|By Stephen Howard, August 6, 2009 - 2:56 p.m. |
It's no secret that North Texas has had its fair share of struggles over the last few years. There isn't a lot of room to hide behind an 8-39 record over the last four seasons, but the good news is that no one around here is trying to hide.
Coach Dodge and his staff have taken the steps over the last two years to change the culture of North Texas football, and get this program pointed back in the right direction.
Here are the things that we need to see over the next month if the Mean Green is to contend for a trip to the Big Easy this year.
There are questions to be answered at receiver and quarterback, but the first two changes are way more straight forward. Plain and simple, North Texas has to get better on special teams and on the defensive line.
- NT averaged an atrocious 4.6 yards per punt return, while its opponents averaged 13.1 and took two back for touchdowns. The Mean Green could only muster 18.5 yards per kick return, while its opponents averaged 31.0 (most in the NCAA) and took three back for touchdowns. Are you seeing a pattern yet?
Because of special teams let downs, NT basically lost the field position battle before it had even begun. That means the offense was stuck with an 80-yard battle on nearly every possession, which drastically decreases the odds of scoring. On the other side of the ball, the defense is going to give up points when it's backed against the wall on each possession.
To combat this issue, North Texas put running backs coach Shelton Gandy in charge of its special teams, and issued a decree that all players had better be ready to log time on special teams. Those changes alone should provide immediate and drastic changes for NT, and will hopefully pay dividends this fall.
- In our opening installment of "Inside the Iron", Steven Bartolotta spoke words of wisdom when he said,"It all starts with the defensive line."
When you can't stop the run or put pressure on the quarterback, the entire defense is going to suffer. Receivers will eventually find openings and the quarterback will get them the ball. That's exactly what you saw last year when NT forced just 12 sacks and six hurries. Only six teams in America had fewer sacks than the Mean Green, and only four allowed more yards per carry than NT's 5.63.
Coach Dodge and Co. hope to solve this issue with a host of new talent and a spunky veteran coach. Six players from NT's latest recruiting class will vie for time on the line, and several others are being relocated or are coming off redshirts. Brandon Akpunku and Tevinn Cantly were impressive in the spring, which gives one of the most experience assistant coaches in the NCAA, Mike Nelson, plenty of depth to work with.
- The third thing North Texas must change is actually an intangible item. The Mean Green has to change the culture of losing and find success early, and that means more than just wins and losses in games. This team has to forget about the past and focus on the task at hand each day in practice. It needs to approach each drill with the urgency of being a champion.
Tobe Nwigwe wasn't kidding the other day during his chat when he said he believes with his entire being that North Texas will go 12-0 this year. However unlikely that is, Tobe is approaching the season with a "never say die" attitude that can be infectious in a locker room. It's going to take 85 more guys with that same thought process to help North Texas shake its 5-33 record in the months of August and September since 2000.
Alabama won't do the Mean Green any favors this year, but NT's other games in September are Ball State, Ohio and Middle Tennessee. Tobe sees a couple of out of conference opportunities and a chance to get an early leg up in Sun Belt play, and he's hoping you do too.