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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

UH passing game average better than last season

 •  Southern Methodist team arrives, weary and winless

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

A pitching machine that can spit out footballs at up to 100 mph was at half-force yesterday, firing line-drive passes to the University of Hawai'i receivers.

Hawai'i slotback Nate Ilaoa was off and running after making a reception against Eastern Illinois in the season opener on Aug. 31.

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"It's just another way to help us get better," said left wideout Justin Colbert, who made hands-only catches of the 40-mph passes.

Colbert's nonchalant style was impressive considering the average UH pass, according to the coaches, cruises along at 30 mph. "They make it look easy," said Ron Lee, who coaches the receivers.

That ease is why, perhaps, there is the perception that the Warriors' deep passing game — a weapon since fourth-year coach June Jones implemented the run-and-shoot offense here in 1999 — has been down-sized.

"That's not true," Lee said, quickly pointing out that this year's yards-per-catch average of 16.1 is greater than last year's 14.0.

Jones said the average would be even better if the Warriors had completed four long passes to wide-open receivers against Texas-El Paso last week. There were six failed deep passes against Brigham Young Sept. 6.

Lee said wideout Ashley Lelie, who had a standout junior season in 2001 before applying for early admission into the NFL draft, created the impression the Warriors were a better deep-route team last season. "Ashley always went deep, and he caught a lot of passes," Lee said. "That's why people think the way they do."

But Lelie, who was officially timed as running 40 yards in 4.3 seconds at a pro combine last spring, is as fast as Colbert, right slotback Clifton Herbert and reserve right wideout Jeremiah Cockheran. Lee said the addition of Herbert, Cockheran and slotback Nate Ilaoa to this year's receiver rotation actually gives the Warriors more quickness in the passing lanes than last year's group of receivers.

• WHAT: WAC football, SMU (0-4, 0-0) at Hawai'i (2-1, 1-0)

• KICKOFF: Saturday at 6:05 p.m.

• TV/RADIO: Live on Oceanic Digital 255 and 256 (pay per view) 6:05 p.m. Delay on K5 at 10 p.m./Live on 1420 AM

As a result, Lee said, "a lot of people are very afraid of our speed and they play back."

UH's first three opponents — Eastern Illinois, Brigham Young and UTEP — each used up to six defensive backs, with the safeties aligned in a zone to double up on deep routes.

"They've been trying to take away the deep ball and play a little more aggressive on us," said Neal Gossett, who succeeded Lelie at right wideout.

The defensive schemes have left the underneath areas open, similar to how baseball outfielders positioned near the warning track give sluggers more opportunities to get bloop hits. But just as Barry Bonds swings for the fences instead of going for bloopers, UH quarterbacks, particularly starter Tim Chang, often try to force long passes instead of hitting the open receiver in the flats. Four of Chang's six interceptions this season have been on fade passes.

Chang admits to sometimes giving in to the fans' thirst for excitement. "They want to see the big plays," Chang said, adding, "It's really, really fun to make big plays."

Chang, a third-year sophomore, said he needs to be more disciplined in his choices. "Everybody expects us to go deep, so they play back," he said. "I think I need to go intermediate, intermediate, intermediate, and when (a deep route) pops, take a shot. Trying to force things doesn't help."

Herbert said: "It's all about timing. We haven't completed a lot of the (deep) balls, as we're known to do, but it's not because of a lack of speed. The more we do, the more we play, the more deep balls will come."