- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.