We are all searching for a little perspective after UNT lost to Tulane 24-21 in heartbreaking fashion last night.
I will have some thoughts here later, but I thought this was important to point out right off the bat.
I went back to the files to search for the last time that UNT has struggled this much to run the ball.
UNT finished with 34 yards on the ground last night, which is bad. What’s worse is that quarterback Derek Thompson picked up 19 of them. UNT’s three key running backs — Brandin Byrd, Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram — had 14 yards on 13 carries.
UNT managed just 7 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia two weeks ago. At the time it was easy to write that off to the fact UNT was facing an SEC power. It’s tougher to say that now after the Mean Green struggled to run the ball again last night.
UNT has 563 rushing yards on the year and had a couple of good performances, including posting 187 yards in a win over Idaho and 231 yards against Ball State. Those were also the two games UNT won.
The Mean Green has fallen off the map since.
Here’s a look at UNT’s worst two-game stretches running the ball this century, but first a bit of a disclaimer — UNT had one of the best rushing attacks with two national rushing champions in Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas and two future NFL backs in Cobbs and Lance Dunbar since 2000. I included each instance in which UNT failed to reach the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games:
Georgia (45-21 loss) — 7 yards on 25 carries
Tulane (24-21 loss) — 34 yards on 20 carries
Total — 41 yards
Oklahoma (79-10 loss) — 15 yards on 31 carries
SMU (45-31 loss) — 39 yards on 12 carries
Total — 54 yards
Troy (45-7 loss) — 35 yards on 26 carries
Middle Tennessee (48-28 loss) — 87 yards on 22 carries
Total — 122 yards
Tulsa (54-2 loss) — 70 yards on 36 carries
Kansas State (54-7 loss) — 87 yards on 26 carries
Total — 157 yards
Alabama (33-7 loss) — 50 yards on 30 carries
TCU (16-10 loss) — 34 yards on 33 carries
Total — 84 yards
The question now is this — What is the issue?
You can bet that will be asked this week. UNT shuffled its lineup up front the last two weeks and didn’t have Antonio Johnson against Georgia. He did play against Tulane, but was likely not 100 percent.
Is Johnson that vital to what UNT is doing in the running game?
Is UNT just not as talented at running back? UNT is using three players there. It worked last year, when UNT had three players finish with at least 500 yards for the first time in 60 years. The last two weeks, it hasn’t worked at all.
UNT has really cut back on the number of carries Antoinne Jimmerson is receiving after a key fumble against Ball State that was returned for a touchdown. He has had seven carries in two games since for a net total of 0 yards. Does UNT need to let him out of the doghouse and get him involved again?
Has UNT really had issues all along that were masked by a couple of perfect circumstances? UNT opened against Idaho, which has a new head coach in Paul Petrino and ranks 112th nationally in rushing defense with an average of 224.3 yards a game. UNT also caught Ball State on a hot Texas day at Apogee. Ball State was on the sunny sideline. UNT had just 50 rushing yards at halftime before exploding for 181 yards in the second half. Did Ball State just run out of gas? Would UNT have been able to run the ball like it did against the Cardinals in the second half had the game been played at night when Ball State’s players were not roasting in the sun?
And if that is the case, is UNT missing big blocking tight end Andrew Power and center Aaron Fortenberry, two of the key components of its front from last season, more than it is letting on?
And finally, is the book out on UNT, a point we have made before?
Derek Thompson has played pretty well at times and threw for 326 yards last night, but are teams willing to stack the line and make UNT move the ball down the field in the passing game, where UNT has two main weapons in Brelan Chancellor and Darnell Smith? That’s a lot to ask of Thompson while expecting him to play a near perfect game every time out. He threw it 42 times last night. Chances are he’s going to miss on a few throws and have an interception along the way, although he has thrown a couple of killers and missed some open guys.
And finally, is the change in running backs coaches having an effect? UNT had Mike Grant, a career wide receivers guy, coaching running backs last year. He moved back to his familiar spot this year. Tommy Perry took over as both the running backs coach and special teams coordinator. He has done a great job with UNT’s special teams. Yeah, UNT had a field goal blocked by Tulane, but overall he has UNT playing at a much higher level. Is coaching running backs and special teams too much for one guy?
Those are questions UNT has to consider this week and find the answers.