The SMU football team defied the odds and their critics by routing the University of Nevada-Reno, 45-10, in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl on Dec. 24. Along the way, the Mustangs shattered several SMU bowl records, including setting the new record for point margin with 35 points.
“What it means to me, it just feels good to be home,” head coach June Jones said.
The Wolfpack was a 12-point favorite to win the game, and 91 percent of Americans said they believed the Mustangs would leave in defeat. Critics jumped on the Mustangs, pointing out the difference in bowl experience between Nevada and SMU.
However, in the biggest game that SMU has played in the last 25 years, the Mustangs proved to be the superior team, despite the Wolfpack being the top ranked rushing offense in the nation.
Freshman quarterback Kyle Padron completed 32 out of 41 passes to the tune of 460 yards and two touchdowns. His 32 completions and 460 yards passing set two new SMU bowl records. The previous record of 22 completions and 281 yards was set by Chuck Hixson in 1968. Padron was named the SMU MVP of the Sheraton Hawai’i bowl.
Running back Shawnbrey McNeal ran for 63 net yards and three touchdowns, which is also a new SMU bowl record. SMU legend Eric Dickerson held the previous record of two touchdowns set in 1980.
The nerves showed on the opening kickoff when the Mustangs fumbled the kickoff before recovering it themselves. However, on the second play of the game, Padron and sophomore wide receiver Cole Beasley hooked up for a 71-yard completion that brought the Mustangs to within yards of the end zone; that completion is the new longest pass and play from scrimmage in SMU bowl history.
That pass set the pace for the rest of the night, as Padron also went deep to wide receivers senior Emmanuel Sanders and junior Aldrick Robinson. Sanders finished the game with seven receptions for 124 yards while Robinson had nine receptions for 176 yards, breaking the previous SMU bowl record of eight completions for 112 yards set by Jerry LeVias in 1968.
But, even more impressive than the June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense was the SMU defense. The Wolfpack averaged 362.3 yards on the ground during the regular season but were held to only 137 yards and no touchdowns against the Mustangs.
“They did a nice job basically of taking away the consistency of our offense,” said Nevada head coach Chris Ault. “We never got in rhythm. There’s no question, we just played very, very poorly.”
The Mustangs benefitted from Nevada’s loss of two of their 1,000-yard rushers, Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott. Taua was academically ineligible and Lippincott underwent season-ending surgery for turf toe.
That left all the pressure on Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the third Nevada rusher with more than 1,000 yards on the season.SMU was not about to let him run wild though and limited him to only 23 yards on the ground.
Kaepernick was only marginally more effective through the air, going 15 of 29 pass attempts for 177 yards. He threw his sole touchdown with a minute left in the game and was intercepted once by senior defensive back Rock Dennis.
“That game was embarrassing on a lot of levels,” Kaepernick said. “We just have to look at the film and try to regroup for next year.”
Meanwhile, the Mustangs were busy celebrating in the locker room. In fact, they were so rambunctious that few, if any, could hear Jones’ post-game speech.
“I’m sure he said something great,” said senior linebacker Chase Kennemer.
But, no matter what Jones said, the Mustangs had already made their statement, both to themselves and to America. The days of the Death Penalty are over.