UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – For the first 10 minutes of the game, Stephen F. Austin was dominating SMU.
Then SMU’s Margus Hunt came up with a record-setting field goal block and the offense got traction behind the running of Zach Line.
But most of all in Saturday’s 52-0 win, an SMU defense that was the worst in the nation in turnover margin last season produced 10 turnovers.
The Mustangs scored 28 points off two fumble returns, an interception return and a blocked field goal return.
“We’ve been asking for turnovers,” SMU coach June Jones said, almost in disbelief. “We finally got some.”
SMU picked off six passes Saturday night, matching its interception total for all of last season when the Mustangs ranked 120th in turnover margin. They also recovered four of SFA’s five fumbles.
“That was a strange one,” Jones said. “That was pretty exciting to watch our defense take the football away so many times. We’ve been talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. Had we not done that, we might have struggled tonight.”
SMU did struggle on its first three possessions, netting just nine yards. A fourth possession ended in an interception.
Jones, wary of SFA’s pass rush and of an injury to left tackle Ben Gottschalk, said he went conservative with his play calling to protect quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who was sacked twice.
As the first quarter wound down, an SFA drive stalled at the SMU 6-yard line and the Lumberjacks attempted a field goal.
Hunt, a 6-foot-8 Estonian known as the Eastern Block, swatted the kick for an NCAA-record ninth career field goal block.
“It’s fun,” Hunt said. “It’s not only my effort, it’s a team effort. I couldn’t have done it myself, I’ve had a lot of help over the years.”
Everything changed for SMU after the block.
Pinned at its own 10, SMU hammered out of the hole with five straight carries by Zach Line. Line also finished the drive with five straight carries, the last a 3-yard score.
Line got another touchdown for a 14-0 lead, then the Mustangs started producing points off turnovers.
Kenneth Acker returned a second blocked field goal 56 yards for a touchdown. Hunt, seeing SFA’s blocking scheme, made himself the decoy so teammate Aaron Davis could get the block.
“We went in originally with a different call, but on the line of scrimmage I didn’t like what I saw,” Hunt said. “I called it accordingly and it worked.”
Linebacker Ja’Gared Davis returned a fumble 34 yards for a score and a 35-0 lead in the third quarter. Acker scored again with a 77-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Cameron Rogers returned a fumble 96 yards for SMU’s final score.
“We felt like we had an edge on special teams, and we did,” Jones said. “The blocks were huge, and it was just good to see them make it happen.”
It marked SMU’s first home shutout since a 34-0 blanking of UT-Arlington in 1983. And it came less than a week after SMU opened the season with a 59-24 whipping from Baylor.
It was also the first time SMU scored 50 points under June Jones, but it wasn’t because of his trademark Run and Shoot offense. In fact, SFA outgained SMU, 466-328.
“I think our defense outscored the offense, I’m not sure,” Jones chuckled. “But it’s good to win, period. We’re not where we need to be exactly, but hey, a win’s a win and in this business they’re hard to get.”