Feeding frenzy for UH backs


POSTED: Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hawaii's running backs solved hunger last night at Aloha Stadium.

Leon Wright-Jackson served up the main course to victory-starved Warriors fans with a career effort in UH's 49-36 win over Utah State. Then Alex Green prepared a sweet performance for dessert: a career night of his own.

Their combined performance—167 yards on 15 carries by Wright-Jackson, with three touchdowns, 110 yards on 10 carries by Green—resulted in an eye-popping stat: The Warriors gained more yards on the ground than in the air, 360 to 337, in the run-and-shoot era.

Both backs averaged more than a first down per carry (11.1 and 11.0). Those in the stands weren't the only ones to eat up the rare offensive explosion on the ground as UH ended a six-game losing streak.

“;You know, us running backs, me and Alex, always talk about getting into a rhythm,”; said Wright-Jackson, a senior, who equaled his entire touchdown total of his first two UH seasons when he went in for his third score of the night in the third quarter.

“;Once we got into a rhythm, we start breaking free. Alex showed that last week against Nevada (70 yards). Coaches were believing in us, and our offensive line was doing great. I guess we were all feeding off of each other.”;

By halftime, Wright-Jackson became the first UH back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since 2006, when Nate Ilaoa ran for 159 against Purdue. His career-long 62-yard run in the second quarter was the longest ground gain since John West's 81-yard run in 2002.

It was also the first time two UH backs rushed for 100-plus yards since Johnny Macon (141) and Brett Washington (106) against Fresno State on Nov. 4, 1995, and the most team rushing yardage since UH posted 375 on UTEP in 1995.

There was no relief for the Aggies when Wright-Jackson (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) started to alternate drives with Green (6-2, 220) in the second quarter, and the Warriors racked up 216 on the ground in the first half.

“;All year long, we knew what we had. We knew what we could do,”; said Green, who set a career rushing high for the second straight week. “;And today it showed. It was obvious. Leon's a great running back, and seeing him do those things, I want to do good, too.”;

Wright-Jackson and Green weren't the only ones to get in on the action. Quarterback Bryant Moniz nearly topped 100 yards himself with 82 on a series of effective keepers.

“;We weren't expecting quite that much, but it was great to get,”; running backs coach Brian Smith said. “;We knew we could run the ball on them, and once we got into the game and saw some of the things they were doing, tendency-wise, we really thought we could open up with our ground game. We really capitalized on some of the looks that they gave us.”;

Wright-Jackson set the tone at the end of the first quarter with an 18-yard run to the USU 1. UH had none of its season-long red zone woes, as the senior punched through on the next play. Following a Moniz 31-yard keeper, the former high school Parade All-American from Washington dashed through a hole from 9 yards out to put the Warriors up 28-7.

On the second play of the next UH drive, he broke a tackle and dashed up the right sideline for his career-long 62-yard run, setting up a Moniz touchdown to Greg Salas. He added a 44-yard run in the third quarter.

“;Big play after big play, we kept believing in each other, kept moving the ball,”; said Wright-Jackson, whose previous game best was 65 yards vs. Fresno State in 2007. He nearly matched his entire total from that year (190), and likely could have if UH hadn't inserted third-stringer Chizzy Dimude late. “;Like I said, we were just feeding off each other.”;