Friday, October 5, 2001
[ UH FOOTBALL ]
Warriors,DALLAS >> This game could be sponsored by Hallmark.
Hawaii and SMU have
combined for 5 losses
in a row
By Dave Reardon
Hawaii and Southern Methodist both need to get well soon if they are to salvage seasons that have not begun well.
When the Warriors (1-2, 0-2 Western Athletic Conference) and Mustangs (0-3, 0-1) meet at Gerald J. Ford Stadium tomorrow at 6:05 a.m. Hawaii time, they do so with five consecutive losses between them.
SMU is a five-point favorite. Much of that has to do with Hawaii being far from home and without starting quarterback Tim Chang, the conference Freshman of the Year last season who leads the nation in total offense.
Chang is out with a sprained right wrist and didn't make the trip. Senior Nick Rolovich starts in his place.
The Mustangs could also be missing an important player. Junior linebacker Vic Viloria, SMU's surest tackler and a second-team all-WAC choice last year, is hobbled by a troublesome ankle sprain. He practiced this week, but how effective he can be if he does play is questionable. Then again, some linebackers seem to be immune to pain, as UH's Chris Brown showed last week by leading Hawaii in tackling despite a knee sprain.
The Warriors' offense has amassed an average of 437 yards a game, good for second in the WAC and 19th nationally. But they go up against a Mustang defense that has given up only 274.3, which leads the conference and is 15th in the country.
While those are interesting numbers, tomorrow's winner will likely be the team that doesn't turn the ball over. Both have been hurt by interceptions and other misfortunes.
"Our defense has played well," SMU coach Mike Cavan said. "But we really have to mind our p's and q's to win."
UH coach June Jones acknowledges that crossing the Pacific Ocean and half the continental United States is not ideal. But as UH tries to win its first road game since beating San Jose State 62-41 on Nov. 6, 1999 -- a span of five losses, all in conference -- he won't use travel as an excuse.
"Playing on the road isn't hard, but winning on the road is," he said. "But that's what you have to do to be someone -- win conference games on the road."
Hawaii did exactly that in 1999, as its 20-0 victory here was the catalyst for a 3-0 WAC road record that keyed UH's revival, which culminated with a share of the conference championship and an Oahu Bowl victory.
That kind of magic might already be out of the question this year, but Jones and his Warriors know it's too early to give up on the season.
Still, UH will settle for any kind of win against anyone after its jaw-dropping loss at home to Rice last Saturday.
Junior offensive lineman Vince Manuwai said it's important that the offensive, defensive and special teams units all play well -- something that hasn't happened since the Warriors' 30-12 season-opening victory over Montana.
"Part of it is we have to score, score, score," Manuwai said. "The way our offense is, even when we score, the defense is on the field a long time. So we have to keep the pressure on. We didn't do that last week."
UH led 21-7 at halftime last week, but the offense couldn't deliver a knockout blow and the defense, though it mostly contained Rice's option attack, tired again in the second half.
The Warrior defenders face a different type of offense in the Mustangs, who are light-years removed from the Eric Dickerson-Craig James Pony Express days of the early 1980s.
Now SMU uses multiple formations with a lot of shifting. One of the primary goals for quarterback Kelan Luker is to get the ball to Chris "The Comet" Cunningham. Cunningham, a junior wide receiver, has 18 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Luker, who throws the ball about 30 times a game, will test a Hawaii secondary that was vulnerable in the loss to Rice and when Nevada beat UH 28-20 two weeks ago.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Abraham Elimimian is expected to get more playing time, and may start over sophomore Kelvin Millhouse.
When Hawaii beat SMU 30-15 last year at Aloha Stadium, Brown and Pisa Tinoisamoa were two big reasons. Brown, a defensive end then, and Tinoisamoa, a linebacker, made big play after big play.
Brown plays linebacker most of the time now. He and Tinoisamoa, who came up with three sacks in last year's game, will have help disrupting SMU's offense from ends Travis Laboy and Laanui Correa. Both played well against Rice last week. So did tackles Mike Iosua and Lance Samuseva.
Even with Chang out, the Mustangs are wary of wide receiver Ashley Lelie. Lelie has been UH's most consistent offensive player, and is second nationally in receiving.
"His height and speed give him a real advantage in going for the ball," SMU cornerback Jonas Rutledge said.
At 5 feet 10 inches, 196 pounds, Kevin Garrett gives up five inches to Lelie. But he is strong, and considered one of the conference's better cover men. How he fares against Lelie could determine what Rolovich can do with the run-and-shoot overall.
"Their DBs are pretty physical," Lelie said. "They can jam you at the line and mess things up."
Even without Chang, UH can put up big numbers with its pass first, ask questions later offense. But Rolovich, who has thrown only one pass (an incomplete) this season, has to be able to shake off the rust. He began last season as the starter and saw meaningful action in four games, so the potential is there.
Freshman running back Mike Bass can help take the pressure off Rolovich, too. Bass has been steady, rushing for 222 yards in his first three games as a collegian.
"They definitely have a pretty good scheme," Rutledge said. "But we have some pretty good defensive things going, too. We were looking forward to playing against Chang because we want to play against the best. We haven't seen tape on (Rolovich) but we know he started some last year, so he must be pretty good."
On special teams, Hawaii showed last week that anything can happen, and in the second half, most of it was bad. The Warriors had both a punt and a field-goal attempt blocked.
Rutledge is the WAC's top kickoff returner in the early going, but Mark Tate was impressive in his debut running them back for UH last week.