Third-Downs Doom North Texas In 54-32 Loss
Fine's 424-Yard Passing Night Not Enough For Mean Green
DALLAS - For the second-straight year, North Texas could not stop SMU on third down nor slow Mustang star wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
SMU rolled up 169 yards in the first half just on third down plays and Sutton had four touchdown receptions, including three in the opening half, to ignite the Mustangs to 38 unanswered points in a 54-32 win over the Mean Green Saturday night at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
In a game in which each team had 493 yards total offense, it was SMU that was the more efficient and opportunistic, scoring 21 points off North Texas turnovers, taking control by halftime, extending the lead in the third quarter and putting it away early in the fourth.
"The big tell of the night was third downs, obviously," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "Any time you give up the amount of yards and conversions we did and don't take care of the football, you're not going to be a good team. Defensively we couldn't get off the field. Third down is a big issue, and they had over 200 yards on third down alone."
North Texas (1-1) roared out to a 10-0 lead. Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine completed eight of his first 10 throws, including a 30-yard pass to Turner Smiley and a 28-yard toss to Jaelon Darden in a game-opening 75-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Jeffery Wilson. After UNT forced a three-and-out, the Mean Green added a 46-field goal from Trevor Moore.
But SMU (2-0) drew even before the end of the first quarter. In a play eerily reminescent of the manner the Mustangs beat the Mean Green a year ago in Denton, SMU struck on third and long with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Sutton. The Mustangs then quickly forced a North Texas punt and took advantage of good field position for a 36-yard field goal.
After those first two impressive drives, the North Texas momentum melted away. The offense was sluggish in the second quarter, and its only drive of substance ended in an interception at the SMU 32. Wilson, coming off a 176-yard performance a week ago, struggled, rushing for 28 yards on 10 carries in the half and 36 yards on the night, and SMU kept pressure on Fine.
The North Texas defense came up with some big plays - including an interception by Kemon Hall and tackles for loss by Khairi Muhammad and LaDarius Hamilton - to keep the score at 10-10. But SMU's ability to convert third downs was the difference. The Mustangs, who converted 67 percent on third down a year ago, made good on six-of-eight in the first half, including five-of-five for an average distance of nine yards in the second quarter, leading to two more Sutton touchdowns and a 24-10 halftime lead.
"I thought we came out excited and ready to play," Littrell said. "But after that initial 10 points we scored, we had some bad things go against us."
The deficit grew to 38-10 before North Texas stopped the bleeding with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Jalen Guyton in the third quarter. Fine, despite being sacked five times, battled his way to one of the best statistical games of his career. He completed 32-of-47 passes for a career-high 424 yards, his first 400-yard game, and matched his career best with three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter.
What They Said
"He's a really tough kid. He's a gamer. He's a gritty player and has talent."
--Seth Littrell on Mason Fine's performance
"We've got to do a better job running the ball to help Mason out."
--Littrell on UNT's 69-yard rushing night
- Senior running back Jeffery Wilson's first-quarter touchdown was the 20th rushing TD of his career, tying him for sixth on the school's all-time list with Terrance Brown (1992-92).
- Wilson also moved into eighth place on the UNT all-time career rushing list, tying Brandin Byrd at 2,202 yards.
- SMU went deep on its first play of the game, but UNT junior defensive back Kemon Hall broke up the pass.
- Hall had a strong performance. He had his first career interception, and the team's second of the season, in the second quarter to thwart an SMU drive at the UNT 6-yard line, and broke up two passes and had five tackles.
- North Texas senior defensive back Kishawn McClain had a pass break-up on third and five from the North Texas 19 to hold SMU to a field goal.
- Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton scored the first touchdowns of his career. He pulled in a 72-yard reception from sophomore quarterback Mason Fine in the third quarter, then a 29-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter. Guyton had 109 yards on three receptions. UNT had just three 100-plus yard receiving efforts a year ago.
- The 72-yard TD to Guyton was the longest scoring pass of Fine's career. It was the second week in a row Fine has thrown multiple touchdowns in a game. Fine passed for a career-high 424 yards, becoming just the eighth player in school history to throw for over 400 yards in a game.
- North Texas senior defensive lineman Andy Flusche appeared to make a diving interception in the third quarter, stretching out to grab a pass batted at the line of scrimmage by Brandon Garner and LaDarius Hamilton. The play, however, was overturned on replay and ruled incomplete.
- Junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya had two sacks Saturday, the first two of his career. He also had a team-high seven tackles.
- North Texas used the wildcat formation on its opening drive in the red zone, and Wilson scored from the wildcat on a 2-yard run. The Mean Green used it again on third and one from its own 15-yard line and picked up two yards.
- Freshman wide receiver Jaelon Darden had the first touchdown reception of his career, a 13-yard pass from Fine in the fourth quarter.
- Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jason Pirtle had his first career reception.
- Sophomore wide receiver Michael Lawrence had eight receptions for 90 yards, both career bests.
North Texas will play at Iowa next Saturday. Game time is 2:30 p.m.