WHEN: Satruday, September 6, 2014. Kickoff is at 11:00 AM CT
WHERE: Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas
TV/RADIO: Fox Sports Net, KTCK 1310 AM/96.7 FM, The Ticket
SERIES: SMU leads 28-4-1 (0-2 in Denton)
LAST MEETING: SMU won 45-31 on September 8, 2007 at Ford Stadium
PONY TRENDS: SMU is coming off one of its worst offensive performances in the June Jones era, a 45-0 loss to Baylor at newly opened McLane Stadium. SMU gained 67 yards of offense on 65 plays and rushed for negative 28 yards.
The offensive line was the biggest weakness in the Baylor game, allowing eight sacks. Three SMU quarterbacks combined to throw for 91 yards and averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per pass. SMU gained a mere seven first downs and had three passing plays of 10+ yards.
SMU played bend-but-don’t-break defense against Baylor, and it was mostly successful. SMU did a solid job stopping Baylor’s running game early on, holding a strong group of Baylor RBs to 63 yards in the first half. The Bears rushed for nearly 200 yards in the second half, but most of that came against SMU’s backups. Baylor still put the game away early thanks to favorable field position from SMU offensive miscues. The Mustangs played good red zone defense, forcing Baylor to attempt three field goals, two of which were missed. Andrew McCleneghen blocked one of them.
In his first game back from a torn ACL, safety Hayden Greenbauer grabbed an interception and looked decent in coverage and against the run. Deion Sanders Jr. tied a career high with 131 kickoff return yards, including a 58-yarder in the first half. Cornerback Ajee Montes notched a career-high seven tackles. He will likely fill in again for J.R. Richardson.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: North Texas’ first season in Conference-USA was a success. The Mean Green won eight regular season games and defeated UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Head Coach Dan McCarney has brought stability in his three years in Denton after inheriting a team that won 13 games over six seasons.
Like SMU, UNT was beaten badly in its opener, falling to Texas 38-7. Quarterbacks Josh Greer and Andrew McNulty collectively went 3-17 for 15 yards with two interceptions apiece. The Mean Green’s only points came on a fumble recovery in the end zone when the game was out of reach. The team also averaged only 1.8 yards per carry.
An inexperienced UNT defense that lost several key starters from last season held the Longhorns to a respectable 353 yards. OLB Derek Akunne and DE Chad Polk should be UNT’s best statistical defenders this season, while senior safety Laramie Lee is expected to be the defense’s leader.
UNT’s offensive line returns two All-Conference players in RT Cyril Lemon and LG Mason Y’Barbo. Another, LT Antonio Johnson, is entering his fourth year as a starter. This is a solid UNT offensive line that should hang with SMU’s defensive front.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT Cyril Lemon vs. DE Zelt Minor. Lemon was first-team All-CUSA last season and has started 37 straight games. Minor made his first career start against Baylor and showed flashes of his potential. He and fellow DE Zach Wood will be counted on to help revive SMU’s pass rush, which disappeared for large chunks of last season. Lemon, who was offered by Missouri and Houston in high school, will be a good test for Minor in his second career start.
KEYS TO THE GAME: SMU needs to show it put last week’s poor performance behind with a crisp and mistake-free effort on offense this week. UNT is a friendlier foe that SMU should be able to move the ball against. The Mustangs have more talent than UNT at every position, but the Mean Green is well-coached and will be playing this game with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. SMU will need to execute much better to win this game, and if the Mustangs can manage to move the ball, they should win comfortable. But UNT has been talking all week about beating SMU, so the Mean Green will not go away without a fight.