It's tough to really know how a coach will do at a new job. Coaches who have excelled at G5 schools have been hired to P5 jobs, and done terribly. Coordinators have moved up and shocked the world, moving from school to school and winning everywhere they go (not you, Dana Holgersen). So when fresh-faced AD Jared Mosley took over from Wren Baker in the off-season, having been Baker's right-hand man during his time at the school, we waited with baited breath to see what would happen with the Mean Green football team.
In his wisdom, he parted ways with Seth Littrell-- a strong head coach, but one who never made "the leap," doing well enough to win more games than not, but never really raising eyebrows during bowl season, and in fact taking a sharp dip after the departure of QB Mason Fine.
Which brings us to the man Mosley did hire: Eric Morris.
I didn't pay super-close attention to Morris during his time at UIW, until a few years ago when they played North Texas. The Cardinals, an upstart who had not had a football team for very long, fielded a competent and efficient team, throwing for big yards and showcasing their talent both on the field and on the sideline. Yes, North Texas won the game, but it was FBS vs. FCS, and the money and the recruiting was just never going to be there for the smaller school. But, at the time, I remember thinking: This Eric Morris guy could move on to big things one day.
The strange thing about this is, now, suddenly, a few years later, here he is as head coach of North Texas-- for their first year in the American. An FCS coach? Making the leap all the way up to the American? This seemed dubious, but our AD had bona fides. He wasn't Rick Villarreal. Maybe there was something to this.
After the raised expectations under Littrell, the fanbase had big expectations going into week one against Cal. And North Texas met them (at first), going into halftime only down 33-21. The game was within reach. And then Cal outscored UNT in the second half, 25-0.
Not only was this not a team that could score sympathy points during garbage time late in the game, but the quarterback struggled to find any rhythm at all. Yeah, 12/19 for 174 yards isn't nothing, and the two INT's one can chalk up to opening week jitters, or just the cost of doing business when you're playing a Power Five opponent. But despite three touchdown passes in the first half, nothing happened in the second half, and that includes the run game. The Mean Green finished week one with a grand total of 41 rushing yards. Not a typo. Not 4.1 yards per run. Forty-one yards, all day. The two QB's combined for negative 18 rushing yards.
And we can write that off as, yeah, okay, Power Five, right? But the steep drop-off between halves... what could THAT mean?
Which brings us to week two against "I forgot they were still FBS" opponent FIU.
Against Cal, Morris had decided that Stone Earle was the guy. In addition to being a great football name, Earle also threw those three TD's against Cal, while his backup Chandler Rogers only managed to go 3/7 for a total of ten yards.
Then suddenly UNT travels to Miami and all hell breaks loose.
Earle never woke up, and finished the day 10/20 for 96 yards, with one TD pass and 2 INT's. Rogers, meanwhile, must've poured Red Bull on his Wheaties that morning, because he lit the Panthers up for 201 yards, going 11/15 passing, with 2 TD's and zero (!!) interceptions. He also gained 49 yards rushing on six carries, to Earle's 67 yards on seven carries.
The point, dear reader, is that FIU is an extremely not-good team.
Defense on either team was non-existent, and while both teams did trade a number of INT's on both sides, the QB that Morris picked against POWER FIVE COMPETITION got shut down by a very bad team. The one who couldn't get the job done in week one, was UNT's best player in week two... let down by an FCS-level defense that gave up 46 points on the road.
I remember even at one point the commentators for the game complimenting UNT's rushing, saying at least that side of their game was solid. And it was certainly an improvement from week one, as in week two the Mean Green put up 251 total yards rushing-- but 116 was from the quarterbacks. Compare this to the 114 yards Louisiana Tech ran against FIU in week one, one might even think the Bulldogs and Mean Green are on even ground. But then, make note of the 333 yards Louisiana Tech put on FIU in week one... and things start to look pretty dire.
This UNT team on Saturday looked sloppy, disorganized, and the defense was as bad as any year during Littrell, but at the time it didn't matter because Mason Fine was throwing for eleventy billion yards per game. This year, even against a bad opponent, North Texas struggled for consistency. Against a Power Five opponent, they were found out in thirty minutes and hung out to dry.
The point: This is a bad team. It's not without talent, of course, but that's mostly bright spots on the offense (in two games, the UNT defense has amassed a sum total of one (1) sack). Growing pains are natural for a new squad and a new conference, of course, but conference play hasn't even begun yet. A loss next week to the Bulldogs is all but guaranteed. Coming out of a bye week, they'll face FCS's own Abilene Christian a week after that.
This early in competition, it's clear Morris wasn't a great hire, and can't operate at this level. UNT has always been thrifty when hiring coaches, but what has that cost them in revenue, from alumnus and attendance? Do they care?
We'll find out by the end of the month. It seems unlikely Morris will shake the "bad hire" status that he's shown after two weeks, but there's that FCS game looming on Sept. 30-- if he loses that one, he's a catastrophic one, and should be fired immediately. If he wins it, well... good for him, but North Texas still gets its butt kicked a week later when they open conference play at Navy.
Prediction for season: 2-10 (best case scenario, with wins against ACU and Temple).