North Texas Daily

Spring football game left more questions than answers

Spring football game left more questions than answers

April 11
20:50 2017

Spring football has come and gone, leaving fans and players alike anxious for North Texas’ upcoming 2017 campaign. With five months to kickoff against Lamar University on Saturday, Sept. 2, let’s kill some time by delving into what we learned this spring.

Starting with this – last season’s mark of 5-8 was nothing to scoff at.

Five wins superseded most expectations in 2016, especially with the Mean Green coming off a 1-11 2015 season that featured one of the worst losses in school history. But very often in sports, teams regress to the mean after overachieving. For North Texas to win six or more games and get back to a bowl, they must get consistent quarterback play and show improvement on both the offensive and defensive lines.

In the spring game we saw a lot of things that can help us rate this team in those categories already. To win close games you have to be consistent. When times get tough, the Mean Green will need to repeatedly get stops on defense or convert opportunities on offense.

Neither side showed that consistency in the spring game.

The defense dominated the early stages of the game and in the second half, the offense dismantled the defense with quarterbacks Quinn Shanbour and Cade Pearson under center. Shanbour ended the day 13-of-22 for 253 yards and two touchdowns, while Pearson went 13-of-18 for 148 yards and a score of his own.

That’s right, last year’s starter Mason Fine did not have the best of days. Fine threw the lone interception of the afternoon, and he only threw for 116 yards.

Is a quarterback controversy brewing?

Potentially. The quarterback play in the spring game left me feeling uncertain and concerned about the position heading into the summer. After stealing the hearts of the UNT faithful last season, Fine came out and was arguably the worst quarterback to get snaps.

Perhaps it’s because the defense knows him too well – or maybe he just was off. Regardless, the seed of doubt has been planted.

Will the Mean Green have a reliable quarterback come September?

The offensive line was also suspect in the spring game. Head coach Seth Littrell and new offensive line coach Chuck Langston have both aired their concerns on this unit after last season’s porous performance. In 2016, the offensive line was one of the worst in the FBS, and ranked 121st in the country in sacks allowed.

The defensive line, on the other hand, manhandled the offensive line in the spring game.

Even Littrell took notice.

“Our D-line overpowered our offensive line,” Littrell said. “Especially on the second unit.”

The defensive front seven, in general, had a big spring game, especially junior linebacker Brandon Garner. Garner was flying around the field all game and made nine tackles and two for a loss. The rest of the defense did a good job in the run and pass game, especially after losing Fred Scott and Cortney Finney in the offseason.

In short, the defense has the depth the offense desperately lacks. If North Texas wants to go to back-to-back bowl games, the offensive line must protect whoever is under center, and the quarterback must take care of the football.

One bright spot for the offense in the spring game was the wide receivers.

After losing three of their top four wideouts from 2016, senior Turner Smiley and sophomore Rico Bussey Jr. both showed to be capable deep threats. Bussey caught eight passes for 146 yards and a touchdown, while Smiley hauled in four passes for 125 yards and a score.

But with a shaky quarterback and offensive line, deep threats most likely won’t be featured in this offense, which can marginalize wide receiver’s production – and hamper their potential.

While the spring game – and season for that matter – provides a glimpse of what next year could look like, it hardly guarantees anything. Yes, there was a lot to take from Saturday’s glorified scrimmage, but perhaps in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter that much.

After all, Littrell and other coaches admitted several times during spring interviews the game was “watered down.”

Nonetheless, the inconsistent play this past Saturday left a lot to be desired from a team that looked poised for a turnaround after appearing in just their second bowl game in the past decade. Coming off of a season where so much went right, North Texas and its fans need to prepare for something to go wrong.

Because based off of what we saw Saturday, it just might.

 Featured image: Freshman running back Nick Smith runs the ball during a scrimmage on April 8. Sara Carpenter

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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