DALLAS — SMU made a not-so-subtle statement before kicking off its game against North Texas, its longtime rival, on Saturday.
SMU’s jerseys didn’t say “SMU” or “Mustangs.”
They simply read “Dallas” for the first time.
UNT’s players billed their game against SMU as a battle for supremacy in Dallas, the Mustangs’ hometown, where the Mean Green hadn’t won a game since 1933.
SMU never left much doubt that streak would last at least one more year while running past UNT 49-27 at Ford Stadium.
The Mustangs defense clamped down on UNT’s record-setting quarterback Mason Fine and used an early burst to put the Mean Green in a hole they never escaped.
“One game won’t make or break your season,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “At the same time there are a lot of things we have to clean up. It will be a gut check tomorrow.”
That is especially true after a disappointing performance in a game that had been billed as a big opportunity for UNT.
The outcome was familiar when it comes to games played in Dallas, where UNT is now 1-25-1. What was surprising was how big of a change was from last season. The Mean Green (1-1) raced out to a 36-0 on their home turf at Apogee Stadium and cruised to a 46-23 win.
That performance raised hopes that the Mean Green might be able to break through in Dallas and continue to close the gap in a series SMU now leads 32-6-1.
Littrell warned earlier in the week that SMU would be a much different team than it was last year, thanks largely to an influx of talented transfers who helped the Mustangs move to 2-0.
Those players gave UNT fits and were in the face of Mason Fine, the Mean Green’s standout quarterback, all night.
Fine came into the night just 200 yards short of reaching the 10,000-yard mark for his career. The senior was expected to quickly roll pass that total just a week after posting the 14th 300-yard passing game of his career last week in a season-opening win over Abilene Christian.
SMU made getting there more difficult than anyone expected. The Mustangs battered Fine, sacked him five times and knocked his helmet off late in the fourth quarter.
Fine finished with 152 passing yards and one touchdown.
Those totals were a far cry from the 383 yards Fine threw for last year against SMU.
DALLAS — North Texas running back Tre Siggers gave a simple answer when asked what was behin…
“They played a lot of coverages and mixed their fronts up,” Littrell said. “We have to execute, take what the defense is giving us and keep the quarterback upright.”
UNT met those goals last season in their win over SMU when Fine threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
A whole lot has changed since then. The Mean Green caught the Mustangs in their season opener and their first game under head coach Sonny Dykes.
Dykes brought in a host of transfers in the hope that they would change SMU’s team. That certainly was the case against UNT.
Former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns in his second start for the Mustangs.
“We had too many mistakes and penalties in the first half,” UNT defensive end LaDarius Hamilton said. “We were not able to overcome mistakes.”
Buechele’s performance overshadowed that of the Mustangs’ upgraded defense that gave UNT fits.
The Mustangs completely took away Rico Bussey Jr.
Fine’s favorite target didn’t catch a pass against SMU, a far cry from the 156 yards he posted in the Mean Green’s season-opening win over Abilene Christian.
Tre Siggers rushed for 164 yards and was one of UNT’s few effective weapons offensively.
UNT did not make Fine available after the game because he was receiving medical treatment.
“I can’t even tell you how they took our passing game away,” Siggers said. “They did a good job.”
UNT’s struggles against SMU started early.
The Mustangs scored on their first three drives and took a 21-0 lead when Ke’Mon Freeman scored on a 2-yard run in the late in the first quarter.
“We dug ourselves in way too deep of a hole early on,” Littrell said.
UNT worked its way back into the game behind a defensive stand and a key special teams play. SMU linebacker Patrick Nelson intercepted a Fine pass and returned it to the UNT 6-yard line.
UNT’s defense held and forced the Mustangs to try a 22-yard field goal. Cornerback Cam Johnson came off the edge and blocked Kevin Robledo’s attempt.
The play sparked UNT. The Mean Green had just 44 yards of offense at that point and doubled that total on its second play of the ensuing drive when Siggers broke free for a 44-yard run.
Siggers capped the drive with a 1-yard run to pull UNT within 21-7.
SMU answered with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Shane Buechele to Reggie Roberson Jr. before the Mean Green pulled back within 28-17 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Michael Lawrence on a third-and-goal play and a 26-yard field goal from Ethan Mooney.
UNT needed a defensive stop to climb back into the game but couldn’t get it.
SMU quickly answered with a Xavier Jones 10-yard run and pulled away behind Buchele, who threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
The Mustangs coasted to a statement win with “Dallas” written across their jerseys.
“You have to give SMU a lot of credit,” Littrell said. “They did a great job, competed hard and outplayed us.”