Warriors' run for Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowl falls short
• Photo gallery: UH vs. Wisconsin football
By Stephen Tsai
A man dressed as Santa was apprehended after racing across the Aloha Stadium FieldTurf during last night's game.
It was a fitting moment in Hawai'i's 51-10 loss to Wisconsin, an outcome that ended the Warriors' dream of playing on Christmas Eve.
The Warriors, who entered with a four-game winning streak, needed to prevail to earn their seventh victory, finish their 13-game regular season with a winning record, and receive the accompanying berth in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Southern Methodist, led by former UH head coach June Jones, already had accepted an invitation to that bowl.
But the Warriors (6-7) could not slow the Badgers' power running game, featuring third-year sophomore John Clay, nor did they have an answer to effective play-action passes.
Clay, who is 6 feet 2 and 248 pounds, once ran 100 meters in 10.6 seconds. Last night, he used tough running behind an imposing offensive line to amass 172 yards and three touchdowns as Wisconsin improved to 9-3.
The Warriors, who fell behind 21-0, could not catch up. Not with an offense that could not find a rhythm, and certainly not after their best player — left slotback Greg Salas — left in the third quarter with an injury to his right hamstring.
Salas fell short in his bid to set UH single-season records for receptions and receiving yards.
And the Warriors, who had simplified their goals to a "five-game playoff" after falling to 2-6 on Halloween night, also would fall short.
The Badgers made the big plays in a big way for a 27-3 halftime lead.
With an imposing line — average starting blocker is 6 feet 5› and 317 pounds — and a series of fast and powerful running backs, the Badgers dominated the trenches and then the Warriors.
What's more, when the Warriors tried to jam the tackle box — the imaginary rectangle near the line of scrimmage — they were hit with another dose of reality: the Badgers have an accomplished passing attack.
Key passes fueled the Badgers' first three touchdown drives as they seized a 21-0 lead.
On their opening drive, the Badgers faced a third-and-6 from the UH 35. Quarterback Scott Tolzien faked a handoff, then lofted a pass to wideout Nick Toon along the left sideline for a 33-yard gain. Because the Warriors tried to deny the Badgers' inside running game, Toon faced single coverage. A play later, Clay powered his way for a 2-yard scoring run.
Later, the Badgers advanced to the UH 31. From there, Tolzien eluded a heavy rush to throw to tight end Garrett Graham on an out route for a 23-yard gain.
On the next play, David Gilreath, a wideout, took the handoff on a reverse to the left side. Gilreath, who is capable of running 40 yards in 4.38 seconds, needed little time to cover the 8 yards needed for the touchdown.
The Badgers made it 21-0 on their first possession of the second quarter.
Tolzien lofted a long pass to Gilreath, who had to turn 180 degrees. Safety Mana Silva, who was to Gilreath's left, had a chance to break toward the ball. Instead, Silva remained in a prevent coverage, expecting to make the interception. Gilreath cut in front of Silva to make the catch, pirouetted and ran a few more yards for a 44-yard gain, to the UH 1.
Two plays later, Tolzien scored on a sneak.
After the Warriors closed to 21-3 on Scott Enos' 46-yard field goal, the Badgers scored on their final drive of the first half. Clay ran the final 3 yards of an all-rush, seven-play scoring drive.
Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 111 first-half yards. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Tolzien completed 8 of 10 first-half passes for 179 yards.
Meanwhile, the Warriors struggled offensively. Bryant Moniz completed 8 of 18 passes for 77 yards. He was sacked three times in the first half, and scrambled to the line of scrimmage to avoid a fourth sack.
The Warriors repeatedly suffered from self-inflicted mistakes.
Their first drive ended when Moniz, under pressure, threw a high shovel pass that running back Leon Wright-Jackson could not handle.
On their second possession, strong safety Jay Valai intercepted Moniz.
On the third, wideout Jovonte Taylor could not chase down Moniz's long pass along the right sideline.
Then Taylor, UH's fastest player, did not run across the field to the UH sideline quick enough before Alex Dunnachie was set to punt. The Warriors were whistled for an illegal substitution, negating a long punt with solid coverage. On the shorter re-kick, the Badgers gained possession at their 35.