Warriors want to keep WAC hopes alive
|||Injuries hurting 1-4 Hurricane|
|||Ferd Lewis: Warriors like Tulsa's turf|
Analysis: Defensive secondaries will be key as Tulsa tries to defend against UH's pass-oriented offense led by Chang or Rolovich, and Hawai'i faces Hurricane's quick screens from Blankenship to Shoals.
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
TULSA, Okla. Since arriving in town yesterday morning, the members of the University of Hawai'i football team adhered to a strict schedule.
Advertiser library photo
Tim Chang has announced he'll be starting quarterback.
Advertiser library photo
But rest did not come easily to this weary team, and several players roamed the hotel lobby. Even UH coach June Jones, proclaiming tomorrow's game against Tulsa as "an important one on our schedule," decided to walk around rather than sleep.
For the Warriors, this game their last on the road this regular season could boost them back into the Western Athletic Conference race after an 0-2 start. The Warriors have won two WAC games in a row, to improve to 2-2 in the league. Thanks to San Jose State relinquishing a home game because of a scheduling conflict, the Warriors will play three of their final WAC games at home.
"We have to keep this going," UH linebacker Chris Brown said.
Here is a closer look at tomorrow's game:
When Tulsa has the ball
It took a quarter of the season, but two weeks ago, the Warriors finally developed a strong pass rush.
With defensive end Travis Laboy attacking from the weak side and interior linemen Lance Samuseva and Mike Iosua imploding the pass pocket, the Warriors no longer have to sneak an eighth defender into the tackle box (the imaginary rectangle near the line of scrimmage) to pressure quarterbacks.
That has allowed the Warriors to keep safeties Nate Jackson and Jacob Espiau in zone coverage, preventing teams from throwing over the top of the UH defense.
Tulsa is not expected to challenge UH's secondary. Instead, Josh Blankenship, who will start in place of the injured Tyler Gooch, will try to throw quick screens to wideout Donald Shoals. In the past, Shoals used his strength to bounce off of jams and sprint into the secondary. But Blankenship's erratic play led to his demotion two weeks ago after 20 consecutive starts, and Shoals has struggled to get open this year.
Tailback Eric Richardson, who leads Tulsa with an average of 53 yards rushing per game, has a pinched nerve in his neck and will be used sparingly. Kevin McKenzie, who has four carries in four games, has been promised at least 10 carries.
When Hawai'i has the ball
Tim Chang, who missed the past two games with a sprained right wrist, is the announced starting quarterback. But he did not practice Wednesday. Although Chang and Jones said there is nothing wrong, it is not a certainty Chang will start.
While backup Nick Rolovich, who led UH to two consecutive victories, has a strong arm and is a better scrambler than Chang, he tends to freelance too much, limiting his menu of plays.
Either UH quarterback will face a full-field press from Tulsa, which likes to blitz as many seven players.
But C.J. Scott, the Hurricane's best cover guy, might not play because of a pulled hamstring. With Chad Smith, who plays the linebacker position known as bandit, and Keithan McCorry, who plays the rover position that is similar to strong safety, out with high-ankle sprains, Tulsa might alter its blitz schemes.
One attack Tulsa will not abandon is the "smash" blitz, in which defensive end Drew McLaughlin will force an offensive tackle inside, clearing the way for middle linebacker Michael Dulaney and bandit Reginald Reese to track the UH quarterback.