By Zachary Fox
Sean Porkorny-USA TODAY Sports
Buckle up North Texas, because rivalry week has officially arrived! The Mean Green torched their way to a 1-0 record after a 57-31 home opening win against Houston Baptist University. But a bigger threat awaits within their path in Southern Methodist University. After two weeks to prepare, considering a previous matchup with Texas A&M was cancelled weeks prior due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Mean Green look to continue their dominance at Apogee Stadium Saturday.
SMU is also perched at 1-0 after a narrow 31-24 victory in San Marcos, where the Texas State Bobcats gave an early test to the Shane Beuchele led offense. SMU has also spent two weeks to prepare for the Mean Green after their matchup against TCU was cancelled for health and safety concerns. As well
After performing last week with stadium capacity at 25%, Coach Littrell stated, “I thought our fans, our crowd, our students, everybody did a great job…. Those who were allowed to be there brought great energy.” Littrell reiterated that the crowd can’t be heard all of the time “...when you’re out there on the field playing, the noise kinda drowns out.” However, in a deep rival like UNT and SMU, even the crowd can factor in the momentum swing throughout.
The key takeaways leading up to the game is the battle of the gunslingers. In game one, quarterback Jason Bean annihilated HBU’s defense with 217 passing yards and three touchdowns along with one rushing touchdown. Bean was also a finalist for the Manning Award Star of the Week. Redshirt Sophomore quarterback Austin Aune checked into the game late due to Bean’s hot start. Aune entered with 4:25 left in the third quarter and finished 6-11 passing with 111 yards and a touchdown pass. When asked about his stance on a specific starter, Seth Littrell gave a similar response as in week one, saying he feels “great about our quarterback situation. I feel good about both of those guys and we will go from there.”
After former quarterbacks coach Tate Wallis announced his resignation just days after being accused of an improper relationship with a student, head coach Seth Littrell will now be the quarterbacks coach. “I’ve been in the room since day one...and so they’re going to hear the same voice....as the play caller, they have to think what I’m thinking.” Assistant coach Quinn Shanbour will assist Littrell in the role as well.
As for SMU, senior Shane Beuchele started off the 2020 season with 367 passing yards and one touchdown. Buechele is in his second season with the Mustangs after transferring from the University of Texas, where he was an honorable mention for the 2016 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and named to the 2017 Academic All-Big 12 Second Team. His 4,636 yards were 10th-most in school history at the time, while his 30 touchdown passes were ninth-most. Beuchele led the Mustangs to an impressive 10-3 record last season and a national ranking of 15 in Week 9 the 2019 season.
“They have a lot of great players around the board,” Littrell stated after being asked about the productivity of the SMU running backs over the years. The Mean Green defense will have to go all out without giving up garbage time points like they did in week one against HBU late in the fourth quarter. One main leader on the team that guides the defense is Junior Linebacker KD Davis, who was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week in week one. When asked about KD's potential as well as his improvement on the field, Coach Littrell replied “I think he has a high ceiling and is a very athletic kid that sees the field well. The more comfortable he gets in the system the better he will be. Out in space he does a great job of tackling the football… whether on the pass or the run.”
SMU has historically dominated the series and leads North Texas all time 32-6-1. Last year the Mean Green travelled to Gerald J. Stadium and lost 49-27. However, UNT is 4-1 all time against the Mustangs here in Denton. Statistics aside, this is a very different UNT football squad with a different approach to the game. It is predicted to be an air raid battle rather than a low scoring defensive affair. Which squad will use their fire power to the fullest? We’ll find out on Saturday night, but one thing is certain: the legendary Safeway Bowl and the rivalry between the two schools only 41 miles away is going nowhere. The Mean Green kickoff against the Mustangs this Friday September 15th at 5:00 PM.