NCF Nation: Hawaii Bowl 2012

Instant analysis: SMU 43, Fresno State 10

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
11:53
PM ET


SMU pulled off the upset in Honolulu, and the Mustangs made it look fairly easy. Coach June Jones escaped his old stomping grounds with a 43-10 victory over Fresno State to win the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Margus Hunt sacked Derek Carr on third-and-24 for a safety early in the second quarter. A little more than five minutes later, Zach Line rushed for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Mustangs a 19-0 lead, which was more than enough Monday.

Game ball goes to: Hunt, SMU's 6-foot-8, 280-pound defensive end, went out with a bang in the first half alone, recording three sacks, two forced fumbles and notching the second-quarter safety.

Stat of the game: Hayden Greenbauer notched an 83-yard pick-six with 1:14 to go, putting an exclamation point on the night for SMU. The score gave the Mustangs eight interception returns for a touchdown this season, tying last year's Southern Miss team for the NCAA single-season record.

Unsung hero of the game: SMU's defense held Fresno State to more than 30 points below its season average, and it made the Bulldogs one-dimensional early, outrushing them by a 169-to-minus-24 margin.

What it means: SMU put on arguably its most complete performance of the season and won its final two games to finish above .500, at 7-6. Now, it preps -- for this moment, at least -- to take its football program to the Big East next season. Fresno State, meanwhile, saw its five-game winning streak snapped in a four-turnover performance.

Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl keys

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:30
PM ET
Three keys for tonight's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl matchup between SMU and Fresno State:

1. SMU can't fall behind early: When the Mustangs are off, they are off. Of their six losses, four have been by at least 20 points, with two coming by 35 or more. Against Tulsa in the regular-season finale, SMU jumped out to a 21-0 lead and hung on for a 35-27 lead to become bowl-eligible. That same Golden Hurricane outfit topped Fresno State earlier in the season by one, despite the Bulldogs finishing three games better than the Mustangs.

2. Protecting the QB: SMU's Garrett Gilbert has been able to improvise with his feet all season long, but he will need his line to step up Monday night against a Fresno State pass rush that has notched 35 sacks on the season, good for 11th nationally. The Mustangs, meanwhile, have just 17 sacks on the season and will need to turn it up considerably against a quarterback as efficient as the Bulldogs' Derek Carr, who averages 311 passing yards per game.

3. Watch the running backs. For all the talk about the big-play capability of Fresno State's and SMU's offenses, both teams boast 1,000-yard rushers in Robbie Rouse (1,468 yards, 12 TDs) and Zach Line (1,207 yards, 12 TDs), respectively. The question is: Who will stop who first? SMU is 24th nationally against the run, while Fresno State is 73rd.

Pregame: Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:00
PM ET
SMU (6-6, 5-3 Conference USA) vs. Fresno State (9-3, 5-1 Mountain West)

Who to watch: Fresno State's Phillip Thomas was the school's first-ever unanimous All-American following a nation-best eight-pick season, which set the Mountain West Conference single-season record. Thomas returned three of those picks for scores (a school record), and he led the Bulldogs with 82 total tackles and 12 tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead with four forced fumbles, adding four sacks and one fumble recovery. The fifth-year senior from Bakersfield, Calif., has recovered from a leg injury that forced him to redshirt last season and now has more interceptions than 29 teams. Simply put, Thomas is a ball hawk whom SMU must be aware of at all times.

What to watch: Both defenses. While both offenses are capable of big chunk plays -- Fresno State boasts the nation's No. 12 scoring offense -- the other side of the ball has put each team in great scoring position throughout the season. You already know about Thomas, but his nine takeaways account for barely a quarter of the Bulldogs' 33 forced turnovers this season. SMU? The same number, though the Mustangs have lost it 21 times this season, five more than Fresno State. The Bulldogs are No. 5 in turnover margin; the Mustangs are No. 12. Whichever defense makes more big plays is the one most likely to walk away with the victory, as SMU is minus-10 in the turnover category in its six losses this season.

Why to watch: Derek Carr, brother of former NFL No. 1 draft pick David Carr, has been phenomenal under center all season for Fresno State, completing better than 68 percent of his passes for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Casual fans will also recognize the man under center for SMU as Garrett Gilbert, who is best known for his relief act of Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS National Championship, and has 21 total touchdowns while netting nearly 3,000 yards of offense.

Prediction: Fresno State 35, SMU 24. The Bulldogs enter this game riding a five-game winning streak. The Mustangs had to win their regular-season finale over Tulsa just to extend their season. Fresno State does a better job of protecting the ball and has the more productive quarterback.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:10
PM ET
Fresno State Bulldogs (9-3) vs. SMU Mustangs (6-6)

Dec. 24, 8 p.m., Honolulu (ESPN)

Fresno State take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: In one season, head coach Tim DeRuyter has reversed the fortunes of the Bulldogs, taking over a 4-9 squad and transforming it into a 9-3 unit. The backfield of quarterback Derek Carr and running back Robbie Rouse has been potent. Carr is completing 68.1 percent of his throws with 36 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He's been especially sharp on third downs, completing 66 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and one interception. Rouse has crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season (1,468) and has accounted for 14 touchdowns (12 on the ground).

But, perhaps DeRuyter's biggest influence has been on the defensive side of the ball, where the Bulldogs were 107th in scoring defense last season before his arrival, yielding 35.15 points per game. This season Fresno State ranks 27th, allowing 22.25 points per game.

SMU take by RecruitingNation's David Helman: It hasn’t been bad month for SMU coach June Jones.

The Mustangs ended Jones' fifth season in Dallas by winning four of their final six games, capped off by an upset of Conference USA West Division champion Tulsa to earn bowl eligibility. The reward is a trip back to Jones' old stomping grounds at Hawaii, where he led the Warriors to a 76-41 record from 1999-2007, not to mention an undefeated regular season in 2007.

Fans will no doubt recognize SMU triggerman Garrett Gilbert from his previous stint at Texas. Gilbert hasn't enjoyed the same success typically associated with Jones-coached quarterbacks. The junior completed just 53.1 percent of his passes on the year for 2,720 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

While Jones' Hawaii teams often used running backs as an afterthought, the Mustangs lean heavily on Zach Line. The senior finished 2012 with 1,207 yards -- just 17 behind his total from 2011 -- and 12 touchdowns. Line's 46 career rushing touchdowns puts him just one behind Eric Dickerson as the program's all-time leader, and he sits 336 yards away from Dickerson's career rushing total of 4,450 -- good enough for No. 2 in SMU history.

SPONSORED HEADLINES