UNT Fans Suffer Through Single Interception Spring Game With Deep Passing

Tobi WritesAnalyst IApril 12, 2010

I don't know how you fans of other teams endure a constant stream of that.

OK. It wasn't THAT bad. 

In fact if I were to be really honest, I'd have to admit I actually kind of enjoyed it and wouldn't mind seeing more of it in the fall. (And don't worry UNT fans there actually was an interception of one of the deep bench quarterbacks late in the game, so we still hit quota...)

Although the final score was only North 17-South 14, it was a pretty watchable game.

The QB Duel

Really nothing appeared to be decided in this game in terms of the quarterbacks and that's probably how things should be at this point. The spring game is likely just viewed as another day of practice by the staff and while a good performance could give any player some real momentum to earn playing time, they still need to prove themselves every day in practice to back that up.

Both quarterbacks, senior Nathan Tune and sophomore Derek Thompson, looked solid.  Proponents of each could make an argument that their guy showed slightly more.

Each threw a TD pass and went the night without being intercepted, although it was against a defense that is missing it's likely three top cornerbacks, one of their likely top-four safeties, and was pretty thin at defensive end.

Thompson completed 14 of 24 for 58 percent and 234 yards (9.75 yards per attempt), while Tune completed 11 of 19, also for 58 percent,  for 181 yards (9.52 yards per attempt).

Tune's North squad opened the game with a field goal fueled by Tune's 32-yard pass to WR Darius Carey. The series teatured Tune playing with the first-team offensive against the first-team defense.

Thompson's South squad came back immediately going right down the field. His second-team offense ate up the second team defense.

Thompson looked cool, calm and collected. He seemed to casually toss the ball 30-40 yards down the field.

It appeared that throwing the mid-to-deep pass over the middle of the field is his comfort zone. He looked almost too casual dropping back to pass, although one certainly could not argue with the results.

On his first drive, he hit WR Alex Lott in stride accross the middle on a mid-length pass. Lott had a nice run after the catch taking the ball down to the two-yard line. On the next play, backup running back James Hamilton took it in to put the South up 7-3.

Tune and the offense were stopped on the next drive giving Thompson another shot.  Thompson only took three plays to drive the length of the field. He hit two passes for  about 30 yards each and then laid a nice pass perfectly towards the corner of the end zone into the outstretched arms of WR Jamaal Jackson. The South was up 14-3 and it looked like Thompson might run away with the scrimmage.

But that did not happen.

Thompson's South squad would not score again.

Tune threw the pass of the night to get the North within four in the third quarter. Tune dropped back, sensed a little pressure and scrambled forward. He then flipped the ball 55 yards down field in the direction of Tyler Stradford, hitting the 4.41 burner in stride for a 69-yard TD pass.

It was an eye-opening pass. Tune did not appear to throw from a good base as he was on the run. The pass was at an angle, not straight down the field so it was longer than a simple hash-to-hash measurement. That ball was probably in the air 60-65 yards and on target.

Tune had barely overthrown Stradford on what might have been the same play on the last play of the first half.  The Stickman from Celina had the ball in the air for about 50 yards on that play.

The final scoring drive was in a part of the scrimmage where the coaches were working on the running game. Both offenses were running th ball heavily to give the running backs a look. Tune's North squad rode true freshman Brandon Byrd's 9 carries for 50 yards to put together a 79-yard scoring drive.

Tune actually scrambled in for the apparent go ahead score, throwing his hands in the air in excitement only to be called down at the two by the game's very liberal sack rules.  (As close as I could tell if a defender was unblocked or had a free arm within 4 yards of the QB they called it a tackle or a sack.  If the defender was engaged and could not free their arms they could actually hit the QB without it being called a sack.  That lead to one of the funniest moments of the day when DT Shavvod Atkinson got free at the last second and put a hit on Tune in the waning seconds of the first half.  Tune responded by playfully putting Atkinson in a headlock and "roughing him up".  Pretty funny stuff.)

While Tune's North team did win the scrimmage, Thompson's South squad suffered a missed field goal, so it could have easily been a tie on the scoreboard.

Impressions, winners and losers.

Lets start with the QBs. I thought I had totally misjudged Thompson last season. After watching this scrimmage I don't think I did and I feel like I have a pretty good feeling for who he is as a QB today.

He still looks like the same guy from last year, just a lot more confident. Early in the game there seemed to be a palitable feeling of excitement from the fans and his teammates for Thompson. While on one hand, that is always the case for the upstart in a QB duel, there are good reasons to be excited.

Thomspon is prototypical as a QB. Like Tune, he has NFL height at 6'4", but unlike Tune, Thompson is a big kid. He is still listed at his playing weight from last season of 223 pounds, but looks like he weighs in the 230's now.

Anyone who has seen his high school highlights knows he is a physical kid who runs north-south between the tackles.  I was dissapointed not to see any of that yesterday as were several of the fans around me, but with the QB protection rules those runs would have been very short anyway.

Thompson has a very high release. He seems to stretch himself taller right before the ball comes out. It is very much an overhead release very distinctive to the semi-sidearm deliveries we seem to see over and over at UNT. If he wins the job it is unlikely we will see a lot of blocked passes. (In a related note, oddly he had the only blocked pass of the game when 6'1 CB D'Leon McCord came in a very poorly disguised CB blitz.  McCord got a lot of air under him to block that pass.)

I was concerned a bit by the fact that someone got what appeared to be a very light touch on him on a short pass to the runing back and that totally messed up his base sending his pass right into the ground.

From what I saw of his passes last year and yesterday he has a good arm. Last year, UNT fans saw Riley Dodge throwing deep off his back foot and the team's deep passes consistently floated and fell short. Thompson has no problem getting a pass out 40 yards down field to where it is supposed to be in a timely manner. That said, they aren't 40-yard bullets. Thompson is a nice FBS starting QB candidate, but if fans had dreams of John Elway, feggedaboutit.

I spoke with fans at the game and one was a huge Thompson fan. This guy was of retirment age and said he had watched Thompson at all of the team's spring practices.  His impression was that Thompson was the best QB on the roster at leading his receivers. He said Thompson consistently laid the ball out in at arm's length in front of the receiver.

I think that may be true, but I cringed a little watching Thompson's big drives in the first half because I wondered if some of those passes would have been picked off against a starting Sun Belt secondary. Additionally, some of the throws later in the game seemed forced into coverage.

No question, I see a guy who is going to be a very good starting QB for UNT one day, but I worry about turnovers.

Tune had some big moments, but overall didn't play as well as he had in the past. He seemed to struggle a bit after the first drive.

To a degree, early on his receivers didn't help him. They missed two or three mid-range passes they probably should have caught, but to be fair Stradford and Lewis came on late to make some nice plays.

Tune seemed a little off in the first half, but had a nice drive with 22 seconds left in the first half and seemed loose and effective in the second half.

There were times when I was really impressed by Tune's competitiveness. He looked like a real gamer. I liked how he took charge of the team in a drive that ended the first half.  Like with Thompson earlier, the offense seemed to kick up their intensity a bit behind him.

I did see one or two passes that may have been a little forced.  One pass was a high floater that should never have been thrown, which is a bit surprising for Tune. Overall, if I were the arbitrator I think he maintained his slight lead over Thompson he probably has due to his experience.

Other players who had moments

Darius Carley looked bigger than last year and appeared to be making a claim for the No. 1 receiver role. Jamaal Jackson looked the same as last year.

Tyler Stratford caught 3 passes for 111 yards and a TD; Carey caught 4 for 79 yards.

I hoped to see BJ Lewis and/or Tyler Stratford run away from the competition, but neither did.

Both struggled early. Stradford lined up wrong on one play and had to be corrected to line up right next to another WR. The play ended with Tune getting sacked and both WRs being in the same area. I am going to guess he may have run the wrong route.  Certainly, if a staff is going to count on you, you need to line up in the right place. Plus, he dropped a pass in the first half.

Stradford played well in the second half and I suspect the big TD reception will stick in the coaching staff's minds for a while. He is a legitimate deep receiver and a game changing big play threat. Can they really afford to have him sitting on the bench over occasional drops?

Lewis also had a brutal first half. He dropped a pass from Tune in the end zone on the first drive and dropped another pass in the second. Then he caught one only to have it knocked out for a big defensive gain.

He too looked much better after the half.  In the second half, he flashed the same kind of play he showed versus Middle Tennessee last year, looking very much like a hard to cover, reliable, chain moving WR. Still, Lewis doesn't have enough rope to blow his opportunities.

Breece Johnson had a nice game. He had one clear drop, but made some nice catches throughout the game. I think the coaching staff should have this guy at least on the second string ...and use him. This is a senior who can play. Continuing to bury him on the roster for the next flavor of the week will not help this team win and sends a very bad message to upperclassmen. 

If you want leadership from them, you have to recognize good play and reward loyalty, perserverence, and hard work.

The same is true for Benny Jones. He appeared to be a very competent receiver and showed some speed. He should be strongly considered for second string on the outside and should be thrown to deep from time-to-time.

Riley Dodge looked like a third team receiver. The staff appears to be feeding him time to let him adjust so he will have a fair shot at competing for a slot in the rotation. That is fine today, but won't be in the fall. Unless Dodge shows pronounced improvement, putting him in the rotation over players like Johnson, Benny Jones or Lewis would be playing a lesser player.

I think for good team chemistry, Riley probably has to noticably outperform his competition to be in the starting or second unit. If not, there may be grumblings of favortism.  He is not playing at that level yet.

I think Riley will be a very good starting caliber receiver by his senior year, but he isn't there today. His routes need work and he doesn't sell out for the pass like a receiver yet. Additionally, there was a play where he popped a pass from Thompson up in the air and it was almost picked off.  You just can't create potential turnovers like that.

James Hamilton looked very good. I would be suprised if he is not the No. 2 back on this team, even if I think Jeremy Mathis, Brandon Byrd, and Michah Mosley are better talents who would make better feature backs. Byrd looked a lot like Dunbar, except Byrd is smaller. He had a great game, but if it were my call to make I would redshirt him and save his great play for later.

Mosley was somewhat dissappointing. As I sat watching him I felt his confidence has been absolutely shot playing for Coach Dodge. He had a few strong runs and then got stuffed seeming to almost be waiting for the hook to come in from the sidelines.

I am going to rant a little. If Mosley were my son, I'd encourage him to talk to the family lawyer about his options regarding transferring to go play his final year at a FCS or Division II school, perhaps via proposal 2005-54. This dude is a collegiate feature back. Anyone who runs for over 400 yards as a freshman at an FBS school with just under a five-yard per carry average and hasn't suffered a talent compromising injury can be a collegiate featured runner somewhere.

It just isn't going to happen at UNT. Dodge and company clearly like runners with more shake and bake. He doesn't even appear to be on the map as a short yardage runner.

If he played at an FCS or D-II school that believed in power running he could be a threat to break 2,000 yards.

He is apparently in the mix to potentially play H-Back at times. Even if he wins that role, who knows how often they will actually use an H-back? I think in most situations it would be dumb for UNT to pull out a WR or TE in most situations to play an H-back.

There are guys on this team who I feel have a shot to earn the playing time that their talent and play indicates. Alex Lott, Benny Jones, B.J. Lewis, and Stradford all are guys who have the talent to move the chains at this level with a lot of success and might get a pretty good shot at earning playing time this year. With the staff changes, I might include Breece Johnson in that group, but Mosley just won't get the kind of shot (to be a featured back at the collegiate level) here that his talent suggests he may be able to handle.

Dude, I love your talent, but it may be time to look at your options.

The whole game had a lot of hit and miss.

The DE duo of Obi and Akpunku showed some speed in the rush, but looked pretty mediocre against the run.

During the game LaChris Anyiam appeared to be at the end spot and not at tackle where he was reportedly being worked.  John Webber was at DT with the second team though and had a sack.  The defensive staff appears to be cycling any big defensive end they get through a trial run at DT to try and find a good interior pass rusher.  Could Webber be the guy they have long sought? Stay tuned.

DT Shavvod Atkinson looked pretty good. I am still waiting for him to hit the level of greatness though. Kevin Jackson started next to him. He is legitimately the second best DT, but looks to still be carrying too much weight. He really needs to get in better shape to really tap his potential.

None of the four linebackers in the running for starting jobs had amazing days, but OLBs Jeremy Phillips and Craig Robertson looked pretty good. Phillps forced Lewis's fumble that was the biggest play of the day on defense. He also broke up a pass from Tune to Lott.  He is just a playmaker in coverage.

Robertson recovered the Phillips fumble and had a sack of Tune.

I thought Julian Herron may have earned himself some respect from the coaching staff.  He had one series where he was in on every play. He tackled WR Willie Taylor on a short pass from Thomspon on first down. He pressured Thomposn on second down forcing him to throw the ball away. He almost caught the pass Riley Dodge deflected up in the air on third down, and on fourth he pushed Dodge off his route resulting in a dropped pass.

If injuries occurred he looks like he could play and be decent.

Daniel Prior flashed a little hitting at MLB. Sean January looked solid too. I wonder how he would look at MLB on run downs.

At CB Desmond Brigham may have had the best day. Towards the end of the scrimmage, Brigham physically covered Riley Dodge breaking up a pass from QB John Dodson. Riley was called for a flag. 

On the next play, Brigham came picked off Dodson. It was nice to see that kind of competitiveness.

I thought Chase Bain was the third best QB on the roster by a good margin.  He reminds me of Riley Dodge at QB when he plays.

The Canales offense

Like everything else there was a lot of good and bad, but I think there was more good than bad. 

On the positive side, the execution was very good overall with very few penalties.

The team threw the ball deep successfully.  That was nice to see.  This team has 3 receiver who could be legitimate starting Sun Belt caliber deep threats in Tyler Stradford, BJ Lewis, and Benny Jones and 3 mid range recievers with good to great speed - Darius Carey, Jamaal Jackson, and Alex Lott - who can role up yards after the catch.  This talent dictates this team should be working on throwing the ball downfield a lot and should do it often in games.

Will it happen? Who knows.  Certainly it seems a lot more likely to occur under Canales than it did last year.

They went deep a little less than I would have liked to see, but their success rate was a lot better than last year in that regard.

I think some of the lack of aggressiveness in going deep can easily be forgiven when you recall that this was a trumped up practice session.  Canales ran a wide variety of plays.  I suspect that if it were a real game the play calling would be a little more focused (and hopefully more aggressive).  As it was, I think there was a desire to try out a lot of plays and see how the players did.

One of the fans I was speaking with expressed absolute glee that the players were not turning to the sideline before each play.  I shared that enthusiasm.

The team looked a lot more physical running the ball than in previous years under Dodge.

On the negative side the teams only scored two touchdowns each, well down from the team's scoring average last season. Still that often happens in scrimmages where players know each other very well.

The early returns on the Canales offense in my opinion and in the opinion of those fans around me was very positive.

Overall, it was a good show for the fans. Go Mean Green!




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