The SMU Mustangs opened the 2020 college football season with a closer-than-expected 31-24 victory over Texas State two weeks ago. SMU was then forced to wait longer than anticipated for another chance to play when its rivalry game against TCU was postponed. However, the idle week allowed Sonny Dykes' team extra time to prepare for another rival, as the North Texas Mean Green is set to host the Mustangs Saturday in Denton. North Texas also opened the season with a win, beating FCS member Houston Baptist 57-31 in Week 1, and then spending two weeks preparing for the opportunity to move to 2-0.
SMU at North Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: SMU -14
When SMU Has the Ball
The SMU offense runs through Shane Buechele. The former Texas quarterback threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions in 490 pass attempts in his first season with the Mustangs in 2019. Buechele accounted for 367 passing yards and a touchdown and averaged 10.2 yards per attempt while completing 72.2 percent of his passes against Texas State, but he was picked off twice. Top target Reggie Roberson Jr. caught six passes for 99 yards and a 51-yard score that proved to be the game-winner as it broke a 21-21 tie in the third quarter. Rashee Rice led the team with 101 yards on five catches, and junior college transfer Danny Gray, one of the fastest players in the country, caught four passes for 72 yards.
Buechele and his receivers give SMU one of the most dangerous passing offenses in the nation, but the Mustangs also have balance. New starting running back T.J. McDaniel gained 130 yards on 27 carries, including a nine-yard touchdown. Ulysses Bentley IV scored the first two TDs of the season for SMU and finished with 49 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
North Texas will certainly have its hands full, and the Mean Green had trouble putting FCS opponent Houston Baptist away in the opener. The Huskies piled up 569 yards of total offense — 480 of it through the air — and did not turn the ball over. Not a great start for a North Texas unit hoping to improve after allowing 32.5 points per game last season, which ranked 105th nationally.
When North Texas Has the Ball
Leading up to the opener, Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell was tight-lipped about his plans at quarterback. Jason Bean and Austin Aune competed to replace record-setting signal-caller Mason Fine throughout fall camp, and Bean earned the opening snaps in Week 1. He capitalized with 217 yards and three touchdowns through the air, as well as 48 rushing yards and a 37-yard TD on the ground, though Bean was intercepted once as well. Aune also saw action, as did third-stringer Kason Martin, and the three combined to throw for 361 yards and four scores while averaging 10.6 yards across 34 pass attempts.
Eleven receivers caught passes in the win, led by Jaelon Darden's five — three of which ended in the end zone. Darden ranked third on the team with 71 receiving yards in the opener, behind Greg White's 76 (which included a 32-yard TD pass from Bean) and Jyaire Shorter's 72. Top ball carrier Tre Siggers, who led the team with 853 rushing yards and six touchdowns last year, struggled to get going and finished with 41 rushing yards on a game-high 14 attempts. DeAndre Torrey gained 85 yards on 11 carries, but Oscar Adaway provided the biggest spark with 118 yards and two touchdowns on just five touches.
SMU allowed 416 total yards and 5.4 yards per play to Texas State in the opener, which was a modest improvement compared to the Mustangs performance in 2019. Last year, SMU ranked No. 109 nationally in scoring defense (33.4 ppg), No. 107 in total defense (445.0 ypg), and No. 125 in pass defense (288.6). The extremality of those numbers can be explained in part by a heavy defensive workload on account of a quick-strike offense. However, the 5.76 yards per snap SMU surrendered ranked 78th overall.
SMU took a big step forward from 5-7 in Sonny Dykes' first season in 2018 to 10-3 last year and part of the success can be attributed to an influx of talent from the transfer portal. In addition to Shane Buechele, SMU found multiple starters on defense who signed with Power 5 programs out of high school but moved back to the Dallas area to play for the Mustangs.
North Texas took a step back, falling to 4-8 a year ago after back-to-back nine-win seasons, and was then forced to find a new leader on offense when Mason Fine ran out of eligibility. The good news is Jason Bean appeared to be up to the task in Week 1 and may have locked up the starting job for good. Nevertheless, Houston Baptist may be the worst defensive team playing college football this fall, so it's too early to tell how much — if any — progress the Mean Green made this offseason.
Prediction: SMU 39, North Texas 27
(Top photo courtesy of @SMU_Football)