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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

U H _ F O O T B A L L

UH Football

Warriors’ defense
in spotlight

UH is ranked No. 109 in
scoring defense going into
Saturday's game vs. SMU


By Paul Arnett

The stubble from Texas is still squarely on his chin. And if you told Kevin Lempa he hadn't shaved, he probably would tug at those babies and mutter absentmindedly, "Serenity now. Serenity now."

For the University of Hawaii defensive coordinator, these first four games have left him wondering went wrong. How did he jump off the track and end up on this runaway mine train to hell. It's true, the offense hasn't been doing its thing and special teams have been anything but.

But let's face it. The defense was supposed to hold the fort while the offense spent the first month of the season finding itself. Freshman quarterback Timmy Chang and Co. are still looking for the same pages of the playbook, meanwhile, the fort's on fire and Lempa is looking for someone to dowse the flames.

Hawaii enters this Saturday's Western Athletic Conference game with Southern Methodist ranked No. 109 out of 115 Division I teams in scoring defense, yielding 37.2 points a game. The Warriors are No. 101 against the rush and 85th vs. the pass. Total defense comes in at No. 82, yielding 390.8 yards a game.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be and now the Warriors play a team that benched the starting quarterback for junior college transfer David Page. He took four snaps from center in SMU's 41-0 loss to North Carolina State. But other than that, there is no Division I film.

"All I know for sure is June said we tried to recruit him,'' Lempa said. "He has good size with a strong arm and he may be just what SMU needs to get things going again offensively. We never seem to catch a break.''

Hawaii had a lot of film on former starter Josh McCown. On one level, he has been effective, completing 129 of 257 passes for 1,577 yards and six touchdowns. On another, he has thrown 14 interceptions, including eight in the past two games.

"If they eliminate their mistakes, they're pretty dangerous,'' Lempa said. "They like to run from a one-back set, using a tight end and three wideouts. They have some good players. They just haven't been able to sustain it for four quarters.''

Kris Briggs is SMU's top ground man. He has rushed for 343 yards and two touchdowns on 94 carries. Chris Cunningham and John Hampton are the top receivers. They have combined to catch 53 passes for 567 yards and three touchdowns. Not that impressive and one reason SMU is 1-5 for the season.

"We've made a couple of shifts and will try some different looks this weekend to see if we can shake things up,'' Lempa said. "We've had some injuries to battle through and some other things, but we need to make more plays. Nate Jackson had a nice interception to stop one scoring drive, but we need even more to get this thing turned around.''

As for SMU's defense, UH head coach June Jones said it was a standard 4-3 with a secondary that prefers to play man. One weakness for the Ponies this season has been the play of the secondary. Teams have been able to move the ball through the air. SMU's pass efficiency rating is No. 99 nationally.

"We're going to try to do what we always do,'' Jones said. "Teams have played a lot of man against us and we haven't made them pay with big plays. The routes are there. We just have to take advantage of them. Maybe we can start this weekend.''

SMU is yielding 29 points and 394 yards a game. The offense is producing 368 yards a game, but only 15.5 points. It's very similar to Hawaii's problems with turnovers being at the center of the destruction. SMU is 108th nationally with a margin of minus-1.67.

"Both teams are struggling for consistency,'' Jones said. "My concern is we keep improving each week. Our offensive line did a good job against TCU's front in not giving up a sack. But we made too many other mistakes with dropped passes, bad throws and turnovers. We haven't played the complete game.''

For both coaches, this game is a must in order to avoid losing seasons. SMU needs to win its remaining games to finish above .500. Hawaii must win seven of eight. It's a daunting task when considering the two schools have one victory between them.

"The most important thing for us is to keep improving on offense,'' Jones said. "If we do that, then we have a chance to get our first win. If we don't, then we'll continue to struggle.''



Fenderson to carry the load
at running back
for Hawaii

One good thing about having only one running back in your offense is depth is rarely a problem. Such is the case for the University of Hawaii football team as it prepares for this Saturday's game with Southern Methodist minus its two-headed monster.

Last year, Afatia Thompson and Avion Weaver had a partnership that rivaled a 50-year marriage. Thompson played the first half of most games in 1999 and Weaver came in for the second.

This season, the partnership desolved because of injuries. Thompson missed most of the Tulsa game and all of the matchup at Texas Christian last week with an ankle sprain. Weaver joined him soon after with a knee injury in the first quarter of the loss to TCU and won't be back this season.

Both are seniors and aren't scheduled to return to the program, but both will file petitions with the NCAA to seek another year of eligibility. Weaver's is a medical hardship and Thompson's is a partial qualifier issue dating back to his freshman season in 1997.

"It would be great if we could come back and do it all again," Weaver said. "I know Afatia was bummed when he learned last spring that his eligibility clock had started a year sooner than he thought. Maybe we can come back next year and be a Warrior for another season."

Meanwhile, another former Hawaii running back is making the most of his senior season. Remember Charles Tharp, the back who didn't fit well into the run-and-shoot system?

Well, all Weaver's close friend has done this year for Division I-AA Western Illinois is run for 780 yards in six games. He has scored nine touchdowns, is averaging 6.4 yards a carry and needs 331 yards to move to second on the school's all-time rushing list.

As for Hawaii head coach June Jones, he has moved senior running back James Fenderson into the starting lineup. Little-used Robert Grant will back him up and special teams player Thero Mitchell will be third up if more injuries occur this weekend.

Grant was a part of the mix last year with five carries for 17 yards and no touchdowns. As a freshman in 1998, Grant carried the football 17 times for 63 yards. The Oakland, Calif., resident was also used on kickoffs.

"Who knows?" Jones said. "I feel like Robert could run the football back there as well as anybody. It's just a case of getting guys in there. When there's only one back in the offense, the playing time for most guys will be limited."

Mitchell redshirted his first year in the program in 1998 and was a member of the scout team last year. The sophomore has seen playing time on special teams this season and like Grant, can carry the ball.

"The thing about this offense is you have to be versatile," Weaver said. "You can't be just a runner. You have to be able to block and be a force in the passing game.

"(UH quarterback) Timmy (Chang) knew he could count on me if everybody else was covered. I'm going to be there on the sidelines to help these guys anyway I can. But it's not the same as being on the field."

Miller close to returning

Injured strong safety Dee Miller could be back this weekend in a limited capacity if he is able to practice tomorrow with the team.

Jones said the high hamstring pull is a serious injury that could keep Miller sidelined for this third consecutive game. The senior said this morning he should be back for the last half of the season.

"It's killing me just having to watch the games," Miller said. "This isn't how I thought my season would go or our team. I'm going to try to practice and see what happens."

Jones said that Miller would not lose his starting job because of an injury. If he does return, how he shuffles Nate Jackson and Jacob Espiau remains to be seen.

Gilbride wearing orange

After filling in at safety for several weeks, sophomore Kevin Gilbride donned the orange jersey and is back under center at quarterback.

Jones said all along that Gilbride was an emergency safety only. Once that positioned stabilized with the possible return of Miller and Tavis Campbell (shoulder), Jones decided the experiment had lasted long enough.

Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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