SMU's defense overwhelms Fresno State in Hawaii Bowl

SMU 43, Fresno State 10

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HONOLULU — Margus Hunt knew he had eight hours to fill on the flight over the Pacific Ocean, so he asked the Southern Methodist University staff to put together film of Fresno State for him to study.

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SMU coach June Jones and linebacker Taylor Reed (right) hold the Hawaii Bowl trophy after SMU defeated Fresno State 43-10.  EUGENE TANNER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
EUGENE TANNER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
SMU coach June Jones and linebacker Taylor Reed (right) hold the Hawaii Bowl trophy after SMU defeated Fresno State 43-10.

He hit the Bulldogs like a tidal wave Monday night in the Hawaii Bowl.

The 6-foot-8 defensive end raced around right tackle to blindside Derek Carr and force a fumble. Hunt smashed into running back Robbie Rouse on a delayed handoff and forced another fumble. On a three-man rush, he sacked Carr in the end zone for a safety.

It was an inspiring performance by the senior from Estonia, and it set the tone for the Mustangs’ 43-10 win.

“That was a lot of fun,” Hunt said. “We knew from the get-go it was going to be a Monday night football game, the only game in the nation. We wanted to show our skills and make some plays. To me personally ... this is where it all started. It’s good to end on this note.”

The Mustangs (7-6) also returned two interceptions for touchdowns, giving them eight for the season to tie the NCAA record set last year by Southern Miss. Hayden Greenbauer picked off Carr and returned it 83 yards with 1:14 left, the final blow for the Bulldogs (9-4).

SMU had seven sacks, more than twice the most Fresno State had given up in a game all year.

Garrett Gilbert was effective with his arm and his legs, running for 98 yards on 18 carries and threw for 212 yards.

But this game was decided by the Mustangs’ defense, with Hunt leading the way. He was voted the game’s MVP.

“We tried some slide protections to 92 (Hunt). You know, they beat us,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We tried going empty to spread things out and get it out quick, we tried to max protect. Everything we tried didn’t work.”

The Bulldogs turned in a dud.

Fresno State, which had averaged just over 47 points in its past five games, was shut out in the first half for the first time in two years. When the Bulldogs finally scored with 10:21 left in the third quarter, Gilbert led the Mustangs on a 75-yard drive that he finished with a pass to Johnson in the corner for a touchdown.

“That drive there put the game away in essence,” Gilbert said. “For us to respond like that and put six points on that board was big.”

It allowed Jones to walk out of Aloha Stadium with yet another win.

He was the coach at Hawaii for eight years, leaving after its unbeaten regular season in 2007. Jones now has won 10 consecutive games in Aloha Stadium, dating to a December 2006 loss to Oregon State.

“I just want to say ‘Aloha’ to the seniors,” Jones said during the trophy presentation. “We said we were going to do it and we did it.”

Without hardly breaking a sweat.

The 10 points matched the fewest Fresno State has scored this year, dating to its 20-10 loss to Boise State. Carr was 33-of-54 passing for 362 yards, but most of that came late in the game when the Bulldogs were trying to catch up.

He was overwhelmed by the Mustangs’ defensive front, particularly Hunt, who had two sacks, two forced fumbles and three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

“When you go three-and-out, it feels like there’s no rhythm at all,” Carr said.

After a dull, scoreless opening quarter, Gilbert shook off one tackle and scored on a 17-yard run. The defense took over from there.

Hunt blew past right tackle Alex Fifita and blindsided Carr, dropping him flat as the ball came loose and was scooped up by Aaron Davis, who returned it 23 yards to the Fresno State 16 until he fumbled it out of bounds. SMU had to settle for a field goal. On the next series, Carr scrambled backward and couldn’t escape an 18-yard sack to the 6, and then Hunt sacked him in the end zone for a safety.

Hunt wasn’t finished. On second-and-7 from the 33, Carr gave it to Robbie Rouse on a delayed handoff, right about the time Hunt showed up to disrupt the play and cause another fumble that Taylor Reed recovered. That drive went backward, and Chase Hover connected from 48 yards.

Jones’ only concern was having to settle for field goals, fearing that might come back to haunt the Mustangs given Fresno State’s explosive offensive. Not to worry. The SMU defense dominated to the very last score.


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