The promise of a new day at North Texas will have to wait for another day.
The rollout of an up-to-date, contemporary high-speed, wide-open spread offense under new coach Seth Littrell produced a result that was anything but new in the Mean Green’s 34-21 season-opening loss to SMU on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
It was SMU that racked up the big yardage totals, 574 in a balanced attack, in sticking it to the Mean Green, which showed flashes on offense but stalled in inconsistency, an issue that coaches said has plagued the unit all throughout fall camp.
SMU scored 10 points off turnovers and another freakish score off a third-and-45 late in the first half.
Xavier Jones scored on the game’s opening drive with a 49-yard sprint straight up the middle of a soft UNT interior, and wide receiver Courtland Sutton had three receptions — all touchdowns — including two from Matt Davis and an 88-yard catch-and-run toss from Ben Hicks, the fifth-longest scoring pass play in SMU history.
For North Texas, Alec Morris threw for two touchdowns — 7 yards to Thaddeus Thompson and 25 yards to Kelvin Smith — but otherwise the fifth-year senior graduate transfer from Alabama struggled to find a rhythm or good accuracy. The Allen High School product threw for 229 yards on 23-of-37 passing and, most glaring, three interceptions.
It was a total loss in all three phases, Littrell said, though left his most pointed descriptor for the offense: “awful.”
“We have guys who can make plays,” Littrell said. “We had some good individual performances, but overall as an offensive unit, we weren’t good enough to win. They executed on defense better than we executed on offense.
“We have higher expectations. We need to play better.”
One of those good individual performances was Willie Robinson a receiver from Fort Worth Southwest, who led the Mean Green with eight catches for a team-high 73 yards. North Texas gained 394 yards in total offense, but had less than 300 entering the fourth quarter.
Morris never had the luxury of comfort in the pocket, which collapsed often under SMU’s front, which sacked the UNT QB three times.
The talk of next week will likely be that position.
True freshman Mason Fine, who has impressed coaches throughout fall camp, was efficient in late duty, driving the Mean Green 80 yards on 11 plays in 4 minutes for its last score. Jeffrey Wilson (68 yards rushing on 13 carries) capped the march with an 11-yard run.
Even in only two drives, though, Fine was sacked twice.
There’s a difference in mopup duty and quality game time, especially so for a true freshman.
Yet, receiver Terian Goree, who had six catches for 46 yards, said there’s a different type of vibe when Fine is in the game. Fine was lightly recruited primarily because of his size. He’s 5-foot-11.
“He’s a little jitterbug … he can play, he can play,” said Goree. “He gave us some life. I’m excited to see him play.”
Davis was 7-for-25 for 143 yards and an interception. The Mean Green flushed him out of the pocket several times, but Davis proved as dangerous on his feet, rushing for 110 yards. Jones had 117 yards rushing on 12 carries.
The North Texas defense forced only two punts. One sequence late in the first half was a game-changer.
Down 17-7 and with some momentum having just scored, the Mean Green yielded a 52-yard gain on Davis’ pass to James Proche, moving the ball to the North Texas 11. SMU, however, went into a hasty retreat, sustaining a loss of 30 yards on four penalties, plus five yards on rushing losses.
On 3rd-and-45, though, Davis heaved a desperation throw to the end zone that Sutton pulled down.
“You’ve to go make those plays,” Littrell said. “We just can’t allow that to happen. We got to get off the field.”
SMU—Jones 49 run (Williams kick), 13:11.
SMU—FG Williams 29, 05:50.
SMU—Sutton 88 pass from Hicks (Williams kick), 00:35.
UNT—Thompson 7 pass from Morris (Moore kick), 11:25.
SMU—Sutton 46 pass from Davis (Williams kick), 02:07.
UNT—Smith 25 pass from Morris (Moore kick), 00:50.
SMU—Sutton 4 pass from Davis (Williams kick), 07:21.
SMU—FG Armstrong 22, 01:01.
UNT—Wilson 11 run (Moore kick), 02:27.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—SMU, Jones 11-115, Davis 14-91, Freeman 5-39, West 13-23, Proche 1-8. North Texas, Wilson 15-86, Wyche 5-10, Fine 5-6, Morris 4-(minus 19).
PASSING—SMU, M.Davis 8-17-1-155, Hicks 5-9-0-145, Colbert 0-1-0-0. North Texas, Morris 24-39-3-237, Fine 8-11-0-74.
RECEIVING—SMU, Sutton 4-162, Proche 3-73, Becker 1-17, Castille 2-15, Gailliard 1-12, Rolfe 1-11, Kaufman 1-10. North Texas, Robinson 8-73, Goree 8-64, Thompson 5-56, Wilson 6-55, Smith 2-36, Bussey 2-18, Wyche 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—SMU, Armstrong 31.