On a historic night at Apogee Stadium, North Texas overcame 98 yards, no timeouts, and 67 seconds to beat UTSA and move to 3-0 in CUSA. Let's dissect a little bit of that game-winning drive to see what made it work and where the Mean Green caught a break.
The situation was pretty dire, UTSA pinned the Mean Green inside the two with 1:07 seconds to play. North Texas used their final timeouts to get the ball back, so other than incompletions, first downs and the sideline, the Mean Green had no way to stop the clock.
A little two-minute or less drill philosophy before we start. You can't have a game-winning drive without a completion or play to get the drive started. If you're down by four, as North Texas was, you don't have a four-point play especially one from 98 yards out, so they just have to start the drive, get a completion then lineup and take your next chance. UTSA's defensive philosophy to start was classic boundary defense. Their safeties were deep, the middle of the field was open. Let North Texas dink and dunk and pressure them with four, something UTSA could do whenever they pleased. Keep everything in front and tackle. The clock was UTSA's friend, their second best friend quarterback pressure, and their next best option was funneling North Texas to the middle of the field.
1st and 10, 2-yard line, 1:07 to play.
UTSA is going to blitz Mason Fine with linebacker Josiah Tauaefa and play man with a single high safety. UTSA is sacrificing coverage for pressure. Fine has to know that he cannot take a sack, anywhere, but especially here. He's got less room to scramble so he picks out Michael Lawrence on a slant, the UTSA safety is way off, but closes and make the tackle. Now North Texas has room to operate, a bad snap or a sack won't get you beat. UTSA gains an advantage as well; the clock is rolling.
2nd and 2, 10-yard line, 52 seconds.
Eleven seconds run off the clock before the snap, UTSA runs a boundary zone blitz scheme, they bring Tauaefa and drop defensive end Eric Banks into a hook zone on the boundary side. Something to remember here, even as the offense is rushing to get plays signaled, the defense is as well. There's not a lot of time to get creative; you just have to line up and play. Both teams are trying to simplify things.
Here Fine gets pressure, rolls to the boundary side and find Rico Bussey for a first down and more importantly, Bussey gets out of bounds. Two plays in and the Mean Green are at the 20. If there's such a thing as being on schedule in a two-minute scenario, North Texas is on schedule.
1st and 10, 20-yard line, 48 seconds.
Here UTSA drops eight for the only time in the series. Tauaefa is spying, but he takes a drop. The pressure from the Roadrunners is immediate and Fine rolls to the boundary again and smartly throws the ball away.
2nd and 10, 20-yard line, 41 seconds.
North Texas gets lucky. Nothing wrong with it, but this is a big play that could've gone either way. 2nd and 10, UTSA again brings Tauaefa, but still drops Banks into a hook zone on the boundary side. Fine gets flushed to the boundary side and makes a throw, probably a wrong one. UTSA's defensive backs are in good position, but one mistimes his jump, perhaps with the help of a slight push from Lawrence, the other takes a moment's hesitation, and the ball falls into Lawrence's hands.
This play is a literal game changer; North Texas has a chunk play that put them into UTSA territory at the 30 with 32 seconds to play. Now the clock is no longer a UTSA advantage; it's neutral. North Texas can throw the ball into the end zone whenever they want to, and a missed tackle is a way bigger deal.
1st and 10, 31-yard line, 32 seconds.
Here, UTSA moves a few chess pieces. Instead of dropping Banks, they twist him and bring Tauaefa on a blitz. The Roadrunners run man with two safeties over the top. Again, they're bringing pressure and trying to force a sack or a quick throw. A sack makes time an ally of the Roadrunners again. Fine knows he can't take a sack, so he takes advantage of the cushion and hits Jaelon Darden on a stop route, short of the first down. This is where a running clock can kill you. Ten seconds run off between the catch and the subsequent spike, fifteen seconds total from the first down throw to the spike, all told the operation to get lined up and execute the spike is good but those are precious seconds.
3rd and 2, 23-yard line, 17 seconds.
Now comes one of the biggest plays in North Texas history and the more you watch it, the more you admire Fine. UTSA again adapts, this time with a zero blitz or at least as close to zero as you can get, they do drop defensive tackle Baylon Baker into the hook zone, but the safeties are both coming, and there is no help for anyone in coverage. Safety C.J. Levine comes free, on a dead sprint with no one stopping him. All this takes less than two seconds from the snap for Levine to cover the fourteen yards to Mason Fine's chest. Fine has a front row seat, one he just as soon never sit in.
You can blame UTSA for the zero blitz, for no safety help but that is ignoring how incredible Fine's reaction is and how close Levine came to a game-ending sack, and Baker came to dropping in the exact right place.
Rico Bussey runs a slant, probably on a site read of the blitz. Fine sees the blitz, picks out his hot read and makes a throw, without looking, from an unconventional arm slot and throws his guy open. It's amazing. He does all that in 1.9 seconds. Count to 2 Mississippi on your couch right now, that's more time than Fine had as a full-sized sprinting human was crashing into him. It's amazing. Bussey makes the grab and turns to the corner and into the end zone. UTSA's man coverage puts them out of position to pursue. A bad angle later and Bussey is in the end zone, ball game.
An incredible drive, with a bit of luck, and a massive win for Seth Littrell's Mean Green.