SMU vs. Fresno State, Hawaii Bowl recap: Mustangs execute 'blowout upset' script

USA TODAY Sports

The numbers that mattered in SMU's surprising, emphatic, 43-10 Hawaii Bowl victory over Fresno State.

13. Games won by Nevada the year after the Wolf Pack got smoked, 45-10, by June Jones and SMU in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl. This result was both devastating and unexpected for Fresno State, but bowl results have absolutely no correlation to next year's win percentage. With a majority of its contributors returning the next season, Nevada went out and had its best season of all-time, going 13-1 and finishing 11th in the final polls. Fresno State returns a ton of interesting talent from a team that was good for, well, the first 12 games of the year. The Bulldogs should be fine next year. But Christmas Eve was all about SMU.

60. Difference in points between my prediction and reality. I mean, if you're going to miss, you might as well miss. This was quite possibly the least accurate game preview I've ever written (it almost has to be -- it is difficult to miss by more than 60 points), but while Fresno State was the clearly superior team during the regular season, SMU did everything you need to do, almost to the letter, to go from semi-heavy underdog to blowout winners.

  • Start fast. Twenty minutes into this game, SMU was up, 12-0. In Fresno State's first six drives, the Bulldogs gained just 56 yards in 26 plays, punted three times, lost two fumbles and suffered a safety.
  • Stop 'em when they do get going. After the brutal start, Fresno State's offense did start moving the ball a bit. In their final 10 possessions, the Bulldogs averaged 5.7 yards per play and gained 290 yards. The problem: Even when they moved the ball, they didn't score any points. They were losing the field position battle, and in five trips inside the SMU 40, they scored just twice, turned the ball over twice (each turnover was returned for an SMU touchdown, in fact), and turned the ball over on downs from the SMU 2. If you score touchdowns on your five trips, you can overcome a slow start. But Fresno State not only scored just 10 points in those five trips, but they incredibly allowed 14. That's how you get blown out while getting outgained by just 35 yards.
  • Make your turnovers count. As defined here, Fresno State's four turnovers were worth a ridiculous 30.5 equivalent points. Two were returned for touchdowns, and two gave the SMU offense the ball inside the Fresno State 30. SMU was not without flaws in this area -- it suffered two interceptions worth 11.1 equivalent points -- but a plus-19.4 point turnover margin will win you a lot of games whether you are favored or not.
  • Win third down. The SMU offense had its iffy moments overall but made every big play count and converted third downs brilliantly (8-for-17) while preventing Fresno State from doing the same (4-for-14, and 0-for-2 on fourth downs). You typically win third down by averaging quality yardage on first down, but to-go yardage didn't seem to matter. SMU was better on third-and-short, third-and-medium and third-and-long.
  • Don't just exploit your matchup advantages, define the game by them. Which leads us to...

92. Margus Hunt's jersey number. It is probably safe to say that FSU quarterback Derek Carr saw that number in his sleep last night. In 1998, Purdue beat a supposedly superior Kansas State squad in the Alamo Bowl, primarily because KSU could not even come close to blocking Purdue ends Roosevelt Colvin and Chike Okeafor; it wrecked Kansas State's running game and put quarterback Michael Bishop on the run all night.

The 1998 Alamo Bowl was one of the bigger upsets in bowl history and will be remembered much longer than this one (in part because Fresno State was not exactly a national title contender, and SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert isn't Drew Brees and wasn't asked for last-minute heroics); but the components of each win were the same. They found a single matchup advantage and destroyed Fresno State with it.

Hunt lined up against a freshman right tackle and destroyed him, repeatedly, from the first quarter to the fourth. Hunt's stat line would make BYU's Kyle Van Noy salivate: three tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles (each of which set SMU's offense up with easy points), three quarterback hurries and a safety. He was also quite instrumental in a goal line stand late in the first half. He is, to date, the No. 1 star of bowl season, and he was the leader of an SMU defense that outscored the Fresno State offense by itself.

102. Point differential in June Jones' six Hawaii Bowl appearances. In my "Why Fresno State is going to win this game easily" essay (one I will be attempting to erase from existence as soon as I hit Publish on this piece), I used both numbers and anecdotal evidence as my proof. I did not, however, seriously consider the "Don't f*** with June Jones on the islands" factor. Never again will I ignore that one. Anytime a June Jones team ends up playing in Aloha Stadium in the future, I will simply pick that team to win by about 20 points and move on with my life.

122. Rushing yards for SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, not including sacks. Despite the scoring margin, SMU's pass offense was about as ineffective as I assumed it would be -- Gilbert completed just 50 percent of his passes, threw two picks, was sacked five times and averaged just 5.7 yards per pass attempt. Plus, Fresno State was able to keep running back Zach Line in check; in 19 carries and three pass targets, Line gained just a total of 69 yards (3.1 per touch). But while SMU would have won this game simply from the points its defense scored, it still got points (and 5.9 yards per play) from its offense, in part because Fresno State didn't have an answer for Gilbert's legs. Either via designed run or escape from the pocket, Gilbert carried 13 times for 122 yards, taking full advantage of an overly aggressive Fresno State defense. He has nice speed, and it would probably behoove June Jones to take more complete advantage of it in 2013.

What a complete performance from this SMU squad. Very, very well done, 'Stangs. I will go take my whoopin' now.

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