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This game—and its MVPs—were decided early


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POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Usually, some of us make paper airplanes out of the MVP ballots they give us at bowl games. The officials want them filled out too early and if the game's close, how do you know?

No such problem at the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl yesterday. Got it done before the end of the third quarter. That's the kind of game it was. A blowout of huge proportion with obvious stars: Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen.

“;It's the earliest I've filled this thing out,”; I told Don Robbs.

“;This is the earliest I'm leaving a game,”; said Robbs, who has been to a lot of them.

This used to be the Jason Rivers Hawaii Bowl, brought to you by Tim Chang and Colt Brennan. Yesterday it was the Golden Tate Bowl, presented by Jimmy Clausen.

After that punt return TD, my early ballot was in. Didn't care that it was called back.

It looked as if Tate was trying to break the career receiving records Rivers needed three Hawaii Bowls to set.

It also seemed the Warriors left their best moves at the banquet.

As one wry cyber-poster pointed out, “;Rudy would've played the entire fourth quarter.”; Probably, since ND led 49-14 in the third. For UH fans, it was like the Sugar Bowl—except the opponent entered the game 6-6, not with a legitimate gripe for the national championship, like Georgia did last year.

The only good thing here for Hawaii was that the tourism authority got its postcard. And too bad the schedule is full for the next few years—UH would have no problem booking opponents that saw this.

Hawaii made Notre Dame look like ... well, Notre Dame. Not the passionless barely-Fighting Irish who didn't bother to show up for some games this year, losing to mighty foes like Syracuse. No, this was the old Notre Dame, the one of Heisman Trophy winners and national championships. The four- and five-star recruits finally displayed some synergy.

Give some credit to Notre Dame's smart game-planning of screens early to slow up UH's penchant for blitzing. It made the dangerous Clausen-to-Tate combination unstoppable.

“;We're an aggressive defense, so maybe that figured in,”; co-captain and linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. “;But there were plays we should've made. We didn't execute.”;

UH defenders complained of being held and pushed, but there are no excuses for Tate's extra gear and Clausen's precision long ball. It just is, and it's pretty unless you're an opponent.

The guy sitting next to me covered Notre Dame all year, and he said this was the best its O-line played. And tailback Robert Hughes—a backup most of the season—became Jerome Bettis, the next generation.

ND coach Charlie Weis said it was “;sweet”; calling plays from upstairs. His injured knees forced him above it all. He'd rather be down at ground level with the guys, but after yesterday he might have to think about it.

Those eight sacks. Once the pride of the Warriors, the offensive line was exposed for all its flaws. And when Greg Alexander did have time to throw while UH was still in the game, he often rushed his passes. Quarterbacks in this offense are supposed to read their progressions, not regress.

A bitter ending for Hawaii, with its last game so similar to the first. A lopsided loss against a big-name, big-time program. But the opener was at Florida, a team that will play in the national championship game.

This was against a team with six losses—and Hawaii got blown out at home.

Regression instead of progression, a season of ups and downs ending on a down.