'Beat up' Warriors will take another day of rest
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
For the University of Hawai'i football team, the reward for Saturday's 49-41 upset of Northwestern is another day of rest.
The players, who did not have any football-related duties yesterday, were told they did not have to participate in their usual Monday conditioning drills.
UH coach June Jones decided on the R&R "because we're pretty beat up right now, I can tell you that. But we've been beat up all year."
Against Northwestern, the short-handed Warriors were forced to summon linebacker Ikaika Curnan, who had missed five of the previous six games because of a high-ankle sprain. Linebacker Paul Lutu-Carroll suffered a sprained left knee in the first half and will not play in Saturday's regular-season finale against Michigan State. Linebacker Brad Kalilimoku left the game early because of flu-like symptoms. He went through four IV fluid bags.
"When Kalilimoku went out, we had no bodies," Jones said.
The Warriors (6-5) must defeat Michigan State to finish with a winning regular season and earn a berth in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Alabama-Birmingham yesterday accepted an invitation to play in that Christmas Eve game at Aloha Stadium.
"The guys have to figure out a way to get it done one more game," Jones said. "That's what we've got to do. We have to find a way to get motivated to do it. The guys have a lot of pride. We have a good group of seniors. They're fighters."
Abraham Elimimian, a defensive back and senior co-captain, said: "There's still something left in the tank."
The Warriors proved to be innovative against Northwestern. They used two kick returners instead of one, with senior Chad Owens joining Jason Ferguson.
Because Owens is a dependable receiver, Jones said: "I was a little apprehensive putting him back there (on kickoffs) because (the Wildcats are) big and fast and I didn't want to lose him on a kickoff. The last couple of games he wanted to try it, and I told him he could. He's going to be doing that, obviously, in the future."
Owens made four scoring catches, but it was his 76-yard punt return for a touchdown that, according to Jones, certified him as a pro prospect.
"He's the best returner in the country," Jones said. "He will prove that out when he gets to the next level, and he will be at the next level."
Jones also endorsed the new defensive strategy of opening in a nickel scheme of four defensive linemen, two linebackers, four defensive backs and Elimimian serving as a blitzer/rover. The 187-pound Elimimian aligned as a defensive end, outside linebacker and strong safety.
"When Coach Jones told me what I would be doing," Elimimian recalled, "I said, 'What? Are you serious?' "
The scheme initially called for the two safeties to play near the line of scrimmage and, at the snap, attack the running lanes or drop back into pass coverage. The drawback was that on play-action passes, the middle of the defense was exposed.
"We took some chances, I thought, with some of our zones behind it," Jones said. "Once (the Wildcats) took advantage of that, we mid-stream adjusted during the game to cover that up, too. We knew there would be a couple of holes, and as soon as they figured out what we were doing, we kind of dropped it and went to our next stuff. I thought (defensive coaches) Rich (Miano) and George (Lumpkin) and Cal (Lee) and Vantz (Singletary) did a nice job."
Jones considers role change for Ilaoa
Jones said he is considering moving slotback Nate Ilaoa, who has missed all but one game in the past two seasons because of shoulder and knee injuries, to running back next year. The Warriors' top two running backs, Michael Brewster and West Keli'ikipi, are seniors, and freshman Andrew Pearman has decided to transfer. Ilaoa is considered to be the Warriors' best-blocking receiver.
"He's our most explosive football player, I think," Jones said. "Bar injury, he'll prove out that way as a slot or running back. ... He has the kind of thing Chad (Owens) has. He can take over a game."
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com or 525-8051.