Even though the SMU Mustangs went into the Hawaii Bowl as underdogs, SMU head coach June Jones did not let that stop him from leading the Mustangs to yet another victory. The SMU Mustangs defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 43-10 on December 24 in Hawaii with multiple power strikes from the offense and an exceptional performance from the defense.
The Mustangs defense played spectacularly: they tallied seven sacks, recovered two fumbles, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The Mustangs ended the season with eight touchdowns on interception returns, which ties the NCAA record set last year by Southern Miss.
The Mustangs defense was led by DE Margus Hunt who had three sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety all before halftime; he was awarded MVP of the game.
Mustangs QB Garrett Gilbert put the Mustangs on the scoreboard first with a 17-yard touchdown. On Fresno State’s ensuing possession, Hunt forced his first fumble when he tackled Fresno State QB Derek Carr. SMU recovered the ball and eventually got close enough for kicker Chase Hover to complete a 30-yard field goal to make the score 10-0.
On their 2nd possession, Fresno State attempted to get back on track with a short pass by Carr to Davante Adams, but they were soon shut down again by the Mustangs defense. Carr was sacked by SMU LB Ja’Gared Davis on the next play for a loss of 18 yards, which put Fresno State all the way back at the six yard line. Carr was then sacked again by Hunt in the endzone, giving SMU a safety making the score 12-0.
After the kick following the safety, SMU continued to play strong. Mustangs Gilbert scrambled for an 11-yard rush as well as completing a couple long passes to WR Der’rikk Thompson to move SMU closer to the end zone. After a 6-yard rush from Gilbert, the SMU Mustangs scored a TD on an 8-yard rush from RB Zach Line.
Now down 19-0, Fresno State attempted to rush their way up the field using RB Robbie Rouse. After gaining 13 yards in their first three plays, Rouse was forced to fumble by Hunt leading to another SMU recovery by Taylor Reed at the Fresno State 1 yardline.
SMU once again used this fumble recovery to set up another opportunity to score. After a few plays moving them down the field, Chase Hover completed a 48-yard field goal to make the score 22-0 for the SMU Mustangs.
Fresno State came back with a fury one their next possession. The Bulldogs moved the ball gaining 61 yards in their first four plays. Fresno State then went on to use three of their timeouts as they came closer to the end zone. With four seconds left on the clock and Fresno State on the SMU two-yard line, SMU also used a timeout. Carr then attempted a pass to Marcel Jenson; it was incomplete, which left the Bulldogs empty-handed at halftime.
After the SMU Mustangs dominated the first half, it was surprising in the second half when they had trouble even completing a pass. On 3rd and 10 Gilbert threw an interception to Bulldogs DB Sean Alston who then carried the ball back for 50 yards to the SMU 15 yardline. Now in touchdown range, the Bulldogs had no trouble scoring with a 6-yard pass completed to Davante Adams making the score 22-7.
SMU answered back to the Bulldogs touchdown with a 27-yard rush from Zach Line and a 19-yard catch from Thompson. Quickly the Mustangs made their way down the field eventually scoring a touchdown on a 21 yard catch by Darius Johnson.
Both teams then struggled to get anything going offensively for the rest of the quarter leaving the score 29-7 at the end of the third.
Fresno state proved again in the beginning of the fourth quarter that they could come out and move the ball. Their drive ended with a 32-yard field goal to bring the score to 10-29. Soon after Alston again intercepted an SMU pass at the Fresno State 48 yard mark.
Although Fresno State came out hot in the beginning of the fourth quarter, SMU made sure to let the Bulldogs know that in the end they would be the ones finishing the game with a bang.
SMU Mustangs Taylor Reed intercepted a pass from Carr at the SMU 31 yard line and then thundered down the field 69 yards for yet another SMU touchdown.
As Fresno State attempted to get their drive going, SMU’s defense stopped the Bulldogs in their tracks with another sack from Ja-Gared Davis.
When Fresno State got the ball back, they tried to keep the ball in their possession in order to score. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they would be stopped from scoring again by the Mustangs. After making their way 47 yards down the field, SMU’s Hayden Greenbauer intercepted the ball at the SMU 17 yard line and returned the ball for 83 yards for a touchdown making the score 43-10.
With under one minute remaining SMU’s Brandon Henderson sacked Carr giving the Mustangs their seventh sack of the game. That sack epitomized the entire game and essentially ended the game.
As a result of incredible play by the defense, the SMU Mustangs managed 43-10 upset victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs. The win gave the SMU Mustangs their third bowl game win out of their last four consecutive bowl game appearances.