Friday, November 12, 1999
to big game
The UH football team knowsGarland a finalist for Tatupu Award
the showdown with Fresno State
tomorrow is a big one for the program
By Paul Arnett
There are days when June Jones approaches questions in a distracted manner as if part of his mind is racing through the myriad sheets in his playbook, while another part shuffles through the practiced responses of having answered these queries a thousand times before.
He means you no harm.
For Jones, the after-practice-walks across Cooke Field are spent categorizing and analyzing what worked and what went wrong during that day's practice. He often meets with his coaches before lunch to discuss his observations, so walk along at your own risk.
The Tuesday stroll is often casual, you might even talk about something other than football. On Wednesday, his mood swings like a blue norther across a West Texas sky. And by Thursday, he hardly knows you are there.
"One good thing about this week's game being at home is Fresno State's schizophrenic tendencies. They play well at Bulldog Stadium, but seem to struggle on the road.''
Jones pauses for a moment, then says absentmindedly about that thought, "They won't be this weekend. There's too much on the line to come in here and play a bad game. We expect their best.''
He's still with you, so come up with an insightful response.
"Looks like you were running a lot of different pass patterns this week, more underneath stuff to the slotbacks. Is that to help offset their zone blitz?''
Jones isn't one to give away his game plan, so asking a pointed question such as this usually gives you a patented response. Not so this time, "Nah. We haven't added anything new since the SMU game. We were just making certain reads against possible schemes.''
It's time to ask the question he least wants to hear, but at least he already knows it's coming. "Have you talked with your players about what this game means to the program? A year ago, Fresno State buried these guys. Now, here you are playing for the WAC title and the Oahu Bowl. Seems almost unbelievable."
Jones hits this one with the crack of a Tiger Woods drive off the No. 1 tee.
"It's like I've said before. I'm sure the guys are excited about the possibilities of this game. It's why you play. But we don't talk about it. If we keep winning, those things will take care of themselves.''
That's the June Jones that found this football team last spring in disarray and called it his own, even after the season-opening loss to Southern California that extended the Rainbows' losing streak to a numbing 19 games.
He is not one to step too far away from the cliche. But this minute-by-minute approach to the season is THE reason why the Rainbows have won six of their last eight and stand on the threshold of equaling the greatest turnaround in this program's history.
"Our coaching staff has had a lot of fun preparing for this football game,'' Fresno State head coach Pat Hill said. "We got in there early Sunday morning and started working on our game plan. This is a big ballgame for both teams.''
While the story line here may be keeping up with the Joneses, back in California, it's all about Hill fulfilling his promise three years ago of turning around a team that struggled to survive the finals days of Jim Sweeney.
Knowing he had time to repair the damage of Fresno State going strictly the junior college route, Hill's first class was based at the high school level. Oh, there were those who grumbled about the lack of a quick fix. In his first two years, Hill was a middle-of-the-pack 11-12.
But oh how the dividends have paid off. Despite a variety of injuries at several key positions and a sputtering 2-2 start, Fresno State enters tomorrow night's critical WAC matchup with a four-game winning streak and the knowledge that a league championship is at hand.
"I think everybody knows how important this game is,'' Hill said. "We aren't coming over here for a vacation. We're going to think about only football. It's not just good enough to be close. We want to win the title and go to the Las Vegas Bowl.''
None of those facts was lost on Jones as he neared the coaches' locker room. He knows Billy Volek is one of the best quarterbacks Hawaii will see and he's well aware of running backs Derrick Ward and Paris Gaines, and wideouts Charles Smith and Rodney Wright.
"They have a very talented football team with big-play guys at the skill positions,'' Jones said. "We know it will be tough. This is a big night for our football team. I'm hoping Aloha Stadium will be loud and enthusiastic because we're looking forward to getting out on that field Saturday night.''
In Jones' mind, he's already there.
Hawaii return man Jamal Garland is one of 10 finalists for the Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Award that will be given as part of the ESPN Home Depot show on Dec. 8.
Garland a finalist
for Tatupu Award
Bowl Games Hawaii chief executive officer Lenny Klompus confirmed the selection last night. The other nine finalists will be released today by American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff.
"Jamal has had a good year and we believe he's deserving of the selection,'' Klompus said.
Garland has been among the top 50 in the nation in punt and kickoff returns for most of the season. He is fourth in the Western Athletic Conference in punt returns, averaging 7.9 yards a return and third in the league in kickoffs with a 23.7-yard average.
"Jamal is one of the most exciting return guys I've seen,'' UH head coach June Jones said. "I keep waiting for him to break one.''
By Paul Arnett
When: 6:05 p.m., tomorrow
Hawaii vs. Fresno State
Where: Aloha Stadium
TV: Delayed, 9 p.m. on KFVE
RealAudio: Live Internet broadcast
Radio: Live on KCCN 1420-AM