UH-UNLV extension in works
POSTED: Thursday, September 25, 2008
The performance of Hawaii's running backs will be measured by more than yardage this week.
Facing a San Jose State defense powered by productive edge rushers, the UH backs' role in the protection scheme figures to be magnified in Saturday's Western Athletic Conference opener at Aloha Stadium.
"The running backs are our sixth lineman."
"We know a lot of people are doubting our offense," sophomore receiver-turned-running back Kealoha Pilares said. "So we as running backs take it upon ourselves to concentrate on what we have to do and give the quarterbacks a little more time out there so they can go through their progressions."
The Warriors (1-2) open defense of their WAC title against the Spartans (2-2), who rank 23rd in the country in total defense. Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m.
When they're not taking handoffs or catching shovel passes, the primary duty of Hawaii's running backs is to act as a personal protector for the quarterback, picking up defensive ends or linebackers blitzing into the backfield.
This week, the Warriors' offensive line, with support from the running backs, will try to slow down the Spartans front led by defensive end Carl Ihenacho.
Ihenacho's five sacks this season tops the WAC, and he's tied for fifth in the country with 1.25 per game. He has seven tackles for loss and has forced three fumbles, good for third in the nation.
Jeff Schweiger, a USC transfer who played 25 games at linebacker for the Trojans, starts on the other side and had six tackles last week against Stanford.
"The running backs are our sixth lineman—that's the way our protection works," Hawaii offensive line coach Brian Smith said. "They've done a real good job so far, being smaller guys than we're used to. Especially Kealoha, moving back from receiver, he's been doing a heck of a job blocking."
Pilares' experience playing running back last season made the shift from slotback relatively seamless, and has refined his blocking technique with the often gruff guidance of running backs coach Alex Gerke.
"Always being square, getting low, especially for me being on the small side as a running back," Pilares said. "He teaches me a lot about leverage, just using my size to explode into people."
The Warriors backfield was bolstered by the return of David Farmer from a knee injury this week. The senior may not be as shifty as Pilares or have the breakaway potential of Leon Wright-Jackson, but he's proven himself as an effective blocker for the past three seasons.
"First and foremost you've got to know who you have. Second, is just being tough," Farmer said. "It's positioning and a lot of strategy and knowing where to make contact and hit the guy.
"Anyone can go out there and hit, but that'll only get you so far. A good defensive end will swim you or make moves. You've got to be smarter and adjust to it and use more technique rather than sheer force."
Hawaii's running back rotation could expand further if senior Daniel Libre is available. Libre attended yesterday's practice, but has yet to participate since aggravating a sprained ankle against Oregon State. UH head coach Greg McMackin said Libre could practice today and hasn't ruled him out for Saturday's game.
As for the Warriors' first line of protection, Smith expects to use seven offensive linemen on Saturday. While Aaron Kia is running first at left tackle with Brysen Ginlack next to him at guard, Smith said Laupepa Letuli will also see time at tackle with Raphael Ieru working at guard. They'll join center John Estes, right guard Lafu Tuioti-Mariner and right tackle Keoni Steinhoff on the front line.
Quarterbacks Tyler Graunke and Inoke Funaki again split snaps yesterday, with Graunke working into the team period. Graunke, coming back from a sprain in his throwing hand, sat out the team period on Tuesday and was first in the rotation yesterday.
"Today was definitely better than yesterday. He's progressing and feeling better," UH quarterbacks coach Nick Rolovich said. "Inoke had a great day. He's been throwing the ball real well."
Linebacker Solomon Elimimian sat out a second day to rest a strained muscle in his thigh, but McMackin said he'll be ready for the game.
No Ford Island parking
Ford Island will not be available as an alternate parking site for Saturday's game.
With a crowd of around 37,000 expected, UH athletic director Jim Donovan said the $18,000 cost of using Ford Island factored into the decision. He said the use of Ford Island will be determined on a game-by-game basis depending on ticket sales.
Alternate parking will be available at Kam Drive-In, Leeward Community College and Radford High School. Aloha Stadium parking gates open at 2:30 p.m., except the Lower Halawa lot, which opens at 1:30.
The inner circle parking sections are reserved and can be entered through the main Salt Lake gate (Gate 1) and the North Kam gate (Gate 2). Public access to the lower and upper Halawa lots will be through Gates 3 and 4.
More information is available at AlohaStadium.hawaii.gov.