LOGAN, Utah » As the University of Hawaii buses rolled through the pastoral Utah countryside on the way from their Ogden, Utah, hotel to yesterday’s football practice at Utah State, the team glimpsed leaves turning red, yellow and orange, and pumpkins arrayed on front porches.
It was a Technicolor introduction to an intermountain Halloween with cooling weather to match. And, you hope, it served as one more reminder of the potential trick-or-treat bent of today’s opponent, Utah State.
Not that it takes the approach of Halloween to make tricksters of the Aggies. USU has been pulling pranks from the start, running a fake field goal in the season opener at Oklahoma, for example. It worked but was called back by a controversial penalty.
What Don King likes to call "trickeration" has been part of the Aggies arsenal since head coach Gary Andersen took over last year. The calling card was, as much as anything, two successful fake punts against Boise State, one of the better special teams units around.
With an open date last week to prepare, some vivid imaginations to work from and a sense of desperation setting in at Utah State, you can only wonder what the Aggies might have up their jersey sleeves today.
For sure the Warriors do. Which was why, you suspect, Chris Tormey, who coaches UH special teams and safeties, reminded the team in a booming voice yesterday to focus on the details and be aware of the unexpected as the Warriors began their practice. And why there was 11th-hour talk of some special teams changes for the Warriors.
The Warriors arrived here coming off their biggest high of the season, a 27-21 humbling of 19th-ranked Nevada last week and trying to set up an even bigger game, a Nov. 6 showdown with No. 2-ranked Boise State. But first they have to get past one more road test, Utah State, plus Idaho back at Aloha Stadium, to hold up their part in making the Boise State game a Western Athletic Conference championship showdown.
Win out in those two pre-Boise State tests and the Warriors would be 7-2 (5-0 WAC) heading to the smurf turf at Bronco Stadium. They would still be in the running for an outright WAC title and, at worst, have already clinched a postseason berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
The Warriors landed here as three-point favorites against a team that bushwhacked them in the last visit, 30-14. They also landed smack dab in the middle of homecoming festivities and the unveiling of a statue to the Aggies’ most famous football alum, the late Merlin Olsen.
More than that, the Warriors face an opponent with its collective back to the Wasatch Front. The Aggies, at 2-4 (0-2 WAC), are only half as far along as where they had hoped to be at midseason of what was supposed to be a breakthrough, bowl-or-bust season. Plagued by injuries and inconsistent performances, the Aggies are now hurriedly battling to save their season.
With but six games remaining, they are running out of opportunities to become bowl eligible, and how the Hawaii game goes will say a lot about how they finish their season.
Encouraged by how they played Hawaii two years ago, the Aggies have little cause to hold back anything and plenty of reasons why they should — and probably will — throw everything they have at the Warriors.
Everything, it seems, from a vast telephone book-sized binder of offensive plays and alignments that would make your head swim to a bag of tricks to take you off your game. After all, ’tis the season, especially when you are trying to save one.