Counting The Warriors’ Woes

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 24, 2008
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OK. Take a deep breath and relax. The sky is not falling nor are the Russkies threatening to invade rural Colorado. No one needs to be fired or other coaches rehired. Dogs and cats have not begun living together, and no one really wants to see lipstick on a pig. It’s time for calm and a little truth. It’s really no one’s fault. The Warriors are just not very good.

After years of success, expectations for the UH football team have gotten rather high. With a stacked defense returning and the excitement of the program’s greatest season still fresh in everyone’s mind, popular opinion held that the Warrior D would hold the fort until the offense caught up. Fans counted on it and coaches and the media fed the speculation that led to hope of a Hawaii Bowl berth, which even in the best scenario was a long shot.

The first shot across the bow of what has become a disappointing season was the failure of senior quarterback Tyler Graunke to live up to his responsibilities. Make no bones about it, his teammates were not happy that he was selfish enough to get suspended from the team on two different occasions, thereby turning his back on those who were counting on him to lead the rebuilt offense. Perhaps more stunning than the quarterback’s indiscretions is the complete lack of depth at the position. Outside of Graunke, the position has been a disaster and, if his injury proves to be anything but a minor ailment, things are only going to get worse - fast.

The real story of the 2008 season is not the lack of brilliant play-calling or proper instruction, but the team’s inability to remain healthy. The Warriors are beat up, and casualties kill both depth and cohesion.

The running game, which along with the team’s tested quarterback was supposed to be solid, but has had limited effect. Both Leon Wright-Jackson and Daniel Libre have been knocked from the lineup while J.C. transfer Jake Huen was sidelined with a herniated disc. Kealoha Pilares, last season’s leading rusher who was moved to the slot in the preseason, has been forced back to his original position, further thinning the depth of the inexperienced receiving corps.

The offensive line was supposed to be better with the return of Keith AhSoon, John Estes and Keone Steinhoff, but injuries have caused major reshuffling in the one area where consistency is most crucial. AhSoon went from guard to tackle to the sideline. Laupepa Letuli suffered a tear in his shoulder which forced sophomore Brysen Ginlack into a starting role. And Aaron Kia, a 300-pound junior from Mililani, has been dealing with tendinitis in his knee.

Because of the offense’s inability to maintain drives or to hold on to the football, the defense has gotten little rest, being forced to play on the wrong side of the 50 far too many times. This problem has only been exacerbated by losses along the line.

Defensive tackle Fale Laeli hurt his ankle in the game against Weber State after being hobbled by tendinitis that followed an off-season knee surgery - all of which caused him to miss much of camp and limited his effectiveness against Florida. Rocky Savaiigaea was to be a key contributor for a unit that was to go seven or eight deep, but instead has been able to do nothing more than watch the game while balancing on crutches. Not to be left out, the linebacking corps, by far the team’s best unit, suffered a major blow with the loss of big-hitting “Buck” linebacker Blaze Soares. At this rate, the Warriors are a few twisted ankles from being Idaho State.

Unrealistic fan expectation is as old as the game itself. Fans of the 1902 Michigan Wolverines became unsettled when the squad failed to defend their Rose Bowl title even though no such game was played. A century and one year later, members of the Ohio State faithful hit the message boards hard over concerns that their head coach’s ability to call an offense after failing to repeat as mythical national champs. Greg McMackin and his assistants are no safer from bizarre expectations than anyone else.

After a grand total of three games, including one on the road against national title contender Florida, cleverly monikered online observers of the Warrior football team are recommending a return to Kaiser High School for offensive coordinator Ron Lee and an injection of some June Jones bravado for Coach Mac.

Neither will help. Healthy bodies and an honest opportunity to recruit are the only things that are going to return the program to the expected level of success. Let us not forget that two years prior to the Sugar Bowl, the team finished 5-7, which concluded three consecutive seasons of declining victories.

UH may never again reach a BCS game, but contending for the WAC title each season is an accomplishable goal.

So just relax. Take your meds. Breathe deeply. Enter the lotus position, vrksasna, savasana, biting dog, peeing cat, crouching lion, hidden tiger. It’s the nature of the beast.

Victory totals rise and fall, and you don’t replace a Heisman finalist quarterback and four very good receivers without some rebuilding pains.


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