McMackin's decision showed faith in defense


POSTED: Monday, November 30, 2009

At first glance, this had the makings of a Belichick Moment.

If Greg McMackin's decision to go for it on fourth and 1 at the Navy 16 ended up costing Hawaii the game Saturday, the second-guessing would go on for days, if not weeks. The story would have legs, nearly all of them kicking the Warriors head coach.

But it worked ... the UH defense held. And even if it hadn't, I think I would've come down on the coach's side, as I did in the case of Belichick's failed fourth down against Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Of course, the similarities end at field position. UH's other choice was a field goal, New England's was a punt. The decidedly non-quick-strike Navy offense was waiting for UH ... the Patriots were staring at Peyton Manning.

The Mids can shower and shave in 2 minutes, but going the length of a football field quickly—especially with no timeouts—is a bit more challenging for their spread option offense.

Many perceived Bill Belichick's choice to go for it with the lead and time running down a vote of no confidence against his defense. McMackin's was the opposite. If the Warriors failed to get the first down (which is what happened), McMackin was fairly certain his defense could stop Navy from going 84 yards in 5 minutes and change.

He had good reason to be.

Instead of weakening, the Hawaii defense got better and better as this game went along. The Warriors were especially good on first down—deadly to an option attack that prefers to pass on the pass. In seven running plays to start drives, Navy was stopped for 2 yards or less four times; the longest gain, 17 yards, was at the end of the first half when UH was just trying to prevent a final-play touchdown.

Another factor was the Warriors offense reversed roles with Navy, putting together long, clock-consuming second-half drives that kept the defense well rested. Navy had just three second-half possessions.

The final one started with the Mids forced to burn their final timeout. The 12th man—actually around 30,000 of them—provided so much crowd noise it flustered the usually unflappable Navy offense as it ran its pre-snap checks. Any psychological momentum lost by the home team for just failing on the fourth and 1 was regained.

McMackin was right to trust the defense in case the offense failed to get the yard.

A 33-yard field goal was far from a given, and a blocked kick by Navy could've been disastrous.

When your offense is the run-and-shoot, you can often throw field position considerations out of the equation. But this was an exception. This decision was about the worst possibility for UH being a long-forced march for Navy. And confidence ... in the offense, the defense, and the crowd.

“;Coach believed in us, and we just followed his mind-set,”; free safety Mana Silva said. “;We never strayed from the game plan. We stuck with it.

“;When we turned the corner on the fourth quarter, we could taste it.”;

Now the Warriors can start to smell the Hawaii Bowl, but only if they adjust one more time. Against Wisconsin, they must also stop the run—this time, though, it will be a brutish offensive line averaging well over 300 pounds per man, coupled with skill-position talent. We've seen it before, the Ron Daynes and the Michael Bennetts running hard behind massive walls.

The Warriors and their fans certainly don't want that history to repeat itself.

But visual evidence exists of a team from Honolulu beating one from Madison. Google search Hawaii Wisconsin 1986 and see what I mean.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at, and