Instant Analysis - Hawaii
SMU 45 ... Nevada 10
There's the old saying when a good player steps into a great offensive system that he's being handed the keys to the Cadillac. Sometimes it really is the system more than the player, but as Nevada showed in its disastrous loss to SMU, sometimes it's the players.
With top running backs Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott out because of academics and injury, respectively, it was Colin Kaepernick and hope for the best offensively. The Nevada defense has stunk all season long, so it wasn't a shock that SMU head coach June Jones had a brilliant gameplan in place, but it was a stunner that the mediocre Mustang defense was so aggressive and so productive against a Pack attack that went absolutely nowhere after being turned into a short-range passing team. Basically, Nevada came up empty when it needed help from someone other than Kaepernick.
But for SMU, the big story, and the reason to get excited going forward for the program, was the performance of the offensive line. After getting its quarterbacks battered all season long, and not getting enough steady production for the ground game, it held the WAC's best pass-rushing defense to just two Kevin Basped sacks and just four other tackles for loss. RT J.T. Brooks did a fantastic job on WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Dontay Moch, while left tackle Kelvin Beachum, left guard Josh Leribeus, center Mitch Enright and right guard Bryce Tennison managed to keep QB Kyle Padron upright.
Easily the biggest stunner of an early bowl season full of upsets, now it'll be interesting to see if SMU can build off of this, and if Nevada can rebound. Either way, these will be two of the most interesting teams of the 2010 season.
Yeah, yeah, 18-year old Kyle Padron is the next big thing under center for June Jones, who made a rather auspicious return to the Hawaii, but how about that SMU D? There isn't a person on the planet, including coordinator Tom Mason, who could have seen this effort coming in the Hawaii Bowl.
As good as Padron was, throwing for a pair of scores and a school-record 460 yards, the defense might actually have been better. This was going to be a mismatch when Nevada had the ball, right? Even without Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott, the Pack's nation's-best running game had become a machine, especially with Colin Kaepernick at the controls. Oh, and stopping the run was not supposed to be a Mustang forte. It was, however, on this night. The team that began the game averaging 362 yards a game on the ground could muster only 137 and a mere four yards a carry. The linemen held their blocks, the linebackers, like Chase Kennemer, filled lanes in an instant, and the safeties stepped up in run support. And there were no individual heroes in this total team effort.
In a most improbable end to this second season of the Jones era, Padron deserved to be named MVP of the Hawaii Bowl. However, be sure not to take Mason's defense for granted in the process. The maligned unit delivered its best four quarters of the season, giving the Mustangs the complete bowl effort they've been patiently after for a quarter-century.
1) Over the last two nights, pundits have rightfully and appropriately talked about the need to give the Mountain West Conference a BCS lock-in. Well, after this Hawaii Bowl, we've also learned that the Western Athletic Conference – which also saw Fresno State lose to Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl – deserves no such promotion. Hey Boise State, maybe the Mountain West is looking like the conference you should join if you can convince that league's school presidents.
2) June Jones destroyed an unbeaten Gary Crowton-coached BYU team in 2001. He rocked Chris Petersen's Boise State boys in a landmark 2007 triumph. On Thursday afternoon, the wise professor of pigskin propulsion engineered an awesome first-half onslaught against College Football Hall of Fame member Chris Ault. From the beginning of this decade until its very end, one highly-credentialed football coach has crafted some magic memories and outstanding accomplishments inside Honolulu's Aloha Stadium. How poetic it is that one of college football's foremost Mister Fix-Its was able to return to the Hawaiian islands to put the finishing touches on SMU's gridiron resurrection.
So you've probably heard by now that this was the first bowl game for the SMU Mustangs in 25 years; and their first bowl game since they became the first and only team ever to have received the "Death Penalty" from the NCAA. That makes their dominating performance in their win over Nevada that much more special, right? Well maybe. But what I'm more impressed with is the ability of June Jones to turn around a program.
This is twice now that Jones has orchestrated mind-boggling single-season turnarounds shortly after gaining new employment. While the nine-game turnaround he managed in his first year as Hawaii's head coach in 1999 is mighty impressive, it pales in comparison to the job he's done in his first two years at SMU.
Left for dead and labeled as the poster-child for all that was wrong with the old Southwest Conference, SMU has been as irrelevant as any team in the nation for a quarter-century. In two years, they are irrelevant no more,
and this game might signal the beginning of a strong new era for a
once-proud program. They have a successful alumni base, exciting
offense, likable coach and are situated within a major media market.
Talk about a team "on the rise," its all there for Jones to succeed if
he can build on the success of a dominant win like this.