Mean Green Fall In Fourth Quarter To SMU, 31-13
Four Turnovers, Inconsistency On Offense Doom North Texas In Season Opener
Andrew McNulty throws downfield against SMU Saturday night.(photo by Rick Yeatts)
DALLAS - An inconsistent North Texas offense, which had rolled up and down the field a year ago against SMU, coughed and sputtered and struggled in Saturday night's season opener, losing two fumbles, throwing two interceptions, and failing to generate scoring chances or to take advantage of opportunities presented to it in a 31-13 loss to the Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
The North Texas defense generated three first-half turnovers of its own, stopped SMU three times inside the Mean Green five-yard line, and kept SMU quarterback Matt Davis under control for three quarters, but wore down and surrendered 21-straight points in a decisive fourth quarter.
"They outplayed us in the second half," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "They made the plays, we didn't. You turn the ball over four times, you're rarely going to win football games. That was the difference in the game."
North Texas got an early break when SMU's punter bobbled the snap on the Mustangs' first possession and was tackled at his own 16, setting up the game's first points on a Trevor Moore 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 Mean Green lead.
The bobbled snap was the first of four critical first-half SMU mistakes. Mustang quarterback Davis fumbled at the NT goal line and Fred Scott recovered for the Mean Green in the end zone for a touchback. On the ensuing Mean Green possession, North Texas punted and SMU return man Deion Sanders, Jr., muffed the punt and NT's John Schilleci recovered at the SMU 30. And after North Texas lost a fumble at its own 31, NT's Kishawn McClain caused another Mustang fumble, recovered by NT's Austin Orr.
But North Texas failed to capitalize on the Mustang gifts, settling for two Moore field goals and a 7-6 halftime deficit. The Mean Green's new hurry-up, no-huddle offense was sporadic all night, generating just 240 yards total offense for the game, completing 16-of-34 passes and turning the ball over four times.
The Mean Green defense, meanwhile, kept North Texas in the game, registering a pair of sacks and three turnovers in the first half. In the second half, NT stonewalled SMU on four-straight running plays after the Ponies had the ball first-and-goal at the Mean Green two-yard-line, then held SMU to a field goal after the Mustangs were first-and-goal from the five.
North Texas took the lead, 13-10, late in the third quarter after its only sustained drive of the night, a nine-play, 75-yard march capped by a 25-yard touchdown run by Antoinne Jimmerson.
SMU, however, responded with three-consecutive touchdown drives in the final period. Mustang quarterback Matt Davis passed for the go-ahead score, then scrambled 50 yards for the clinching TD.
What They Said
"At times the effort was as good as its ever been since I took the job, but in the end, they made the plays."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney
"In our plan to win, we have to take care of the football."
--McCarney on his team's four turnovers
"Three times inside the five-yard line, we held them to a field goal. You can build on that toughness and heart and belief that you're not going to give in."
--McCarney on his defense's performance
This was the 35th meeting between North Texas and SMU. SMU holds the series lead, 29-5-1.
Former President George W. Bush was in attendance Saturday. He visited the North Texas lockerroom before the game and spoke briefly to the Mean Green players and coaches.
The North Texas Ticket Office sold almost 5,000 tickets to Saturday's game, and, at kickoff, the Gerald J. Ford Stadium drowd was at least 50 percent Mean Green fans.
Eric Keena's first punt of the season was sensational: 55 yards, out of bounds on the SMU five-yard line.
In his first game for North Texas, linebacker Blake Bean made an immediate impact with a team-high five first-half tackles.
North Texas sophomore Kishawn McClain had the first forced fumble of his career when he jarred the ball loose in the second quarter. The Mean Green's Austin Orr recovered the loose ball, his first career recovery.
Red-shirt freshman Cedric Fernandes had a strong performance in his debut, with five tackles, including one for loss.
For just the second time under head coach Dan McCarney, North Texas came up short when leading after three quarters, moving to 19-2 under McCarney.
With the loss, North Texas has won just three season openers in the last 19 years.
Kicker Trevor Moore hit his sixth and seventh straight field goals, before missing what would have been a career-long 48-yarder before halftime.
Running back Antoine Jimmerson moved into seventh all-time with his 23rd-career touchdown on a 25-yard run in the third quarter.
Jimmerson also moved into 16th all-time with 40 rushing yards, giving him 1,619 rushing yards for his career.
Making his first career start, fellow running back Andrew Tucker rushed for a career-high 50 on 10 carries.
Defensive back John Schilleci was a weapon on special teams for the Mean Green, tackling SMU punter Josh Williams for a 19-yard loss, and later recovering a muffed punt.
North Texas opens its home and Conference USA slates when it faces Rice on Saturday, Sept. 16, at Apogee Stadium. Game time is 1:30.