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Week 8 analysis: North Texas offensive line showing dramatic improvement

Week 8 analysis: North Texas offensive line showing dramatic improvement

October 17
14:43 2017

There was nowhere to go but up for the North Texas offensive line entering the 2017 season.

The line allowed 43 sacks in 13 games for a total loss of 293 yards last year, and both of those marks ranked No. 122 in the FBS. The problems were glaring up front, and Chuck Langston was hired in hopes of providing an answer in the trenches.

Langston came over from Lamar University, where he served as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for four years.

“He relates very well to his men, which is key,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “He understands schematically what we’re trying to do, and he’s a very good teacher.”

While North Texas lost three linemen who totaled 28 starts in the 2016 season, Langston has made due with largely the same contributors as last year. No true freshmen are in the rotation and only one redshirt freshman has played in a game.

Jordan Murray, Elex Woodworth, T.J. Henson and Creighton Barr are back from last year while transfer Riley Mayfield came in and solidified himself as the starter at right tackle.

Early on, Langston brought a newfound energy for the unit and it has worked well for the team so far through six games.

“He harps on technique all the time,” Murray said. “Techniques and assignments. He doesn’t let us get tired of being consistent in everything we do.”

While going from one of the worst in the FBS to one of the best is a lot to ask, the improvement has been significant for the Mean Green.

According to teamrankings.com, the offense had a sack percentage of 9.37 in 2016, ranking No. 110 in the FBS. This year, the sack percentage is down to 5.73 – good for No. 60 in the FBS.

“They’re a great group of young men,” Langston said. “They’re passionate about getting better. Really, it was just getting in the weight room. We had to get physically stronger. We were getting outmatched because our physical strength wasn’t what it needed to be.”

The added strength has enabled them to take on the bigger pass rushers with more efficiency. Since the average height of the five starters this year is over 6 feet 5 inches, the group is usually able to impose its size and arm length on opposing linemen.

They have helped keep quarterback Mason Fine upright for the most part, regardless of the blitz packages brought by opposing teams. The University of Texas at San Antonio provided the stiffest test to date and got to Fine a few too many times, but here is one example of Murray and Henson using their hands extremely well against a blitz.

“Every game they go into, they’re prepared,” Fine said. “If there’s something they haven’t seen, if it’s a blitz or something like that, they pick it up. Coach Langston does a great job with his techniques, getting those guys in the right position and preparing them.”

As well as using their hands and being more prepared, they have been able to use their feet effectively throughout the year.

North Texas junior left tackle Jordan Murray screams after a win against the University of Texas at San Antonio. Colin Mitchell

Quick defensive ends including Southern Methodist University’s Justin Lawler and UTSA’s Marcus Davenport gave the front five problems, but that’s what very good players do. Even so, Murray forced the UTSA staff to shift Davenport to the other side of the line early in Saturday’s win. He has been one of the players who has improved dramatically this year.

While the group’s mobility is still growing, the line is getting out on screens and pull plays that allow the offense to add another layer of complexity.

This play shows Woodworth pulling and clearing out an oncoming safety against Lamar, giving running back Jeffery Wilson a route to the end zone.

The strides up front are a crucial reason the run game of the Mean Green has been effective this season. North Texas is No. 38 in the country in rushing yards per game at 194.2 and No. 24 in rushing yards per attempt at 5.2.

“Jeff can make you look good,” Langston said. “I know it sounds simple, but it’s just technique and fundamentals. Our guys have had great attitudes and worked extremely hard and bought into coach Littrell.”

The usual starting five includes Murray at left tackle, Woodworth at left guard, Barr at center, Henson at right guard and Mayfield at right tackle.

The continuity among this group, especially the starters, shows on the field. Before every play, they are pointing, talking and adjusting to what the defense shows. The starting five includes two seniors, two juniors and one redshirt sophomore, and their experience is evident as the group has developed physically since last season and is more aware during games.

“I think experience [and] having years in this system has helped too,” Murray said. “We have players that are able to coach when our coach isn’t around, and I think we’re making strides and getting better.”

Langston said finishing blocks without holding is the central focus of improvement at the moment as the team looks to continue to climb up the ladder on a national level.

Coming into the year with lowered expectations after 2016, the offensive line has quickly transformed into the backbone of the best offense in Conference USA. The big guys up front are a key unit to watch for as the offense continues its success.

“We were the laughing stock coming into the season,” Langston said. “Everything said the offensive line would be the weak spot of the team. [So,] we have a chip on our shoulder and by the end of [the year] we want to be considered one of the best O-lines in Conference USA.”

Featured Image: North Texas senior offensive lineman Riley Mayfield (79) blocks for a run against the University of Texas at San Antonio. 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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