North Texas coach Seth Littrell stuck with his familiar adage when asked about his team’s attitude and approach heading into a game at California this week.
Like a lot of coaches, Littrell asks his players to focus on one game at a time, one week at a time.
Littrell’s stance didn’t change on Tuesday, as the Mean Green took another step toward moving on from a disappointing 49-27 loss to SMU on Saturday. Falling to the Mustangs was tough turn for the Mean Green and the program’s supporters who view SMU as their bitter rival.
UNT beat SMU 46-23 last season at Apogee Stadium. The Mustangs got their revenge in the latest game in a series they now lead 32-6-1.
The score swung 45 points in SMU’s favor from last season to this year in Sonny Dykes’ second year as the Mustangs’ coach.
“Everyone was disappointed in the loss,” Littrell said. “It’s one thing to go out there, play really good football against a great opponent and feel like you left everything out there. When you feel like you didn’t play the way you needed to, there is some heartburn in that.
“You have to reset. That is no disrespect to SMU. Sonny has done a great job there and they have great players. They deserved to win that game.”
The challenge for UNT now is finding a way to respond. The Mean Green felt like they took a step in the right direction when they returned to practice in advance of their game on Saturday at Cal.
The Bears stunned No. 14 Washington last week and landed just outside The Associated Press top 25 poll this week.
“We took the coaching on Sunday and went out with a great attitude,” UNT quarterback Mason Fine said. “We had great energy on the practice field and great enthusiasm. It’s a great opportunity to go out there, play against a great team and show the country what we can do.”
Woodworth set to return
UNT is expected to have one of its top offensive linemen back this week.
Elex Woodworth, a senior who is entering his fourth season as a starter, is expected to make his first appearance this year against Cal.
Littrell said Woodworth will be ready to play after missing UNT’s first two games with an undisclosed injury.
Woodworth stared at left guard all of last season. Veteran backup Thomas Preston III started in place of Woodworth in each of UNT’s first two games.
UNT ran the ball effectively behind Preston and its offensive line in its loss to SMU, rolling up 211 yards. The Mean Green were not as effective when it came to protecting Fine.
The Mustangs sacked Fine five times and were also credited with two quarterback hurries.
UNT could look at lineup
UNT enters its game against Cal ranked last in Conference USA in passing defense with an average of 282.5 yards allowed per game.
SMU quarterback Shane Buechele racked up 292 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-31 passing. UNT was also flagged for three pass interference penalties and a hold in the secondary.
“We will see about lineup changes,” Littrell said. “We have to put our guys in situations to be successful. We know who our team is and are going to have to adjust. Maybe some of your personnel changes.
“When it comes down to it, I am the one who has to be held accountable to make sure they are in the right position and then it goes to our coordinators and coaches. Then our players have to look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable.”
SMU’s approach helped limit Bussey, tight ends
SMU held wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. without a catch and also contained the Mean Green’s tight ends.
Littrell and his players credited the Mustangs for their performance in limiting their passing game. They also said they have to find a way to adjust and get the ball to their best playmakers.
Bussey was a preseason All-Conference USA selection and caught four passes for 156 yards and a touchdown in the Mean Green’s season-opening win over Abilene Christian.
Bussey had caught at least one pass in every game he played in dating back to the beginning of the 2017 season.
“People are going to do different things with Rico, whether that is bracketing him or playing one underneath and one over the top,” Littrell said. “We have playmakers who can step up and make plays for us. It’s not a one-man show. It’s not like they were doing anything special. They just mixed up their coverages well. We didn’t adjust.”
Fine also took some of the responsibility for SMU blanking Bussey.
“As a quarterback I have to find a way to get it into my playmakers’ hands,” Fine said. “SMU did a great job schematically of shutting down one of our best guys. SMU did a great job of playing hard, physical and being in the right spots. They called a great game.”
Fine also said that new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder acknowledged his role in Bussey being shut out and Fine finishing with 152 passing yards, his lowest total in a game he hasn’t been knocked out of since his freshman season.
Kelvin Smith caught two passes for 13 yards and was UNT’s only tight end with a catch. The Mean Green are expected to make tight ends a bigger part of their scheme this season.
Jason Pirtle finished with four catches for 88 yards and three touchdowns in UNT’s win over ACU.
“Coach Reeder will tell you himself that he has to do a better job of getting Rico the ball,” Fine said. “That is not coming from me. That is coming from him on Sunday. He is going to do a better job of getting the ball into our playmakers’ hands. We are all going to look in the mirror.”