By Kyle Galdeira, The Sports Xchange
HONOLULU, Hi. — In what was initially billed as a prototypical Hawaii Bowl, where offense and gaudy numbers usually lead to an exciting shootout, Southern Methodist University turned to its defense to frustrate and demoralize Fresno State in a lopsided laugher.
The Mustangs racked up seven sacks and employed a balanced offensive attack that wore down their opponents en route to posting a 43-10 bowl victory Monday in front of nearly 20,000 at Aloha Stadium.
Mustang senior defensive lineman Margus Hunt continually harassed Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, and ended up with three tackles-for-loss, two sacks — one which resulted in a safety — and two forced fumbles. The 275-pound senior from Karksi-Nuia, Estonia finished the season with a team-leading eight sacks, while fellow senior Taylor Reed returned an interception for a score and recovered one of Hunt’s forced fumbles. Hayden Greenbauer set a Hawaii Bowl record with an 83-yard interception for touchdown to bolster the SMU blowout.
SMU (7-6) continued to thrive when scoring first in games as the squad improved to 15-0 when taking the initial lead, compared to a 0-13 mark when its opponents strike first over the past two-plus seasons.
Reigning Conference USA offensive player of the year Zach Line rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 212 yards and a score, while also rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Carr, the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, finished with 362 yards through the air and a touchdown, while teammate Robbie Rouse — a First-Team All-Mountain West selection and Fresno State’s all-time leading rusher — amassed a paltry 22 yards on 13 carries. Sean Alston collected two interceptions for the Bulldogs, and stood out as one of the squad’s few defensive bright spots.
Following its fourth punt of the game to begin the third quarter, Fresno State showed signs of life as Alston picked off Gilbert and returned the interception 50 yards to the SMU 15. On third down, Carr connected with 2012 Mountain West freshman of the year Davante Adams for a six-yard touchdown that narrowed the deficit to 22-7 nearly five minutes into the half. Adams finished with a game-high 144 receiving yards.
The Mustangs bounced back on their ensuing possession as Line turned in a 27-yard run, which led to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert to Darius Johnson to put SMU back up by 22 points.
Fresno State (9-4) countered with a 32-yard field goal from Quentin Breshears that trimmed SMU’s lead to 29-10 early in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs stampeded back with a 69-yard interception return for touchdown by Reed to ice the game.
Gilbert found Austin Fuller on a 67-yard pass down the middle of the field to put SMU in prime position at the Fresno State 23 yard line as the first quarter drew to a close.
After a scoreless first quarter, SMU went on to score 22 unanswered points in the second quarter. First to score was Gilbert on a 17-yard TD run. After Aaron Davis recovered a Carr fumble, Chase Hover converted a 30-yard field goal to extend the Mustang lead to 10-0.
On the ensuing drive, Hunt came up big again, sacking Carr in the end zone for a safety. On its next drive, SMU’s Line scored on an eight-yard run to go ahead 19-0. After yet another Fresno State fumble, Hover booted a 48-yard field goal to give the Mustangs a commanding 22-0 lead at halftime.
NOTES: SMU head coach June Jones returned to the familiar setting of Aloha Stadium, where he led the University of Hawaii Warriors to a 76-41 record in nine seasons at the helm, including an appearance in the 2007 All-State Sugar Bowl. … SMU played in its school-record fourth consecutive bowl game. … Fresno State played in the program’s 24th bowl game, and the 12th in the last 14 years. … Bulldogs head coach Tim DeRuyter set a new school record for victories by a first-year head coach with nine wins.