North Texas hoped to show signs of settling defensively under new coordinator Clint Bowen on Saturday in its second game of the season.
The way the Mean Green’s 65-35 loss to SMU at Apogee Stadium unfolded showed UNT still has a lot of work to do.
UNT coughed up 710 yards and allowed points on six out of seven SMU drives at one point spanning the second and third quarters.
The Mean Green knew they were in for a challenge against an SMU team that returned star quarterback Shane Buechele as well as several talented receivers. The fact the UNT was without several of its key players didn’t help matters.
Starting linebackers KD Davis and Tyreke Davis were unavailable for medical reasons. Starting safety Keelan Crosby went down with an injury on the first play.
“Missing our two best players on defense didn’t help, but we are not going to make excuses,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “I believe in Bowen and that staff. They are going to make the right corrections. I believe in our defensive kids. We have to settle into the system. All we can do is get better.”
UNT’s tough night against SMU came just two weeks after Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 480 yards and three touchdowns. The Mean Green won that shootout 57-31.
UNT wasn’t as fortunate in its loss to SMU, which broke off big play after big play.
Running back Ulysses Bentley IV broke off an 84-yard touchdown run and finished with 227 rushing yards.
Buechele threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns.
“We have to win the explosive play battle,” UNT linebacker Kyleb Howell said. “With long plays like that, it’s one little fit that can make the difference. We have to fix those mistakes and missed tackles. We are right there. We just have to make some corrections.”
Fake punt goes awry
UNT was backed up to its 28-yard line in the first quarter and lined up to punt.
Bernardo Rodriguez lined up to punt and took the snap and took off. UNT needed seven yards for and didn’t come close.
Linebacker Preston Ellison cut Rodriguez down for a 4-yard loss. SMU cashed in on the turnover with a 37-yard Chris Naggar field goal.
Buechele converts key fourth down
UNT appeared as if it had come up with a key defensive stop on a fourth-and-3 play from its own 17-yard line in the first half.
The Mean Green had Buechele bottled up only to see him spin away from linebacker Larry Nixon III. Buechele picked seven yards and a first down.
Naggar hit his 37-yard field goal four plays later.
Backups move into lineup
Howell and fellow backup linebacker Kevin Wood moved into the starting lineup for UNT in place of KD Davis and Tyreke Davis.
KD Davis came into the night as UNT’s leading tackler after posting nine stops in the Mean Green’s season-opening win over Houston Baptist.
Tyreke Davis is UNT’s leader in career tackles among active players with 152.
Wood came into the game with 22 career tackles, while Howell had just three. Both had played in 13 career games.
“I was really proud of Kyleb Howell,” Littrell said. “He was playing full back a week ago. He played extremely hard. Wood did a good job of filling in as well.”
UNT breaks out throwback uniforms
UNT wore throwback uniforms in memory of legendary former coach Hayden Fry.
The white jerseys contained lime green numbers, while UNT’s white helmets featured a lime green eagle logo known at UNT as the “flying worm.”
The designs were based on the logo Fry and artist Rick Spears designed during Fry’s tenure at UNT from 1973-78. Fry went 40-23-3 during his time at the school.
Tavorice Weaver, a freshman defensive back, has left the program, a school spokesman confirmed prior to the game.