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Friday, October 24, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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Add 'legitimate' to list of adjectives for Warriors

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:



At the midway point of the college football season, Hawaii is on pace for a 10-4 finish.

A few folks honestly saw this coming. But although some won't admit it, a lot of UH fans are pleasantly surprised.

The team that was predicted by the media covering the WAC to end up seventh in the conference (I admit to picking them fifth of nine) leads the league at 3-0 and is 5-2 overall. As usual, the coaches knew better and voted them higher, but not by much (fifth).

The Warriors will likely be favored to win going into all of their remaining six regular-season games, other than the visit to the blue field at Boise State on Nov. 6.

The Hawaii Bowl is a virtual lock for UH. The magic number for wins for 4-3 SMU is also two, and then we're talking dream matchup and guaranteed sellout.

Does anyone really expect Hawaii now to lose at Utah State or New Mexico State, or in home games against Idaho, San Jose State and UNLV? Only if the team gets complacent, and that is unlikely with this group. Those who were around two years ago certainly won't take this week's visit to Logan, Utah, lightly; that's where the Aggies ambushed the Warriors in 2008.

Hawaii won't lose any games on green turf if it keeps playing as well as it did in wins at Fresno State and at home against Nevada on Saturday — back-to-back upsets that earned UH a four-game winning streak and a sprinkling of votes in the polls.

After the 27-21 bushwhacking of No. 19 Nevada, someone with a good eye asked me if the Warriors are legit. Only one answer makes sense: Believe it. Fresno State and Nevada aren't bad teams, but Hawaii made them look bad.

Is UH as good as in 1992, when no one expected much, but Hawaii won the WAC championship and beat Illinois in the Holiday Bowl?

That remains to be seen. We do know there are plenty of good times ahead in the second half of this season for the Warriors and their fans. Here's some of the best from the first seven games, and some of the team records being challenged:

» MVP: As I wrote yesterday, my pick is linebacker Corey Paredes. He's the quintessential UH defensive player. Tough, strong, smart, durable and plays faster than he looks. If he doesn't force those fumbles Saturday, Hawaii doesn't win.

At his current pace, Paredes will finish with 164 tackles — five off Jeff Ulbrich's single-season school record.

» Most consistent: Plenty of candidates, including Paredes since he's been team-high in tackles or tied for it in every game. Others are Jeramy Bryant (at least one interception or fumble recovery in the past four games) and Mana Silva (at least one interception in the last three games). Silva's 10 career picks have him three away from the standard shared by Keone Jardine and Kelvin Millhouse.

I'll go with slotback Greg Salas, whose spectacular and aggressive play can sometimes overshadow his consistency. He has at least one catch in 34 consecutive games, and Walter Murray's got the school record of 40. You do the math.

» Best at a new position: Kealoha Pilares actually played slot before, but was moved to wide receiver last year. He's thrived in his return inside and has been ranked among the nation's leaders in several categories.

His 11 touchdowns put Pilares on pace to break Ashley Lelie's single-season school record of 19.

Honorable mention to Vaughn Meatoga, whose shift from tackle to end helped UH get the most effective defensive front on the field for the game plan against Fresno.

» Most improved unit from spring practice: The offensive line has played well since the beginning of the season.

» Biggest play: Kamalu Umu's forced fumble against Army. Salas' catch and katoosh against Fresno State. And two more candidates from Saturday's game against Nevada: Paredes knocking the ball out of Colin Kaepernick's hand at the goal line and Moniz scrambling and finding Salas for the big play to set up UH's (needed) insurance touchdown.

While eluding the sack and keeping the poise to find an open man was an example of some of Moniz's abundant skills, I'll go with the Mo throw to Royce Pollard that set up the winning field goal at West Point. One of the prettiest passes you'll ever see thrown to a spot before the receiver makes his break.

And crucial in the big picture of the first half of the season.

If Hawaii had started out 0-3 would it have still had the confidence to get to where it is now atop the WAC?

Thanks to the clutch plays in the last few minutes at Army, it's just a hypothetical question.

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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