Looking Back at Houston, Ahead To ESPN2 Game
NBC Sports columnist Ben Kercheval's writes about North Texas football each week during football season, only on MeanGreenSports.com.
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North Texas got beat handedly by Houston 44-21 on Saturday. What does it all mean? Glad you asked...
Forget records, games are almost always about match-ups. NT does not match up particularly well with Houston.
That, and sometimes you catch a team at the wrong time. The Cougars played most complete game they have all season.
I've given credit where it's due this season with NT's defense. However, Saturday was a step back.
NT just isn't built to come from behind right now and Saturday proved as much. It didn't take long for Houston to get ahead, either.
For being one of the least penalized teams in college football, NT had some crucial penalties at bad times.
The Mean Green couldn't get a turnover either. That's the first time this season.
It wasn't that NT was completely hopeless; rather, it was the inability to put things together consistently.
On Second Thought
This gets lost on fans sometimes, but winning a football game - any game, really - is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There's preparation, play calling, execution and a little bit of luck thrown in. Sometimes you catch an opponent at the wrong time in the season. To be perfect for 12 weeks out of the year is a universal demand, but rarely is it seen all the way through.
Houston may have only had one win heading into the game, but make no mistake, that's a fairly talented football team. Kevin Sumlin didn't leave Tony Levine with a Christmas stocking full of coal before moving on to Texas A&M. So Houston got off to a slow start... so what? The Cougars have gotten into a groove over the past couple of weeks, and they're playing better football in general. Like NT, UH has now won two games it needed to build some confidence going forward.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if UH rallies in the back half of the season and gets back to a bowl game.
For NT, that same goal is going to be a little harder. It appears (for now) like UH is beginning to hit its stride; the Mean Green have yet to find theirs. A big part of the reason why is because - and this has been noted often - this year's schedule has been difficult.
But, there is an opportunity to get on a roll, and it starts with NT's next game against Louisiana-Lafayette. A few extra days off and a nationally televised conference game at home in front of a good crowd would be a good place to start. NT has looked good at sporadic points during this season, but there's yet to be what my high school English teacher referred to as an "ah ha moment," where everything comes together. Is asking that moment to happen against a team like ULL a lot to ask? Sure, but it has to happen at some point.
Next Tuesday is as good an opportunity as NT is going to get this season.
It's not a traditional bye week since North Texas plays Louisiana-Lafayette in a week from tomorrow, but the extra few days will be a welcome relief. Besides, if coming off a loss isn't motivation enough, having to sit and think on it for a few extra days could be that extra boost NT needs to try to get to 2-1 in Sun Belt play.
ULL is coming off a banner season that ended with a win in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin' Cajuns have picked up right where they left off, too. ULL's only loss this season was a decisive one to Oklahoma State, but they're undefeated in conference play. ULL's four wins this season have all come by at least 13 points.
The first thing that pops out when you look at this team is that it has such offensive balance. After allowing over 600 yards to Houston, NT's defense is going to have its work cut out for it once again. Last season, ULL beat NT 30-10.
You have to hope that with ESPN in the house and the chance to impress on national television -- one of the few chances NT gets this season - the Mean Green comes ready to bring its best effort of the year. NT's final six games doesn't get much easier, so a win next week would be a great confidence builder heading into a tough final stretch.
By The Numbers (with the help of North Texas Sports Information)
- Houston quarterback David Piland is currently fifth nationally in passing yards and running back Charles Sims is 10th in rushing.
Sims's 210 rushing yards were the most in a single game for his career. He has two 200-yard rushing games in his career, his first coming last season against Tulane (207 yards).
Since the 2004 season, NT has not won two straight games. A win against Houston would have been the first two-game road winning streak for the Mean Green since 2010 - not necessarily in consecutive weeks -- but only the second since 2004.
Brelan Chancellor moved into eighth place in North Texas history for career all-purpose yards with 3,276 following the win against FAU.
Derek Thompson has five straight games now with at least 200 yards passing.
Houston was averaging 350 yards passing a game heading into Saturday's game, good enough to be eighth in the country in that category. The Cougars passed for 321 against NT.
Heading into Saturday, NT was 23rd in the country with a +6 turnover margin. Conversely, Houston ranked among the worst teams in the country in turnover margin with -6. The Cougars won the turnover battle 2-0.
How important is the first half for NT under Dan McCarney? When leading at the half, the Mean Green is undefeated. When trailing? Let's just say that record isn't as good.
Ben Kercheval is s 2009 graduate of North Texas and is a writer for and co-manager of the NBC Sports website, CollegeFootballTalk.com.