What to Watch on Offense for SMU
Zach Line. In Line's final game at SMU he has the opportunity to finish his historic career on a high note with a bowl win and also has a shot to break the SMU all-purpose yards record. If Line has 173 total yards or more, he will pass Arthur Whittington to take over as the all-time all-purpose yards leader. The question is whether Line will get an opportunity to get the ball early and get some momentum going against Fresno State, who is giving up 171 yards per game on the ground.
For SMU in the passing game, head coach June Jones will need to dial up some play action if he can get Line on a roll early to help neutralize Fresno State DB Phillip Thomas, who leads the nation in interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns. Garrett Gilbert will need his receivers to be on their game early for the Mustangs to have any hope for success against this opportunistic Fresno State defense that has forced 33 turnovers on the year. In Darius Johnson's last game as a Mustang, he will be looking to get behind Thomas and will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention from the Jim Thorpe finalist.
What to Watch on Offense for Fresno State
Balance. Fresno State has one of the better quarterbacks in the country in Derek Carr, the younger brother of David Carr, who is eighth in the country in passing yards a game averaging 311 and is ninth in the country in passer rating with a 160 passer rating. Carr has thrown for over 3,700 yards, 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions, but Carr has a huge target in true freshman receiver Davante Adams, who caught 13 touchdowns and had over 1,100 yards. Adams is 6-foot-2, 200-pounds and will cause some matchup problems for the SMU defensive backs, who have struggled this season against the pass.
The Bulldogs have a speedy back in Robbie Rouse, who has nearly 1,900 all-purpose yards in the Bulldogs no-huddle spread attack. Rouse is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and the Bulldogs will use Rouse's speed in the draw and screen game to throw off the Mustangs pass rush on Carr.
What to Watch on Defense for SMU
The linebackers. SMU's group of talented linebackers have set the tone for the defense all year and if Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed can step up in their final games as Mustangs, then SMU will have a chance to get pressure on Carr and force some turnovers. SMU will also rely on senior Margus Hunt to get a few sacks on Carr to disrupt his timing especially with Adams likely being able to get some separation from the SMU secondary. The SMU front seven will be missing Cameron Rogers, who is out with an injury so Randall Joyner and Kevin Pope will be expected to step up more in his place.
The SMU secondary is led by junior Kenneth Acker with three interceptions and 15 passes defended and will be matched up against Adams on the outside, not an easy task for Acker, but SMU will likely have some packages to help double team Adams.
What to Watch on Defense for Fresno State
The Secondary. While Phillip Thomas is an All-American and one of the best players in the country, his other teammates aren't slouches either. Derron Smith and Sean Alston have six and three interceptions respectively this season, which does not bode well for Mustangs fans, who have seen Gilbert struggle this season. While Fresno State has been great at forcing turnovers, Gilbert has not thrown an interception in his past five games. If Gilbert can keep it out of Fresno State's secondary's hands then the Mustangs may be able to have some success on offense against the Bulldogs.
Key to the Game
Limiting the Pass. SMU must try and limit the passing game for Fresno State to not many big plays by Adams and Rouse. Offensively, grinding it out with Line will help keep Carr and company off the field.
Prediction: SMU wins, 31-20
Hawaii Bowl Preview: SMU vs. Fresno State
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