Warriors keep it in perspective
By Paul Honda
Saturday, Sept. 28, 2002
HONOLULU—Ministers of Defense, Samoan Sackmen, and on and on.
The University of Hawaii needed a commanding performance from its defense Saturday against an upset-minded Southern Methodist squad. By night's end, the performance was complete, dominating and worthy of praise.
In hindsight, the 42-10 victory over SMU Saturday night could have been much more difficult had the Warriors struggled defensively on a night when the offense had its ups and downs—three early turnovers didn't smooth the path by any means. Warrior leadership helped set the tone for a big night.
"I think the seniors, especially. It's our role to set examples and make those plays," outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. He may have set the most distinct example, squarely blocking an SMU field goal try that led to a 74-yard return for a touchdown by Kenny Patton.
The Warrior defense provided a consistent, constant wall. SMU, which came to the islands with the top rusher in the Western Athletic Conference, mustered 238 total yards, while running back Keylon Kincade had to fight each of his 61 yards (2.5 per attempt). By the second half, the junior was so frustrated, he slammed the ball to the turf after being stopped for a loss.
"We knew, kind of, what they were doing when they came in. They were going to smashmouth and come run at us," defensive end Laanui Correa said. "We had a good defense by Lemp, and we just did alignment-assignment, and that's what it came down to."
Tackle Isaac Sopoaga led the Warriors with nine tackles, including four solos, and Tinoisamoa was relentless with eight tackles—five solo.
"We did well. The thing about our defense is, we worked well together and we're not selfish players. Laanui just proved it at the end of the game when he pitched the ball back," Tinoisamoa said. Correa came up with five tackles and an interception. His heady play—he lateraled to Hyrum Peters as he was tackled—led to a 39-yard touchdown return.
"That play he made against BYU last year, and this one—we may have missed his calling. He might be a tight end in his future life," head coach June Jones said, only half-kidding.
Correa wasn't entirely shocked by his scintillating highlight play. "Our defense has all kinds of schemes that allows us (defensive ends) to drop. Thank God Keani (Alapa) got pressure. The quarterback had to get it off early, so I got to pick it off," he said.
"I was calling for the ball," Peters said. "I was right behind him, and he was just about to go down. Good thing he pitched it right back to me. I just thought, ‘Where do I go?' I just started running and running. I didn't really think he was gonna do it. He just looked straight at me and made an option pitch. It's like the Nintendo game, you know? You hit the R2 button (to lateral) and there I go, yeah!"
The stats proved what Warrior fans saw from start to finish: a merciless gang of punishers. Well, at least until the very end, when SMU tacked on its only touchdown—the first against UH in eight quarters—against Warrior reserves.
"It isn't about who makes the plays. It's about who playing your responsibility and playing within the scheme," Tinoisamoa added. "That's what we came out and did today. We played within the scheme and it allowed us to make plays—everyone."
End Travis LaBoy, relatively healthy for the first time this fall, had seven tackles, all solo. Tackle Houston Ala delivered seven tackles, all but one solo.
The Warrior defense was so proficient, middle linebacker Chris Brown had a rather "quiet" night with six tackles. Coming up with sacks were Tinoisamoa, LaBoy, Ala, Correa and reserve defensive back Josiah Carvalho, a.k.a. the pride of Kaahumanu Hou.
Saturday night's lockdown on SMU began with a strong week at the quarry practice field. "It's just the way we practiced all week. It transferred over to the game. Practiced real hard. Did our alignments and assignments, and it showed tonight," Correa said.
Just like he drew it up
Defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa, or Lemp, as he's known to his pupils, was content following his unit's stalwart performance. He was not, however, entirely satisfied. "I wish we hadn't given up that touchdown at the end," he said. "I didn't realize we had that streak. But there's nothing we could do. We played our backups tonight."
Lempa was happy with a great many of his players. "I think you have to start with our defensive tackles. I think Isaac—the best of Isaac is yet to come. I think next week, you'll really see Isaac. Lance Samuseva has been consistent. Travis, I think it's about time we've seen this guy here. I think ‘Nui played well. Those four guys made a difference because (SMU) wanted to run the football and they weren't able to because our D-line controlled the line of scrimmage and our linebackers made the tackles."
Tinoisamoa's field-goal block was as pure as it was during practice. "Let me tell ya, that field goal block—we did a drill this week on blocking field goals. He was the only guy that put his hand on the ball like you're supposed to. I mean, he had his eyes open and he blocked it. That was a big play for us," Lempa said.
Patton's emergence in the secondary and on special teams brought plenty of smiles to fans. Until Abraham Eliminian returns, Patton's teammates can't help but feel a little more confident now.
"He'll get better just having gotten that out of his system. He played like a freshman a couple of times, and he played like a veteran the rest of the time. I think the game time will really help him," Jones said.
Lempa expected nothing less from the freshman. "I knew he would play well. He played well. He played very well. I mean, he's played before. He played at BYU and at El Paso. This is the first time he started, but I knew he would be fine because he'd already played, and you could see that there was no reservation when he went on the field," he said.
One of Patton's elders, safety Hyrum Peters, believes it's all about doing the job, period. "It's pretty much just knowing your plays and executing every down, making sure you do your job and playing hard. Kenny played hard. He played good and stepped up. I just hope Abe gets back in the ballgame," Peters said. "Now Kenny can play. Now everybody has faith in him that he can ball and make some plays."
Fishing for Bass
Sophomore running back Mike Bass found plenty of room to swim in. The elusive runner dashed for 60 yards on just six carries, including a 32-yard jaunt up the middle of SMU's defense. "I'm starting make some big runs and be consistent with it," he said. "It was great. The holes were huge. Our offensive line did a good job. All I had to do was get the ball and run, basically."
As a team, the Warriors rushed for 173 yards (6.7 per attempt), easing the pressure for quarterbacks Tim Chang, Shawn Withy-Allen and Jason Whieldon.
Night to Remember
Chad Owens knows he turned the ball over once, but he won't let it get him down. In fact, after a career night—11 receptions for 182 yards—he's ready to chalk up the one fumble he committed to history and move on.
"It's just one of those mental things, just taking it for granted, you know, that you've got that gain, and then boom. The guy sticks his arm in there and pops the ball out," Owens said. "But we go on to the next snap and you can't look to that. Just move on to the next play and make a bigger play on the next one."
Owens' speed underneath gave Chang and Withy-Allen at least one reliable, safe target to aim at all night. SMU defensive backs didn't do a lot of bump and run on Owens, and for good reason. Owens' breakaway speed could've destroyed the Mustang defense early on, so he just took what they gave.
The career highs and the fumble may stick in the Roosevelt graduate's mind for a little while, but so will his collision with a referee. "The defense got a turnover and I got excited. I started coming on to the field and I just saw this dude out of the side of my eye and I just tried to protect myself. Just so happens, he was a ref, and he got blown up, and that was my bad," Owens admitted. "It was the second time. The first time, he ran into Vince (Manuwai, offensive lineman). Vince didn't knock him down, but he got mad at Vince."
The Warrior offense has a tendency to start slowly, and Owens hopes that changes soon.
"The past couple of weeks, we've started kind of slow. We're driving with the ball, but we can't seem to put it in. But the defense was playing great, and we fed off that. We knew what we had to do before the ball was snapped. It was just all on us running the correct routes and Timmy putting it on us, and doing what we can after the catch," Owens said.
The shuffle between Chang and Withy-Allen doesn't seem to make a difference, at least for Owens. "That's good. I think Withy comes in here and does a great job. The fans love it, we love it. It's well deserved. He's making plays out there," he said.
All in all…
Head coach June Jones saw room for improvement, but all in all, it was a good win for starters and reserves.
"It was good to get everybody in the game. Defensively, we really played well up front, the front seven. I thought Pisa's play on special teams was huge. All in all, it was a good team effort again, and we're going to have to improve to win at Boise, but I think we're getting better every game," Jones said.
Hawaii led SMU 14-3 at the half, but the score wouldn't have been as close if not for early UH turnovers. "We were stopping ourselves. I thought we should've been up 28 to nothing or 31 to nothing by that time, but the interceptions and not taking care of the football was kind of the difference. I just felt like if we'd just took care of the ball, that we would have a good second half, and that's kind of what happened," he said.
Chang, who suffered a broken wrist last year and a fractured pinky finger this season, is as hard on himself as almost anyone could be. "The ball got away from me a couple of times, so it really lingers in the back of my mind. But at the same time, you just gotta tuck it away and say, hey, let's go play ball," he said.
As much as anyone else, Chang feels indebted to the defensive unit for being consistent, and dominant. "The defense did a great job. The list can go on and on. They did such a great job just getting the ball back to us, hurrying their quarterback. All that pressure they applied made it so hard on the SMU quarterback," he said.
Going in and out of the game in rotation with Withy-Allen has not and will not hinder Chang's effectiveness. "No, no. Coach Jones is such a great coach and he has such a great mind. He always inspires us and influences us. Whatever he has planned, I'm gonna go with it 100 percent. If I gotta be out of the game and the better needs to be in, so be it," the sophomore said.
"Like last week, he calls the fake punt, which most coaches would never do, and he does it. And tonight, the greatest call, I thought, and I kept thanking him on the sideline, was the draw play on fourth-and-goal. Who would've though that we would run the draw play on fourth-and-goal from underneath the center. He did. The guys up front executed and we stuck in there," Chang said. "He's the mastermind. He's a great coach, and he's probably the reason why all these great athletes came here, and why I committed to here—because of him. So we're gonna stick to it."
The rotating quarterback system is just fine by Jones. "I'm glad that we got in the game with everybody. Timmy had a good third quarter there. That was good to see him make some throws. We're still rushing some things, still gotta improve, and hopefully, next week we'll be better," the former San Diego Chargers head coach said.
Chang's 19-yard scramble for a touchdown in the third quarter provided a jolt for the Warriors and fans alike. "That was good to see him pull it down and go. He was determined to get it in, and that was positive," Jones said.
SMU's late touchdown—by backup running back Kris Briggs against UH's reserves—ended a streak of eight consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown. Jones took it in stride.
"Well, to be quite honest, I thought we played pretty good defense. With the backups in there, it would've been nice to not allow a touchdown, certainly. But the game was over and we're just trying to get it in the house," Jones said.
A defensive unit and special teams force that could outscore the Run and Shoot offense…it wouldn't be so bad. "That would be a good thing to have every game, for sure," Jones said.
Just a little patience
SMU head coach Phil Bennett took the defeat with the same perspective that has him rooted with the Mustangs for a long time to come.
"We're just a young team at some very crucial positions, and we made some crucial mistakes and turnovers after we got turnovers that gave us a chance to get in the game," the former Kansas State defensive coordinator said. "We had a 17-point turnaround, and it just didn't happen for us."
Bennett didn't see anything from Hawaii that surprised him. "They did some good things. June creates positive matchups. I also thought we could get some turnovers, which we did, different ways. We just couldn't capitalize on them," Bennett said. "They were playing man coverage, we couldn't get off the man coverage. Quarterback threw into the man coverage. They were stacking up the inside and we couldn't take away the perimeter until they put their young guys in."
The rotation of Chang and Withy-Allen didn't make a lot of difference for the Mustangs, Bennett said. "They're both good players. I think Chang will end up getting his confidence back. There's a lot of things that have gone on. The kid broke his finger. It's the first game he took snaps from under center, and we sort of anticipated that. And they've got some skill kids," he said.
"Seven (Withy-Allen) comes in and runs some. We didn't know 8 (Jason Whieldon) was back. Of course, Chang scrambled tonight and scored on a third down play," Bennett said.
The veteran coach enjoyed watching Chad Owens—against other teams. "Good little player. Great competitor, loves football and he's a fun kid to watch—just not against you," Bennett quipped.
With such a young team and an administration committed to building a solid football program, Bennett is in for the long haul. His players, though, may not have the same long-term perspective just yet. "You just try and tell them to get better, that, hey, this is my responsibility and I'll take the blame. Just give me your effort, just keep working to get better. I think they'll do that," he said. "I want them to learn accountability, that if they keep working, pretty soon that accountability becomes natural—making better decisions."