Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, October 13, 2001


UH Football

UH looking to
keep momentum

The Warriors try for a 2-game
win streak against the Miners
after a big OT victory on
the road last week

By Dave Reardon

When football teams with similar ability meet, the one with the best recent history has a definite advantage.

So Texas-El Paso coach Gary Nord sounds a cautionary tone as his Miners take on Hawaii's Warriors tonight at Aloha Stadium.

UTEP (2-3, 1-1 WAC) is ahead of UH (2-2, 1-2) in the conference standings. But if momentum can be stored for a week, Hawaii is worthy of the 7-point edge the bookmakers have given it.

"Where we're at is probably similar in some ways," Nord said. "Both teams are sitting in a position where they've put themselves behind the 8-ball a little bit and need a game to get them over the hump. But they had a very big win Saturday that puts them in a little different situation. And we got beat bad."

UTEP, which was pummeled 56-7 at Alabama last Saturday, has not looked like the team that won a share of the WAC title last season.

Hawaii, returning from a 38-31 victory at Southern Methodist, takes the turf tonight brimming with the confidence a team gains by coming from behind to win on the road with a backup quarterback.

"We're getting better. We're playing better as a group," Warriors coach June Jones said. "We still have some mental errors, some assignment errors that surprised me last week. But hopefully we can clean those up and I think everyone's getting more confidence and we'll play better this week."

Two weeks ago against Rice at home, UH blew a 21-7 halftime lead. Not only did Hawaii lose the game 27-24, but starting quarterback Tim Chang finished on the sideline with a sprained wrist.

But last week the Warriors showed the resiliency they lacked in that game. Backup quarterback Nick Rolovich and several other unheralded players helped UH bounce back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to win in overtime.

Texas El-Paso vs. Hawaii

Where: Aloha Stadium, 6:05 p.m.

Records: Miners are 2-3, 1-1 in WAC; Warriors are 2-2, 1-2 in WAC.

Last meeting: UTEP beat Hawaii at El Paso, 39-7.

Series: Hawaii leads 15-12 overall and 10-5 at home.

Television: KFVE (Channel 5) at 10 p.m., rebroadcast tomorrow at 1 p.m. (Also DirectTV satellite live on Channel 653).

Radio: KCCN 1420-AM, live.

"When something bad happens to them they're able to just move on," Jones said. "This week obviously everyone feels better because of what happened. But these kids have always been resilient."

That wasn't the case last season when the Warriors were a year younger and the Miners had standout quarterback Rocky Perez and hosted Hawaii.

UTEP won 39-7, as UH couldn't bounce back from a two-play, 14-point swing after an apparent blocked punt for a Hawaii touchdown was called back due to a penalty.

"That was a big momentum swing," said Thero Mitchell, who blocked the punt. "They came right back with a TD over the top.

"Something like that wouldn't knock us out this year. We've already been through so much adversity," said Mitchell, who rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns last week. "Things like that happen though every game: good momentum changes, bad momentum changes. If we band together we can pretty much come back from anything."

Two of the WAC's -- if not the nation's -- best receivers will be on display tonight.

Hawaii's Ashley Lelie leads the country in pass receiving yardage (139.5) and is second in catches (9.3).

UTEP's Lee Mays got more preseason hype than Lelie but has started slowly, with 22 catches for 283 yards and only one TD in five games. He sprained an ankle in the Alabama game, but is expected to play tonight.

The Warriors are relatively free of injury. Chang looked like he could play on Thursday, but Jones said he won't decide on which QB to go with until pregame today.

Rolovich and Chang both played against UTEP last year, but neither distinguished himself; Rolovich started and completed 6 of 28 passes. Chang, in his first collegiate action, relieved him but wasn't any better, throwing two interceptions.

Nearly all the leaders of UTEP's defense from last season are gone; there are only two seniors among the 22 players on the depth chart. The Miners are last statistically in the WAC against the run.

Freshman linebacker Robert Rodriguez leads the Miners with 44 tackles.

Jones said he expects UTEP's defense, coached by former UH head man Bob Wagner, to blitz and play man-to-man.

"We didn't give their quarterbacks an opportunity to be successful last year," Nord said. "We got to them and applied some pressure. They threw the ball 51 times against SMU, and the week before they threw 62 times. So they're going to throw the ball."

The Mustangs will also have to pay attention to Mitchell and starting running back Mike Bass. Plus, if Rolovich plays, the quarterback scramble is another threat.

Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said he plans to go with the same contain and attack scheme that worked against Southern Methodist. The Warriors' defense hinges on stopping opponents on first down to create blitz situations, especially for end Travis Laboy and outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.

Tinoisamoa leads the WAC in tackles with 10.5 per game, and teammate Chris Brown is right behind at 10.2.

Things might be easier for Hawaii with Miner running back Chris Porter out of action, but scatback Sherman Austin can hurt a defense, too, as a runner and receiver.

Quarterback Wesley Phillips has had a difficult time replacing Perez, but he does occasionally find tight end Joey Knapp, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior who has 15 catches for 272 yards and a TD.

UTEP could have an edge in special teams. Although UH turned a blocked punt into a touchdown last week, its kicking game has been wildly erratic.

Both teams are breaking in freshman kickers; the Miners' Keith Robinson is 4-for-5 on field goals while the Warriors' Justin Ayat is 5-for-11, including 1-for-5 last week.

Jahmal Fenner is a dangerous return man and might also start in the secondary for UTEP.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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