Hawaii ready to walk the walk
The players have all been told about the hostile atmosphere at Fresno State
FRESNO, Calif. » Colt Brennan has been told all about Fresno State's "Red Mile" and Bulldog Stadium's reputation for burning the ears of opposing players.
Today, the Hawaii quarterback gets his first opportunity to experience it for himself.
"That's the one thing I've heard about the most," Brennan said as the Warriors prepared for their visit to Fresno. "The one stadium on the road that is kind of notorious throughout the WAC.
"I'm excited, and I know it's going to be a hostile environment, but I'm still excited."
The Warriors (3-2, 1-1) will try to hush the Bulldog fans today when they face a struggling Fresno State (1-4, 1-1) team in a Western Athletic Conference meeting at Bulldog Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11:05 a.m. Hawaii time.
The Warriors arrived in town yesterday afternoon after practicing a few hours south in Ontario, Calif., and won't hang around long as they're scheduled to return to Honolulu tonight.
While Hawaii is looking for its third straight victory and first on the road this season, Fresno State enters the game on a four-game losing streak, dropping eight of its last nine dating to last season.
But the Bulldogs' slide hasn't altered the Warriors' perception of their conference rival nor the challenge of winning in Fresno.
"We look at them as Fresno State," UH coach June Jones said. "We've beaten them one time in the history of the school here."
Although the Bulldogs have struggled lately, the Warriors expect a typically vociferous welcome from fans lining the path from the visitors locker room to the field and again inside the stadium.
"I love going there," said senior cornerback Kenny Patton, who experienced both the high of a 31-21 win at Bulldog Stadium in 2002 and the depths of a 70-14 thrashing two years later.
"The walk, all that stuff, that's what football's all about. That makes it fun. They just make comments about how you look. I remember, 'Hey 24, go back to junior high.' because I was about 20 pounds lighter then. That was pretty funny. They're not trying to hurt you. After the game they're the first ones to shake your hand."
A fast start for the Warriors would make for a quieter setting.
Hawaii has scored at least four touchdowns in the first half of each of its wins (all at home). In their two road losses, the Warriors have been outscored 42-17 before halftime.
"It's one of those things if you have success in that kind of environment it's sweeter," said Brennan, who leads the WAC's most productive offense at 516.2 yards per game.
"It's nice to silence the crowd on the road and get respect from the team and the players you're playing against. ... But I know it's not going to be easy."
The Warriors were licking a few wounds of their own this week. Both starting guards, John Estes and Hercules Satele, had sore knees after last week's win over Nevada, while receiver Ian Sample is fighting through a tight hamstring and slotback Ross Dickerson has a bruised hip. All are expected to start today.
Slotback Ryan Grice-Mullins didn't make the trip and will miss his third straight game due to a sprained ankle.
"I was concerned," Brennan said. "There were a lot of guys. Not just a couple, but a lot with these nicks and bruises and stuff. At the same time, I have a lot of trust in the guys around us."
The Warriors face a Fresno State squad smarting from last week's stunning 13-12 loss at Utah State that has the Bulldogs hearing it from their own supporters.
The question of the week has been whether the Bulldogs will shake off the disappointment and pounce out of the corner snarling today.
"We'll find out Saturday -- they've practiced well," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "I know that they know there's an urgency."
Both teams need a win to stay within reach of the WAC's early leaders, and Fresno State's streak of seven straight bowl appearances is also in jeopardy. The Bulldogs play at LSU and Boise State following today's contest with the Warriors.
The Bulldogs' spiraling fortunes have brought howls from the local faithful, and the home team's struggles have made the backup quarterback the most popular player in town.
Sophomore starter Tom Brandstater ranks eighth in the WAC in pass-efficiency rating at 98.3. By comparison, Brennan is first at 172.8.
Hill said sophomore Sean Norton may see some playing time today, but he is sticking behind Brandstater, who backed up Paul Pinegar last year.
"It's not Tommy Brandstater's fault we're 1-4," Hill said. "Tommy was the most popular guy last year -- that's just the nature of the business. He's handled it great for a sophomore, but he was able to watch it happen with Paul, so he knows what he's into."
Though quarterbacks tend to make headlines, running back Dwayne Wright remains the focus of the Bulldog attack. Wright ranks second in the WAC with 132.6 yards per game and has scored seven times this season.
"We need to pound him, we need to ride him a lot," Hill said.