Friday, September 3, 1999
long road back
Aloha Stadium is sold out for
the first time in seven years and
new coach June Jones has fans
excited; now all that's left
is the winning
UH FOOTBALL PREVIEW SPECIALBy Paul Arnett
There is a passage from "The Last Picture Show" where two boys are sitting across from one another in the back booth of a pool hall.
It's a Saturday morning, the day after their high school football team was beaten badly by the nearest town up the road.
Like most boys from prairie communities scattered across Texas, these two Larry McMurtry characters played on the team. It was their duty.
Across the room at the bar is an old-timer named Sam - played by the late Ben Johnson - who owned the pool hall and the picture show.
"Surprised you had the nerve to show up this morning after that stomping y'all took last night," Sam says with a West Texas drawl.
"It could have been worse," one of the boys replies.
"Yeah, you can say that about nearly everything I guess."
Perhaps it could have been worse for the Hawaii football team these last few years. But it's hard to imagine it.
When: 6:35 p.m. tomorrow
HAWAII VS. USC
Where: Aloha Stadium
TV: Live on KFVE
Radio: Live on KCCN
Records: This is the first game for both teams. USC was 8-5 in 1998. Hawaii was 0-12.
Coaches: Paul Hackett of USC. June Jones of Hawaii
Spread: USC is favored by 27 points
Five victories in three seasons. Not a winning campaign since 1992. Losing streaks of 18 consecutive games and 24 straight league road losses. Why, it's enough to make a community forget there is Division I football in the islands.
But new Rainbow head coach June Jones won't let folks forget. He has spent every day this year reminding people that Aloha Stadium will be a happening place once again.
He promised an entertaining product, if not a winning one right away. He believed people would come if given a reason to do so. And he is responsible for the 50,000 fans about to pass through the Aloha Stadium turnstiles.
Tomorrow night's game with Southern California is the first sellout involving the UH program since a happening night in 1992. That evening, Hawaii edged Brigham Young, 36-32. Three months later, the Rainbows won their only Western Athletic Conference title and their first bowl game.
"That's the point we're trying to get to," Jones said. "The place to be on Saturday night in the fall is Aloha Stadium. That's how I see it. That's why I took this job."
Jones has already delivered the SRO crowd. That was the easy part. Keeping the Rainbows competitive against a top 25 program? Well, that might not happen. But don't tell that to USC head coach Paul Hackett. He doesn't want to hear it.
"This is going to be a more difficult game for us than some people might think," Hackett said. "They have a new belief in themselves.
"They are running two excellent systems developed by Coach Jones and Coach (Greg) McMackin, two well-respected men in our profession. Preparing for them was difficult because we're not sure what they are going to do."
What Hawaii will try to do is stop USC's talented offense and exploit its inexperienced defense - a tough assignment when considering Hawaii's 50 veterans were thrown together with the 50 newcomers only a month ago.
The 'Bows' defense is further along than the offense. And that's good when you look at what the Trojans brought to the islands late yesterday morning.
Tailback Chad Morton, quarterback Carson Palmer and wideout R. Jay Soward are enough to keep a coach walking the floors late every night.
Morton rushed for 985 yards and six touchdowns last season. Palmer passed for 1,755 yards and seven touchdowns. Soward, who is a rapper in his spare time, caught 44 passes for 679 yards and six scores.
Morton and Soward also handle punts and kickoffs. Morton returned only seven punts and two kickoffs last year, but three were for touchdowns.
"These guys can flat run," Jones said of Soward and Morton. Morton has a 10.74 second 100-meter dash to his credit and Soward was clocked at 10.34. Backup tailback Sultan McCullough ran a 10.17 twice last year.
"That's what scares me about them," Jones said. "They have a lot more speed than we do."
One thing working in the Rainbows' favor is that defense is the team's strength. Up front, Tony Tuioti is a preseason All-WAC pick. Linebackers Anthony Smith, Jeff Ulbrich and Yaphet Warren run well. And defensive backs Shawndel Tucker and Dee Miller can hold their own with most anybody.
UH's offense is another matter. The starting receivers for the Rainbows are more sure-handed than fast. The backups bring some speed to the field, but these younger players aren't familiar enough with the offense to play every down.
"I think the third or fourth game of the season you'll see our offense coming together," Jones said. "We're not there yet. We're going to make mistakes. But give us time because we'll get better."
It's up to senior quarterback Dan Robinson to make the best of it until then. He threw for 2,155 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. But he also tossed 11 interceptions and was sacked 31 times.
"I spent a lot of last year looking up from the seat of my pants," Robinson said. "Part of that was because we didn't really know what we were going to run.
"This year, everybody is on the same page. What we have to work on is the timing and the reads between the quarterbacks and the receivers. But it will come."
Dwight Carter will be one of Robinson's primary targets. The senior wideout caught 40 passes last year for 567 yards and three touchdowns.
Afatia Thompson, Avion Weaver and Robert Grant will share the rushing duties. Jones is hopeful he can take advantage of a defense not necessarily familiar with the ins and outs of the run-and-shoot.
"We're ready to start hitting somebody other than ourselves," Jones said. "It's a tough assignment."
But it could always be worse.
Ka Leo O Hawaii