With its season opener on the line, North Texas simply didn’t have the offensive ammo to answer big plays by SMU in crunch time on Saturday.
The Mean Green and a sputtering offense fell at Gerald J. Ford Stadium after having no answer to SMU’s 21-0 spurt in the fourth quarter, punctuated by quarterback Matt Davis’ 50-yard touchdown run, the knockout punch of a 31-13 loss in a game dominated statistically by the Mustangs.
In three fourth-quarter possessions, North Texas turned the ball over twice and punted in mustering only 55 yards in the final 15 minutes.
The game was marred by seven turnovers, including four committed by North Texas.
Quarterback Andrew McNulty tossed two interceptions and accounted for 128 yards on 16-of-34 passing. The Mean Green had 240 yards total compared to 444 by SMU.
“It was an even game for much of the game, but they finished and we didn’t,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “We have to make the plays SMU did tonight.”
It was anybody’s game into the third quarter and, in fact, North Texas had a 13-10 lead heading into the fourth built by two 25-yard field goals from Trevor Moore in the first half and Antoinne Jimmerson’s 25-yard touchdown run at the 3:05 mark of the third quarter.
That lead was erased on three touchdowns by Davis, the first an 8-yard pass to tight end Jeremiah Gaines and the last a 14-yard run at the 4:47 mark.
The victory marked SMU’s first under new coach Chad Morris and denied North Texas its first victory in Dallas since 1933.
The game was close because North Texas twice stopped SMU inside the Mean Green 5-yard line, including once stuffing the Mustangs on fourth down from the 1 and on a subsequent drive forcing a Davis fumble that linebacker Fred Scott recovered.
On a third possession inside the 5, North Texas held the Mustangs to 3.
“I didn’t see anybody offensively who was good enough,” McCarney said. “I’m not going to put this loss on [McNulty’s] shoulders. It’s not fair to him. We have to have better protection throwing the ball, more accuracy, cleaner routes. I think it was a combination of all those things, but not nearly as productive as we need to be or should be.”
Said McNulty: “I wasn’t good enough. We lost the game. My only goal is to put our team in position to win. We lost, so not good enough. [The offense committed] too many errors and there was a lack of execution. Obviously things we’ll have to work in before next week.”
The Mean Green also played without starting cornerback Kenny Buyers and running back Jeffrey Wilson, who were out with injuries.
Buyers is out for the season after back surgery last week.
In addition to that, starting wide receiver Carlos Harris and Jimmerson sat out the first quarter as discipline for violation of team rules.
The Mean Green got a great chance to open the game, recovering a fumble at the Mustangs’ 16 on a botched snap on a SMU’s punt attempt on its first drive. North Texas ran Andrew Tucker three times and settled for Moore’s three points from 25 yards.
“I saw bits and pieces of a team that has potential, I think, to become a good football team,” McCarney said. “But how fast we can do that is up to each one of us.”