SMU redshirt sophomore quarterback Preston Stone’s status for Friday’s game against North Texas is uncertain after he left last weekend’s 36-31 win over Rice in the fourth quarter on a third-down hit that sent him to the locker room.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Jennings replaced Stone, completed four of his six pass attempts, and led a late field-goal drive to increase SMU’s lead. According to head coach Rhett Lashlee, Stone is still in concussion protocol, meaning Jennings might be making his first career start when the Mustangs host the Mean Green.
“It’s just day-to-day on that protocol piece. That’s out of our control,” Lashlee said as he met with the media on Wednesday. “We may not know until Friday, the day of the game, if he’s available, but Kevin’s ready. He’s taken the reps this week in practice. I think we’ve seen what Kevin can do when he gets in there. We feel good if we have them both, and we feel good if we just have Kevin.”
Jennings is in his second season at SMU and has appeared in eight games, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns and running for 31 yards and another score, but he has never started a college game. Nevertheless, Lashlee and his team believe he can get the job done.
“They’re different,” Lashlee said of his quarterbacks, “but they can both execute what we do at a good level. We don’t feel like we have to change who we are. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Kevin, and I think, after two years in the same system, he has confidence in what we do.”
This is the second consecutive year SMU has had to deal with a late-season injury to its starting quarterback. Stone made his first career start in place of an injured Tanner Mordecai against Tulsa last season, and Jennings had to come into the game and play the entire second half after Stone suffered a broken collarbone.
“Those moments prepared him for this year because that was an important drive,” Lashlee added. “He had two big third down conversions, and he did some really good stuff.”
SMU is tied with Tulane and Texas-San Antonio atop the American Athletic Conference and will not play either team the rest of the season. However, the Mustangs do have to travel to Memphis, which is lurking just behind the three-way tie and was picked to finish fourth in the AAC at its annual media day in July.
Memphis, Tulane, and UTSA have all had close calls against UNT in recent weeks, so SMU will need to maintain momentum throughout the game and keep the Mean Green from scoring quickly on offense.
“They’re so good on offense, you’re not going to hold them down for four quarters,” Lashlee remarked. “If they start out hot, you’ve got to hope you can slow them down later, and if they start off slow, they’re going to find a way to score points. We’ve got to play a full, four-quarter game, and it’s going to be a good challenge.”
For all its firepower on offense, North Texas can struggle just as much defensively, particularly against the run. The Mean Green has the nation’s worst run defense, allowing 260.2 yards per game, an area SMU could exploit.
“The run game’s going to be important this week because of how they are, but I feel like it’s kind of important every week, and it’s not like, if Kevin’s in there, that we feel like it’s a guy we’ve got to protect,” Lashlee explained. “If he’s in there, we’re going to trust him to run the gameplan and win the game just like we would Preston.”
SMU and UNT will kick off at SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium at 8 p.m. CT on Friday.