North Texas Daily

Wilson aims to end history of late season drop-off

Wilson aims to end history of late season drop-off

November 03
15:41 2017

Jeffery Wilson’s legacy at North Texas is getting closer to being finalized with every passing week. Along with leaving his impression on the thousands of fans, staff members, teammates and coaches, he also will leave his name in the record books for what should be an extended period of time.

Currently, Wilson is tied for fourth in school history in rushing touchdowns and fifth in career rushing yards. He is also on pace to be just the fourth running back in school history to lead the team in rushing from sophomore year to senior year.

This year, Wilson ranks No. 21 in the FBS in rushing yards with 834. He is tied for 10th in touchdowns with 11 through eight games.

But Wilson has never played a complete season and has missed at least two games every year. The injury concerns lead to a cautious approach from the coaching staff this year, demonstrated by coach Seth Littrell’s decision to bench Wilson in Saturday’s win over Old Dominion University.

Even so, quarterback Mason Fine is expressing no doubts in Wilson’s physical condition heading into this week’s game against Louisiana Tech University.

“No, there’s no concern,” Fine said. “I think Jeffery is good to go. He’s practicing well and looks like the same old Jeffery.”

With everything we know about Wilson and his abilities, one concern continues to linger — finishing out seasons.

Excluding his freshman season because his playing time was far too erratic, Wilson has shown a trend over the past two years. Each season is broken up into thirds — the first four games, the middle four games and the last four plus a bowl game (if applicable).

The table shows a clear regression from the beginning of the season to the end.

Wilson missed two of the first four games in the 2015 season and two of the final five games in the 2016 season.

A few plausible reasons for his end-of-season drop-offs come from play calling and fatigue, which affect every player late in the season. The Mean Green have typically struggled in the final third of the season, which at times has forced the coaching staff to throw the ball more.

For example, in three games against teams North Texas was projected to lose this season – Southern Methodist University, University of Iowa and Florida Atlantic University – the Mean Green ran the ball only 39 percent of the time.

In the other five games, North Texas ran the ball on 58 percent of its snaps despite trailing in four out of five games at one point.

“We really have to get the run game going [because] it gives us a [great] chance to be successful,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “We always want to get the run game going. [Sometimes] the score gets out of hand so we have to get in a pass happy situation, but it’s extremely important.”

The run game last year stalled when Wilson went down, as he had just seven carries in the last three games of the regular season before putting up 81 yards against Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

With Wilson’s history of injuries, the coaching staff’s emphasis is to keep him upright in these last four to five games.

“We’re always doing everything possible to maintain [his durability],” Littrell said. “A lot of it is nutrition and hydration, but as a running back you’re going to be banged up. You have to fight through it and take care of yourself.”

While Wilson’s injuries have never been serious enough for real long-term concern, he has had occasional flare-ups which have resulted in missing games in the past. Fortunately, he’s been able to stay on the field so far this year and looks healthy despite a hiccup against ODU.

“I’m fine,” Wilson said. “I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get back out there and play.”

The North Texas offense is geared more towards the air game than in recent years, but Wilson has found himself getting the ball the most in his career as he averages 16 carries per game. He averaged just under 16 touches per game through each of the last two seasons.

Wilson ranks No. 41 in the FBS in total rush attempts this season.

“Most importantly, you have to keep guys healthy,” Harrell said. “Jeffery’s a special player, but you don’t want anyone taking 40 or 50 hits a game. We’re trying to make sure he’s fresh. The other backs have a different skill set so it’s fun to watch them run, too.”

As a top 10 running back in program history, it’s easy to understand why the Mean Green need Wilson’s production to help them against elite competition. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his career and opens up the game for the entire offense with his play.

Entering the final third of the season for the final time, Wilson and the Mean Green will look to end the trend of a late season drop-off — whether it is due to struggles in the win column or injuries.

And after having an unusually quiet game with a fumble against Old Dominion last week, Wilson’s mindset for the rest of the year is as focused as when he was an unproven freshman from Elkhart, Texas.

“I just [need] to stay within the game plan [and] stay within my game,” Wilson said. “I’m ready to redeem myself from the last game. It’s still a bitter taste, but [I’ll] be alright.”

Featured Image: Senior running back Jeffery Wilson runs the ball in a game against Southern Methodist University on Sept. 9. The Mean Green fell to SMU 54-32. 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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1 Comment

  1. James
    James November 04, 11:16

    I continue to be impressed with this student’s writing. Good work. Go Mean Green!

    Reply to this comment

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