Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Go Green

Alex Green rushes for 172 yards and four touchdowns, and David Graves returns a fumble for a touchdown

By Stephen Tsai


LOGAN, UTAH » For the surging Hawaii football team, happiness was being in hot water.

The Warriors yesterday conquered the driving rain, 50-degree chill and Utah State's razzle-dazzle offense for a 45-7 victory.

The Warriors' fifth consecutive overall win kept them atop the Western Athletic Conference standings at 4-0, and turned the Aggies' homecoming festivities into a heading-for-home exodus beginning in the second quarter.

Few of the 17,111 Romney Stadium customers remained when the Warriors raced to their locker room chanting: "Hot showers! Hot showers!"

In the postgame celebration, UH head coach Greg McMackin declared: "Everybody is responsible for this victory — the players, the assistant coaches, the trainers, the nurses, the doctors, the equipment guys, the academic people; and the custodians, maintenance workers and secretaries back home. We play for the school and the state."

In particular, roll the credits for:

» Portland-raised Alex Green, who easily weathered the slippery conditions, rushing for a career-high 172 yards and four touchdowns, the most since Glenn Freitas' four rushing scores in 1995.

» David Graves, a quarterback moonlighting on special teams, who converted a bobbled fumble by USU punter Peter Caldwell into a 6-yard return for a touchdown.

» And a heat-seeking defense that intercepted two passes — both by linebacker Corey Paredes — and limited USU quarterback Diondre Borel to 98 yards in total offense, 116 below his average. The Aggies' 181 yards were the fewest allowed by a UH defense in five years.

"That was one of the best defensive efforts, if not the best, that I've been around for a long time," McMackin said.

The Aggies run a no-huddle, no-pause offense that draws from dozens of formations. With a bye last week, the Aggies were "giving us ulcers with every play," UH defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "We knew we were going to go crazy trying to match up with everything they would do."

But all of the Aggies' pre-snap shifting and motioning were warm-up acts. Described by UH coaches as a punt returner playing quarterback, Borel was the featured performer.

The Warriors' strategy was to set up what they call the "quarterback trap." The first step was to narrow the pocket. The Warriors did this by having the defensive ends rush upfield, creating brackets, while the defensive tackles closed the inside lanes. Then the Warriors would do a switch, with the ends slanting toward the inside, and the linebackers defending the perimeters.

In football parlance, it is called "leveraging the ball" — not allowing Borel to get outside.

"That's what we call our quarterback trap," said Tony Tuioti, who coaches UH's defensive tackles.

The Warriors also knew Borel likes to throw quickly to the flats. The perimeter defenders were required to raise their arms, obscuring the passing lanes.

Borel had 12 rushes for minus-1 yard — he was tackled in the backfield eight times — and completed seven of 23 passes for 99 yards and no touchdowns.

Borel did score on a 35-yard run, when he zig-zagged after keeping the ball on a sprint-option play, to tie it at 7. But the Warriors responded with timely defensive plays.

In the second half, Paredes produced the first two interceptions of his career, the second when he jumped in front of 6-foot-7 tight end Tarren Lloyd.

"The tight end was pretty big," said Paredes, who is 5 feet 11. "I saw the ball, and I jumped as high as I could, and I made the catch."

And Graves' touchdown extended UH's lead to 21-7 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.

Caldwell, in punt formation, bobbled the snap. John Hardy-Tuliau raced in, and knocked the football from Caldwell.

"The ball popped right to me," said Graves, who grabbed it at the USU 6. "What else would I think but to take it to the house?"

Hardy-Tuliau said: "I saw the ball fumbling around, and I wanted to knock it loose. I saw (Caldwell) didn't have possession of it, and I just hit him."

Graves did not need to watch the replay on the stadium's video screen.

"I saw that play in my mind before it happened," Graves said. "I'm always visualizing things that could happen in the game. I was thinking about the best thing that could possibly happen, and that was the best thing that could have happened."

UH offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich envisioned opportunities for the running backs in general and Green in particular.

The Aggies decided to use aggressive pressure schemes to attack the Warriors' four-wide offense. The Aggies used three defensive ends and an outside linebacker to create a four-man line. The Aggies wanted to cover the flats, the favorite receiving spots for slotbacks Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas, while blitzing quarterback Bryant Moniz. The Aggies' strategy was to congest the middle.

The Warriors countered by sending the wideouts deep or toward the sideline, and curling the slotbacks into the flats. With the Aggies in the equivalent of a fullcourt press — man coverage on the receivers, as many as 10 defenders within a couple of yards of the line of scrimmage — Rolovich decided to call the "belly play," an inside run with the linemen zone-blocking.

"Gordy (Shaw, UH's line coach) printed shirts that read: Play as a nickel, not five pennies," Rolovich said. "Belly is the best definition of that statement. It takes five (blockers) staying together and just zoning stuff off."

The Aggies were so convinced the Warriors would pass to the flats, they repeatedly yelled, "Screen," before the snap.

"We know we have a great back in Alex," Rolovich said. "When he gets to that second level, there are big plays to be had."

Green scored on a 2-yard run in the opening quarter. After that, he had touchdown sprints of 17, 36 and 60 yards — the final two when he broke past the line of scrimmage into open space.

"He did a great job of turning it into another gear and finishing the run," running backs coach Brian Smith said. "We have a saying: Don't get hawked. That means, don't get caught from behind."

Green said: "Coach Smith is always telling me that. I try not to get hawked. I try to avoid (defenders) going for my legs."

Green, who was raised in the rainy Northwest, said the wet artificial surface was not a problem.

"I don't mind football weather," Green said. "Whether it rains, snows or there's sunshine, you have to play the game."

The only adjustment came in the second quarter, when he removed the visor from his helmet.

"With the rain hitting (the visor), I couldn't see that much," Green said. "After that, I played football. I could see clearly."

Now picture this: The Warriors, predicted to finish in the bottom third of the nine-team WAC, can clinch a winning regular season with a victory over Idaho on Saturday at Aloha Stadium. Is a national ranking possible?

"We're not thinking about anything else but Idaho right now," said Salas, who made a one-handed catch for a touchdown. "We haven't done anything yet. We're not going to stop until we get a WAC championship."

Moniz, who completed 25 of 41 passes for 389 yards (and was intercepted twice in the end zone), said: "There are two reasons you play football: To have fun and to win. If you're getting your butt kicked, it ain't fun. So you might as well win. We're winning, and with winning comes fun, and we're enjoying it."

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