UH defense shakes off criticism
As the clock ticked away to “0:00” while 8,000 green-clad fans cheered, the Hawaii football team’s defense finally could hear the sound of redemption.
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LAS VEGAS, NEV. >> As the clock ticked away to “0:00” while 8,000 green-clad fans cheered, the Hawaii football team’s defense finally could hear the sound of redemption.
Entering Saturday’s meeting with UNLV, the Rainbow Warriors had relinquished at least 490 yards in five consecutive games. A week earlier, San Jose State scored on every possession against the Warriors. In a world connected with tweets and where Instagram is a family album, criticism travels quickly.
UH defensive coordinator Corey Batoon has felt the barbs from critics, and understands that comes with the job.
“You feel for the kids,” Batoon said. “They don’t deserve that. But again, it’s tough. You live in a fishbowl. If you do well, people pat you on the back. If you don’t do well, they’ll turn you down. I think the kids understand the process. They understand, it’s not about the outside. It’s about the guys in the locker room. They come to work every day. That’s what I’m most proud of. They don’t allow the outside distractions to undermine what they’re trying to do.”
In the game against San Jose State, the Warriors put down the speed bumps to turn four scoring drives into field goals, enough to secure a 42-40 victory. In Saturday’s 21-7 win over UNLV, the Warriors allowed only a short-field touchdown in 10 full possessions. They overcame a difficult first quarter in which they lost a fumble and were intercepted twice.
“How do you have three turnovers plus a fourth down on the goal line and go in (to halftime) not down 21?” head coach Nick Rolovich said. The defense “held us in the football game. Credit to Corey and his staff.”
The Warriors were without their best pass rusher, Kaimana Padello, who was not available because of an ailment. “It was a game-time deal,” Batoon said. “It was close.”
Pumba Williams moved from strong-side end to Padello’s spot as a hybrid end. Mason Vega opened on the opposite end. The Warriors also went again with a three-linebacker look. Nickelback Eugene Ford started at safety in place of Kalen Hicks, who missed his fourth game because of an ailment.
The Warriors held UNLV’s Kenyon Oblad to 118 passing yards, stopped the Rebels on nine of 11 third-down plays, and made two interceptions. Cornerback Cortez Davis’ pick was returned 43 yards for a touchdown to break a 7-all tie. Linebacker Paul Scott’s interception at the 3 foiled the Rebels’ attempt to cut a 21-7 deficit.
“It’s exciting to turn it around and get a reward like this in front of all these fans who came out to support us,” safety Ikem Okeke said.
Batoon said the defensive players have trusted the process of developing.
“It’s about getting better,” Batoon said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys out there playing now. And they’re busting their tail Monday through Friday to get this feeling (on Saturday). I’m so happy for them.”
Davis said: “We cancel everything out, and we stay to ourselves, and we know what we can do. We’ve been balling all season. We held (the Rebels) to one touchdown. They had a lot of opportunities and they scored only one touchdown.”