A Must-win Game For Warriors

Bobby Curran
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Friday - September 15, 2006
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All too often a game is labeled “must-win,” and while the UH football season has 12 weeks to run, the home opener against UNLV this Saturday might well be termed a must-win in relation to community interest and enthusiasm for the 2006 season.

Few expected the Warriors to win the Alabama game, least of all the odds makers who installed the Crimson Tide as a more than two touchdown favorite. June Jones had said the Warriors would have to be almost perfect to win, and events proved him correct.

Hawaii was much less than perfect, yet still had a chance to take the game to overtime on the final play. There was much that encouraged, particularly the play of the defense in the second half. Alabama was the right offense to go up against in the opener. The Tide is conservative and predictable.

If Alabama is vanilla, UNLV’s offense is rocky road. Second-year head coach Mike Sanford has installed a spread option attack that couldn’t be more different from the power I that Alabama runs. They have a couple of talented QBs to run the show, though starter and USC transfer Rocky Hinds injured a knee in last Saturday’s loss to Iowa State. His status was unclear as we went to press.

As usual, the Rebels have talented skill players led by RB Erick Jackson, a small but speedy back with an explosive first step and shifty moves. Homegrown backup David Peeples also has breakaway speed and bears watching. The receivers are big targets; all are at least 6 feet 1 inch. The alignment and assignment of the defense may be more important than sheer ability this week.

On offense, UH took some time to find its rhythm against Alabama. This week they’ll face a defense that features a couple of marquee transfers in the secondary, CB Eric Wright, a starter on USC’s national championship team two years ago, and CB Mil’Von James, originally with UCLA. Their base defense is the nickel which teams end up playing against UH anyway. UNLV shredded Division I-AA Idaho State, holding them to 62 yards rushing in a 54-10 win. They were less successful in their trip to Iowa State, where they surrendered 109 yards rushing to Stevie Hicks alone. It seems that UNLV is improved, but not yet ready to compete for a MWC title.

Which means this game is huge for UH.

To achieve their goals for the season, the Warriors cannot stumble at home against an opponent of the Rebels stature. A win here, and you can continue onward, with pre-season hopes alive. And excellent performance could bode well for large walk-up crowds the rest of the season.

And don’t forget, the following week Hawaii heads up to the blue field at Boise State. For those who watched the Broncos humiliate Pac-10 member Oregon State, that is a truly scary prospect. This may be the best Boise State team since they joined the WAC, and have owned ever since coming aboard.

Take care of business this week, and the Warriors can start thinking upset on the road. Lose to UNLV, and you could get stampeded by the crowds fleeing the bandwagon.

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