Ross Jenkins pried open the floodgates for Louisiana Tech, but Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes and the rest of the Warriors defense dug in when and where it mattered.
Paredes made two essential second-half plays to slow the surge of Bulldogs backup quarterback Ross Jenkins in a 41-21 UH win last night at Aloha Stadium.
Senior safety Mana Silva had two first-half interceptions of starter Tarik Hakmi, putting the Bulldogs’ no-huddle offense in hibernation for a quarter and a half. But when it emerged from its slumber, LaTech’s relentless attack had the Warriors gassed in their Western Athletic Conference opener.
With UH up by only 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter and Tech threatening at the Warriors’ 29, Paredes leaped and tipped a Jenkins pass thrown across the middle. The ball went up and over the intended receiver and into the hands of cornerback Jeramy Bryant, who collected a pick for the second straight game and quelled the Bulldogs’ best chance for a comeback win.
"They faked the run, and I bit on it but I jumped back as soon as I can, and then I knew they were coming behind me, because they always run those behind routes," said Paredes, a team captain, who started the night ranked second nationally in tackles per game at 13.25. "So luckily I just got in the way, jumped up, tipped the ball and J.B. made an excellent play on it."
Paredes posted his usual game-high tackle count, this time with nine. A relieved Dave Aranda commended the 5-foot-11, 235-pound junior for his actions on the sidelines as much as his play on the field.
"I talked about our leaders need to step up. It’s been an issue in our previous games. And when things were going down, when the momentum swung the other way, we need our leaders to stand up," said Aranda, the UH defensive coordinator. "And (Paredes) is one of the guys who spoke up there on the sideline, and he spoke up on the field, too."
Silva shut down the Bulldogs for much of the first half, contributing to an utterly ineffective start for Hakmi (0 yards passing). Silva recorded his second two-interception game and has eight picks for his career.
"Going into this game we knew we could expose the weakness of him throwing, and he made some reads that we were able to break on and make some big plays," Silva said.
Jenkins was much more effective at 19-for-26 passing for 215 yards. The UH defense stopped him eventually, but not without making the crowd of 27,001 uneasy.
Tackling was a glaring issue as Tech made its second-half push, as it was after halftime in a narrow win vs. Army and a demoralizing loss at Colorado. Paredes wasn’t having any of it this time.
"We’ve got to beat them in the second half," he said. "We went out to show that the last game (a 66-7 blowout over Charleston Southern) wasn’t a fluke, that we can play defense in the second half. I just rallied the guys, and guys came out hitting."
With 7:48 left in the third quarter, the Castle graduate broke up a Jenkins pass on fourth and 1 near midfield. It allowed the Warriors a reprieve from LaTech’s renewed attack, and the excellent position yielded a field goal for UH to go back up by 20 at 34-14.
"There were adjustments being made, but to be honest with you, the more I do this, the more I see that’s overrated," Aranda said. "And the energy and strength of will and the guys deciding to make a stop is what turned it around for us."