HOUSTON, TX — The year is not over. There is still a UAB home game that can help salvage some of this season. Still, by most nearly every measure this year has been a gigantic disappointment. While some of this was predictable — the team lost both starting linebackers and both starting corners — the offense has been ugly.
One criticism of the Littrell era has been one that is often levied at Air Raid offenses: lots of big cumulative stats, but little in the way of wins because of some poor defense. This season, Mason Fine threw for seven touchdowns against UTEP, but managed zero against Rice. That averages to 3.5 over those two games and therein lies the problem.
For weekly observers of the Mean Green, the offense has had some glaring issues over the last three seasons. Namely, the inability to get the short yardage in crucial moments and the poor performances against quality teams — especially on the road.
Before the season, he acknowledged the offense could have been more aggressive and he vowed to be a part of that change as he brought on a new coordinator that “understands what I like to do”, he said. This season has seen this offense boom-and-bust to a greater degree than under the guidance of Graham Harrell. Bodie Reeder, the new coordinator, received lots of praise from Fine and of course Littrell, and there have been times where his influenced has paid off nicely.
Against Charlotte and UTEP, two of the worst defensive teams in the league, Mason Fine threw for 12 touchdowns and the offense looked explosive and dangerous. Against Tech and Rice, however, it looked stuck and maybe overmatched.
Last year NT’s offense struggled while the defense was surprisingly stout. Injuries to the backs and WRs revealed that the depth chart was not quite ready to contribute but NT still had a great season where they led in every game save for the final Utah State debacle in the bowl game.
With the losses on defense, the offense absolutely needed to be stellar and NT was going to have to win shootouts like it did in 2017, when it surprised everyone with an appearance in the league title game. That team relied on an offense that could score seemingly every time down the field to cover for the mistakes of a defense still finding its way.
Instead the offense has looked poor while the defense looks like they will be good eventually. The unbalanced team is a result of decisions and outcomes two-and-three seasons prior, when NT’s staff recruited for this season. Recruiting is an inexact science but it sill is the lifeblood of a program. All the coaching ability in the world cannot turn a Honda into a Ferrari after all.
(Similarly, as we saw at LSU for about a decade, it is real easy to make Ferraris play like Hondas)
Littrell will still be in demand as programs look across the nation for new head coaches, but he has lost a bit of luster. This will be his second losing season in four tries as the head man at NT, and he has only a conference title game loss and three bowl losses to show for his two nine-win seasons at the helm with the program’s best quarterback in school history.
Littrell is still learning, and there is no doubt he got a bit smarter about what not to do in these situations. He is doing better than Frank Wilson down in San Antonio, a guy who came in the league at the same time, but it has to hurt seeing FAU return to the title game — the NT opponent in 2017.