JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
While Matthew Stafford's passing skills are unquestioned, the Georgia quarterback's inability to scramble out of the pocket has not gone unnoticed as Hawaii worked up its gameplan.
Stafford stays put in pocket
NEW ORLEANS » The spy games may be over for Hawaii, at least when it comes to tracking the quarterback.
When Hawaii plays Georgia in the Sugar Bowl tonight in the Louisiana Superdome, the Warriors will take on a quarterback UH safety Jake Patek said can throw the ball 60 yards off his back foot.
But when it comes to using those feet for running, Matthew Stafford isn't as much of a threat as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick or Washington's Jake Locker.
The Warriors used middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian as a "spy," locked onto Kaepernick and Locker. And it worked, as Kaepernick (11 rushes for 23 yards) was kept under wraps and Locker (15-76) wasn't allowed to dominate the game in UH's 28-26 and 35-28 wins.
Stafford has 37 carries this season for net negative-18 yards.
"He's not a guy who's going to run it 15 or 20 times," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's going to have to disperse the ball to the playmakers."
With Elimimian taken off of spy duty, the Warriors' leading tackler can contribute more to dealing with other elements of UGA's offense, like stopping running backs Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno.
Georgia is ranked higher, has more tradition and its recruiting classes are always rated much better than Hawaii's.
This is the Warriors' first time in a game of this magnitude, while games like the Sugar Bowl are a birthright for the Bulldogs -- and this year it might even be a disappointment, as Georgia fans believe their team belongs in the national championship game.
"We've had big games, but not like this one," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "It's a Sugar Bowl atmosphere for them. For us it's a Super Bowl atmosphere."
The last time the Warriors played an SEC opponent, it was at Alabama to start the 2006 season. They admit they were in awe, started poorly and lost 25-17 with Colt Brennan throwing an interception into the 'Bama end zone on the last play of the game.
"You can't be too jacked up," Jones said. "We were too jacked up for the first 18 minutes."
Hawaii has been a second-half team this season. If it doesn't come out ready to play, the fourth-ranked team in the nation will make the Warriors pay for it.
If you're looking for reasons to believe underdog Hawaii can beat Georgia tonight, here are a few possibilities:
Knowshon Moreno's ankle
Moreno, Georgia's greatest freshman running back since Herschel Walker, has practiced this week with his left ankle heavily taped -- when he has practiced at all. While reports vary on the severity of the sprain, one source says he is having a difficult time blocking because of it and this will limit his number of downs.
Moreno said the ankle isn't bothering him very much, and he will play on "adrenaline."
But Richt said yesterday Thomas Brown will start.
The Dawgs have a backup in Brown who isn't really a backup. He rushed for 706 yards in nine games, actually averaging more per carry than Moreno (5.5 to 5.3) and scoring nine touchdowns while finishing ninth in the SEC in rushing.
The two have shared time, along with Kregg Lumpkin, when he's been healthy. Lumpkin may not play tonight due to a hamstring injury.
These are what you call ridiculous numbers: In three bowl games, the UH senior wideout has 32 catches for 599 yards. UH's all-time leading receiver is also consistent, with a 49-game streak of catching at least one pass -- currently the longest such run in the nation.
He's the guy you want on your side in big games.
"Hawaii's a receiver's paradise," Rivers said. "This is the kind of game I live for."
Starting defensive tackle Fale Laeli tweaked his knee in Hawaii, and that has limited his practice time. But an MRI came back without any problems, and he participated in the past two practices, coach June Jones said.
Slotbacks Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins are both ready to go after taking a few days off in Hawaii with assorted bumps and bruises.
"All in all we're pretty healthy," Jones said.
Nobody knows how good Hawaii actually is. The Warriors often played to the level of their competition, with the only real blowout wins coming against Northern Colorado, Charleston Southern, UNLV and New Mexico State.
The undefeated Warriors are a mystery.
"We just don't know how this game is going to turn out," Richt said. "We have never played them and we have never really played anyone that has played them."
Troy scored 34
Troy runs an offense similar to Hawaii, and reached the end zone four times and also hit a pair of field goals against Georgia as Omar Haugabook passed for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
UGA held on for a 44-34 win.
Richt said the Sun Belt team used a more horizontal approach than Hawaii normally does. But don't forget UH is adept at using screens and shovel passes to try to slow up blitzing.