|Photo gallery: UH vs. Idaho|
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
MOSCOW, Idaho — Heck has no fury like a Hawai'i football team scorned.
Enraged and then inspired by a nationally aired verbal slap, the 17th-ranked Warriors vented on Idaho for a 48-20 victory yesterday.
With quarterback Colt Brennan hobbling and often struggling — his career-high five interceptions offset 369 passing yards and three scoring throws — the Warriors received an angry boost from their defense to improve to 5-0.
The Warriors intercepted Idaho's Nathan Enderle five times. Weakside linebacker Adam Leonard and right cornerback Myron Newberry each had an interception return for a touchdown.
The Warriors held the Vandals (1-4) to 90 rushing yards, 64 below their average for the first four games.
And the Warriors were particularly stubborn in the "sudden-change" category. The Warriors' six lost turnovers led to only two Vandal field goals.
"I know the defense wanted to make a statement," said Brennan, who was 30 of 49 and also scored on a 1-yard sneak.
"I get a lot of credit, but sometimes as a team overall, we don't seem to get the respect we deserve," said Brennan, who played despite aggravating his sprained right ankle in the first quarter. "I think this was a good day to see how good of a football team this really is. I didn't have a very good game, and I did some bad things, but the team dominated for four quarters. It was fun to see the team win the way it did."
For the Warriors, motivation came in the form of an alleged putdown by ESPN's Craig James, who reportedly questioned the top-25 quality of the defense.
During a defensive meeting Friday night, defensive coordinator Greg McMackin spoke of James' comments. At one point, McMackin, fueled by emotion, lost his grip on a water jug, with the contents spraying on defensive end Amani Purcell.
"The jug went in one direction and the water came in my direction," Purcell recalled. "Everybody was like, 'Dang, we have to take this seriously.' It was emotional for coach Mac. People talk about our defense, and he's in charge of our defense."
Defensive tackle Fale Laeli said that when McMackin "got mad, I just wanted to play right then. He got us fired up. When coach Mac got mad, we got mad. We took it personally. We had to come out and do our thing."
Rich Miano, who coaches the defensive backs, said McMackin's emotions were "building up. It was getting more and more intense until the volcano erupted."
From that meeting, McMackin revealed the Warriors' game plan: stop the Vandals' running attack and then force them into must-pass situations.
In the first quarter, the Vandals had tied the score at 7 on wideout Eddie Williams' 18-yard run off a reverse. Even though that was officially classified as a rushing touchdown, it was viewed as a trick play and an admission the Vandals would have to be creative to avoid running into the teeth of a snarling defense.
"They ran the ball effectively against most teams they played," middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. "We knew we wanted to stop the run first. It came down to our linemen kicking the butt of the guy in front of them. That's how you stop the run."
The Vandals' rushing attack was limited. Deonte' Jackson, who entered as the nation's sixth-leading rusher, did not practice last week because of a high-ankle sprain. He entered in the third quarter, finishing with seven carries for 47 yards.
"They wanted to run it on us," defensive tackle Michael Lafaele said. "We weren't having none of that."
The Vandals' second option — the pass — was even more ineffective. Wary of the Warriors' blitzers, the Vandals tightened the spaces between their blockers. The Warriors countered by audibilizing stunts, often looping a defensive tackle around a defensive end.
"We wanted to have an extra guy outside so we could set somebody free," defensive right end Karl Noa said.
With Lafaele calling the defensive audibles, UH tried three- and four-man stunts.
"Mike is the man at recognizing things," defensive tackle Keala Watson said. "On tape, it looks unorganized, but we know what we're doing."
Even off a three-step drop, Enderle, a second-year freshman, did not have enough time to watch the pass routes mature.
Two plays after Brennan's first interception, Enderle tried to throw to tight end Peter Bjorvik, who was curling into the right flat.
"I saw the quarterback looking at him all the way," Leonard said. "I buzzed over. As soon as (Enderle) released (the ball), I cut in front of (Bjorvik). I'm thankful God blessed me to be in position to make plays."
Leonard intercepted at the Idaho 40 and raced the rest of the way for a 14-7 lead the Warriors would not relinquish.
It was 38-7 after Newberry scored on a 76-yard interception return with 2:42 left in the first half. Earlier in the quarter, Newberry intercepted a pass in the left flat, running 22 yards before being forced out of bounds by running back Jayson Bird at the Idaho 8. This time, after again intercepting a pass in the left flat, Newberry juked Bird at the 2 and dived into the end zone, drawing a penalty for excessive styling.
"I wasn't showing off," Newberry said. "I was tired. It was spur of the moment. Oh, well."
Newberry said he wasn't making "enough plays," and vowed to play better.
"I had a little chip on my shoulder," Newberry said.
On both interceptions, Newberry said, "I read the quarterback. I broke on the receiver before he could come out of his break."
Both times, the Warriors were in a cover-3 defense in which Newberry was left alone on the right third of the secondary.
"I'm on an island," Newberry said. "I have to make the right decisions."
Enderle said: "There were some missed communications happening. The way we look at it, interceptions are on everybody. We're not going to blame any one person. We're going to clean that up."
Safety Keao Monteilh and Gerard Lewis also had interceptions, giving the Warriors five out of a potential eight.
"We have (defensive backs) who see the ball and play the ball," Miano said. "They go against the greatest passing offense in America every day in practice. When teams throw, it works to our advantage. The philosophies and techniques we use allow them to get to the ball. And it's contagious. They want to out-do each other. They want stickers on their helmets."
McMackin said: "I'm happy with the guys and the coaches — Rich Miano, Jeff Reinebold, George Lumpkin, Cal Lee and Duff (Terry Duffield). Our coaches helped our players make plays."
To be sure, the offense, despite six turnovers, also had its moments.
The Warriors' first scoring pass — 13 yards to Ryan Grice-Mullins — was made possible when Brennan looked to the left, inducing the free safety to vacate the area where Grice-Mullins' post route would end.
Later, Malcolm Lane, playing in place of injured left wideout Jason Rivers (lower-back tightness), teamed with Brennan on a 41-yard scoring pass. It was a read-and-react play, in which Lane, after seven steps, had the option of cutting inside or running straight ahead. Noticing that cornerback Stanley Franks was in a set position 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, Lane opted to sprint downfield.
"Colt threw a perfect pass, like he's been doing all year," Lane said. "The ball was right there."
A sprained right ankle kept Brennan from playing against Charleston Southern last week.
In the first quarter, Brennan "rolled" the ankle. He opted to continue playing. But the injury made it difficult to push off on his right foot. Two of his interceptions came when he threw off the back foot. Two others were initially tipped.
"(The Vandals) made some good plays, and I wasn't myself," Brennan said. "I didn't do the best job of capitalizing when I had the opportunities. It was a weird, wacky thing. We played that poorly on offense, and we still crushed them. That shows how good this team is."
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