BOISE, Idaho » When you want to measure the pulse of a football team, you go to the quarterback. Especially when that team is Hawaii, and its offensive weapon of choice is the run-and-shoot.
Simply put, if the quarterback’s not right there’s no chance for the offense to work and little chance to win the game.
Physically, Bryant Moniz is ready to go as UH takes on Boise State tomorrow in Hawaii’s most significant game since it played in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 2008. The nation’s leader in passing yardage and touchdowns was sharp at practice yesterday at Meridian High School (where the football team is also called the Warriors). His passes were consistently crisp and on the mark.
And emotionally, psychologically, Moniz is in a great place. He has the nerve not to be nervous.
It seems silly asking him if this is the biggest game of his career to date, taking on the No. 2 team in the nation. My thinking is the obvious answer is yes, of course it is.
But like a blitzer not expecting the shovel pass, Moniz has me fooled.
Big, big game, right?
"Not to me," he answers with a grin. "It’s just another game. Just another Saturday afternoon of football."
It’s not meant as a shot at Boise State or its defense. Moniz knows the Broncos have just about everyone back from last year’s team that blasted the Warriors 54-9 at Aloha Stadium, knocking him out of the game with a concussion before the end of the first quarter.
UH is a different team now. Moniz is a different player now. When the triggerman of the run-and-shoot masters the nuances of the offense, anything is possible — especially when the defense is continually improving and forcing three or four turnovers a game.
Moniz’s teacher, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nick Rolovich, knows first hand what it’s like. He passed for 20 touchdowns in his last three UH games — all wins, including a 52-51 out-dueling of Ben Roethlisberger and a 72-45 destruction of BYU, which went into the game unbeaten and hungering for national validation.
Rolovich says Moniz has absorbed what he did. And, as head coach Greg McMackin said the other day, once a quarterback in this offense gets it, he doesn’t lose it.
Moniz went so far as to describe it as being "easy."
When did it become that way?
"Ever since the fourth game," he says.
That was the 66-7 rout of Charleston Southern, and the start of Hawaii’s current six-game winning streak.
Now, everyone knows that it’s crazy to compare an FCS team to Boise State. But the point is what June Jones and other believers have always said of the run-and-shoot: It comes down to execution, and if the quarterbacks, receivers and blockers all know what they’re doing, it doesn’t matter who’s trying to defend it.
MONIZ SAYS the success is the fruit of "hard work in the summer and in fall camp."
Center Bronson Tiwanak says there’s more to it, that being Moniz’s personality.
"He doesn’t pressure out in big situations. He’s always cool head. He’s a good leader."
His relaxed, confident attitude has spread through the team — even on the eve of a game that could define the program’s national profile for years to come.
"Obviously (Boise State is) a very good team," Tiwanak says. "But it’s just the next game on our schedule. We can’t do anything different."
Slot receiver Greg Salas spent part of yesterday’s practice throwing passes to a team manager, just for the fun of it.
"We know what this game represents," Salas says. "But you have to stay true to yourself. If you start doing things differently you might psyche yourself out.
"Every game is a big game, because we want to win every game we play. We’re looking forward to the opportunity."
It’s clear that the Warriors don’t view the No. 2-ranked team in the country as 21 points superior.
And that’s the first step toward achieving what many others see as extremely unlikely.