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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

U H _ F O O T B A L L

UH Football

defense struggling

Hawaii head coach June Jones
says inexperience and size have
made it difficult to consistently
stop opponents

Bullet Today's Warrior Notebook
Bullet BCS upgrades WAC's status

By Paul Arnett

The transition period expected to plague the University of Hawaii offense this season put a blindside hit on the defense, instead.

After last Saturday's 45-27 loss at Fresno State, it's obvious the side of the football expected to have it all, fell well shy of projected earnings. If this were a Wall Street stock, it would have lost most of its value.

Warriors head coach June Jones addressed the defensive struggles at yesterday's weekly news conference, citing inexperience and lack of size as the chief offenders to Hawaii's statistical demise. Of the 115 Division I football teams, the Warriors are No. 109 against the run, No. 103 vs. the pass and No. 111 in turnover margin.

This defense has a certain amount of calculated risk. It may yield some yards along the way, but the payoff comes in the interceptions, pass breakups and forced fumbles. Hawaii is struggling in all three of these areas, and consequently, is No. 109 in scoring defense, yielding 38 points a game.

Last year the Warriors were rated second in the WAC in pass efficiency, producing a league-high 17 interceptions. And while the turnover margin was a flat 0 -- 35 committed and 35 produced -- Hawaii's defense managed five touchdowns, including three interception returns for scores by cornerback Quincy LeJay.

Granted, there are four games left and the numbers could change, but through the Fresno State game, the defense has only three interceptions, a far cry from the successful 1999 campaign.

Not all of that grief should fall on the defensive backs. The front seven hasn't produced nearly enough pressure to cause errant throws. The Warriors finished second to Texas Christian in sacks with 32 last year. Hawaii has only 10 so far.

"We're probably a little bit undersized and are not physical enough up front right now when teams just go mashing the ball," Jones said. Fresno State used the double tight end formations to its advantage with UH safeties Nate Jackson and Jacob Espiau forced to make too many tackles downfield.

"When your safeties are your leading tacklers that gives you an indication," the second-year coach said. "Our safeties are playing real physical. They'll hit and go. But defensive football, a lot of it is alignment and recognition. We have some guys who just haven't played in there before at those positions. It will take a couple of years to get used to doing that. Every week you just hope it will get a little better."

Injuries have been the major culprit for all the first-year defenders being pressed into duty. Starting outside linebacker Bronson Liana is a transplant from quarterback. Middle linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is still learning his position. So are down linemen Lance Samuseva, Brett Clowers and Houston Ala. Jones is hopeful today's growing pains will produce tomorrow's stars.

"The kids have been very resilient," Jones said. "And I've said this before, just the way they're playing tells you that we're doing the right thing. We'll reap the benefits of our toiling right now some where down the road."

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii



UH Football

Three may come
off injury list

University of Hawaii players Robert Kemfort, Mike Iosua and Vince Manuwai have a good chance of making it back for this Saturday's game against Nevada. All three took part in today's light workout on the grass fields, giving head coach June Jones some much-needed good news.

"It looks a little better for those three than it did on Monday," Jones said today. "Vince still has the best shot of those three, but it looks like we may have all of them back, which would certainly help us this week."

Kemfort missed last week's game with bruised ribs that he suffered on the first series of the San Jose State game 10 days ago. Manuwai reinjured his hamstring in the loss to the Spartans and was also forced to the sidelines for last week's meeting at Fresno State. Iosua missed the last game with an ankle injury. He said today that he would be back for Hawaii's final Western Athletic Conference game of the season.

Running back Afatia Thompson won't be as fortunate. He didn't suit up for this morning's practice and even if he does return before the end of the season, he'll have a tough time beating out James Fenderson.

The senior running back played with bruised ribs himself, but pronounced himself fit for duty prior to the 45-27 loss to the Bulldogs. He said after the game that he was sore, but would be available.

"He's a tough guy, who has really come on for us this year," Jones said of the back who broke the 100-yard barrier for the second time this season. "Afatia won't play on Saturday. It's difficult to say when he'll be at full speed again. That kind of injury takes time to heal."

Jones refused to say the numerous injuries on defense was the top cause for the disappointing numbers. But the only defender to start every game at the same position is right cornerback Flex Armstrong.

"Injuries are a part of the game and you just have to overcome them," Jones said. "We've had a lot of guys miss some time, but the only serious injuries were Avion Weaver (knee), Keani Alapa (knee) and Joe Correia (foot). The shoulder and hamstring injuries are things teams face every season. What happened last year was very unusual. This season is more typical."

Bad calls abound

Jones is hopeful all the bad breaks that have come the Warriors' way will even out next season. Several times this year, bad calls by officials have led to major swings in several games, including Saturday's meeting at Fresno State.

Replays clearly showed that Bernard Berrian's touchdown grab was dropped and an interception credited to Tierre Sams' in the end zone bounced off the ground first. As Jones put it, "That is a 28-point swing, if you think about it and we're not good enough to overcome those kind of things."

Not that Jones is going to make a major issue of it. He's to the point now that perhaps any more griping will have an adverse effect. Instead of sending in tapes to the WAC office, he's just going to go on from here and forget about it.

"We've had a lot of things go against us this year," Jones said. "But I think sometimes it makes it worse if you keep pointing out to them what they're doing wrong."

Toma moves on

George Toma left Hawaii last week, turning over the grass fields he helped rebuild the last year to officials in the athletic department.

The stormy relationship between Toma and athletic director Hugh Yoshida ended on a positive note, Toma said last week. Over the last nine months, Toma has been frustrated by Yoshida's approach to taking care of the fields.

"There's just too much red tape here to get anything done," Toma said. "I'm going back to the mainland because I've done all I can do. If they want to take care of these fields, they're going to have to get the equipment to do it or otherwise, they'll be like they were before in no time."

Toma said what upset him even more was when he heard Yoshida claimed the department was spending up to $4,000 a month on fertilizer.

"I confronted him on that one," Toma said, "because I think we were spending around $800 at the most. I wanted to know where the rest of that money was going because it certainly wasn't on these fields.

"I'll be back for the Pro Bowl. I won't miss that. But I'm finished here. The fields aren't in the condition I would like, but they're better than they were."

Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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