A word of warning about the quarterback Cal will face on Saturday when North Texas visits Memorial Stadium.
“When you’re playing against Mason Fine, when there’s three seconds left you somehow think he still could score 28 points. With him, you don’t really count anything out.”
Those remarks come courtesy of Sonny Dykes, the former Cal coach, who knows a thing or two about quarterbacks but never seemed quite as tuned in on defense during his four seasons in Berkeley.
Dykes — who helped cultivate Jared Goff at Cal but also generally fielded gruesome defenses — has a unique perspective on Fine, the prolific senior quarterback for the Mean Green.
A year ago, in his debut as head coach at SMU, Dykes watched Fine pass for a career-high 444 yards and three touchdowns as North Texas routed the Mustangs 46-23 in Denton, Texas.
That sounds in line with Dykes’ 2014 Bears, who allowed 4,406 passing yards and 42 touchdowns through the air to rank last nationally in both categories.
Last Saturday, Dykes’ squad showed off a different level of defense, holding Fine to 152 passing yards — his worst outing in a game he started and finished since his freshman season.
“When we played North Texas last year they were that much better than we were,” Dykes said in his post-game news conference Saturday. “The score was not indicative of the difference in the two teams. I think (coach) Seth (Littrell) probably could have beaten us by 30 more points if he wanted to.
“We weren’t very good. We played better tonight.”
SMU, off to a 2-0 start, sacked Fine five times and intercepted him once Saturday. Fine managed just a single touchdown pass.
During his 12-plus minute news conference, Dykes was rarely asked about SMU’s defensive effort against Fine, but he did note the sacks were a combination of good pressure up front and good coverage.
“We played really hard defensively,” he said. “It was a good effort against a good quarterback and a good football team.”
North Texas won nine games each of the past two seasons and is the favorite to win the Conference USA West title.
Perhaps mostly because he stands just 5-foot-11, Fine was just a two-star prospect out of Peggs, Oklahoma, despite prolific high school numbers. He needs just 48 passing yards to reach 10,000 for his career with the Mean Green.
Dykes suggested no team can afford to sleep on the Mean Green.
“They're a team that when they have momentum it can be really difficult to deal with,” Dykes said. “We saw that last year. They just overwhelmed us early in that ballgame.
“They have a really good program. The players are highly invested, they have a great coaching staff. They’re going to win a bunch of games. And they’ve got confidence.”