Prediction: UNT will find a way at home against SMU

North Texas quarterback Josh Greer is sacked by Texas defenders Bryce Cottrell (91) and Hassan Ridgeway on Saturday in Austin. UNT lost 38-7 and will look to bounce back Saturday against SMU. (Associated Press/Eric Gay)

TV: Fox Sports: Brendan Burke (play-by-play), Ben Leber (analyst), J.C. Pearson (sideline)

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1, KGAF-AM 1580

On the line: Simply put, Saturday’s game is huge for both UNT and SMU for a number of reasons. UNT has long looked at SMU as a potential rival due to its location right down the road in Dallas. There is also a feeling among UNT fans and supporters that SMU has looked down on the school and its athletic program for years. The Mustangs have dominated the series and have a 28-4-1 lead. This game gives UNT a chance to prove that a new era is dawning in Denton and that the Mean Green are ready to become a force in Texas football. UNT is coming off a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season. A win over SMU would be huge for UNT from a number of perspectives, including building its fan base, bragging rights and the boost it would give UNT in recruiting. The Mean Green and Mustangs are recruiting several of the same players from the Dallas area. For SMU, this week’s game is one it can’t afford to lose. The Mustangs were drilled by Baylor in their opener and have games against Texas A&M and TCU looming after their showdown with UNT. If SMU falls to UNT, it could easily enter American Athletic Conference play at 0-4.

When North Texas has the ball: UNT struggled mightily offensively in its loss to Texas, managing just 94 total yards. The Mean Green played two quarterbacks against the Longhorns in Josh Greer and Andrew McNulty. Both struggled with Greer going 2-for-11 for 8 yards, while Andrew McNulty went 1-for-6 for 7 yards, Both threw two interceptions and were sacked twice. UNT allowed just 11 sacks all of last season. UNT is determined to bounce back and will turn to its running game to reach that goal. The Mean Green have employed a run-based offense throughout Dan McCarney’s four seasons and have four starters returning on their offensive line. UNT managed just 79 rushing yards on an average of 1.8 yards a carry against Texas and will look to improve on that total against SMU and take the pressure off its quarterbacks. SMU struggled defensively against a powerful Baylor offense, but does have seven starters returning. Stephon Sanders is on the watch list for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation’s top linebacker.

When SMU has the ball: SMU played three quarterback in its loss to Baylor and floundered, managing just 67 total yards. Neal Burcham threw for 59 yards against Baylor and will likely get the start against UNT. Matt Davis, who started his career at Texas A&M, could also play and offers the Mustangs the chance to get a better running threat at quarterback in the game. The bigger concern for SMU is its offensive line that struggled against Baylor, allowing nine sacks. UNT lost all four of its starters up front, but showed signs of being solid defensively against Texas. The return of defensive end Daryl Mason after he missed UNT’s loss to Texas with an injury will be a boost for UNT, which has three of its four starters in the secondary returning. The key to the game for UNT will be pressuring Burcham and containing the Mustangs’ passing game that McCarney called one of the SMU’s strengths.

Prediction: UNT has been waiting for an opportunity to play SMU in Denton for years. The teams have played 33 times, but have met just twice in Denton. UNT has won both of those meetings, including a 24-6 victory in 2006. A win over SMU would be a huge milestone for UNT, which is determined to capitalize. The Mean Green struggled to run the ball against Texas, but will bounce back against SMU behind Reggie Pegram. The senior rushed for 50 yards against Texas and looked like he has recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in a win over Southern Miss late last season. The Mustangs will make some plays offensively, but the Mean Green will hang on in a close game.

UNT 24, SMU 21

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