Belief in their system, Jones’ coaching UH’s keys to Sugar win
June Jones has been in big games before. He has stood on countless NFL sidelines and survived the blinding sheen of that spotlight. And truth be told, he'd return to that stage in a moment's notice if ever asked to come home again.
On the first day of 2008, his University of Hawaii football team is playing the most important game in school history. It will be the fifth time that has happened over the last two months as Hawaii closed the 2007 campaign with crucial wins over Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and Washington.
The only thing that might compare to playing national power Georgia in the Sugar Bowl is the win over Illinois in the Holiday Bowl. That chilly December 1992 night in San Diego will be eclipsed, however, if the Warriors upset a talented Bulldogs team that hasn't played a down of football in a month of Saturdays.
They're still smarting over the BCS slight that left the Bulldogs outside the pet store looking in at the national championship game that will be played six days later in the same city and dome as the Sugar Bowl. That irony isn't lost on this large and vocal Bulldogs Nation, whose fans see this game as a slap on the nose.
How will the team respond to having to play in a wild-card game that leads nowhere? That's where Jones' experience steps in; his ability to get his assistants and players properly prepared for the inherent challenge of facing a traditionally tough SEC opponent is the only chance he has of picking off a distracted team.
Running out of the Superdome tunnel toward the largest audience to see Colt Brennan and Co. up close and personal is a moment best left to professionals like Jones. Controlling that emotion, playing within one's self at all positions on the football field, especially in the early going, are critical to success. This is where Jones shines as a coach.
Because Georgia has been here before. Don't get this football team confused with any Hawaii has played this season. Don't for a single solitary moment believe the Bulldogs are of the same cloth as the Huskies. This team has its own issues, true, but it can move the football as well as Hawaii.
Defensive coordinator Greg McMackin has his hands full but, like Jones, this ain't his first rodeo. Boise State's plan in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was to sell out against the run and force Oklahoma to beat the Broncos through the air. The problem with that strategy is obvious to McMackin. Georgia can throw when necessary and has a penchant for big pass plays.
Most of the focus this week will be on Brennan; his cast and crew will have to think touchdown on every series. It's the kind of pressure Jones lives for. He's prepared his entire life for this opportunity to showcase an offense still kicking up some field turf.
Brennan is the perfect component for the system. His receivers read defenses equally well, putting pressure on a Georgia defense to get in Brennan's face mask as much as possible. Whatever Georgia tries to do, Jones will have seen it before. He will counter, Hawaii will score and Georgia will respond.
Who will win? Most believe Georgia. But most don't know that belief is a system Hawaii has down better than the run and shoot. Jones has seen to that, too. And that could be Georgia's undoing.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org