The SMU Mustangs (1-0, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) are coming to Denton this Saturday night for a rivalry game that could set the tone for the rest of the season for North Texas (1-0, 0-0 Conference USA). Both teams aim to obtain a 2-0 record after both recording a win to start off their 2020 seasons.
“It’s a school just right down the road and we recruit against each other,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “It’s an important game, we all know the importance of it and again just like all rivalries you want to make sure you give it your best — put your best foot forward, go out and execute.”
North Texas hopes to keep the ball rolling after a 57-31 win over Houston Baptist in week one, but this week’s opponent will be a test for the Mean Green defense as they go up against the second-ranked offense in the AAC in 2019. North Texas is 2-6 against Southern Methodist since 2014, they were defeated last season 49-27. Both wins for North Texas have been at Apogee Stadium.
Sophomore quarterbacks Jason Bean and Austin Aune come into the game as “co-starters” after leading an offense that set a school record of 721 total yards their first week. However, the recent arrest of quarterbacks coach Tate Wallis has been a topic for discussion since the news broke of his arrest on Sept. 3.
Wallis was charged on two accounts of an improper relationship between a student and an educator while working as a coach at Argyle High School.
“Control what you can control,” Littrell said. “Go out there and focus on doing your job and again that’s where we’re at and where it’s going to continue to be.”
Following the arrest, Wallis resigned and the quarterbacks coaching position was taken over by Littrell.
Littrell confirmed he has no plans of replacing Wallis during the season, saying it would be pointless to fix something that isn’t broken. The decision hasn’t phased players or coaches either. Bean has made it clear he isn’t worried considering Littrell has been there since day one.
“It hasn’t been a distraction,” Bean said. “We’ve got Littrell coming in, we are doing what we are told to do, and we are focused on winning games right now.”
Littrell has confirmed that both quarterbacks will continue to split time in the upcoming matchup. The two combined for 328 yards in the air against Houston Baptist and completed 17 passes on 29 attempts.
North Texas’ rushing performance featuring redshirt freshman Oscar Adaway III, senior Deandre Torrey and several others, produced 360 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries. The Mean Green’s offensive plan could consist of the same rushing mentality after Texas State rushed for over 200 yards against SMU.
The big question is whether the North Texas defense will be able to stop an SMU offense that scored seven touchdowns against them in 2019. Junior linebacker KD Davis believes a different defensive look could be their answer.
“We’re in a different defense now, so it’ll be a different look for them so we’re just going to play our defense and do what we do,” Davis said. “There’s nothing special we’re doing to try and stop them, we are just going to play our defense.”
Davis was awarded C-USA Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Houston Baptist in Week 1.
SMU’s offense ranked second in the AAC, went 10-3 overall and 6-2 in the conference for the 2019 season. Senior quarterback Shane Buechele leads the Mustang offense after throwing for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns last year.
Buechele, the son of former major league baseball player, Steve Buechele, started at the University of Texas during his freshman year. He started all 12 games and threw for 2,958 yards, setting the record for yards thrown as a freshman at Texas.
In week one Buechele threw for 367 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, beating Texas State 31-24.
Other players to watch among the Mustang offense are sophomore running back TJ McDaniel and freshman running back Ulysses Bentley IV. McDaniel rushed 27 times in Week 1 for 134 yards and a touchdown, and Bentley scored two touchdowns in the contest.
Apogee Stadium had over 29,000 fans in attendance for the win against the Mustangs in 2018. Littrell isn’t worried about losing that adrenaline factor that players can potentially gain from big crowds. The stadium will still operate under a 25 percent capacity on Saturday.
“A lot of the time when you’re out there on the field playing, the noise drowns out anyway,” Littrell said. “At the end of the day we’re going to compete, I don’t care who’s there.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at 5 p.m. at Apogee Stadium, and face masks are required inside the stadium and anywhere on campus.
Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore co-quarterback Austin Aune attempts to call for the ball against Houston Baptist on Sept. 5 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas