UNT-SMU advance main

Quarterback Mason Fine hugs defensive end Ladarius Hamilton, left, during UNT’s season-opening win over Abilene Christian. The senior will have a chance to add to their legacy when UNT faces SMU on Saturday at Ford Stadium in Dallas. UNT hasn’t beaten SMU in Dallas since 1933.

North Texas coach Seth Littrell has spoken plenty about the opportunity his seniors have this fall to leave a legacy from their time with the Mean Green.

They’ve already helped guide UNT to three bowl games and a Conference USA West Division title in 2017. The Mean Green have their eyes set on a host of long-term goals this fall.

On Saturday, they’ll take aim at a short-term one that would be meaningful as well in a game against rival SMU in Dallas.

UNT has beaten the Mustangs twice since the teams resumed their annual series in 2014. What the Mean Green haven’t been able to do is beat SMU in Dallas — at least not since 1933.

Littrell pointed out that drought to players this week.

“Coach brought up in a meeting,” linebacker KD Davis said. “We want to be the team to change that.

KD Davis

KD Davis

“It would be something special to win at their place. It would be something special for the whole university.”

There is little doubt about that, especially as UNT is trying to broaden its influence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Mean Green have won nine games in each of the last two seasons. UNT is clearly heading in the right direction and has a chance to build on its momentum with a win over SMU.

UNT has won plenty of big games in Littrell’s three seasons with the Mean Green. Knocking off SMU wouldn’t make the national splash UNT’s win over Arkansas did last year, but it would be a milestone victory in a series that is particularly important to the Mean Green and their fans.

“This game is a rivalry game,” Littrell said. “You look at all the different guys who have played with those guys or against them. We also recruit against them and understand the importance of this game and what it means for our program.”

UNT certainly benefited from a 46-23 win over the Mustangs last season.

The Mean Green know a repeat performance won’t come easy, and not just because the game will be played at Ford Stadium.

SMU revamped its roster after its first season under coach Sonny Dykes by adding a host of transfers, including quarterback Shane Buechele. The former Texas standout threw for 360 yards in SMU’s season-opening win over Arkansas State. UCLA transfer Brandon Stephens started at cornerback.

“Sonny has done a great job of recruiting and getting players in,” Littrell said. “They are a much different team than they were a year ago, which you knew they would be. Sonny does a heck of a job and is a great coach.”

Littrell also pointed out that UNT caught SMU in its season opener and the Mustangs’ first game under Dykes. The Mustangs will be much better versed in their systems than they were at this time last year.

SMU posted an impressive 37-30 win at Arkansas State in its season opener. UNT is also 1-0 after beating Abilene Christian 51-31. ACU competes on the Football Championship Subdivision level.

UNT should benefit from its win over the Wildcats, largely because it had a chance to get some work in defensively in a season with several new starters. Davis was new to UNT’s lineup, as were cornerbacks Cam Johnson and Nick Harvey.

UNT dominated the game early on and had a shutout going until late in the first half before ACU rolled off 31 points.

“A lot of it was focus and energy,” Littrell said of where UNT’s struggles came up. “That is something we need to grow with. A lot of those guys were out there for the first time in live action and played significant roles. We had a number of guys who made great plays.”

UNT wants to see the focus and energy that led to those plays for all four quarters.

If the Mean Green can reach that goal, they believe they will have a chance to add a milestone win in Dallas to the rapidly growing legacy of its senior class.

Key matchup UNT cornerback Cam Johnson vs. SMU wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr.

UNT played well defensively in the early stages of its season-opening win over Abilene Christian before giving up a few big plays late.

Cam Johnson JPG

Johnson

Quarterback Luke Anthony threw for 273 yards on 24-of-34 passing. The Mean Green will have a much better chance to beat the Mustangs if they can improve their performance in the secondary in their game against SMU.

Reggie Roberson

Reggie Roberson Jr.

SMU quarterback Shane Buechele was one of the top-rated quarterback prospects in the country coming out of Arlington Lamar. He played well in his SMU debut, throwing for 360 yards in a win over Arkansas State.

Buechele’s favorite target in the win was West Virginia transfer Reggie Roberson Jr., who caught 11 passes for 180 yards.

Roberson is just one of several talented SMU receivers UNT’s secondary will have to keep track of. Cornerback Cam Johnson will play a key role.

UNT often leaves its cornerbacks in man coverage in coordinator Troy Reffett’s scheme.

The Mean Green can’t afford to give up big plays. Johnson and fellow cornerback Nick Harvey will have to keep track of Roberson.

Matching up UNT’s offense vs. SMU’s defense

UNT looked terrific offensively in its win over Abilene Christian. Quarterback Mason Fine threw for 383 yards, Rico Bussey Jr. finished with 156 receiving yards and DeAndre Torrey rushed for 95.

The Mean Green are loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Fine enters the game as the nation’s active leading passer with 9,800 yards. He is expected to clear the 10,000-yard mark against SMU.

SMU gave up 30 points and 334 passing yards in its season-opening win over Arkansas State. The Mustangs have a host of talented players, including linebacker Delano Robinson, a Denton native, but UNT has a clear advantage.

Edge: UNT

UNT’s defense vs. SMU’s offense

UNT played well defensively in the early stages of its win over Abilene Christian. The Wildcats didn’t score until late in the first half.

UNT ended up giving up 456 yards after ACU hit on several big plays. Mean Green coach Seth Littrell said UNT lacked focus at times and will need to improve in that regard in its game against SMU.

The Mustangs have high-end talent throughout their lineup. Quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 360 yards in his first game with the Mustangs and is surrounded by highly regarded players, including wide receivers James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr.

Edge: SMU

UNT-SMU four downs

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine (6) sits in the pocket as guard Thomas Preston III protects him last week in the Mean Green’s win over Abilene Christian. Protecting Fine will be vital for UNT on Saturday when the Mean Green face SMU.

Four downs: Keys to today’s game Build on Game 1 defensively

UNT played well early defensively in its season-opening win over Abilene Christian but ended up giving up 31 points by the end of the game. The Mean Green have several new starters in their lineup and will have to play better against SMU for a chance to win.

Protect Mason Fine in the pocket

SMU has some talented players in its front seven and posted two sacks in its win over Arkansas State to open the season. UNT has a new left tackle in D’Andre Plantin, while Jacob Brammer, its starter on the right side, was only a part-time starter last year. SMU will test UNT’s line.

Don’t give up the big play

UNT’s defense gave up several big plays in its win over Abilene Christian, including a 69-yard touchdown run and a 64-yard touchdown pass. SMU will have much more talented athletes on the field than ACU did and is capable of breaking big plays if the opportunity presents itself.

Contain SMU quarterback Buechele

SMU quarterback Shane Buechele is one of the top players UNT will face this season. He was one of the top recruits in the country when he signed with Texas and certainly looked the part while throwing for 360 yards in his SMU debut last week. UNT needs to contain him.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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