The harder they tried, the faster it got away.
Hawaii’s disciplined defense was as much to thank as its celebrated offense for getting the team to the Hawaii Bowl. But somewhere along the way last night — specifically, halftime — the Warriors lost their defensive identity in another disappointing season finish.
Tulsa’s prolific offense took advantage of the Warriors’ overextended D in the second half, going for big play after big play in a 62-35 demolition of UH last night at Aloha Stadium.
The No. 24 Warriors struggled to play within themselves against some of their biggest competition this season (USC, Colorado and Boise State) and so it was again last night.
"We made a big point not to say it was a big game, looked at it as another game," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "I think there was some pressing going on that doesn’t need to be pressed."
He put that completely on himself for not stressing enough to his players the need to accomplish more by doing less at halftime, when UH trailed 27-14 and had given up only one defensive touchdown.
Senior cornerback Jeramy Bryant wholeheartedly agreed after his final collegiate game, though he credited his teammates for not quitting.
"I guess they saw how aggressive we were on defense, and started doing a lot of play-action," said Bryant, who broke up three passes of quarterback G.J. Kinne. "Started opening things up, draw people out of their quarters. Guys sitting on routes, guys coming up … and dumping off. And that was the story of the second half. Play-action."
A bowl game billing itself as an offensive showcase eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy, though the Warriors held the Golden Hurricane to 94 yards of total offense in the first half. Tulsa finished with 531 yards — 437 after the break.
Tulsa’s first play of the half, after UH had cut it to 27-21, was a 59-yard strike to Damaris Johnson to set up a score. Soon afterward, Johnson burned around the right edge and went in from 67 yards out. A score from 47 yards followed on TU’s next drive.
The Golden Hurricane scored three touchdowns on their first six offensive plays of the second half.
"All those plays, the first three series (of the second half) however many plays they had, I think six, seven, eight were gadget plays," he said. "They felt they needed to score quickly, they needed to score now. So they went to their top 100 gadget plays, and they reeled them off.
"All those things are defendable, but we’ve got to defend it as a team and, like I said, I take responsibility for. I should have made a bigger point at halftime how we got to this point, by playing team defense, and we should’ve finished playing that way."
Early on, the No. 1 turnover-forcing team in the country looked ready to come up with another bushel of picks and pops.
Junior linebacker Aaron Brown (eight tackles) delivered early in the first quarter after getting beat on a deep ball. He punched out the football from behind and forced a touchback on TU’s Charles Clay late in the first quarter. Safety Richard Torres added a fumble recovery in the second half.
"They have a lot of explosive athletes," Brown said. "We contained them the first half, we let them get away from us the second half by missed assignments, and look what happened — they gashed us."
Senior safety Mana Silva had a team-high nine tackles for UH.