Thoughts on UNT’s running game, UNT-KU volleyball on ESPN3

North Texas running back Reggie Pegram carries the ball in a loss to Louisiana Tech last week at Apogee Stadium. UNT will look to get its running game going on Saturday in a game against Nicholls State.

One of the surprising aspects of UNT’s season thus far has been the way UNT has struggled to run the ball at times.

The Mean Green had a terrific night in a win over SMU, rolling up 245 yards, but hasn’t been as effective the rest of the year.

UNT managed just 79 yards on the ground in a loss to Texas and 104 in a loss to Louisiana Tech.

That might not sound like a big of a drop-off, but if one looks at recent UNT history it is a bit of a dip in production.

UNT was held to less than 110 yards in a game only four times all of last season.

Those four games were against Ohio (104), Georgia (7), Tulane (34) and UTSA (105).

What do those four games have in common? They are the only four games UNT lost all year.

UNT also lost the Texas and Louisiana Tech games this season.

Bottom line — UNT has lost six straight while rushing for less than 110 yards.

There are several reasons UNT has fallen under the 110-yard mark a couple of times this year.

To review …

– UNT has really struggled to throw the ball down the field, or anywhere else for that matter.

– The Mean Green’s offensive line is in a state of flux due to the graduation of LaChris Anyiam and the shuffling around that caused. A few key injuries haven’t helped and have forced UNT to shuffle things around even more. UNT head Dan McCarney likes to keep his injury issues a secret, but there have been some key guys dealing with issues this year in UNT’s offensive front.

– The loss of Brandin Byrd hasn’t helped matters either. Byrd might not have been a spectacular runner, but he was rock solid in what he did. The guy did pass the 1,000-yard mark last season. UNT started out with Reggie Pegram in the starting lineup, but turned to Jeffrey Wilson in its last game. UNT likes to rotate its running backs, but doesn’t seem to have hit a rhythm yet. UNT is averaging 3.2 yards a carry. And now Wilson is hurt as well.

UNT will look to sort things out tomorrow in a game against Nicholls State before things get tough at Indiana and UAB after that.

And in a side note, the UNT volleyball team’s match against No. 24 Kansas is on ESPN3 at the moment. UNT is already down a set. UNT is 9-1 and off to the best start in school history.

Thursday thoughts: Williams and the blitz, recruiting tidbit

UNT defensive back target Darreon Jackson who we talked to over the summer picked up a new offer a couple of days ago. Boise State has entered the running.

And in other news and thoughts …

I was running through my notes while working on stories for the paper and started to wonder about UNT’s offense and how it will change with Dajon Williams at quarterback.

We talked a lot about it, but one aspect we haven’t talked about is if UNT will be less susceptible to the blitz going forward. Everyone UNT has played this season has blitzed heavily, largely because Josh Greer isn’t the most mobile quarterback out there.

Last week, Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz stacked the line of scrimmage and blitzed UNT at every opportunity.

That’s largely why UNT turned to Williams in the first place.

“Dajon’s mobility with what Manny Diaz was doing stacking the box created opportunities,” offensive coordinator Mike Canales said this week.

Williams took advantage of those opportunities while leading UNT to two touchdowns.

UNT has given up seven sacks this year after allowing 17 in the last two years combined.

We will begin to see in the next few weeks — although not necessarily on Saturday against over matched Nicholls State — if Williams will be a tougher target for opponents.

Prediction: UNT will roll past Nicholls State as excitement about new QB builds

North Texas freshman running back Erick Evans celebrates after scoring a late touchdown in a loss to Louisiana Tech on Sept. 11 at Apogee Stadium. UNT will look to rebound from a 42-21 loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday when they host Nicholls State. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Records: North Texas 1-2, 0-1 Conference USA, Nicholls State 0-3, 0-0 Southland Conference

TV: TXA 21: Ron Thulin (play-by-play), Keith Moreland (analyst), Evan Nemec (sideline)

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1, KGAF-AM 1580

On the line: North Texas has finally gotten to the point as an athletic program where it is following the plan of buying in an opponent for what amounts to a sure win on an annual basis. UNT brought in Texas Southern in 2012 and paid $410,000 to buy in Idaho last year. That move paid off when UNT won its season opener over the Vandals and built some confidence that paid off in a nine-win season. UNT will bring in Nicholls State this week in another well-timed game. The Mean Green elevated Dajon Williams, a redshirt freshman with pretty much no experience, into the starting lineup after a loss to Louisiana Tech last week. Williams will make his first start in just his fourth college game against Nicholls. The concern for UNT is not so much if it will beat a Nicholls team that is 0-3, lost to Arkansas 73-7 and fell to Division II Henderson State last week. UNT will win. What UNT is really worried about is getting Williams experience and preparing him for a the rest of the season. UNT has a bye week and a game at Indiana on Oct. 4 before its next conference game at UAB on Oct. 4. UNT has to get something going now if it wants to head to a second straight bowl game, a point head coach Dan McCarney made this week.

When North Texas has the ball: UNT will look to get its running game going again after managing just 104 rushing yards in its loss to Louisiana Tech. The Mean Green relies on their running game and a veteran offensive line. Freshman Jeffrey Wilson started last week, but was injured and might not play this week. UNT will likely lean on the veteran duo of Reggie Pegram and Antoinne Jimmerson while rotating several running backs. UNT will look to get the game under control early and then allow Williams to work on getting his feet under him in the passing game the rest of the day.

When Nicholls has the ball: There is a bit of mystery when it comes to what Nicholls will look like now that Steve Axman has taken over as the Colonels’ head coach following the resignation of Charlie Stubbs due to health concerns. Nicholls does have an experienced and athletic quarterback in Kalen Henderson, who has thrown for 388 yards on the season. UNT struggled at times in pass coverage last week in its loss to Louisiana Tech, allowing Cody Sokol to throw for 243 yards and five touchdowns. Nicholls will likely try to attack UNT’s secondary.

Prediction: This one has all the makings of a blowout. UNT was embarrassed at home in its last game, where it trailed Louisiana Tech 42-7 before scoring a couple of late cosmetic touchdowns and will be determined to bounce back. The Mean Green will also want to get Williams off to a good start. The quarterback switch seems to have energized the Mean Green in general. Nicholls appears to be the perfect opponent to help Williams settle into the role. The Colonels have struggled all year long and are coming off a loss to Division II Henderson State at home. UNT will get up early and get Williams a ton of work. The former Pflugerville Connally standout will make enough plays in a basic offense to get UNT’s fans excited again and raise hope that all is not lost heading into a two-game road swing with what looks like tough games against Indiana and UAB.

UNT 42, Nicholls State 10

UNT women pick up commitment from Oklahoma guard

Raven Prince, a guard out of Millwood (Okla.) High committed to UNT today.

I have yet to talk to her, but she averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a game last season.

Prince helped lead her team deep into the playoffs and finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in a state tournament game.

Five things UNT fans should know about Nicholls

Nicholls State quarterback Kalen Henderson has thrown for 388 yards and a touchdown this season and is one of the key players in the Colonels (photo courtesy of Nicholls sports information)

North Texas will host Nicholls State at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. Here’s a quick scouting report of the Colonels:

UNT Record: 1-2, 0-1 Conference USA (Lost to Louisiana Tech 42-21 last week)

Nicholls State: 0-3 (Lost to Henderson State 27-10 last week)

Key number: 3.2 (Yards UNT is averaging per rushing attempt through three games, down from 4.3 yards per attempt last season)

1. UNT will be first opponent for Nicholls under interim Axman

Steve Axman, a longtime college assistant who has made stops at UCLA, Washington, Minnesota, Stanford and Arizona, will make his debut as Nicholls State’s interim head coach when he leads the Colonels into Apogee Stadium to face UNT. Axman took over for Charlie Stubbs, who resigned due to health concerns on Sunday. UNT head coach Dan McCarney said earlier this week that he expects Nicholls’ players to be ready to play for their former coach.

2. Nicholls State’s struggles stretch back to last season

Nicholls State enters its game against UNT riding a nine-game losing streak that dates back to a win 33-21 over Northwestern State on Oct. 12. The Colonels haven’t come close to breaking that streak yet this fall, dropping all three of their games. Henderson State beat Nicholls State 27-10 last week. Nicholls State has scored just 33 points in three games this season and was hammered 73-7 by Arkansas in its second game of the season.

3. Wins against FBS teams have been hard to come by for Nicholls

Nicholls has won just three of its 24 games against schools playing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level since 2000, but did beat Western Michigan last season. UNT has won all five meetings in the series, including a 23-0 win in the teams’ last meeting in 2002.

4. Nicholls State has struggled to slow down opponents rushing games

The Colonels have struggled to slow down opponents running games this season and are allowing 415.3 yards a game. That should be good news for UNT, which has relied heavily on its running game throughout head coach Dan McCarney’s tenure at the school. Nicholls State’s three starting defensive linemen average just 270 pounds. That could make it tough for the Colonels to hold up against UNT’s offensive line that includes a pair of Lombardi Award candidates at guard in Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo. UNT rushed for just 104 yards on 36 carries in its loss to Louisiana Tech and will be sure to look to get back on track on Saturday.

5. Henderson is the key to Nicholls State’s offense

Kalen Henderson has thrown for 388 yards and a touchdown so far this season and is one of two quarterbacks who are keys to Nicholls State’s offense. Beau Hebert has added 184 passing yards. Both are good athletes who can make plays if they get the opportunity.

Janis Peterson leaves UNT hoops program

Former North Texas guard Janis Peterson has left the program and returned home to California, head coach Mike Petersen confirmed on Wednesday. (DRC file photo)

Janis Peterson has left the North Texas women’s basketball program after one season to return to California, head coach Mike Petersen confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

Peterson was UNT’s third-leading scorer last year with an average of 8.6 points a game. The senior guard played at City College of San Francisco in her hometown before signing with UNT.

“Janis was home sick,” Petersen said. “She stuck with it for a year and decided to go back home. She had never been out of the state before.”

Peterson is the second key player to leave UNT since the end of last season. Alexis Hyder, UNT’s second-leading scorer, transferred to LSU. Hyder averaged 11.3 points a game last year.

UNT has begun preseason workouts and should have two of its key guards back for its season-opener against Houston on Nov. 11, which should help soften the blow of losing Peterson. BreAnna Dawkins has returned to practice after suffering a season-ending knee injury last season, while point guard Candice Adams is on course to return from a torn ACL in the next few weeks.

Video: Mike Canales talks about the adjustment to Williams at quarterback

One of the key figures we haven’t heard from yet on UNT’s move to Dajon Williams at quarterback is offensive coordinator Mike Canales. Here is a video I shot with him yesterday talking about the switch after Josh Greer started the Mean Green’s first three games.

Sacks piling up on for UNT on both sides of the ball

One of the interesting aspects of the first three weeks of the season for UNT is the way sacks have piled up for the Mean Green on both sides of the ball.

UNT has posted  a surprising eight, all from a rebuilt defensive line that has performed better than anyone could have ever expected this season.

The Mean Green lost all four of its starters on its defensive front from a year ago, but has used a rotation highlighted by Jarrian Roberts and Chad Polk to keep its defensive front productive.

New defensive line coach Kevin Patrick deserves a lot of credit for UNT’s performance thus far,

We will go into it in the paper later this week, but Polk and a host of other key players have come through for the Mean Green.

UNT has continued to be effective at protecting its quarterbacks, but has given up seven sacks this year after allowing 11 last season and a national low 17 the last two years combined.

What will be interesting to see going forward is how having a more mobile quarterback in Dajon Williams will effect UNT. Opponents have blitzed UNT and done it effectively the best three games of the season.

Williams is lighter on his feet than any of UNT’s other quarterbacks. That should make a difference going forward.

Looking at QB depth chart — Is UNT painted into a corner?

Williams

Like any big story, yesterday’s news that UNT is plugging Dajon Williams in at quarterback has a ripple effect.

We’ve talked about the move itself and UNT’s players reaction to it We’ve also talked a little about the immediate impact in terms of this season.

What we haven’t touched on is what the move means for the future of UNT’s quarterback position.

It’s an important question.

Here’s what UNT’s depth chart looks like at this point:

1. Dajon Williams, redshirt freshman

2a. Josh Greer, sophomore

2b. Andrew McNulty, redshirt junior

3. Connor Means, freshman

Incoming recruits:

1. Caleb Chumley, grayshirt

Recruiting targets (that we know of):

Chris Riddle, University Christian, Florida

We have gone over this before, but UNT has really painted itself into a corner in terms of its depth chart going forward. There are five scholarship quarterbacks slated to be on the roster next season. The reasonable expectation is that Chumley will move to tight end at some point, but UNT landed the high-end prospect largely because of its promise to give him a shot at quarterback.

UNT has told Riddle that it won’t make a decision on whether or not to take a quarterback in the Class of 2015 until midseason. Riddle has already put off an unofficial visit to UNT.

This all becomes a moot point if Williams sets the world on fire and looks like the perfect fit going forward. He has three years after this one and UNT has another good young prospect behind him in Means, not to mention two veteran guys to fill out the depth chart in Greer and McNulty.

I’m guessing that is the way this turns out, but let’s assume the worst here. What if UNT has to chase another quarterback?

It’s going to be a tough sell at this point, not to mention a problem in terms of scholarships.

High school and junior college recruits want to know they are going to have a chance to play. UNT will have a redshirt freshman in Means and a sophomore in Williams on the roster.

That is going to make UNT a little less attractive as a landing spot.

And don’t forget, being a pro-style team in an era of spread offenses doesn’t help UNT’s cause.

UNT doesn’t have a ton of room for another quarterback as it is.

Riddle seems like a good prospect and UNT is high on his list.

What UNT decides to do going forward will depend largely on Williams and how he plays in the next few weeks.

If he plays well, UNT can stand pat with what it has at quarterback. A tough season could send UNT hunting for another option yet again when it already has spent a whole lot of resources on quarterbacks.

That’s just another reason UNT’s future is tied heavily to Williams.

 

Thoughts on Williams move

Williams

UNT made a key move today — both in terms of its immediate future and its long-term plans.

Dajon Williams is in at quarterback for the Mean Green.

The story of how UNT got here in terms of the last couple of months is one we went into a little on the blog today. 

UNT head coach Dan McCarney pulled the curtain back a bit and talked about Williams’ issues off the field over the last few months — not coming into camp ready to go, missing both major fall scrimmages and the fact he is now a father.

We hinted at some of those issues on the blog for the last several months, saying that Williams wasn’t ready and wasn’t in the race.

I’m not going to second guess McCarney or offensive coordinator Mike Canales on this one. UNT followed what seems like a reasonable course of action.

UNT signed a JC quarterback it has a history with in Josh Greer when it headed into the offseason knowing Williams might not be ready. It also signed an mid-term high school player in Connor Means and hung on to backup Andrew McNulty.

It didn’t work out with Greer, at least not yet.

What is a whole lot more interesting at this point is what going to Williams means for UNT’s immediate future.

UNT fans are giddy, and justifiably so. Many wanted to see Williams in there from Day 1 this year, and even last year, as ill-advised a plan that would have been.

What one has to wonder at this point is if UNT isn’t going to pay a bit of a price because of the way this all played out.

Bottom line — Williams missed pretty much the entire offseason, two key scrimmages in the fall and — one would have to assume — received minimal reps through a big portion of fall practice. I watched most of the spring and he didn’t get a ton of reps then.

Williams is talented. He better be, because he is going to have to ride that talent while he gets a month-long crash course in being a starting quarterback on the college level while UNT rebuilds its entire offense around his skill set before its next conference game at UAB.

UNT has been a pocket team all year long, but will now want to put a lot of the quarterback run game back in. Carlos Harris said he and the rest of UNT’s receivers have some feel for Williams, but will have to build rapport with him over time.

It can be done, but there are going to be some growing pains along the way.

UNT is going to have to hope it can navigate those growing pains smoothly because at this point the margin for error has been reduced at least a little.

UNT wasn’t going to beat Texas in Austin, but the Mean Green did bounce back for a terrific win over SMU. Louisiana Tech is starting to look like a bowl team this year after beating both Louisiana-Lafayette and UNT, a pair of bowl teams from last season.

At 1-2 and 0-1 in league play, UNT has to start winning in a hurry while developing a quarterback who has spent the better part of the last year on the shelf. Injuries kept Williams out of practice for much of last season’s drills after Thompson beat him out. A host of other issues led to him getting minimal reps during practice since the beginning of spring.

While there is nothing UNT could have done about the situation, it does put the McCarney, Canales and Williams behind the eight ball a bit.

Williams looked capable of handling that situation last week with the pressure all but off late in a loss to Louisiana Tech. What will be interesting to see is how he handles it when the heat is on in Conference USA play and he has to execute against a team geared up to slow him down while working in the confines of an offense.

If there is anything we know about McCarney it’s that he wants guys who can execute within a system.

The challenge for UNT now is building one that will fit Williams and helping him execute within its confines.

There isn’t a lot of time for UNT to head down that road — not like there would have been back at the beginning of spring practice.