Another big one for Warriors
Kicking off the season at Alabama was just a warm-up as Hawaii visits its newest rival
BOISE, Idaho » Three weeks ago Hawaii played at a stadium that seats more than 92,000 and has statues of four coaches who brought the school 12 national championships.
Tonight, the 1-1 Warriors play to a third as many people. And on a blue field at what was a junior college not that long ago.
But ask around the UH camp, and it doesn't take long to learn that playing at Boise State is bigger than taking on Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Warriors-Broncos has become a rivalry. One-sided on the scoreboard, but yes, a rivalry.
"This is definitely the biggest game of the season, by far," senior punter Kurt Milne said of tonight's conference opener. "We always play Boise early and lose and end up having to play catch-up and hope Fresno upsets them."
The Broncos have won the WAC championship four consecutive times, twice denying the Warriors at least a share of the title by beating them.
And the fans haven't tired of it after five wins in a row over UH.
"Close last year doesn't count, and we're ready to kick your (butt) this year," said Boise State student Heather Santos, who has relatives in Hawaii. "It's definitely a big game for us and we love the rivalry."
The Boise players sounded a more respectful tone, but it does seem BSU is becoming the new BYU for Hawaii.
And defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said the No. 25 Broncos (3-0) compare favorably with the Crimson Tide when it comes to talent.
"The running back (Ian Johnson) is better than the guy at Alabama (Ken Darby). The left tackle (Ryan Clady) is better than the guy at Alabama (Andre Smith). And you can go on and on and on," Glanville said.
The last time Hawaii beat Boise State was in 1999, before the Broncos joined the WAC. Boise State has won 20 consecutive league home games.
They've earned the Warriors' respect.
"They're undefeated at home and been WAC champs ever since I've been here," UH senior center Sam Satele said. "They're a good team. They're well-disciplined. They're a hard-nosed football team that does their assignments."
The last time the Warriors came here, they left the blue field blue in the face, losing 69-3 in 2004. To add to the embarrassment, an ESPN crew that came to document Tim Chang breaking the NCAA career passing-yardage record ended up reporting instead on his breaking of the interception mark.
"It's going to be a tough place to play. I was there last time, and it's not a good memory," UH defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis said.
Although Hawaii is a 15-point underdog, the Warriors come into Boise believing they can win. They are high off a 42-13 victory over UNLV last week in which they physically manhandled and athletically dominated the Rebels.
UH, which frittered away a chance to beat Boise State last year with terrible special teams play, is confident this time. The Warriors, No. 2 in the nation in passing yardage, also displayed a productive rushing offense and stifling run defense last week.
"I think this year we're gonna get them on their heels because of our running game," Satele said. "Our running is real good and our passing is awesome.
"So it's not what they're going to do as much as how we block them, and if we make mistakes."
Satele is among those alarmed that the Warriors are worst in the nation in turnover ratio and penalty yards.
Boise State is nearly opposite when it comes to making mistakes -- even with a new head coach, former offensive coordinator Chris Petersen, replacing Dan Hawkins.
"They do a great job, their coaches, obviously," UH coach June Jones said. "Their players don't bust (assignments)."
Jones said he expects to see a lot of man-to-man coverage, which could bode well for Hawaii's quick slotbacks, Ryan Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess.
They both caught passes for more than 100 yards last week, opening the way for Nate Ilaoa to also exceed the century mark, rushing. Ilaoa also had two touchdowns.
"The defense is always looking for the pass, so that allows me to get some big plays," Ilaoa said. "Having dangerous receivers gives you a lot of room to work with. It starts with a great O-line. That makes big plays possible."
BSU safety Marty Tadman said the Broncos won't be surprised by UH's running game.
"We have to stop the run first. (Quarterback) Colt Brennan's a baller, he can scramble for a lot of yards," Tadman said. "Of course we also have to lock up the receivers, especially Bess and Grice-Mullins. They're going to catch balls. Our job is to tackle them immediately."
The Broncos are fourth in the nation in least yards allowed per game (198.7) and seventh in points (8.0).
They have one of the best linebackers in the nation in Korey Hall, and Tadman teams with another solid senior safety, Gerald Alexander.
BSU used to be known for its variety of offensive weapons. But so far this season, Petersen has depended on quarterback Jared Zabransky and running back Ian Johnson for most of the big plays. They are a big test for Glanville, the former NFL defensive guru.
It could very well come down to the kicking game again.
"Last year special teams were big for us," Petersen said. "In big games they show up. We try to put our best players out there. There are no sacred cows."
BSU milked the kicking game for a 44-41 win at Aloha Stadium last year.
"It left a bitter taste in my mouth," said UH's Dan Kelly, who had two kicks blocked leading to nine BSU points instead of four for Hawaii. "I made a lot of mistakes as a freshman, a lot of mistakes I don't want to duplicate and won't duplicate."
Pick caps Nevada's win over Northwestern
RENO, Nev. » Joe Garcia returned his second interception of the game 24 yards for a touchdown with 2:14 left to help Nevada hold off Northwestern 31-21 last night for its first victory ever over a Big Ten school.
Jeff Rowe completed 17 of 22 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns and Robert Hubbard ran for 156 yards and two scores for the Wolf Pack (2-2), who are 12-2 at home since coach Chris Ault took over in 2004.
Mike Kafka ran for 111 yards on 12 carries, but completed only nine of 21 passes for 122 yards and threw three interceptions for Northwestern (2-2).
It marked the first time a Big Ten school had ever played at Nevada, which forced five Wildcats turnovers and blocked a field-goal attempt. The only other time the Wolf Pack faced a Big Ten team was a 35-17 loss at Wisconsin in 1993.