There was a time not too long ago when North Texas could claim that it was making headway toward evening out its series SMU.
The Mean Green won three out of five after knocking off the Mustangs in 2014 and cruised to a win at home in 2018.
Those milestones continued to fade into memory on Saturday. Shane Buechele made sure of that.
The Mustangs senior quarterback tormented UNT while guiding SMU to a 65-35 win Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
UNT hoped playing at home, where it had a 4-1 record against the Mustangs, would help it get back on the right side of its most important rivalry.
Those hopes vanished in a hurry and left the Mean Green (1-1) facing the unpleasant reality that the Mustangs (2-0) have won five of the last six games in a series it now leads 33-6-1.
UNT coach Seth Littrell acknowledged in the days leading up to the game that the Mean Green’s series against SMU isn’t like any other. UNT battles SMU for recruits and attention in the Dallas area. The UNT fan base’s mood for the entire season is often dictated by the outcome of the SMU game.
The latest showdown certainly didn’t help matters.
“It’s tough,” Littrell said. “There is no doubt. It’s always an important game to us. We have to have the mindset that we can go out, play with them and beat them. We didn’t do enough early to give ourselves a chance.”
UNT’s biggest challenge heading into the night was containing Buechele. The Mean Green didn’t come close to reaching that goal.
The senior threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns against a depleted Mean Green defense.
UNT officials acknowledged before kickoff that starting linebackers KD Davis and Tyreke Davis were unavailable for medical reasons. Starting safety Keelan Crosby went down with an injury on UNT's first defensive play of the game.
UNT was also missing running back Tre Siggers due to injury. Littrell declined to comment on the status of any of those players after the game.
UNT struggled to contain Buechele and his receivers without those players. The result was a second straight tough game defensively.
The Mean Green gave up 480 passing yards to Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe in its season-opening win two weeks ago.
“There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds with gaps that should have been filled that weren’t and calls we didn’t get from the sideline,” said Kyleb Howell, a converted fullback who filled in at linebacker. “That’s not an excuse. We have to do a better job of getting our calls and getting lined up. We weren’t overwhelmed. They had a good game plan and executed.”
SMU set the tone early and needed just seven plays to score twice over the course of its first two possessions.
Buechele hit Danny Gray for a 62-yard touchdown on that last of those plays, which gave SMU a 14-0 lead before the Mean Green picked up their initial first down.
It only got worse from there for UNT. The Mean Green finally got something going late in the first quarter when they drove 62 yards on 13 plays, including a key 3-yard run on by Oscar Adaway III on fourth-and-2 from the UNT 44.
Any momentum the Mean Green gained vanished when SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens intercepted an Austin Aune pass in the end zone.
The only bright spot for UNT in the first half was a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jason Bean to Jaelon Darden.
Other than that, it was all Mustangs, who ran out to a 34-7 lead at halftime.
SMU continued to pour it on in the second half and rolled up 710 yards of total offense on one big play after another.
Ulysses Bentley IV broke free for an 84-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
The Mean Green had no chance to keep up, despite getting on track behind Aune in the second half.
Bean started for the second straight game and was expected to share time with Aune. Both played but it was Aune’s play that was one of the few bright spots for UNT.
Aune bounced back from his early interception to throw for 276 yards and two touchdowns. All but 46 of those yards came in the second half.
“We have to keep our confidence up,” Aune said. “Once we get rolling, we know we are going to score.”
UNT just didn’t get going early enough on a night when the Mustangs continued to dominate their series with Mean Green.
“One loss doesn’t define your season,” Howell said. “It’s a big game, but it’s the second game of the season. We are not worried.”