Safeway Bowl Champs: North Texas 46 SMU 23

SMU had a nice hold on the recent series — winning three straight — and there was an ugly feeling among the North Texas faithful. The question of the nature of this ‘rivalry’ is up in the air — no one is getting fired over losing this game, not really. Still, it was not nice to have the squad from Dallas extend their overall lead in this series. Seth Littrell called it a rivalry a little too forcefully in his press conference, like he was trying to make himself believe it. “I just know it is a rivalry and will always be to us.”

Whatever the case, the hype for this game was real. The Athletic Department worked hard to sell this game, and the wrestling match afterward is evidence that no idea is too outrageous. The momentum from last year was not affected by the two losses to end the season. Everyone believes in Seth Littrell and Mason Fine.

The attendance was phenomenal — 29,519 — a program record. They saw a thorough demolition of the Ponies and Sonny Dykes in his regular season debut as the head man for SMU. The defense, much maligned all offseason (for good reason) looked ferocious as they hounded Ben Hicks to under 100 yards passing for most of the game. He did not crack the century mark until well into the fourth quarter and a spurt against backups put him over 250 for the game by the very skin of his teeth.

Linebackers Brandon Garner and EJ Ejiya carried the defense, flying around the field and getting three sacks between them (two for EJ), two QB hurries, and a forced fumble.

They were helped by outstanding play from DE “Hambone” La’Darius Hamilton and the front four. The SMU offense was more than held in check. They were tied up and held hostage. Through three quarter SMU had 46 yards, -9 rush yards, and only 55 pass yards, and two first downs. The dominance was remarkable.

Meanwhile, all that defense helped us overlook the relatively poor start the offense had. Mason Fine and company ended the first half with a 20-point lead but managed only one score. The defense had a pick-six (CB Kemon Hall!) that padded the scoring margin and so it was easy to miss the fact that the offense 1) didn’t run the ball well and 2) was allowing hits on Mason Fine.

In the third quarter the halftime talk worked and NT put up 227 yards (compared to 302 for the entire first half) while scoring 16 (there was one failed 2-point hook-and-ladder attempt). Mason Fine put up 199 of those on 14/18 passing and tossed 2 TDs. The run game did not come unstuck, but here were a couple of gashes.

Things We Liked

Mason Fine balled out. Even when he “struggled” he was finding open guys with authority. The passes were crisp and on-target. He over threw a couple and hit an SMU safety in the chest with a pass that should have been an INT but over all found his secondary options and hit them in stride.

The WR corps was deadly. Rico Bussey had 9 for 109 — all in the first half on 10 targets. Jalen Guyton had 7 for 95 with 2 scores and Jaelon Darden had a spectacular grab to go with some good YAC plays. He finished with 6 for 81 on 6 targets.

Mike Lawrence only had one grab on 4 targets but everyone else was eating good. If Mason can complete 40/50 for 444 and 3 scores next time there will be plenty of opportunity for the entire corps to get their numbers.

Cole Hedlund did not have a clutch kick to try, but he hit three from distance — including one from 51.

DeAndre Torrey had a 96 yard kickoff return for a score.

The defense was incredible and dominated the game thoroughly. They scored, and got a turnover.

Things That Concerned Us

The run game was poor — just 62 yards on 29 carries for the two main guys Nic Smith and Loren Easly. Mason Fine was hit a few too many times for anyone’s liking.

That last couple of minutes was awful defensively. SMU scored all of their 23 points in the final quarter and all of them after the 8th minutes. Two big pass TDs padded their stats but Troy Reffett was very unhappy.

Next Up

North Texas is home against Air Raid squad Incarnate Word, an FCS team from the Southland Conference based in San Antonio and headed by former Texas Tech WR Eric Morris. They were beat by New Mexico 62-30 tonight.