Keys to the Game: North Texas & SMU

The Mean Green and the Mustangs series continues Saturday night in Dallas. Kudos to the administrations of both schools for making this series a consistent reality the past four or five years and moving forward. 

A few key questions that need answering: 

Can North Texas Protect Mason Fine?

The Mean Green's biggest question mark, the offensive line, will be tested against the Mustangs. SMU's defensive line could be the Mustangs' most improved unit in 2017. SMU sacked SFA quarterbacks twice and had six quarterback hurries. North Texas' line allowed two sacks and three hurries to FCS opponent Lamar. 

Can SMU stop Jeffery Wilson?

For all North Texas' Air Raid goodness, the Mean Green grind out games on the ground with Jeffery Wilson and now Nic Smith and Evan Johnson. The Mustang defense would be wise to load the box and make Mason Fine beat them. If North Texas is one dimensional, chances are the game goes SMU's way fast. 

Can the Mean Green Limit SMU's Big Plays? 

SMU's skill players are excellent. The Ponies go beyond Courtland Sutton to find big plays. James Proches, Trey Quinn, Braeden West, and Ke'Mon Freeman are all threats to go the distance at any time. North Texas' secondary is the strength of the roster, nonetheless, in last year's meeting, the Mustangs turned the game into a track meet. If North Texas wants to change the outcome, they'll need to keep the Mustang explosive plays in check. 

How does SMU Prep for Reffett?

Troy Reffett's defensive units are fast, aggressive, turnover inducing and create chaos. Reffett is a master of multiple fronts, blitzing from anywhere, and forcing confusion. The Mean Green's success in 2016 came in large part because North Texas took a huge leap forward defensively. Reffett's added more chaos weapons for 2017. SMU's offense will need to prepare accordingly. Communication between quarterback Ben Hicks and his offensive line and back will be critical. Hicks has to avoid the big mistake and be smart with the football. 

Is either quarterback good?

After a pretty decent freshman season, the best most of us could say about Mason Fine was that he surprised us. That's code for, "hey that guy didn't suck." He didn't throw downfield well, took a lot of sacks, and the Mean Green won because they ran the ball and defended well. 

For most of 2016, SMU won in spite of Ben Hicks, not because of him. Last week Fine put together perhaps his most complete game as a North Texas quarterback, with a 15-21 224, three touchdown performance, albeit against a bad FCS team.  Hicks looked like, Hicks - under 50% completions, bad per attempt average, and the rest of the Mustangs carried the load. Can one of these two quarterbacks play well enough for their team to win because of them and not in spite of them. 

Numbers and Notes

  • SMU has dominated the series winning 30 times to just 5 losses with 1 tie. 
  • North Texas has never won back to back games against SMU.
  • SMU's Jordan Wyatt is among the NCAA active leaders in defensive touchdowns with four for his career. 
  • Ben Hicks finished third among all freshman in passing yards per game last season, finishing ahead behind Florida State's Deondre Francois, Texas' Shane Buechele and one spot ahead of USC's Sam Darnold. 
  • North Texas rolled up a school record 668 yards on Saturday against Lamar. 
  • Jeffery Wilson averaged more than 14 yards a carry last weekend, the Mean Green as a team averaged over seven yards per rush. 
  • NT's Trevor Moore has converted 107 straight extra point attempts. 
  • SMU's Xavier Jones returned to the team after missing 2016 due to injury. Jones set a freshman record with ten rushing touchdowns in 2015. 

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