I have to admit, I didn't see Mason Fine coming. I'd heard a lot of chatter about this small school Oklahoma kid and his passing stats but it was recruiting chatter and I despise recruiting chatter, besides Alec Morris was transferring in from Alabama so there's no reason to play Mason Fine. He snuck up on me. So I watched a terrible quality film on Fine from Saturday's win over Rice. I apologize for the quality of the clips, but regardless of the quality, Fine shows some things.
His numbers on Saturday night were good for a true freshman out of Oklahoma, heck they were pretty good for just about anybody. 17-29 for 224, a touchdown, no picks. That's a 59% completion rate. He also ran 14 times for 28 yards. More on that later.
Let's talk about the good...Mason Fine has a great grasp on this spread/air raid offense. The offense is designed so make players instinctually rather than hesitate, it's designed to go fast and be quick. Fine excels at the offense, he's comfortable in the pocket and out of the pocket. It's cliche but he's a gamer. I saw Fine play a week earlier against a top 10 defense in Florida, his numbers were awful, but Florida will do that to people. His demeanor, from a body language standpoint, was solid. Rice is a better litmus test.
Let's look at the good. There was plenty of it. Again I apologize for the video, there is not game clock or down and distance, so I'm piecing that together. At this point we're in the second quarter, Rice is up 17-0 and the Owls are rolling. To this point in the game Fine was 1-3 with more sacks (2) than completions. This is a 3rd and 12 from the Rice 31, a make or break down. Earlier in the drive Fine converted a 3 and 11 from deep inside UNT territory. This is a designed run against a very run friendly box.
Fine looks up and sees a four man Rice box with almost 10 yards between him and the next blue shirt. Fine takes the snap, finds a hole and then his athleticism takes over. Fine is a fluid runner, in this scheme he's basically responsible for beating the safety and he's off to the races. It's a low risk call, but Fine makes it high reward with his running ability.
Same drive, next play, 1st and 10 from the Rice 16. This is a classic wheel route concept. Two backs in the backfield. UNT wants to isolate a back with a linebacker to give the Mean Green an athletic advantage. Off the snap the boundary receiver runs a post to occupy the safety, the back replaces and runs the wheel.
The key to throwing the wheel or really any of these man on man go routes is to give your receiver a chance to "win" i.e. make a play. Fine can't throw this ball any better. The back, Willy Ivory does a great job of stemming to the sideline to create separation and making the catch. Great route, great throw.
Same idea here. Fourth quarter, UNT is up by one. This should be a game sealing drive, but whatever, free football isn't a bad thing. This is a classic go route. Rice gives UNT a six man box, man keys on the boundary side. Rice is going to bring pressure from the boundary side linebacker. Notice Rice's safety gets caught with his eyes in the backfield. The corner makes a "man turn" and Fine has to once again give his receiver a chance to win.
That's a perfect throw, if you're going to miss, miss high or outside. Fine doesn't miss.
A few plays later Fine makes the most of a busted play and shows off his athleticism. This is a lead play off zone read action, the left guard pulls and the back, (I think) Jeffrey Wilson, leads. Rice fills well and the play is stopped.
Fine reverses field and make a physical run to get to the pylon. Now, I know Fine wants to score, that's a winning play, but there's a point where self preservation, i.e. not taking hits is important. It's a long season and DBs and LBs want to plant guys like Mason Fine. Discretion is the better part of valor.
Ok, let's look at one time when that competitiveness and aggressiveness got the best of Fine. This is early again, first quarter, UNT is down 17. Fine is feeling pressure, off balance and that's a problem.
That's a Favreian level decision and no disrespect but Mason Fine doesn't have a Favre level arm. He throws late over the middle, off his back foot, and it's a duck. It should have been a pick. Bill Belichick has a saying, there's not such thing as a bad incompletion. He's right, and that's a progression from the old days when the thinking was passing resulted in three things and two of them were bad. Here Fine wants to make a play, it might have even been open for a second but it's not a good throw and it almost set up the Owls in great field position.
I'm interested to see how Fine develops. It's worth noting that he's on the smaller side (the roster lists him at 5'11 170) and that is always a concern for his ability to stay healthy. Fine has clearly shown the coaches something, it's a risk to play a true freshman when you have an older Power 5 transfer who falls in your lap. If he can stay healthy, we'd like to see how Fine grows into the position.