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Tuesday, September 16, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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Warriors take momentum into season's tough stretch

By Dave Reardon

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Hawaii's beautiful display of offense and Louisiana Tech's turnovers gave UH a win in the conference opener Saturday. And the victory provided a good omen for the 3-2 Warriors.

LaTech has played UH eight times since joining the Western Athletic Conference. Including the 41-21 outcome at Aloha Stadium the other night, Hawaii has won six of those games. The only two times that the Warriors finished the season with a losing record in the last 10 years — 2005 and 2009 — are the years that LaTech beat Hawaii (both in Ruston, La., incidentally).

Want another positive trend?

The Warriors visit Fresno State on Saturday, and UH has won the last two times it's played there.

Here's more good news if you can stand it: Hawaii is fairly healthy after five games. Guard Brysen Ginlack's ankle and wideout Rodney Bradley's hamstring could keep them out of action this week. But the Warriors are deep on the O-line and at receiver.

UH is a lot less banged up than it was after its game at LaTech last season, when it lost quarterback Greg Alexander to a college career-ending knee injury. Injuries plagued the Warriors throughout 2009 when it went 6-7.

"(The loss at LaTech) really put us in a downward spiral last year," coach Greg McMackin said after Saturday's win. "We were a hurtin' football team."

The distress wasn't just physical. Several players were distracted by the earthquake that hit Samoa, fearing for the safety of relatives and friends.

THE DEFEAT at Ruston was the second loss in a six-game slide that cost the 2009 team a winning season.

Now, in their upcoming five games, the Warriors face the four WAC schools (including two now nationally ranked) that beat them after last year's LaTech loss — at Fresno State, home against Nevada and Idaho, and at Boise State (with a visit to feisty Utah State thrown in the middle). Things get much easier down the stretch with San Jose State, New Mexico State and UNLV. You can count those three as wins, meaning UH needs just one victory in this tough next five games to lock up a winning regular season and Hawaii Bowl bid.

UH is in much better position now than a year ago to take on this midseason gauntlet.

Quarterback Bryant Moniz — a walk-on sophomore last year thrown into the starting role after Alexander's injury — has blossomed under offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich's tutelage. As expected, the receivers are tremendous, especially the slotbacks. The offensive line is much better than expected.

But defensively, the Warriors need to get back to basics and improve their tackling. They can't always rely on turnovers, especially against the conference's better teams.

Hawaii was outscored in the third quarter yet again Saturday. It didn't matter this time because of LaTech's multiple deficiencies and UH regained control in the fourth quarter. But it's still alarming that UH has "won" the third quarter just once against FBS competition in the past two seasons.

The Warriors are in great position to finish with a winning record, and that offense looks like its ready for prime time.

But despite the good omens, clicking offense and the momentum of a two-game winning streak, Hawaii must play four quarters on both sides of the ball to give itself a chance the next five Saturdays.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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