POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2010
When the University of Hawaii's Mana Silva and Corey Paredes intercepted Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle on Saturday night and Richard Torres ran back a fumble for a touchdown, they heard the roar of the Aloha Stadium crowd through their helmet ear holes.
But, you wonder, somewhere back in the recesses of their minds, if they still heard the echoes of coaches Chris Tormey, Rich Miano and Cal Lee from the spring, too.
Months before the cheers of the stadium crowd, there was an April filled with the pointed exhortations of their coaches on the practice field. A time when screams of "hold onto the ball!" and "whatever it takes!" filled the morning air on a regular basis in Manoa.
A good part of what has helped the 7-2 (5-0 conference) Warriors secure their earliest-ever Sheraton Hawaii Bowl invitation and set up a Western Athletic Conference championship showdown with Boise State now — the bushel of turnovers — had its foundation in spring ball.
That's where the Warriors' defense, still smarting from a 6-7 finish and absent a bowl appearance, made coming up with turnovers Job One.
In that regard, the Warriors must have heard Tormey bellow "If we catch the ball, we beat UNLV" a hundred times, and Miano boom "you guys can't get enough of this work — trust me!" dozens more.
Both were in-your-chin-strap reminders of the potential interceptions the Warriors dropped that could have turned around what became a loss and pivotal game in the 2009 season. Both were challenges to reverse what had been the lowest production of turnovers in four years.
So as we marvel at the Warriors' impressive defensive haul so far this year — 12 fumble recoveries and 14 interceptions — that places them No. 4 in major college football in the former and No. 7 in the latter, know that turnovers have been a determined point of emphasis, not merely coincidence.
After ranking No. 113 (among 120 teams) in turnover margin last year, and with the rise to No. 7 today, the defense understands the reversal isn't just the football gods suddenly smiling heavenly kindness upon the Warriors.
"We're about making plays," Silva said.
"It is why we are winning," adds Paredes.
They will tell you the defense, far from accepting a role as a junior partner in the Warriors' fortunes, has been intent on being a force unto itself. One that has helped bring out the best in the offense, too.
Consider the 26 turnovers forced by the defense and special teams this year have set the table for 108 of UH's points, or approximately 30 percent of the Warriors' scoring.
For years the thinking by some had been that playing defense on a team that ran a prolific run-and-shoot offense was an arduous proposition. The thought was that either the offense scored in a hurry or went three and out in a blink, thus forcing the defense to spend an eternity on the field.
At UH this year the mind-set looks at it another way: "With an offense like ours, it means the defense just gets more chances to make big plays, force turnovers," Miano maintains.
Call the Warriors' defense to date opportunists. They do — and with well-earned pride of months in the making.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.