It’s a good thing the season’s over. That was the kind of loss that you can’t pretty up, even if you try. It’s like enjoying a fabulous dinner, and then the dessert is terrible.
Oh, the bitter taste of that 62-35 fade-to-black for Hawaii at Aloha Stadium will eventually go away. Then we’ll look back on UH football, 2010, as a whole, and rightfully view it as a great success. Ten wins is 10 wins — except at a few crazy places, it’s a benchmark for a fine college football season. And a share of a conference championship is much more than anyone other than the true believers imagined possible for this group.
But the rest of the nation won’t see it that way. Even some of the Hawaii fans on the mainland — like the ones I know in Conneaut, Ohio, and Newport News, Va. — they don’t get to see UH every week. While watching the Hawaii Bowl, they asked me if I knew what was happening to their favorite team; I had no explanation other than nearly half of the UH starting offensive players being out of action, four of them for nearly the entire game.
The mainland will remember what it saw on Christmas Eve on TV, a smackdown of the Warriors by Tulsa … that perennial powerhouse from omnipotent Conference USA. And for the Hawaii fans among them, another postseason disappointment, another long wait until September.
This could have been a great springboard into 2011. If yesterday’s score was reversed, enough voters might have thought well enough of UH to rank it headed into next season. Now, the Warriors will lose their No. 24 ranking in this season’s final polls.
TODAY, AS WE focus on just yesterday, what we saw wasn’t very good at all. UH lost its third bowl game in a row, and in some ways this was the worst. At least on the surface, there’s little shame in falling to Georgia or Notre Dame.
But Tulsa? A fine team as it turns out, but we’re still talking about Tulsa. Coach Todd Graham has things going in the right direction, but it’s a program that hasn’t been truly relevant in a very long time, going back to when it revolutionized the passing game.
The Golden Hurricane came in as 11-point underdogs, and I was among those who felt even that wasn’t enough against a Hawaii team playing at home that had won nine of its last 10.
IT’S HARD not to surmise that the Warriors were outworked. Bowl games are about being ready to perform and avoiding distraction. Maybe UH didn’t slack off, but it was clear the Golden Hurricane defenders spent a lot of time this week in their Waikiki hotel reviewing Hawaii’s run-and-shoot.
Five interceptions don’t happen by magic, and Tulsa defenders weren’t supposed to be on Bryant Moniz’s gift list.
"They got good pressure up front and they studied real hard and knew our routes," said UH’s starting quarterback, victim of four picks. "They jumped all our routes."
The unavailability of two starting receivers, two starting offensive linemen and Moniz at times surely didn’t help. The bottom line is that a great effort by the defense in the first half was wasted.
And now, something seemingly minor, but not really. Two first-half punt returns really hurt Hawaii. Kealoha Pilares was knocked out of the game on one in the first quarter, and Greg Salas — who otherwise played a great game — fumbled on another, leading to a Tulsa field goal.
One of the things the Warriors need to do in the offseason is find a punt returner — not a starter on offense or defense — and leave him at the spot long enough to get the feel for it, to master the decision-making. Or just go back to fair catching it all the time.
The punt return is the new forward pass. To paraphrase Woody Hayes, lots of things can happen, most of them bad. Come to think of it, on this day, that’s what it was like for UH throwing the ball, too.