North Texas opens its home schedule at 11 a.m. Saturday against SMU at Apogee Stadium. Here’s a quick scouting report of the Mustangs:
Record: 0-1 (SMU fell to Baylor 45-0 in its season opener on Sunday)
Key number: Four (times UNT has beaten SMU in the teams’ series the Mustangs lead 28-4-1)
1. SMU hunting for QB: North Texas isn’t the only team that is still searching for a starting quarterback after the first week of the season. SMU is in largely the same position after its season-opening loss to Baylor. Neal Burcham started for the Mustangs and threw for 59 yards while completing 15 of his 26 pass attempts. Matt Davis, who started his career at Texas A&M, and Kolney Cassel also played. Burcham, who started the final two games of last season, is listed as SMU’s starter. He threw for 556 yards in the 2013 campaign and is the Mustangs best passer. Davis is a better athlete and a could be a bigger threat to pull the ball down and run.
2. Sanders a threat in return game: Deion Sanders Jr. has shown that he can be a threat in the return game. Sanders averaged 26.2 yards on five kickoff returns and broke off a 58-yard return in the Mustangs’ loss to Baylor. He averaged 20.6 yards a return last season. UNT has been terrific on special teams since Tommy Perry took over as the Mean Green’s special teams coach before last season and allowed only 21.3 yards a return last year. Armanti Foreman returned UNT’s only kickoff against Texas 18 yards. Holding Sanders in check will be key for UNT.
3. Watch for Yenga: Jonathan Yenga is one of SMU’s top players and has shown the ability to make big plays for the Mustangs. The former Euless Trinity standout finished with 11 tackles for loss and a team-high six sacks last season. Yenga got in on a tackle behind the line during SMU’s loss to Baylor. Considering UNT struggled to pick up blitzes against Texas and allowed four sacks, SMU could look to bring Yenga up the middle on passing downs.
4. SMU needs a win, badly: The Mustangs face a brutal early-season schedule and need a win against UNT. SMU has games against Texas A&M and TCU looming after its game against the Mean Green. If the Mustangs lose to UNT, they could easily be looking at entering conference play in the American Athletic Conference at 0-4. UNT players and fans see a game against SMU as a chance to post a win over a rival. SMU will look at the game as one it must win just to survive.
5. SMU wasn’t that far off a year ago: SMU has endured a tough offseason after finishing with a losing record. What has been overlooked is that the Mustangs finished 5-7 and were not all that far off from reaching a bowl. SMU lost 55-52 in three overtimes to Rutgers, fell 28-25 to Cincinnati and 17-13 to Central Florida to end the season. The Mustangs have 14 starters returning. UNT head coach Dan McCarney said this week that he has a lot of respect for the job June Jones has done despite the criticism SMU’s head coach has endured.
“Every offensive record in the 100-year history of SMU football has been set since June Jones got there,” McCarney said. “We are not misled by the outcome last night [against Baylor]. We know that SMU still has a lot of good players and a really good system with good coaches who know how to win. We have a tremendous challenge Saturday.”