SMU’s season opener could not have gone worse.
The Mustangs were outgained, outplayed and outcoached in Saturday night’s 46-23 loss to North Texas at Apogee Stadium in Denton.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said.
SMU’s offense looked out of sync for the better part of the night. It started on the first drive, when the Mustangs went three and out after two penalties and a sack. Five of the Mustangs’ six first-half possessions ended in punts. On four of those drives, SMU went three and out. By the end of the first half, the Mustangs had just 24 total yards in the first half and only 46 by the end of the third quarter.
“We never could get anything going,” Dykes said. “We couldn’t get on track. It just seemed like we were sluggish.”
Ben Hicks’ struggles echoed those of the Mustangs’. He was under pressure all night long and had trouble throwing accurate passes to his receivers. He only completed three passes for 27 yards in the first half and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by North Texas’ Kemon Brooks to put the Mean Green up 14-0.
Hicks rebounded in the fourth quarter, completing six of nine passes for 197 yards and two scores, but it was too little, too late.
SMU’s defense lost one of its key players in linebacker Trevor Denbow to a targeting penalty on UNT’s first drive. The penalty kept UNT’s drive alive and eventually led to a Mean Green touchdown.
Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine gave SMU’s defense fits all night long. The junior quarterback kept finding soft spots in SMU’s zone defense, allowing North Texas’ offense to keep on humming down the field. He finished the night with 40 completions on 50 attempts for 444 yards passing and three touchdowns.
“[Fine] really played well,” Dykes said. “The guy’s a really good football player. When you watch the film you’re going to see play after play after play where we had guys in pretty good position to make a play and he made a perfect throw.”
SMU’s offensive struggles resulted in the North Texas offense running 94 plays, leaving SMU’s defense gassed. It reflected in SMU’s tackling. Still, North Texas was only able to run the ball for 68 yards on 43 carries.
“I saw enough from our defense tonight to think that those guys have a chance to be pretty good,” Dykes said. “We gave up 460 yards passing but they were on the field [close to] 100 plays. I think we played good defense until we got fatigued and started missing some tackles in the second half.”
All of SMU’s 23 points came in the final quarter. Braeden West scored twice, first on a five-yard run and then on a 71-yard reception. James Proche made several defenders miss on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Ben Hicks.
“I saw us make enough offensive plays at the end of the game to make me think that we have the chance to be good offensively,” Dykes said.
Dykes, who now drops to 0-2 in his SMU coaching career, shouldered part of the blame for SMU’s performance.
“I was disappointed in the way we played, and obviously any time you don’t play well you’re disappointed in the way you coached,” Dykes said. “We didn’t do a very good job getting them prepared and I have to own it.”
He’ll have another chance to earn his first win at SMU next Friday, when the Mustangs take on TCU at Ford Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.