Zach Line

SMU’s run game to get much-needed boost

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Through the first four games of the 2013 season, and to put it mildly, SMU’s running game has struggled mightily.

That part of the Mustangs’ offense, though, will receive a shot in the arm — or leg, as the case may be — as the football program takes the field for its first-ever AAC game this weekend.

Running back Traylon Shead has been medically cleared to return to the playing field and will be in the lineup for Saturday’s game against Rutgers.  The junior suffered injuries to both his ankle and his knee very early in the third quarter of the season opener against Texas Tech and has not played since.

Suffice to say, he’s champing at the bit for his return.

I’m so ready,’” Shead said. “I’ve got a lot of frustration built up in me, so I can’t wait to let it all out.”

The Mustangs, who have fielded 1,000-yard rushers each of the past four years, could sorely use someone from the backfield to let it all out.

In the first four games, SMU has rushed for 355 yards; 144 of that total came against FCS-level Montana State in Week 2.  They are currently 114th out of 123 FBS teams with 88.8 yards per game on the ground, and have scored just three rushing touchdowns.

Their leading rusher, Prescott Line, has 104 yards in four games; Zach Line, SMU’s leading rusher the past three years, topped or matched that mark 21 times in a single game.

Head coach June Jones has acknowledged that his rushing attack needs to step up its production.

“You’ve got to have some semblance of a running game,’”  Jones said. “Even if you don’t get yards, it helps contain the pass rush. We historically average 4.5, 4.6 per carry and that’s what we need to be doing.”

Defense leads SMU to Hawaii Bowl blowout

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The 2011 Southern Miss team holds the NCAA record for most pick-sixes in a season with eight. The Golden Eagles went on to defeat Nevada 24-17 in last year’s Hawaii Bowl.

In this year’s version of the game, SMU tied USM’s NCAA record for interceptions returned for a touchdown thanks to a pair of late pick-sixes. In fact, SMU had more defensive points (14) than Fresno State had offensive points (10). Thanks to the Mustangs’ defensive efforts, SMU went on to beat the favored Bulldogs 43-10.

Leading the defensive effort for SMU was defensive end Margus Hunt, who had three tackles-for-loss, three sacks (one for a safety) and two forced fumbles. Hunt inflicted most of his damage in the first half, giving SMU a 22-0 halftime lead. The Mustangs held the Bulldogs to -16 yards rushing thanks in large part to a number of sacks on quarterback Derek Carr.

On offense, SMU running back Zach Line scored once for his 47th career rushing touchdown, tying Erikc Dickerson for a school record.

SMU now has back-to-back bowl wins in consecutive years for the first time in history and finishes the season 7-6. Fresno State finishes 9-4 after winning five in a row to end the season.

Predictions 101 — Hawaii Bowl

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Fresno State vs. SMU
Mon., Dec. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Honolulu – Aloha Stadium

After a quarter century without a postseason appearance, June Jones led the Mustangs to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, following up a 1-11 showing in his first season with SMU.

Now it’s a habit. This will be Jones’ fourth-consecutive bowl game, returning to a place that holds special memories.

In 2007, Jones led Hawaii to an undefeated season and BCS berth. Getting torn to shreds by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was a bummer, but the journey was magical.

Winning didn’t come easy at SMU (6-6) this year, but the Mustangs got the job done when they had to, beating C-USA champ Tulsa, 35-27, in the regular-season finale to earn this trip to Honolulu.

Fresno State (9-3) has a much deeper sense of momentum, having won its last five games and seven of its last eight.

Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr has thrown 36 touchdown passes, against only five interceptions, and his backfield mate Robbie Rouse rushed for 1,468 yards and 12 scores. That duo rightfully gets a lot of attention, but the reason Fresno State is so vastly improved over its 4-9 campaign from a year ago is because of its defense.

First-year head coach Tim DeRuyter can be confident that his defenders, who allow only 22 points per game, will have more than enough backbone to fend off Mustang quarterback Garrett Gilbert (remember him from his days with Bevo?) and running back Zach Line.

Opening point spread: Fresno State by 11 1/2

The pick: Fresno State 38-24

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.