Thursday, September 23, 1999
Mustangs a bigger
challenge for Hawaii
The Southern Methodist
football team will unveil a new
offensive scheme against
RAINBOW NOTEBOOKBy Paul Arnett
DALLAS - Mike Cavan closed down the open attack in lieu of something simple.
Sure, the Southern Methodist head coach signed off on this offensive philosophy designed by coordinator Greg Briner last year. And granted, the Mustangs improved their rushing numbers 54 percent from the previous season and passing yards 46 percent.
But the amount of time spent learning it and making it work on the football field weren't worth the modest gains. Serious injuries to the offensive front may also have contributed to the demise of Briner's open attack.
Whatever the reason - and Cavan isn't really giving one - the third-year head coach took the reins and has spent the bye week installing a simple, slimmed down playbook.
Instead of running routes that even Big Blue would need a few minutes to compute, Cavan is going back to his roots at East Tennessee State and Valdosta State.
He is taking long-time assistant David McKnight with him. He served as offensive coordinator for Cavan at the two state-side residences. And while this offense may not make any national telestrators, Cavan hopes it will serve SMU well in Saturday's conference opener with Hawaii.
"We did it because we were 0-2 and needed something to get us moving in the right direction again," Cavan said. "We're just trying to improve this football team. It's that simple."
Simple seems to be the order of the day and that suits some of the players just fine. They felt Briner's way was too cerebral. The Xs and Os suddenly took on the look of complex computer code.
Such is not the case for Cavan's offense. UH defensive coordinator Greg McMackin knows what to expect. But if it's executed properly, this run-oriented attack can grind down a defense by the end of the day.
"It's not that complicated," McMackin said. "But it could be difficult for us to stop. SMU has some talented players who may be better-suited to this system. Teams have run the ball effectively against us. So just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy to stop."
McMackin expects long-time tailback Rodnic Phillips to be shifted to fullback, allowing talented freshman Johnnie Freeman a chance to get his hands on the football.
In the 53-19 loss to Tulane, Freeman gained 146 yards on only seven carries. Last year, Phillips had similar success en route to becoming only the sixth Mustang to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
This year, he has only 39 yards in SMU's two season-opening losses to Arkansas and Tulane. Both teams played in bowl games last year, but Phillips doesn't believe that was the problem. He told the Dallas media that SMU is going to pound opponents with the ground game. And that suits him just fine.
"How can you go wrong with pounding people?" Phillips told the Dallas Morning News. "Just line up and go. I don't care if it came from a middle school. If it works, I'll do it."
So does Cavan, who has faith in this offense with the junior high connection. He knows it might not be an option forever. But the approach of run on first and second downs, and pass on third only when necessary, could be the way to go.
His young quarterbacks - sophomore Josh McCown and freshman Kelan Luker - have certainly struggled in Briner's system. They are a combined 30 of 74 for 373 yards and two touchdowns. The young guns also have fired four interceptions.
"When I came here, I wanted this offense to be balanced," Cavan said. "We also wanted to be consistent. We haven't been close in our first two games, so we thought now was the time to make a change during the bye. No great mystery. We're just trying to get better."
If someone had come up to associate head coach George Lumpkin minutes after Hawaii secured a 41-21 victory at Texas-El Paso and said, "Coach, this is the last time the Rainbows will win a league road game for as many as seven years," his reply would have been:
YESTERDAY'S RAINBOW NOTEBOOK
Team will stay
close to local time
"You're out of your mind."
Crazy or not, it has happened. The Rainbows haven't won a WAC road game since that Halloween afternoon in 1992. They make their first road trip of the season this week, playing Southern Methodist Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
Lumpkin said there are a lot of reasons why Hawaii hasn't managed to win on the road over the years. But the main one is, "Psychological, pure and simple," Lumpkin said.
"I really think it's just a matter of playing as hard as you do at home, getting focused, taking care of your responsibilities and everything will take care of itself.
"You're on a football field preparing for a game. I don't know what the distractions could be. We won in 1992 because we wanted to win. And of course, we had good football players."
Lumpkin and head coach June Jones spent the summer working on travel details. Because they only have three road games, the two coaches decided to go up a day earlier to Dallas to get acclimated to the surroundings.
Tonight, they will hold a practice at a local high school. Tomorrow, the Rainbows will have a workout in the Cotton Bowl. By Saturday, they should be fit for duty.
"I think June has the right idea to keep us as close to Hawaii time as we can," Lumpkin said. "I told him how we used to travel with Wags (former head coach Bob Wagner).
"June understands what it's like to go on the road. It just makes sense to take the red-eye (last night), get in (this) morning, check in and get some rest, and then have an evening practice."
Jones said the Rainbows will work their way slowly through the five-hour time difference of being on Central Daylight Time.
"I think having morning practices will help because it won't be that big of an adjustment," Jones said. "Our kickoff at SMU will be at around 9 a.m. Hawaii time. So, it won't be that big of a change."
Injury updateThe team is fairly healthy as it leaves for Dallas.
The main concern is defensive end Joe Correia. For the second consecutive day, he didn't practice because of a knee injury and a broken hand.
Jones said Correia will have his broken hand in a cast and his knee inside a brace. How long he plays Saturday will depend on him. If he plays, Correia can't seek a medical hardship. At this time, the coaches aren't considering that route.
"Joe won't be 100 percent, but we think he can still be able to play," Jones said. "It's just something he's going to have to play through the best he can."
The only player on the depth chart not expected to make the trip is safety Daniel Ho-Ching. Jones said he wants to rest him the next few weeks to get his dislocated shoulder in shape."
Movin' on up IIThe Rainbows jumped in the Scripps Howard computer rankings again this week, rising 29 spots to No. 116. They have a power rating of 77.81.
By comparison, Florida State is the top-ranked team with a rating of 114.6, meaning that on a neutral field the Seminoles should be 37-point favorites.
SMU is ranked No. 107 with a rating of 79.43. Throw in the four points for home-field advantage and the Mustangs should be six-point favorites.
In Las Vegas, the Mustangs are favored by 14.
By Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin