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UH (10-3) takes on Tulsa (9-3); Aloha Stadium, 3 p.m. on ESPN
LIHU‘E — The Warriors will be hoping to deliver their fans an early Christmas gift when the University of Hawai‘i takes on the Tulsa Hurricane in today’s Sheraton Hawai‘i Bowl, kicking off at 3 p.m. at Aloha Stadium.
UH (10-3, 7-1 Western Athletic Conference) makes its sixth appearance in the Hawai‘i Bowl, owning a 3-2 record in the previous five matchups, most recently falling to Notre Dame, 49-21, in 2008.
This time it will be going up against a very similar opponent to itself as Tulsa (9-3, 6-2 Conference USA) is very much the offensive juggernaut that the Warriors have become.
“Everybody wants to talk about offense,” said Tulsa head coach Todd Graham. “Everybody wants to talk about throwing the ball all over everywhere. The bottom line of this game, just like any other game, the team that plays the best defense is going to win. That’s how you win championships. No offense to the offensive guys.”
The Hurricane average 39.7 points per game, compared to 39.9 for the Warriors. The teams put up almost identical yardage figures — 503.5 per game for Tulsa, 496.8 for Hawai‘i — though Tulsa does much more of its damage on the ground. The Hurricane average 219.3 rush yards compared to 109.1 for the Warriors.
Yet the UH run game has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the season, highlighted by running back Alex Green’s school-record 327-yard performance against New Mexico State, Nov. 27. He has amassed 1,168 yards on the season, good for second in UH history, averaging 8.8 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns.
“To go to a bowl game and win a conference championship, all of those things are on our check-off list,” Green said. “Our last goal is to win a bowl game.”
The senior’s breakout season on the ground has put the Warriors in position for a unique accomplishment: With 371 pass yards today from quarterback Bryant Moniz, UH would boast a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver (both Greg Salas — 1,675; and Kealoha Pilares — 1,306) in the same season.
It would become only the second team in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (more commonly referred to as Division I) to accomplish such a feat.
The first to do it? The Tulsa Hurricane in 2007.
That was Tulsa head coach Todd Graham’s first season at the helm. He has built quite a resume for himself in a short period of time with a 35-17 record. He won more games in his first two seasons (21) than any coach in Tulsa history and made the Hurricane one of only 11 programs to post back-to-back 10-plus win seasons (2007, 2008), with both of those teams leading the nation in total offense.
As the two squads gear up for what is likely to be an offensive explosion this afternoon, Hawai‘i holds the upper hand in the lifetime series. The Warriors are 5-3 against the Hurricane, but the two teams have not played since 2004, which resulted in a 44-16 Hawai‘i win.
Historically, the teams have not played one another while on equal footing. Most matchups have been blowouts. Tulsa won its three games by an average score of 36-10, while Hawai‘i’s wins were 38-15.
Today is unlikely to continue that pattern as each team has had successful seasons and boasts powerful offenses.
Quarterback G.J. Kinne leads the Hurricane attack after being named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. The honor was well deserved as Kinne completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,307 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also rushed for 557 yards and seven more scores.
He was his team’s leading rusher, though the Hurricane get plenty of ball-carriers involved. The team had nine players with at least 19 carries on the season.
Hawai‘i has relied on Green and Moniz to do almost all its running. Green has 133 carries, while Moniz has 70 rush attempts. Backup Chizzy Dimude has 44 carries but nobody else on the team has more than five.
That is mainly because the Warriors have punished teams through the air. With 562 pass attempts and over 5,000 yards, Hawai‘i continued its run and shoot tradition with excellence and precision, completing just under 65 percent of its passes.
Moniz leads the nation in passing offense, averaging 356.1 yards per game, while throwing for 36 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions.
His favorite target is Salas, who set the school’s career yardage record and looks to build on his 4,131 yards today. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist has hauled in 105 passes this season, which leaves him just three shy of Davone Bess’ single-season mark. He is also just 39 yards short of Ashley Lelie’s single-season record of 1,713. Anything close to an average performance today would place Salas at the top of all major school records and cement him as the best receiver in UH history.
“Having the last game here in Hawai‘i is big to me, personally,” the senior said. “This place has really shaped me and helped me become a mature man.”
Defensively, the team progressed from a shaky unit to one of the nation’s most feared in the span of a few short months. After seeing the USC offense roll through the secondary in the season opener, the Warriors plugged the holes and now lead the nation in turnovers forced (36) and interceptions (23).
The ball-hawk skills arrived once WAC play got underway, since the team did not record a single interception in the first three games against USC, Army or Colorado.
Safety Mana Silva took command of the secondary and is tied with Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley for the national lead with eight picks, giving him 14 for his career, a UH record.
Silva needs one more to tie the single-season UH record of nine (Walter Briggs, 1989).
Head coach Greg McMackin was in search of a strong season after his first two years fell into the rebuilding stage. Now with a 23-17 record at UH, a victory today would give McMackin the most wins by any UH head coach in their first three seasons.
He has led this team, which was picked to finish seventh in the WAC by the media and fifth by the coaches, to a national ranking (24th in Associated Press poll; 25th in Coaches Poll; 24th in BCS Rankings).
“Tulsa is an excellent football team,” McMackin said. “We’re in the top 25. That’s what we’re both playing for is to be in the top 25 or 20 in the country.”
A victory today over a worthy opponent and an 11-3 season would be an exclamation point on a terrific and memorable 2010 campaign.
Quotes provided by The Associated Press.
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