Ferd Lewis: Can University of Hawaii football team put stop to San Diego State and its running back success?
Can UH retire the Aztecs’ enduring running threat, a big step toward winning their first MWC division title?
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It has been 26 years since Marshall Faulk carried the ball, torching the University of Hawaii for the last of 687 yards and 13 touchdowns in three seasons.
So, why does it seem like every time the Rainbow Warriors and San Diego State get together on a football field that UH is haunted by visions of Faulk’s second, third, fourth — or 10th — coming?
Nearly every starting running back the Aztecs have sent against UH since the Faulk era (1991-93) has been good for at least 100 yards a game. And, a couple of their back-ups, too.
In the 14 games the two schools have played since Faulk finally left for the NFL and competition more suited to his considerable abilities, the Aztecs have 13 100-yard-plus performances and, perhaps not surprisingly, 11 victories to show for it.
As such, you might wonder if UH is finally due a break tonight when it encounters an Aztecs team that uncharacteristically — get this — actually averages fewer rushing yards per game this season than the Warriors.
With the Mountain West Conference West Division title and a berth in the overall Dec. 7 conference championship game on the line at Aloha Stadium, UH comes in averaging 151.7 yards per game (80th in the 130-member Football Bowl subdivision) compared to the Aztecs’ 141.8 (93rd).
Not since 2009, two years before Rocky Long took over as head coach on Montezuma Mesa, have the Aztecs run at a less productive pace.
For the Aztecs that is a concern this week.
“Well, to have the best chance to win the game, we have to be able to run the ball and keep them off the field,” Long said at his weekly press conference. “And, so that’s the biggest challenge we have. I mean, they’re big strong young men up front for Hawaii, and we’ve not shown a tendency to be consistent at running the football. So, we’ve got to be able to run the ball, keep the ball away from them, eat up some clock and score some points.”
A ground-hugging, clock-diminishing running game has been a pillar of Long’s success at San Diego State. When paired with a trademark suffocating defense and efficient special teams, it has resulted in nine consecutive winning seasons and two divisional championships in the past four years.
Even with some inconsistent performances on the offensive line, the returns on the Aztecs’ running game would be vastly different if senior Juwan Washington had been healthy this season. Washington ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns last season against UH on 31 carries. He has accumulated 252 yards and four TDs in two games versus UH.
But Washington went down with an ankle injury on the second carry of the season opener. He then re-injured it three games ago against Nevada-Las Vegas and has been employed sparingly while managing 450 yards on 131 carries and two touchdowns. Washington did not play last week against Fresno State.
Of course, dinged-up Aztecs backs have a habit of remarkable recoveries in the salt air of Halawa. Four years ago Donnel Pumphrey was listed as a game-time decision coming off a nagging foot injury. Pumphrey proceeded to run for 148 yards and three touchdowns on a workman-like 30 carries.
Faulk, a pro and college hall of fame selection, is long since retired. Now, the question is, can UH retire the Aztecs’
enduring running threat, a big step toward winning their first MWC
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 529-4820.