North Texas Daily

COLUMN: The steep drop-off of the football team

COLUMN: The steep drop-off of the football team

COLUMN: The steep drop-off of the football team
October 07
17:39 2021

North Texas football has not been able to find its stride in 2021, dropping three of the first four games of the season. Seemingly in a skid, a number of reasons can be cited for the lack of success.

As is the case most of the time in football, the problem starts at the quarterback position. Since former quarterback Mason Fine’s departure in 2019, North Texas has not been able to fill the role effectively, starting three quarterbacks that have not been able to replace Fine’s production. 

Fine is the Mean Green’s all-time pass leader with 12,505 total yards, and his ability to be efficient while still throwing the long ball is what makes him one of the best quarterbacks in UNT history. This season, sophomores Austin Aune and Jace Ruder have taken the reins at quarterback for North Texas. Comparing the starters through four games, Ruder’s stats show a shocking lack of production next to Fine’s numbers. Through four games in 2019, Fine had 938 yards with nine touchdowns, accounting for over 63 points. Comparatively, Ruder has a little under half the yards Fine did at 544 and has three-times fewer touchdowns with three. Combining both Aune and Ruder’s stats this season comes out to 757 yards with an additional touchdown to make it four touchdowns total from the quarterback position in 2021. 

The lack of offensive production could be a result of losing former offensive coordinator Graham Harrell to the University of Southern California, but this can be easily unproven with the fact that North Texas’ offense ranked among the top 25 offenses in FBS last season–the first without Fine. Defensively, however, North Texas ranked dead last in FBS in 2020.

While the defense has shown flashes of improvement in 2021 under new coordinator Phil Bennett, it still ranks midpack at 90th in FBS for total defense. The defense has shown the ability to force turnovers with 8 on the season but has been vulnerable in giving up the big play to opposing offenses. This was most apparent when the team played the University of Alabama-Birmingham, whose quarterback Dylan Hopkins threw three touchdowns that went 30+ yards to the endzone. At times, the defense has kept North Texas in games, most notably in two halves this season: the first against Southern Methodist University when they held the Mustangs to seven points and against Louisiana Tech where the defense pitched a shutout in the second half

However, no amount of defensive effort is enough if the offense is unable to score. In three games, the Mean Green offense has produced 79 points to their opponents 113. The chances have been there for North Texas to put points on the board–most evident in the SMU game. In their first opportunity against the Mustangs, North Texas was in a favorable 1st and goal at the SMU 5. After a first down run was stuffed, the offense went for a different approach, having Ruder drop back and throw to sophomore receiver Jyaire Shorter, who was wide open on an out route. Ruder overthrew Shorter, but it was obvious that SMU did not expect a passing play, and the size of North Texas’ receivers caused issues in the endzone for the secondary. Even though the passing game seemed to be effective, the next play was a Ruder option on third down that went for two yards and forced a field goal. Playcalling for North Texas has more often than not gone run or short pass until third down, then force a long pass if the run game or screen pass doesn’t work – which has been ineffective up to this point.

Lack of productivity in the red zone and at the goal line has denied North Texas a 14-0 lead versus SMU and has been partly responsible for the team only mustering 23 points in the last two games. Kicker Ethan Mooney has been extremely reliable with five made field goals in six attempts, but usually seeing the senior kicker take the field is an indication of failure to produce on offense. In order to find any idea of success for the remaining eight games of the season, the offensive play calling will need to be more effective, with the on-field product consistently breaking the plane. 

North Texas has struggled in all three phases at times this season, and if a change in production on both sides of the ball does not come soon, the Mean Green are in for a very long 10 weeks.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

About Author

Reed Smith

Reed Smith

Senior Sports Writer.

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