Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, October 8, 1999

R A I N B O W _ F O O T B A L L

’Bows hope
for rare success
against option

Hawaii has won only 4 of 17
games against option teams, but hopes
to improve on that against
Rice tomorrow

By Paul Arnett


Option teams have not treated the Rainbows kindly through the years. This decade, Hawaii is a woeful 4-12-1 against schools that employed the wishbone, spread option or veer.

Most of those wins occurred during the early part of this decade. Dating back to 1994, the Rainbows are 0-7-1 vs. option-oriented teams, including four losses to the Air Force Academy.

"It's a difficult offense to prepare for because you don't see it that often," UH head coach June Jones said as he put the final touches on the game plan for tomorrow night's important conference matchup with Rice.

"The option does cause a lot of headaches. You've got to have good team speed. Our linebackers and safeties are showing that they can run, so that's going to help.

"But it's hard to get a good look at it in practice. You've got to be disciplined and you've got to play your responsibilities. One error and a guy pops a big one.

"(Rice head coach) Ken Hatfield has done a great job wherever's he's been. They don't care what the score is. They just keep on running it."

Hatfield's plan is to try to run the option all night long at Aloha Stadium. In his mind, if he's running the wishbone effectively, then the Rainbows can't employ the run-and-shoot.

"We've got to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible," Hatfield said. "The thing about their offense is they can score on one play from any point on the field. And we have to be aware of that, defensively."

Rice's defense could be a bigger cause of concern for Jones than the plodding wishbone. Despite having only two seniors starting, this unit is near the top of the WAC, yielding only 324 yards and 22 points a game.

When you consider the Owls have played only one home game, have faced Michigan and Texas, and are coming off a 20-10 win at Tulsa, it's easy to see why Jones isn't taking them for granted.

"Most of the time Rice's defense lines up in a 4-3, but (they) will give you a 3-2 look from time to time, a lot like UTEP," Jones said. "They aren't physically imposing.

"But they are very sound in their coverages. They are well-coached in the back end. They aren't going to put themselves in the position to give up a lot of big plays.

"You can tell they are smart kids who know where they are supposed to be. I think they bank on the idea that you're not going to keep the ball for long spells against them. They play the time of possession game with their offense by keeping the football away from you."

You don't have to explain that fact to defensive coordinator Greg McMackin. He is well aware the option is designed to get 4 yards a carry and is always in search of the big play.

"They kind of lull you into thinking you're doing a good job against it," McMackin said. "Then all of a sudden somebody breaks out of there for a big play because of one missed assignment."

What makes Hawaii's defense so effective is the blitz packages McMackin uses in certain situations. But you can throw out that book this week.

"We have to play assignment football," middle linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "We've got to stop the dive play first because everything else feeds off that."

Normally, Jamie Tyler would be manning the fullback spot in the wishbone. But nagging injuries have kept the sophomore from being in the lineup as much as Hatfield would like to use him.

That means backup Clint Leschber could see the majority of snaps. And while he isn't as quick through the hole, he's tough and not afraid to butt heads with defenders.

"We're only now starting to move the ball like we want to on offense," said Hatfield, whose unit didn't score a touchdown until the third game of the season. "I know this, we need to be at our best to have a chance Saturday night."

The Rainbows' chances of winning the WAC hinge on this game. Hawaii has a bye next week before it begins a critical run in league play. Over the next month, Hawaii has to travel to Tulsa and San Jose State, and play conference co-favorites TCU and Fresno State as well.

"Believe me, we're not looking at any of those games just yet," senior quarterback Dan Robinson said."My only concern is Rice. There's pressure for us to execute on offense because you don't know how many possessions you're going to get against an option team. We've been successful because we've taken things one snap at a time. And that's what we're going to keep doing Saturday night."
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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