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North Texas shines in all phases, thumping SMU in Safeway Bowl

UNT was stellar Saturday night on its way to a season-opening win against rival SMU

NCAA Football: North Texas at Rice Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As SMU punted after its sixth three-and-out of the night, the only audio understood from the sound picked up by the Apogee Stadium mic was, “It’s rolling, it’s rolling!” Like that ball, North Texas was rolling Saturday night.

The Mean Green thumped SMU 46-23 in the Safeway Bowl, as UNT seemed nearly flawless in every phase of the game in a UNT record 29,519 fans.

While most of the off-season buzz surrounded the Mean Green offense, UNT’s defense seemed most impressive in the first game of the season. SMU was held to a three-and-out on its first two possessions before UNT cornerback Kemon Hall ended the trend by returning an interception for a 36-yard touchdown to make the score 14-0 early.

The Mustangs didn’t tally a first down until the 6:27 mark in the second quarter, ending the game with 256 total yards, 210 of which came in the fourth quarter.

The Mustangs were scoreless until Braeden West punched it in from 5 yards out with 8:11 left. They struck again with 1:41 left via a 59-yard pass from Ben Hicks to James Proche. Hicks then threw another 71-yard score to West with 1:09 left.

The UNT offense had the opposite result of its counterpart. Mason Fine threw a 15-yard touchdown to Jalen Guyton 6:26 into the game for UNT’s first points of the season. The two connected for another 17-yard score in the third quarter that stretched the Mean Green’s score to 33-0 after a failed two-point conversion attempt. Guyton added 95 yards on seven catches along with the two touchdowns.

Rico Bussey Jr. was Fine’s top target with nine catches for 109 yards. Fine recorded the second 400-yard performance of his career with 444 yards and three touchdowns on 40-of-50 passing.

On special teams, Cole Hedlund was perfect with four field goals from 40, 18, 41 and 51 yards, respectively. DeAndre Torrey also scored UNT’s last touchdown of the night with a 97-yard kickoff return.