Matt Visinsky

North Texas Q&A: SMU vs. UNT

Scott talked with the Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito ahead of SMU's season opener vs. North Texas.

SS: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in this team since Coach Littrell took over?

BV: It’s difficult to name just one aspect of North Texas’ team that has changed the most since Seth Littrell took over as the team’s head coach in the offseason, largely because he is such a departure from Dan McCarney. 

That’s not a knock on McCarney, who I respect tremendously as a person and as a coach.

McCarney is just an old school kind of coach. He believes in running the ball, playing good defense and excelling on special teams.

Littrell is an offensive guru and likes to throw the ball around.

UNT’s offense will look dramatically different. Littrell also brought in a pair of defensive coordinators in Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffet who specialize in the 3-3-5. UNT played a 4-3 last year, so the Mean Green will be entirely different there as well.

To top it off, Littrell is under 40. McCarney was at the end of his coaching career. 

Everything has changed about UNT’s program. That might sound like a copout answer, but it’s probably the best answer.

SS: Offense, Defense and special teams—which aspect of this team’s game do you think is the strongest heading into week one? 

BV: UNT is revamping just about every part of its team, so it’s tough to tell what phase of the game the Mean Green will excel in this season.

What I can tell you is that UNT’s strongest position group will be its secondary. The Mean Green have a terrific safety tandem in Kishawn McClain and James Gray. McClain finished with a whopping 110 tackles last season, while Gray was just behind at 104. 

McClain was UNT’s only preseason All-Conference USA selection. 

Cornerback Nate Brooks might have had the best fall camp of any UNT player. The other cornerback spot is the one in doubt after Chad Davis suffered an injury in camp, but freshman Jameel Moore looked like he is ready to contribute right away.

UNT was terrible defensively last season, while allowing 41.2 points a game. If the Mean Green improve this season, their secondary will be a big reason why.

SS: Former Alabama QB Alec Morris was big-name transfer, but has he done enough to beat out Mason Fine and Devin O’Hara for the starting job?

BV: When UNT’s depth chart comes out, I fully expect it to have Morris at the top with Fine as his backup.

I thought Littrell made a good point during fall practice that backed up what I have been saying all offseason – UNT fans expected too much from Morris early. He spent four years sitting on Alabama’s bench and needed time to adapt to playing at UNT.

The more he played, the better he looked.

My expectation is that Morris will start.

What really surprised me in fall practice was the way Mason Fine really came on. Fine put up monster numbers in Oklahoma, but he played at tiny Locust Grove and has less than ideal size at 5-11, 170. 

If Fine is just a smidgen taller and bigger, there is no way he ends up at UNT. He’d be redshirting at Oklahoma.

My expectation was that UNT would start Morris, use O’Hara as its backup and redshirt Fine. 

Fine upset the applecart by playing so well. 

As of now, it looks like Morris, Fine, O’Hara.

SS: It’s no secret SMU has struggled up front on the offensive line, does UNT have the playmakers on defense to take advantage of that?

BV: UNT sure seems to think that is the case.

The Mean Green struggled up front last year, but does have some pretty good players returning and some intriguing additions. 

Littrell said this fall that defensive tackle Roderick Young might be UNT’s best player. Young finished with 18 tackles last season as a freshman and really seems to have figured it out in fall workouts. UNT also has defensive end Jarrian Roberts, who had 6.5 sacks last season, returning. Fellow defensive end Malik Dilonga had 3.0 sacks and also returns.

Kansas State transfer Bryce English looks like he is in for a redshirt year, but Kansas State graduate transfer defensive tackle Demonte Hood will be ready to go. Hood is a big old guy at 303 pounds.

UNT has some big guys up front and will bring pressure from all over in its new 3-3-5 scheme and could present problems for SMU. Hybrid linebacker/defensive end Joshua Wheeler was a JUCO All-American and will be a pass rush threat.

SS: North Texas wins this game if…

BV: UNT could pull off the upset if it comes together remarkably quickly on both sides of the ball. Morris will be starting his first game in forever, but has the talent to make plays down the field. UNT’s defense will also have to come together quickly in its first game in a new system.

The Mean Green will also have to make a series of big plays, which is what their offense and defense are designed to do. 

SS: Who do you actually see winning this game?

BV: I am picking UNT. No way am I picking against a new staff in the Mean Green’s home opener. And I do think it is possible UNT pulls it off. The Mean Green look at their game against SMU as their Super Bowl. UNT fans despise SMU. 

UNT just needs a few breaks to go its way.

If the Mean Green do get a few breaks, the game could roll their way quickly with what is expected to be a large, pro-UNT crowd behind them.

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