3 offense at 27 PPG, despite losing their QB and playing three BCS schools, Troy, and Arkansas State when the Red Wolves were playing very well.
To hold them to 33 points with their starting QB and no support from the Mean Green offense is actually quite respectable.
UNT's front seven and their safeties played well enough that UNT could have won this game. That in itself was quite a triumph for coach DeLoach and his staff.
UNT's CBs on the other hand were pretty bad. In fact they were so bad for the eighth week in a row that I think it might be time for Dodge to harshly evaluate the secondary coach and possibly it may be time to bench both starting CBs in favor of Antoine Bush and Robbie Gordon.
After watching Royce Hill get beat regularly for TDs for two years, part of me wonders if he is simply a reasonable kick-returner and nothing more. I think it may be time to shut him down (mostly) and rebuild his technique and aggressiveness in the off-season.
CBs are supposed to be cognizant of their opponent's eyes and turn to play the ball when the WRs do so. When is the last time you have seen a UNT CB actually do that?
Now to be fair, this team is all about "bend, don't break" and as such the CBs are likely instructed that their first responsibility is to get the WR down. Still, there is a point when you have to start making plays on the ball, otherwise you just aren't covering anyone.
I think it may be too late to have UNT's starting CBs unlearn that for this year. Bush has played in different defenses and as such is probably less given to playing that style. He is a solid CB. Gordon is simply more aggressive than the other UNT CBs and is a junior. He needs to be ready to take on a starting job next year, anyway.
This game really showed the warts on the Mean Green offense.
UNT's much-hyped OL is simply incapable of opening holes vs. a talented and sound front-seven. Without holes and shoddy tackling, Lance Dunbar is a fairly indescript physical specimen at this point in his development. Basically tough yards are not his bag.
The offensive staff is horrible at making midgame adjustments and even when they do stumble onto something that works, they quickly drift away from it. This has been hugely glossed over because the scheme is quite effective.
The offensive brain trust seem to trust the scheme and ride the hot hand far more than they game plan what actually should work.
This was a game where the staff should have had it in their head that if the OL couldn't open holes they might need to put in better run-blockers or give more carries to Mathis and Montgomery, who excel at moving the pile and finishing runs, or just gone to throwing the ball.
This staff seems to think that an elusive hole-picker is ideal for every opponent. Hopefully they figure it out before the next time UNT plays a team with a good run defense.
I don't know if the offensive coordinator, Todd Dodge, or the receivers coach is to blame, but someone is really screwing Riley Dodge over by not using this receiving staff properly.
This team has three very good receivers with big-play potential in Darius Carey, Jamaal Jackson, and B.J. Lewis; three solid, chain-moving, short-ball receivers in Alex Lott, Kevin Dickerson, and Michael Outlaw; and a guy who is reportedly "uncoverable in practice" but apparently doesn't time fast enough for the coaching staff to throw any balls his way, in Breece Johnson.
There is no way with that talent that you throw deep to Outlaw, use Rucker as the fifth receiver, and use Lewis as a fourth option.
It is just crazy.
Outlaw and Lott should be rotating in at one of the interior receiver slots. Put players with speed and the ability to adjust quickly to a late or floating pass out there. Basically Carey or Jackson.
And someone needs to work with Riley on getting those deep passes off quicker. Riley has a better arm than Ty Detmer ever did in college, so he can get those off successfully, but he is constantly late getting the ball off.
Obviously as long as this report was, this was a tough game to watch. Here's hoping the staff sees the same problems I saw and next week is better.