University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden stared at the Hawaii football team from an end-zone vantage point in the fourth quarter and shook his head.
"That’s a really good offense," he noted.
Read-between-the-lines translation: These guys are still hanging around.
Yes, even in a 49-36 loss to 14th-ranked USC last night you didn’t have to be a wearer of the green to come out of this one encouraged. You need not have been a Rhodes Scholar, former NFL player or ex-NBC analyst to see possibilities as bright as the rainbow that had arched over the place in a defining second quarter.
Even the longest of nights — 3 hours, 49 minutes — at Aloha Stadium hardly portends a long season for these Warriors.
And that hasn’t always been the case in recent opening nights. Win or lose.
Last year, you may recall, a supposedly easy opener turned into a rough-and-tumble 40-25 victory over Central Arkansas, an NCAA Football Championship Series (formerly known as I-AA) team, that resulted in a shakeup of the offensive coaching staff.
And the year before was the very forgettable 56-10 loss at Florida, and its most redeeming value was the mileage points piled up.
So while an upset eluded the Warriors last night, hope for a bright 2010 did not.
Even if what was termed a "mild" concussion suffered by quarterback Bryant Moniz hovered over it and his availability for Army.
The announced 41,776 on hand would be shaking their heads long into the night about the apparent touchdown that was ruled not a touchdown, a play so controversial the boos might still be echoing in Halawa Valley.
There was still a gnashing of the teeth about the 89-yard return of a sky punt in the third quarter that gave USC breathing room it should never have had.
And questions linger about some of the play-calling on the first venture into the red zone, that No-Man’s Land from 2009, that ended with just a field goal after three tries from inside the 3-yard line.
So, there is a starting point for things to fix up before heading out on the 11,000-mile round trip to Army and Colorado. There are uses for those two extra days the Warriors gained by playing this one on a Thursday instead of the traditional Saturday.
But there also is a sigh of relief, if not high-fives all around, that the offensive line, heretofore the biggest question hanging over the Warriors, acquitted itself quite well. UH quarterbacks were sacked twice and the running game produced 129 yards, a 4.4-yard average per carry against probably the best defensive front the Warriors will confront this season. Both Alex Green and Chizzy Dimude averaged more than 7 yards per tote.
If the Warriors can hit USC up for 588 yards total offense, including 459 passing yards — even with five dropped passes — you have to like their chances against the Western Athletic Conference. UH won’t play a more talented team and probably just one better one, Boise State.
If receivers Greg Salas, Royce Pollard and Kealoha Pilares can combine for 406 yards in receptions in a manner that left USC coach Lane Kiffin wincing, you have got to lick your chops at the possibilities awaiting them with this schedule.
More than all of that, however, was the team’s resilience. When the Warriors were down 20-3 early in the second quarter, this had the potential to be like all those other UH-USC games of the last 20 years. You know, the ones that usually finished 60-to-something.
The kind, for example, where the Trojans wear you out and then stomp the life out of you. Only these Warriors, picking up a defensive stop here and a big passing strike there and, maybe a change-of-pace run, had both the will and wherewithal to hang around in the closest game of a seven-game series known for a 37-point average width of margin.
That’s the kind of confidence worth packing when you’re heading out on a two-week road trip.