Friday, September 24, 1999
by UH critical
The Rainbow football team
can't afford to stumble through
the first half again
University of Hawaii Football
1999 season special
By Paul Arnett
DALLAS - Practicing by moonlight wasn't enough to lessen the fears of Hawaii head coach June Jones that some Southern Methodist spy was lurking in the bushes.
To make sure no Mustang supporter stole any secrets during last night's practice at Irving High School, Jones had 13 players line up on the defensive side of the football.
"You guys can report whatever you want to,'' Jones said to a small cluster of reporters. "But you can't report what you see on the field. If there's someone here we don't know, we don't want them to know what we're doing.''
What Jones would like to do is win the first conference road game in nearly seven years. The Rainbows will not only be trying to steer out of the 24-game losing skid tomorrow afternoon against SMU in the Cotton Bowl, they will also be trying to win their WAC opener for the first time since 1992.
Yesterday's practice began in the sun and ended as a full harvest moon rose on the horizon. A junior varsity game was held under the lights of an adjoining field. But it was still practically dark when the Rainbows broke from their final huddle.
"There were some lights,'' Jones said, then smiled. "You guys just don't see as good as we do.''
The players were in a light frame of mind after spending eight hours in a plane and most of the morning relaxing in their hotel rooms. Jones figured the jet-lag would hit the Rainbows after last night's practice.
He wanted them to get a good night's rest, have a walk-through on the grass field of the Cotton Bowl today and then get up tomorrow morning ready to ride the Ponies.
"So far the travel has been great," Jones said. "We got in, got our work done. The kids had a good practice today, now we need to get a lot of rest between tonight and tomorrow. It's business as usual. No game is bigger than any other game. We're trying to win one on the road. It happens to be in the conference this week. So it kind of counts as two.''
For the conference opener to count in the win column, the Rainbows can ill-afford to get off to a slow start. So far this year, Jones' better half has been the second one.
The Rainbows have been outscored in the first half by opponents Southern California, Eastern Illinois and Boise State, 77-17. They rallied from a 17-10 halftime deficit to beat Eastern Illinois, 31-27. Jones also stood by and watched the Rainbows come back from being down 19-7 to Boise State to win going away, 34-19.
"We can't come out like we did last week and just play the second half,'' Jones said. "SMU is fired up. They've had two weeks off. They're playing at home. So, the only way we can take them out of the game is not lay an egg early on.''
On paper, the Mustangs are a two touchdown favorite. And perhaps they should be. After all, Hawaii has lost 15 consecutive road games overall and 24 WAC away games dating back to October of 1992.
SMU head coach Mike Cavan spent the bye week putting in a new offensive system that runs first and passes only when necessary. Top tailback Rodnick Phillips is looking for that break-out game this season. Jones can only hope that it isn't against Hawaii.
"I'm sure they're going to give it to Phillips as much as they can,'' Jones said. "It sounds like they're going to get back to trying to pound the ball, ball-control it and try to keep it away from us.''
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, part of their problem in the two lopsided losses lies with the defense. Arkansas and Tulane got ahead early, forcing the Mustangs to throw all the time behind a suspect offensive line that got some more bad news after starting center Rich Nichols pulled a calf muscle on Wednesday.
"They've gotten behind so fast, they've had to pass a lot and I'm not sure they were prepared to do that,'' UH defensive coordinator Greg McMackin said. "I'm sure they want to be more balanced. They'll probably try to run the ball right at us.''
All three of Hawaii's opponents have demonstrated the best way to play Hawaii is straight up on the run. Pass if you must, but an injured defensive front has been a key reason teams are averaging 191.7 yards a game on the ground.
Defensive ends Joe Correia (knee and broken hand) and Mike Iosua (hamstring) are hobbled. Top tackle Tony Tuioti is still bothered by a bad back, leaving Hawaii weak up front. SMU knows all about injuries. The Mustangs lost three offensive linemen for the season in fall camp.
Still, they possess the ability to run. Granted, Phillips is off to a slow start with 39 yards, but freshman Johnnie Freeman is on the rise. Against Tulane, the tailback rushed for 146 yards on only seven carries.
"We can't let them establish the run because that sets up everything else,'' Jones said. "They're a good football team that has had a week off to get jacked up to play us. This is a big game for us. We need to keep this thing moving in the right direction, and a win here would help accomplish that goal.''
UH at SMUWhen: 9 a.m., tomorrow
Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas
TV: 9 a.m., KFVE (Channel 5)
RealAudio:Live Internet broadcast
Radio: Live on KCCN, 1420-AM