A Blown Chance On National TV

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 07, 2009
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Typical of the game, UH receiver Kealoha Pilares gets hit the moment he catches a pass in the first quarter. Making the tackle is Louisiana Tech safety Deon Young

For years Hawaii has been fighting to establish a reputation as not only one of the conference’s dominate teams, but as a program of note and a worthy top 25 entrant. With the exception of 2007, it’s been a goal unaccomplished.

That uphill battle took a major step back last week on the road against Louisiana Tech.

While it is rare that early season match-ups live up to their hype of “must-win” games, this one did. Tech’s supposedly potent running attack was nonexistent in its first three games and the team limped into WAC play 1-2. Hawaii, though on opposite sides of the won-loss ledger, was a team looking for an identity.

On the field, Tech showed itself as perhaps a worthy opponent for conference bully Boise State. The Warriors just added more questions and angry, but fair, criticism.

On a Wednesday afternoon with no other collegiate competition and a national TV audience to impress, Hawaii fell flat. In fact, the Warriors were embarrassed - not by the supreme talent of their competition, but by their own inability to run, pass, block or tackle. Especially tackle.


 

Beaten in every aspect of the game, the team blew its chance to showcase an exciting style of football capable of drawing talented athletes and television viewers. In one short afternoon, Hawaii damaged its recruiting, its reputation and even its ability to draw fans. Parking should not be a problem for Saturday’s game against Fresno.

After an initial drive in which quarterback Greg Alexander, the nation’s second-leading passer, completed his first six throws, the offense stalled and, in a repeat of its loss in Las Vegas, settled for three points. The scenario would repeat itself at the end of the second half when the nation’s second-worst red zone offense had to settle for a two-yard chip shot after the offensive line couldn’t get the slightest push against Tech’s D-line to create even the smallest amount of running room. The idea of using their big quarterback as a battering ram, while good in theory, would have been useless with a line that could generate no forward thrust.

Hawaii came into the game with no illusions of dominating the line of scrimmage against the Bulldogs’ massive front line security team. But they made their opponents even better by failing to execute one of the game’s most basic and important skills: tackling. The Warriors were atrocious. Time and again Louisiana’s tailbacks were met by UH defenders only to come up empty handed as their targets slipped, spun or dragged their way to freedom and extra yards even though examples of proper technique were everywhere. Nearly every time a Warrior got the ball he was met by a defender who realized that hitting, wrapping and driving through an opponent is a more effective approach then lunging or a poorly placed shoulder.


Coach Greg McMackin went into halftime saying the defense needed a good talking to. ESPN’s Mark May suggested that a few projectors could become sacrificial side effects. But whatever was said - to either side - didn’t work. Just as the players were dominated by their counterparts, so too were the UH coaches. Hawaii had no answer for any adjustment the Bulldogs made, and repeatedly failed to cover plays no matter how often they were run. At times, the visiting team couldn’t even get its players on the field in a proper manner.

The broadcast opened with news about the tsunami that struck American Samoa and its impact on the team. Carrying around the burden of missing loved ones and destroyed home-towns is bound to take the fight out of even the toughest Warrior. But to those they were trying to impress, it’s a story that will soon be forgotten. Recruits, voters and schedule-makers don’t have to bury the dead.

Hawaii’s loss did little to affect their title hopes. Their chances of dethroning the Broncos were slim even before the loss, and minus an undefeated season, their post-season reward will be another home game. The season now becomes a salvage job with the biggest target not being impressionable high schoolers or AP voters, but disinterested fans who may find other things to do on a Saturday night and more entertaining ways to spend their already limited discretionary income.

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