Published November 20, 2014
June Jones showed he's still got some of that old island magic left.
The winningest coach in the history of the Hawaii football program had a very successful return to his former home, as Jones' Southern Methodist Mustangs easily handled Fresno State in a 43-10 victory to capture the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
But unlike the Hawaii teams that were fueled by prolific passing offenses during Jones' nine-year tenure from 1999-2007 that produced seven winning seasons and a BCS bowl appearance, the Mustangs earned this victory on the strength of their defense.
SMU (7-6) recorded seven sacks and four takeaways, with Taylor Reed and Hayden Greenbauer returning interceptions for touchdowns and standout defensive end Margus Hunt a one-man wrecking crew responsible for two sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and a safety.
The Mustangs also held the Bulldogs to minus-16 rushing yards. Running back Robbie Rouse, averaging 122.3 yards per game on the ground coming in, mustered a mere 22 on 13 attempts for Fresno State.
"We knew that we played the same defensive schemes with Fresno State and whoever got the takeaways was probably going to win the game," said Jones. "It's not rocket science. If you take care of the ball you're going to increase your chances of winning, and we did."
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert also helped give Jones a happy homecoming, with the Texas transfer rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in addition to accumulating 212 yards and a score with two interceptions on 14- of-28 passing.
The end result was remarkably similar to Jones' last visit to Aloha Stadium, when an underdog SMU squad dealt Nevada a 45-10 defeat in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl.
"We got humbled," said Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr. "I know this gives us something to work for in the offseason. I can't wait to move on from this one and get going."
Carr finished with 362 yards and a touchdown while completing 33-of-54 throws for Fresno State (9-4), which entered the contest riding a five-game win streak, but threw both of the aforementioned interceptions and also lost a fumble.
Davante Adams was the Bulldogs' offensive star, amassing a career-high 13 catches totaling 144 yards and scoring the team's lone touchdown.
The teams battled through a scoreless first quarter in which neither offense could generate much momentum, but the second was dominated entirely by SMU -- and Hunt in particular.
The 6-foot-8 defensive end made his presence felt with game-changing plays on three consecutive Fresno State drives that enabled the Mustangs to turn a 7- point edge into a commanding 22-0 halftime advantage.
Hunt first caused Carr to fumble on a sack, with Aaron Davis recovering the loose ball at the Bulldogs' 16 to set up a 30-yard Chase Hover field goal that staked the Mustangs to a 10-0 lead.
He sacked Carr again just over a minute later, this time in the end zone to result in a safety. SMU would then march 67 yards in 11 plays on the change of possession, with Zach Line capping the sequence with an 8-yard touchdown run to extend the margin to 19-0 with 5:24 remaining before intermission.
Gilbert kept the chains moving on that drive with a pair of key third-down scrambles, one an 11-yarder on 3rd-and-9 and the other a 6-yard scamper that came right before Line's score.
Hunt was at it again on Fresno's next touch, powering through the line and leveling Rouse to force a fumble that Reed scooped up and ran nine yards to the Bulldogs' 17.
A pair of penalties and a sack of Gilbert pushed the Mustangs back, but Hover salvaged things by knocking home a 49-yard field goal for a 22-0 differential with under two minutes to go in the half.
"I thought in the first half he was clearly a problem for us," Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said of Hunt. "He did a heck of a job and was a beast to be blocked."
Fresno State finally threatened just prior to the break, with Carr hitting Adams on a deep strike for a 33-yard gain to the SMU 3. However, the Bulldogs still came away empty, as Rouse was stuffed on a pair of inside runs before Carr misfired on a 4th-down pass in the end zone.
The second half started out better for Fresno State, as Sean Alston intercepted Gilbert on SMU's initial series of the third quarter and returned the pick 50 yards to the enemy 15. Three plays later, Adams hauled in a jump ball from Carr from six yards out for the Bulldogs' first points of the game.
Any comeback hopes were quickly deflated, however, when Gilbert engineered a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession.
The SMU quarterback came through with two big third-down completions, first finding Der'rikk Thompson for a 19-yard gain and later threading the ball around two Bulldog defenders on a 21-yard connection with Darius Johnson that put the Mustangs on top by a 29-7 count midway through the third quarter.
"That drive there put the game away in essence," Gilbert remarked. "For us to respond like that and put six points on that board was big."
Fresno State trimmed its deficit somewhat with a 7-play, 72-yard jaunt that culminated in Quentin Breshears' 32-yard field goal early in the final period, but the Mustangs' defense would put the game out of reach with two more turnovers in the remaining stages.
Carr's down-the-middle attempt into traffic was snared by Reed, with the senior linebacker eluding defenders en route to a 69-yard touchdown that put the Bulldogs in a 36-10 hole with just over nine minutes to go.
Greenbauer later intercepted a Carr floater deep in SMU's own end before following a wall of blockers for an 83-yard score with 1:14 left that finished off the rout.
The highlight of a defensive-controlled first quarter was SMU wideout Austin Fuller's 67-yard catch-and-run before being brought down at the Fresno State 23. Three plays later, Gilbert side-stepped a blitz and willed his way to a 17-yard touchdown that broke the scoreless deadlock less than a minute into the second quarter.
The two interception touchdowns gave SMU eight for the season, tying an FBS record set by Southern Mississippi in 2011, with Greenbauer's 83-yard return establishing a new Hawaii Bowl best ... Jones improved to 7-3 all-time in bowl games and is now 5-1 at the Hawaii Bowl between his stops at Hawaii (3-1) and SMU (2-0) ... Line's rushing touchdown was the 47th of his career, tying NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson for the most in Mustangs' history ... The Conference USA representative has now prevailed in its last five Hawaii Bowl appearances, with East Carolina (2007), Tulsa (2010) and Southern Miss (2011) joining SMU's 2009 and 2012 victories as part of the streak ... Fresno State has now dropped four consecutive bowl games, with the program's last triumph coming over Georgia Tech in the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl ... Adams now has a touchdown catch in eight straight outings, tying Henry Ellard for the Bulldogs' record in that category.