Slow Start, Big Plays Send North Texas To 34-21 Loss
NT's Turnovers, SMU's Third-Down Efficiency Too Much To Overcome
DENTON - North Texas showed heart and resiliency Saturday night at Apogee Stadium, and showed flashes of the kind of play first-year head coach Seth Littrell is looking for.
Unfortunately, the Mean Green displayed those positives only after getting off to a dreadful start. North Texas struggled through an utterly forgettable first quarter, then couldn't make the key plays to keep a drive alive or stop an SMU drive in a 34-21 loss to the Mustangs in both teams' season opener.
"We need to play better all the way around," Littrell said. "They obviously made more plays than we did. Overall, I was proud how we kept fighting. There's no quit in this team. It just took a little longer than I'd like for us to get started.
"We've just got to make more plays than we did," he added.
The Mean Green were out-gained 243-63 in the first quarter and fell into a 17-0 hole. North Texas allowed two big scoring plays - a 49-yard touchdown run and an 88-yard TD pass - while Mean Green quarterback Alec Morris, making his first collegiate start, was intercepted twice in his first four passes.
But North Texas bounced back in the second quarter. The defense made some stops while Morris and the offense found its footing. Morris engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 31-yard run by Jeffery Wilson and capped by a 7-yard touchdown toss from Morris to Thaddeous Thompson to pull North Texas within 10 at 17-7.
SMU appeared to deliver back-breaking score 1:59 before halftime. After NT's third interception stopped a Mean Green march in SMU territory, the Mustangs moved to the North Texas 11. Three penalties shoved SMU back to the NT 46, but, on third and 45, SMU quarterback Matt Davis heaved a prayer into the end zone that eluded multiple North Texas defenders and was caught by the Mustangs' Courtland Sutton for a 46-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.
But North Texas responded with a six play, 75-yard scoring drive. Morris shrugged off the interceptions, picked up a couple of first downs, then hit Kelvin Smith, who got loose down the sideline and cartwheeled over a would-be tackler into the end zone to cut the gap to 24-14 at halftime.
The Mean Green, however, couldn't make that next play to fuel the comeback. North Texas had three third-quarter drives stall at midfield, and Morris was frequently under pressure and was sacked three times. SMU, meanwhile, converted 67 percent of its third downs through three periods and added a pair of third-quarter scores for a 34-14 lead.
"We had them in some third and long situations," Littrell said. "They made big plays and we weren't able to make those plays. We just have to attack the ball and get off the field. We just didn't finish."
Freshman quarterback Mason Fine made his debut for North Texas late in the game and led North Texas on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march. Fine was eight of 11 for 74 yards, and Jeffrey Wilson finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run.
What They Said
"This game is not going to make or break us. We've just got to stay the course. They've got to trust us and believe in what we're building, and believe in each other"
--NT coach Seth Littrell on his team's first game
"It was fun getting out there with the men and competing."
--Littrell on starting the season
"We've got to correct the big plays that they made. We've got to execute and get off the field"
--NT defensive back Chad Davis
"It was the mental errors we made."
--Mean Green running back Jeffrey Wilson on the difference in the game.
"We're going to evaluate everything, and we're going to play the best guys. If he's earned playing earlier, then he will."
--Littrell on freshman quarterback Mason Fine
"Mason brings a different energy. He gave us some life."
--NT wide receiver Terian Goree on Fine.
• Kishawn McClain had a touchdown-saving pass break-up on the second play of the game. SMU receiver James Proche got behind the NT defense, but McClain recovered, closed on Proched and knocked the pass away.
• On SMU's second possession, the Mustangs drove to the NT 11, but Mean Green defensive back Chad Davis turned the threat away with an interception at the goalline.
• Davis also had a pass break-up in the third quarter in the end zone, tipping a third-down pass away from receiver Courtland Sutton.
• Running back Jeffery Wilson picked up a huge first down for the Mean Green in the first quarter. Down 10-0 and facing third and 16 from its own 15, NT's Wilson took a screen and turned it into a 16-yard gain.
• Wide receiver Terian Goree had a career-high 64 receiving yards.
• This was SMU's first win in Denton, though it's also just the fourth time the Mustangs have found their way up I-35E.
• Saturday's attendance was 24,718, the third largest crowd in Apogee history.
North Texas hosts Bethune Cookman on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at Apogee Stadium.