When: Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 6 p.m. CT
WHERE: Apogee Stadium- Denton, Texas
TV: American Sports Network
SERIES: 29-5-1 SMU leads
LAST MEETING: SMU won 31-13 September 12, 2015 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium
Line: SMU -9.5
It’s SMU’s first game of the season and it’s the first time since 1980 that its season opener is against UNT. Given that SMU has only played in Denton three times, this is also the first time that the Mustangs will open there season there. The Mustangs have never won in Denton. Outside of a season-ending injury to Chad Pursley, SMU remained relatively healthy in fall camp. With their last game being a beatdown by Memphis, SMU has had all offseason to think about that loss.
There have been a lot of changes at UNT since the hiring of Seth Littrell. But after a 1-11 season in 2015, one has to wonder whether enough has changed for the Mean Green to have a much better 2016. Perhaps UNTs greatest strength is the number of returners in its secondary. The Mean Green have a pair of veteran safeties in Kishawn McClain and James Gray. With over 200 tackles between the two of them in 2015 alone, UNT has a pair of play making safeties that would bolster any defensive backfield. McClain was also an All-Conference USA selection.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Courtland Sutton vs. Nate Brooks: Last season Brooks was seventh on the team with 38 tackles and had three pass breakups. Sutton started all 12 games for SMU and had 49 catches for 862 yards with nine touchdowns. He will likely be the Mustangs go-to receiver again. In last year’s match up Matt Davis threw for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Sutton was responsible for 65 of those yards and one of those scores. Look for him to have another solid outing against the Mean Green Saturday.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Former Alabama quarterback Alec Morris transferred to UNT after spending four seasons riding the pine at Alabama and will finally get his shot to lead an offense in college. Only he’ll be doing it with little to no proven weapons early on.
Following his DWI arrest, Turner Smiley—UNT’s leading receiver a year ago—has been suspended for the game against SMU. Darvin Kidsy, another receiver expected to help out UNT’s offense this season, was charged in a hit-and-run in January. Naturally, he was removed from the team.
So that leaves Morris with receivers like sophomore Tee Goree, who caught 15 passes for 118 yards in 2015. That is UNT’s leading returning receiver.
UNT’s offensive line is not great but with a brand new quarterback, and a depleted receiving corps, the ground game might be the Mean Green’s best option. That means a lot of touches for Jeffery Wilson. He led the team in rushing a year ago with 830 yards on 155 carries.
Shutting down the run and would go a long way to stopping UNT cold as Morris simply doesn’t have targets to throw to.
WATCH TO WATCH FOR
When UNT is on Offense: Expect a lot of touches for Wilson. He was UNT’s leading rusher a season ago and is the Mean Green’s most proven player on offense coming into the season.
When UNT is on Defense: With McClain and Gray patrolling the secondary, we should expect to see a lot of balls batted down and a lot of big hits over the middle. The duo led UNT in tackling by a lot, so they aren’t afraid to step up and mix it up on run plays. It wouldn’t be too surprising if SMU tried to take advantage of their aggressive play with some play action.
When SMU is on Offense: Sutton and the rest of the receiving corps should be able to abuse the UNT secondary. The Mean Green allowed 41.2 points a game last season and a leaky secondary definitely didn’t help.
When SMU is on Defense: Justin Lawler should have a field day. The 6-4, 251 pound junior led the team with 64 tackles and five sacks last season. UNT’s offensive line is suspect and Lawler should be able to apply a ton of pressure on Morris. And should the Mean Green stick to the ground game, Lawler will be there to blow things up.
Pony Stampede Predictions
Billy: SMU 48-21
Patrick: SMU 34-24
Scott: SMU 45-21
Demo: SMU 45-13
Hatts: SMU 42-31