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North Texas offensive line struggling to maintain consistency

North Texas offensive line struggling to maintain consistency

North Texas freshman quarterback Mason Fine (6) gets sacked on a play against Bethune Cookman. Colin Mitchell

North Texas offensive line struggling to maintain consistency
October 19
16:36 2016

Kaydon Kirby was a centerpiece of the North Texas offensive line from the time he walked on in 2012 after being a stand out at Flower Mound High School.

He was a Conference USA All-Freshman team member and started all 35 games he appeared in from 2013-2015 after redshirting in 2012. Kirby was even named to the Remington Award watch list prior to the 2015 season – an honor presented to the best center in college football.

But Kirby’s 2015 season came to an end in the 10th game of last season when he suffered a shoulder injury against the University of Tennessee. He had every intention of returning to the team until life struck.

Prior to spring workouts in 2016, Kirby’s father passed away. He decided it would be best if he took a leave of absence from the football program, so Kirby left the team in April and hasn’t returned.

That left the Mean Green offensive line scrambling for answers, as three key members left in the offseason. Along with Kirby, North Texas also lost starting tackle Michael Banogu and starting guard Micah Thompson to graduation. With a new offense, new coach and new culture, North Texas responded the only way it could.

“We have that next-man-up mentality,” senior left guard Sam Rice said. “We’re expected to be the next one up and keep the thing rolling.”

With so many departures, the Mean Green have faced depth issues on the offensive line. North Texas has used three different starting line-ups through six games and five different personnel packages total.

With all the shuffling around, it might seem like it would be hard for the offensive line to build chemistry, but offensive line coach and run game coordinator Brad Davis has his own solution for that.

“I expect all of them to be able to achieve whatever expectations I have of them,” Davis said. “They’re all getting coached hard. They’re all getting pushed. They all work under high expectations and we don’t make any excuses when we have to move things around.”

North Texas senior right guard Trey Keenan (59) blocks a Marshall lineman. Prior to playing at UNT, Keenan played for Texas Tech. Colin Mitchell

North Texas senior right guard Trey Keenan (59) blocks a Marshall lineman. Prior to playing at UNT, Keenan played for Texas Tech. Colin Mitchell

At times, however, the Mean Green offensive line has struggled this season. Against the University of Florida, North Texas allowed the Gators to sack freshman quarterback Mason Fine a total of seven times, which set a new Florida school record for most sacks in a game.

Overall, Mean Green quarterbacks have been dropped for a loss 27 times this year. The mark of 27 sacks allowed through six games matches the total from all of last season.

Two weeks ago, the line struggled to help establish a run game against Middle Tennessee University, and, along with surrendering four sacks, gained only five total yards on the ground. The Mean Green lost both of those games.

But at times, the big boys up front have gotten the job done, and the results have reflected their success.

Against Rice University, Bethune-Cookman University and Marshall University, the Mean Green averaged over four yards per carry. While the running backs had a lot to do with that, head coach Seth Littrell said it all starts up front with the big men.

The problem facing North Texas is consistency, and it is a problem that has repeatedly bitten the offensive line in 2016. Littrell believes that the carousel of players coming in and out  has hurt the group’s ability to grow as a unit.

“[The offensive line is] continuing to get better, [but] at the end of the day we need to be more consistent,” Littrell said. “Some of it is youth. Some of it is continuity. Playing with those five guys and trusting the guys next to you, you earn that. The more you play together the easier it gets.”

Davis believes the consistency issues come from execution. He knows his guys can do it – they just have to.

“The bottom line is they haven’t done it,” Davis said. “It’s a group of kids that are learning how to win. Winning is an all-time thing. It’s an attitude. Our guys are learning how to do that. Have they made huge strides? Heck yeah, and I’m proud of that. But are we where we want to be to talk about winning championships? Not even in the conversation.”

At times this year, the offensive line has worked to produce holes for the running game, and that has helped the confidence of Rice and his linemates.

Knowing what they are able to do when they execute properly has set the bar high for them moving forward.

“It’s a fun realization knowing we can help us run the ball,” Rice said. “We have great running backs, and our o-line has become pretty good run blocking. It’s fun. I think a lot of people have matured and a lot of people have stepped up.”

When North Texas travels to face the Army West Point this Saturday in New York, it will be almost the ultimate test for the offensive line. The Black Knights currently sport the second-best total defense in the nation, just behind the University of Michigan.

Army opponents average three yards per rush, good for second in the nation, the Black Knights have sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times, tied for 48th in the nation.

“We’re still trying to find who we are,” Davis said. “We do some things good sometimes, and some things not worth a dog-gone. We need more consistency. Running the ball, protecting the quarterback – we need to do that more consistently before we can talk about being a unit that has done anything noteworthy.”

Featured Image: North Texas freshman quarterback Mason Fine (6) gets sacked on a play against Bethune Cookman. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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