June Jones finally broke a smile at the end of SMU's sweet return to postseason play. The Mustangs just wrapped up a 45-10 throttling of shorthanded Nevada from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. It was the school's first bowl victory and first bowl appearance since 1984.
Let the luau begin. And may the 1986 death penalty finally RIP.
"I think they’re starting to realize it," Jones said earlier this week of his players understanding the depth of the death penalty, a punishment handed down by the NCAA before these players were even born. "And they’ll really realize it probably 10 years from now."
Jones' run-and-shoot offense kicked into high gear virtually instantaneously with a 71-yard Kyle Padron bomb to receiver Cole Beasley on the second play of the game. One play later it was 7-0 and the rout was on. The Mustangs racked up 534 yards of total offense with Padron, a true freshman from Southlake Carroll, throwing all over the Wolf Pack to the tune of 460 yards. Padron completed 32-of-41 passes including a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions.
The SMU defense laid down its best peformance of the season, keeping Nevada without a touchown until its final possession of the game. The Wolf Pack was missing its two star, 1,000-yard running backs, so clearly this wasn't the Nevada team that came in as the nation's most potent rushing attack. The Mustangs held the Pack to 137 rushing yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, also a 1,000-yard rusher, legged out just 23 yards without his usual backfield mates to support him.
He racked up some late passing yardage, but this game was all about the Ponies' remarkable turnaround from a 1-11 season last year and 25 years of futility.
And what a day for SMU's receiving corps. Junior speedster Aldrick Robinson was indefensible on deep routes. He hauled in nine catches for a team-high 176 yards. Senior Emmanuel Sanders, who leaves SMU with a handful of school receiving records, finished his career with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Beasley had three catches for 88 yards and tailback Shawnbrey McNeal caught seven balls for 53 yards and rushed for 63 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries.
SMU finished the year 8-5, its most victories since going 10-2 in 1984 when they defeated Notre Dame, 27-20, in the now-defunct Aloha Bowl.
Perhaps on the long flight home, Jones will allow himself time to bask in the success of the 2009 season, one that will go down as a monumental triumph and will for once signal boundless optimism heading into 2010.
"I think when we get the recruiting class signed up in February, we’ll come up for air and realize that when we have those 24, 25 players," Jones said, "that we’re all of a sudden a whole lot better athletically than we’ve been to add to this young group here."