SMU coach June Jones walked out of Aloha Stadium with another win Monday, thanks largely to a disruptive performance by defensive end Margus Hunt that set the tone for the Mustangs’ 43-10 win over Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Hunt, the 6-foot-8 senior from Estonia with an 82-inch wing span, forced two fumbles that led to field goals and sacked Derek Carr for a safety as SMU (7-6) built a 22-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
The Mustangs 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 to a miserable night for the Bulldogs (9-4).
SMU had seven sacks, the most Fresno State has given up all year.
Garrett Gilbert was effective with his arm and his legs, running for a 17-yard touchdown for the first score of the game and throwing a perfect strike to Darius Johnson for a 21-yard score to answer the Bulldogs’ only touchdown. He rushed 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.
Fresno State, which had averaged just over 47 points in its last five games, was held scoreless in the first half for the first time in two years, and Carr was too busy running for his life to get the Bulldogs into any kind of offensive rhythm.
The Mustangs were playing in a school-record fourth straight bowl game since ending a 25-year drought dating to its infamous NCAA death penalty. They have won three of those bowl games, twice as big underdogs to explosive offenses — a 45-10 win over Nevada in 2009 and Monday against Fresno State, both in the Hawaii Bowl.
That’s where Jones feels right at home, even though the flea market earlier in the day drew more people.
He was the coach at Hawaii for eight years, leaving after its unbeaten regular season in 2007. Jones now has won 10 straight 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.
Hunt, who won the Junior World Championships in Beijing in 2006 in the shot put and discus, came to SMU to work on athletics and earned a scholarship when coaches took one look at him, and saw his 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash. He set an NCAA record this year by blocking his 10th field goal.
His speed made all the difference in his final college game as Hunt zipped around tackles and harassed Carr all night. Carr finished with 362 yards on 33-of-54 passing. The 10 points were the fewest Fresno State has scored since a 20-10 loss to Boise State this year.
The Bulldogs hardly looked like a team averaging 488 yards a game. Carr spent more time on his back than stepping into throws as the Mustangs’ defensive front — particularly Hunt — was overwhelming.
And when tight end Marcel Jensen dropped Carr’s short pass in the end zone on the final play of the opening period, it marked the first time Fresno State was shut out in the first half since it lost to Boise State in 2010.
That was the only time the Bulldogs even came close to scoring.
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.
Gilbert did most of his damage on the ground, either on a quarterback draw or sprinting away from the rush, though he completed five straight passes during the Mustangs’ longest drive, 67 yards that culminated with Zach Line busting up the middle for an 8-yard score.
Hunt wasn’t finished, though.
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. Even then, the Bulldogs looked out of sorts, with players sprinting off the field during a substitution that looked to be run by the Keystone Kops.
SMU’s offense did enough in the second half to keep Fresno State from making a game of it, and the second-half interceptions sealed it. Reed returned an interception 69 yards to make it 36-10, and then Greenbauer finished off a great night for the Mustangs’ defense.
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