You run the risk when you qualify for a bowl game that the Troy Trojans are going to be waiting to clobber you. That's what happened to North Texas, like so many tourists each year in the Big Easy, mugged just off Bourbon Street and left for dead.
Cameras caught the attack on tape, ESPN carried the whole thing. As you can guess, it wasn't pretty. North Texas rushed for minus eight yards on 25 carries. While Mason Fine threw for 305 yards, Troy sacked him six times and hit him countless others. Fine won't remember his trip to New Orleans, perhaps at all, but certainly not fondly.
Troy put 50 up on the Mean Green defense, and didn't seem bothered at all by North Texas defense, a consistent trend for Troy Reffett's defense in 2017. North Texas' five turnovers didn't help either.
The lesson from Saturday is that North Texas, while ahead of schedule in winning nine games, must build along both lines of scrimmage to compete against better competition. In North Texas' five losses the Mean Green averaged under three yards a carry and just 78 yards a game. Contrast that with their wins, where North Texas averaged just under five yards a carry and over 200 yards rushing.
The two December games were a microcosm of the problem. FAU and Troy held North Texas to 73 combined yards on 60 attempts and sacked Fine fifteen times. The Mean Green offensive line's been a work in progress for two years. It's easier to find and insert competent skill talent, developing and growing skilled offensive linemen is another matter. That position takes time and nurturing and if, after all that time and nurturing; you've missed, all that time is wasted.
For Littrell, the preferred method of acquiring line talent has been the JC ranks. Half his O-line signees came from two-year colleges. That signing philosophy seems to be a survival mechanism given what he inherited. Last years class contained more high school offensive lineman, this year's commitment list has three pledges on the line, all high school players.
If next year's number holds steady, North Texas replaces the right side of their offensive line. Whether they can make that improvement up front could be the difference between a great season and another one that ends with a bad taste in the mouths of Mean Green fans.