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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

U H _ F O O T B A L L

Warriors know
that Miners won’t
be easy on the road

Texas-El Paso looks
stronger than the team
Hawaii whipped last year

By Paul Arnett

Texas-El Paso is one of those tests the University of Hawaii can ill afford to fail.

After a demoralizing loss to Portland State to open the season, the Warriors had an extra week to prepare for the feisty Miners, who already have played Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Southern Methodist. Granted, the Miners lost to the two Big 12 schools on the road, but they beat SMU at home and pose a real threat to do the same thing to Hawaii on Saturday night at the Sun Bowl.

Last year, Hawaii handled UTEP to the tune of a 33-3 shellacking. Watching the film, Warriors coordinator Kevin Lempa was impressed at the way the defense stopped the run and throttled the pass.

"Now, if we can only do that again this weekend, I'd feel great," Lempa said after yesterday's practice. "This is an improving football team that has already played two very tough opponents.

"In all three of their games, they've been able to move the football by establishing the run to set up the pass. They have used four different running backs, so they're still trying to settle that situation. But the bottom line is this: They are good offensively."

Quarterback Rocky Perez is the trigger man in this offense. He is second in the Western Athletic Conference in passing efficiency, completing 49 of 84 passes for 606 yards and six touchdowns. He has thrown only two interceptions.

His top targets are wideout Lee Mays and tight end Brian Natkin. They have 33 receptions between them for 450 yards and three touchdowns. The main goal for Hawaii will be to target this trio in the passing game.

"Mays has big-play capability," Lempa said. "You start cheating up to stop the run, they play-action you and look for the long ball over the top. The tight end is probably the best in our league and one of the best nationally, so they have some players."

As solid as the passing game is for UTEP, the Miners still want to grind it out on the ground. Replacing Paul Smith has proved troubling, but look for Chris Porter and Rovann Cleveland to do the bulk of the running.

Porter has rushed for 148 yards and one score. Cleveland has 116 yards and one touchdown. Not exactly eye-opening.

"But that can fool you into thinking they aren't good at running the ball, and that's not necessarily so," Lempa said. "They've had some problems with turnovers, but they have also faced two very good football teams on the road, so that can skew the numbers."

As much as Hawaii enjoys passing the football, the Warriors worked hard during the bye week on the running game. Head coach and offensive coordinator June Jones passes first and looks at the running chart later. Which is fine. But offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh wants to make the rushing game a real threat.

"I'd like to be able to run the ball for at least 150 yards a game," Cavanaugh said. "That would be beautiful because teams can't key on the passing game as much."

Jones expects UTEP to zero in on his run-and-shoot by mixing up the defensive looks up front and playing tight man-to-man in the secondary. Cornerbacks Crance Clemons and Weldon Cooks already caught the eye of Jones.

"They play a lot of tight, bump-and-run man," Jones said. "Their two corners are the best we've faced together in the two years I've been here. They can really lock up on you.

"The defense hustles and plays really hard. They're better than last year because they're more simple, not trying to do as many things. They execute what they do really well."

Jones said UTEP's base package is a 4-2 with five defensive backs. But the Miners also will drop into a 3-2 to try to clutter up Hawaii's passing lanes with six men roaming free in the secondary.

You would think that would open up Hawaii's running game. Last year, the Miners employed a 3-2-6 formation and wound up yielding 160 yards on 25 rushes. But history won't necessarily repeat itself.

"They have so much speed out of that formation, they can cover up some of the holes quickly," Jones said. "They pretty much run the 3-2 against everybody at some point in a game."

All-everything defensive end Brian Young is gone, currently residing in the NFL. Linebacker Trey Markens is trying to fill that gap. He leads the Miners in tackles with 27, including one quarterback sack. Safety A. J. Sheppard is second with 22.

2000 UH Football Special

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