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Mason Fine’s improvement key to North Texas’ fast start

Mason Fine’s improvement key to North Texas’ fast start

North Texas sophomore quarterback Mason Fine (6) gets helped up by teammates against UTSA after getting tackled. Colin Mitchell

Mason Fine’s improvement key to North Texas’ fast start
October 25
10:46 2017

Since he first stepped on the field with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter against Southern Methodist University nearly 13 months ago at Apogee Stadium, all eyes in Denton have been on quarterback Mason Fine.

At the time, the true freshman quarterback from Oklahoma seemed like a temporary solution for the offense until senior Alec Morris returned. However, this season he developed into the key cog in an offense on pace to be the best in North Texas history.

“I would say going through my reads and accuracy [have improved the most],” Fine said. “Last year I was a little inaccurate at times and that’s because I was hesitant. This [season] I’m just going out playing football and accuracy and power just come naturally.”

In his freshman campaign, Fine played 10 games and attempted 261 passes, completing 155 for a 59.4 completion percentage and 1,572 yards.

This year, through seven games, Fine has attempted 244 passes, completing 153 for a 62.7 completion percentage.

Fine completed two fewer passes last year and raised his completion percentage by over 3 percent, all while passing for 507 more yards. The distance of Fine’s average completion has increased from 10.14 yards to 13.59 as a sophomore.

“He’s more comfortable and he has trust in the [players around him],” senior running back Jeffery Wilson said. “Doing that, he can be comfortable in the pocket, go through his reads and make the right throws.”

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is in his second year alongside Fine and has been instrumental in opening up the offense for his quarterback.

It has been echoed throughout the team that Fine’s mindset, more than anything else, has improved in his second year. Harrell said Fine’s confidence has been the biggest change, but Harrell’s own confidence in his quarterback has grown, allowing Fine more control of the offense this year.

“Last year, as a true freshman, he kind of got thrown into the fire,” Harrell said. “[Now] he is seeing things pre-snap, and he knows how to attack it. A lot of times it’s just flashing one guy a quick signal and making a play. When he checks a route I usually feel really good about it.”

The trust in Fine grows every game and, for the most part, it’s been easy to see why.

One of the big changes has been in his running ability. In several instances last season, Fine was tasked with designed runs because the playbook was limited for him as a passer. This season, it’s not uncommon to see him occasionally keep the ball on a read option – but most of the time he just uses his feet to keep the defense honest.

Fine has vastly improved at using his feet to create openings downfield when nothing is there as the pocket closes in. Fine’s escapability has lent itself to huge plays through the air, including this touchdown pass to sophomore Michael Lawrence.

This dime to sophomore receiver Jalen Guyton repeats the same sentiment.

“His savviness is one of his biggest [strengths],” senior quarterback Quinn Shanbour said. “Mentally, I think he’s been more professional in his [approach], treatments and film.”

While the improvement has been essential to North Texas’ 4-3 start, Fine has not been without faults. In a more aggressive and vertical offense with several weapons, Fine has still tried to force the ball at times. Those issues have been highlighted in losses – most recently against Florida Atlantic University.

In the opening quarter of that game, Fine felt pressure and lobbed a pass off his back foot 33 yards downfield. The ball was intercepted. He now has seven interceptions this season, averaging out to one per game.

As his chemistry with a largely new and improved receiving corps improves, Fine and the Mean Green coaches hope it will help him avoid turnovers as the offense grows more familiar and is on the same page as the year progresses.

Harrell used an example of two different vertical routes from Fine to sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton in the team’s game against the University of Texas at San Antonio. One had to be higher and further down the field against the beaten defender, while the other had to be out quicker and did not have as much air time against a defender in press coverage.

The chemistry between the pair is what Fine hopes will continue to grow throughout the offense down the stretch of the year.

“[Plays] like that is what reps with guys gets [you],” Harrell said. “Being on the same page and understanding what each other is seeing and what to expect. Based on leverage, understanding where each other is going to be. [The receivers] know what Mason sees, [know how] to set him up and know the ball is going to be right there.”

As a sophomore, Fine already ranks No. 8 in program history in passing yards and is first on the leaderboard in passer efficiency at 132.3.

Despite being the quiet leader he is, his play has certainly made enough noise this season. But after Saturday’s 69-31 loss to FAU, Fine knows there’s still room to improve.

“It’s just going out there and knowing what the defense is trying to take away and knowing what we’re trying to exploit on offense,” Fine said. “The reads are coming second nature to me, the game has slown down, and I already know where to go with the ball before the snap.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore quarterback Mason Fine (6) gets helped up by teammates against UTSA after getting tackled. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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