How does David beat Goliath? That is the annual question in college football’s early months. For the most part it takes some ingenuity on the part of the underdog, a dose of lethargy from the powerhouse side, and a healthy portion of luck.
In the 85-scholarship-limit era, the talent disparity on the first teams isn’t as stark as it once was when Darrell Royal could stack up highly rated recruits forever and always. Still, the Power schools get the better talent. There is only so much a well-disciplined, chip-on-their-shoulder, undersized-but-big-hearted squad can do against one more guy that is just more talented than you.
So how does North Texas beat Texas?
It sure isn’t with size. It is with speed and technique. As Bret Vito details on his blog, the size disparity is tremendous. Football is a big, strong man’s game. It increasingly is a speedy, quick, technique man’s game as well. There is very little you can do when the guy across from you is bigger than you and can match you in a foot race. Defensive Coordinator John Skladany’s guys will have to be tough (mentally and physically) and disciplined. Skladany practices a bend-but-don’t-break type of defense already, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
The real test will occur late, when Texas has leaned on the Mean Green defensive line all day and they have to fight through fatigue to not cheat on an assignment. Skladany likes to rotate the line as well, which maybe means the tiredness won’t be a major problem, but it also means that the talent disparity may shine through as 2nd and maybe 3rd teamers are going against the home team’s starters.
Ingenuity: Special Teams
If you pull up the box score, the 2013 North Texas vs. Georgia game looks like a typical body bag game. It finished as a 42-21 Mean Green loss. That isn’t particularly impressive at face value. Yet anyone who watched the game knows that North Texas looked scrappy and a bit dangerous. It wasn’t the offense that was scoring – they only put up 7 points. It was the special teams. North Texas’ blocked kick in the third quarter tied it up at 21 (putting my Georgia-fan friend on edge) and Brelan Chancellor returned a kick 99 yards to put the Mean Green within seven midway through the second quarter before that.
Dan McCarney’s transformation of North Texas includes having the squad playing like a complete football game. That means special teams. Every coach harps on its importance, but few follow through. Danny Mac’s team blocked seven kicks in 2013 – tied for most in the nation – and returned a combined five kicks (four punts and one kickoff) for scores. Sure, a good portion of the kick return yardage and scores were thanks to just-graduated Brelan Chancellor, but Carlos Harris looks ready to step into his role. North Texas will need him to do a better-than-decent job of imitating Brelan Chancellor to pull the upset. They will also need someone to replace departed safety Marcus Trice’s three blocked kicks.
While they are at it they can attempt to replace his interceptions.
Turnovers are pretty random. Well, more specifically, fumble recoveries are pretty random. You intercept about 22% of the passes you break up up and in that respect, North Texas was slightly above the pace, suggesting that it wasn’t a super-lucky season in 2013 that spurred the turnover fest. In 2014, to go into Austin and upset 100,000 or so Longhorn fans, there will need to be some luck involved.
For the superstitious, the last three "money" games vs LSU, Kansas State in 2012, and Georgia in 2013, North Texas produced at least a turnover in each game. What does that mean? Not a whole lot aside from being an example of a possibility. The ball is a funny shape and bounces in strange ways.
Lethargy: New Coach
I seriously doubt Charlie Strong’s boys will come out with less-than full-bore enthusiasm. All a Mean Green fan can hope for is some modicum of confusion, lack of role clarity, and a bit of inexperience to allow for the door to stay open long enough for the thievery to take place. That certainly is possible, given the unpredictability of the 2014 Texas Longhorn football program. It is all an unknown, although, reports are that it is better, more disciplined, and less entitled.
The good news for the upset-minded is that the same can be said about North Texas. Last year's team is practically all gone. The quarterback has yet to be announced (we’ll likely see a bit of both). Although North Texas is breaking in a few new faces on both sides of the ball, they by-and-large have seen time on the field. They’ve been between the hedges, so there’s no reason to think that DKR will necessarily make them weak in the knees.
The pressure is firmly on the boys from Austin. Any touchdown will be met with a sigh of relief, any bad plays will trigger 2013 flashbacks and perhaps cries for Nicky Saban. While there may not be lethargy, Dentonites can maybe count on some nervousness.
Maybe David can beat Goliath
See you in Austin, ya’ll.