The 2017 season started off on the right track for North Texas. The Mean Green handled business on their home turf, lighting up the scoreboard in the 59-14 win over Lamar. The 668 yards of total offense set a new school record.
The offense was led by running back Jeffery Wilson, who finished the game with 176 yards rushing and three touchdowns. His performance was impressive enough to be named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.
Just as important, the senior running back didn’t appear to lose a step after coming back from knee surgery that caused him to miss part of last season.
“I’ve got to dedicate that to the people who took their time out to work with me during the summer,” Wilson said. “I’m forever thankful to those people. They know who they are. They will always be there in my heart.”
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His leadership and toughness was also on display Tuesday after practice. Despite being sick, Wilson still made it to the media room to answer questions in front of the camera.
Another bright spot on the offensive side of the ball was the continued progress of quarterback Mason Fine. The sophomore from Locust Grove, Oklahoma threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Lamar. Fine credits the improvement on having a full year under the system for not only himself but the entire team.
“I think a lot of progress has been made, even since spring ball,” Fine said. “We had great summer workouts and a great fall camp. Mainly it’s just being here another year and everybody has experience.”
In the win over Lamar, the defense was led by former DeSoto standout Khairi Muhammad. The sophomore safety led the team in tackles with seven (four solo) and also forced and recovered a fumble. Muhammad feels that playing for a high school program like DeSoto helped him make the adjustments necessary to playing college ball at North Texas.
“DeSoto is a powerhouse,” Muhammad said. “I played in front of 60-thousand, 70-thousand people. The tempo at DeSoto is really fast so It’s like a small college. It prepared me a lot for this.”
Next up for North Texas is a short trip down I-35 to face off against SMU in Dallas. The Mustangs are also coming off an impressive season-opening 58-14 win over Stephen F. Austin. The Mean Green defense will have their hands full against SMU’s Courtland Sutton. The junior wide receiver was named to the Biletnikoff Preseason Watch List and is considered to be a potential first-round NFL Draft pick.
Sutton only had two catches in the win over the Lumberjacks but one of those was a 13-yard touchdown for the first score of the game. He wasn’t needed much after that as SMU was in cruise control afterwards.
“It’s a great challenge,” said North Texas head coach Seth Littrell. “He’s one of the best in the country. He’s a special player and our guys know that. I know our guys are excited about the match-up. That’s why we play the game, for the great competition.”
The Mean Green are looking to beat the Mustangs in Dallas for the first time since a 7-0 win in 1933. SMU holds a 30-5-1 advantage in the metroplex rivalry. The Mustangs won 34-21 last year in Denton. One advantage in this rivalry is that neither team has to worry too much about the travel.
“It’s pretty much a home game for us,” Littrell said. “We are doing everything pretty similar. There’s not going to be much change within the schedule. In road games, you start having to get on flights and buses. This one is pretty routine.”
A little bit of school history is also on the line Saturday as North Texas aims to get win number 500 as a program. The Mean Green also has a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 1994. Yes, this is a rivalry game. However, emotions aside, the Mean Green remain focused on the task at hand.
“We go out there and give 100 percent all week, every week for really the whole season,” Muhammad added. “That is our mindset. SMU is like any other week.”
Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.