Saturday, October 24, 1998
In the WAC,
theres winless, and
New Mexico and UH areBy Paul Arnett
0-4 in the league, but the Lobos
are a clear favorite tonight
There's 0-4, and then there's 0-4.
If you don't know the differences between the identical Western Athletic Conference records shared by Hawaii and New Mexico, then you haven't been paying close attention.
As disappointing as that mark is for the Lobos, they are still a better team than the Rainbows entering tonight's final league encounter between the two.
New Mexico won its first two games of the season, defeating Idaho State and Utah State, before losing five in a row. Hawaii has lost its first six games this season after losing the last six of 1997.
To think Hawaii has a realistic chance to upset a team that's averaging 24 more points a game might be taking optimism to new heights. Arkansas State hadn't won a Division I game since 1996, but the Indians blanked the Rainbows, 20-0.
Southern Methodist came to town with an 0-4 record, but left with a 28-0 victory over Hawaii, proving winless marks come in a variety of packages.
"We haven't proven we can be competitive with anybody," UH head coach Fred vonAppen said. "But if we want to show signs of improvement, then we need to be competitive in a game like this, and try to get a win.
"New Mexico has lost five in a row. A few of those were very close games that could have gone either way. New Mexico is also a team that won a division title last year and went to a bowl game, so you know they know how to win.
"We don't know that feeling yet. We're still trying to find our way in nearly every phase of the game. Until we play hard for 60 minutes and show we can be consistent for four quarters, we probably won't beat anybody."
According to Las Vegas oddsmakers, the Lobos are a touchdown favorite.
For Hawaii to keep it close, the UH defense will need to keep quarterback Graham Leigh in check so the struggling offense can have the opportunity to score against a porous New Mexico defense.
Sounds simple enough. But Leigh is probably the best all-around quarterback Hawaii will face. Not only does Leigh throw the ball well, he can get out of a collapsing pocket and become even more dangerous on the run.
"He is also an excellent option quarterback and they'll run some of that, and not just to keep you honest," UH defensive coordinator Tom Williams said. "This is a phase of the offense they can run very well."
Rookie New Mexico head coach Rocky Long tried to leave that part of Leigh's offense behind by bringing in some West Coast designs, but they haven't always gone as planned.
Last year, Leigh was intercepted eight times in 276 pass attempts while throwing for 2,318 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In seven games this season, Leigh has thrown for 1,740 yards, with 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
"It was a tough transition for me because you have to learn so many progressions and reads," Leigh said. "Not only do you have to be on the same page, but so do your receivers. I think we've made some progress.
"But I like the idea of incorporating some of the stuff we did well as a team last year with plays that have worked well for us this season. It's a better blend."
UH offensive coordinator Don Lindsey hasn't been able to blend anything. The Rainbows remain last in the nation in scoring, averaging 8.2 points a game, and No. 105 in rushing (87.2 yards per game).
Quarterback Dan Robinson has been dinged twice in the last two games, which could hurt his effectiveness. One big hit and walk-on Bronson Liana could be at the helm.
"I feel fine," Robinson said. "I'll be ready to go Saturday night. My main concern right now is helping this team win and getting this thing turned around the second half of the season."
That should be everyone's primary concern, at least in the eyes of vonAppen, who believes the players and coaches should shoulder the blame for sharing the nation's longest losing streak (with UNLV).
"It's our job to get a plan in place that we believe gives us the best chance to win," vonAppen said. "But plays don't play, players do. And it's up to them to execute those plays better.
"We've done a good job limiting our turnovers, but we're still making stupid penalties and we're still giving up big plays in the kicking game. I'm still waiting for us to put it all together. If we can do that, then I believe we'll be in a position to win."
WAC footballTonight: New Mexico (2-5, 0-4 WAC) at Hawaii (0-6, 0-4), 6:05 at Aloha Stadium
TV: KFVE (Channel 5), delayed, 9 p.m.
Attendance: A crowd of 20,000 is expected (capacity is 50,000)
Coaches: New Mexico's Rocky Long (2-5, first year); Hawaii's Fred vonAppen (5-25, third year)
Weather: Partly cloudy, chance of rain. Temperature at game time in low 80s.
Radio: KCCN (1420-AM) live
Point spread: New Mexico by 712.