There have been other nights in other years when the Hawaii offense exploded like this — not many, but a few.
It clicked like it did last night against Louisiana Tech before, but this was the best in a long time. Sorry Charleston Southern, but last week against a team from a lower level doesn’t count.
There were games in past years where slotbacks went nuts, catching everything in sight, rolling up huge numbers in the run-and-shoot. We watched Craig Stutzmann, Chad Owens, Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullen make plenty of defenses look silly, with Nick Rolovich, Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan going to the well time after time after time because it would not run dry.
But never before anything quite like this — Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas combining for 28 catches, 414 yards and four touchdowns. All this production coming from a position — slotback — that was considered nothing more than a gimmick or just a change-of-pace by most football coaches just a few years ago.
Now it is an important weapon in nearly every offense, including those in the NFL. It is the heart of the Warriors’ attack, and that heart was pumping like never before in the 41-21 win over LaTech last night.
"Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to look?"
That’s Mouse Davis talking, the man who changed football but doesn’t get enough credit for it. Now he’s the UH receivers coach, and he’s a big reason why the offense was at full throttle last night.
One of the run-and-shoot basics is that if you execute properly, someone will always be open. For much of last night, it seemed everyone was open, and Bryant Moniz had his pick of targets.
"Somebody’s gonna be on the highlight reel," Salas said.
Most of the hot routes are to the slots, and with LaTech trying to blitz, those are the guys who usually end up getting the ball. But that wasn’t all of it — Pilares and Salas got themselves open short, medium and deep.
And in the rare instances that a Bulldogs defender was in the same zip code, they made the tough grabs. Salas set the tone on the second play from scrimmage, with a fully extended, one-handed grab between two LaTech players; it was simultaneously spectacular and courageous.
Pilares’ second TD, a 66-yarder, was eerily similar to an 80-yard catch-and-run he had at Colorado two weeks ago. But this time there was no defender with a good angle on him, and this time on the fast, home track of Aloha Stadium, Pilares easily went all the way.
ANOTHER RUN-AND-SHOOT premise has to do with defense. Creating turnovers is a priority.
"Our goal is always at least three turnovers. I’m pretty sure we accomplished that," said safety Mana Silva, who intercepted two passes. "We just try to use our instincts and make plays. That’s what the coaches ask of us."
UH converted two of three interceptions into touchdowns. Jeramy Bryant’s pick aided by a Corey Paredes tip early in the fourth quarter was crucial, as LaTech had crept back into the game. Even more important was UH taking advantage of the pick to march down the field and turn it into a three-score game again with Moniz’s fourth TD pass and second to Salas.
At the beginning of the third quarter, it was oh-oh, not again. A total of 11 little bites added up to 75 yards and just a 10-point deficit for LaTech after UH had dominated the first half.
But UH came right back with a touchdown drive of its own.
Coach Greg McMackin acknowledged that the defense got sloppy with its tackling due to fatigue, and it’s still learning to deal with no-huddle offenses.
But this was one of those team-building games where the different phases picked the others up when they were down. You can count Scott Enos’ field goals in that equation, too.
I know Davis’ question was rhetorical and UH won’t see an opponent as vulnerable as LaTech for several weeks.
But, yes, sir. That is the way it’s supposed to look.