The 2001 University of Hawaii Warrior football team can be summed up in one word…. resiliency. After a slow start coupled with injuries to key personal and poor on-field execution, the Warriors have roared back to win their last three-in-a-row and have the momentum going into tomorrow’s game against 18 th -ranked Fresno State (6-1, 2-1 WAC).
“We knew we had to commit ourselves,” junior linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said, “So everyone’s come out and got a new focus and playing well.”
New focus in which has Hawaii (4-2, 3-2 WAC) improved in almost every statistical category. Turnovers numbers have been cut in half from eight to just four in the last three games. The scoring output has nearly doubled from 74-points through the first three games to 140 in the past three. Rushing yards have increased from 183 to 466, and first downs are up from 68 to 148.
A large part the team’s success has been the performance of senior quarterback Nick Rolovich. The California native who was booed by fans in last season’s loss to Portland State and benched shortly thereafter has regained the confidence of his coaches and the fans.
“Rolovich has been very competitive,” Warrior head coach June Jones said, “He’s stood in there and threw the ball, made some plays when we had to have them made…that’s what quarterbacks do that can play.”
This season Rolovich has completed 73-of-120 passes for 901-yards and eight touchdowns since replacing sophomore Timmy Chang who is still suffering from a wrist injury. Rolovich will start Friday against Fresno State but it doesn’t mean the job is his. If Chang’s wrist had fully healed, Jones said would not have hesitated to start the ex-St. Louis Crusader.
Fans think otherwise. A poll in Wednesday’s Honolulu Advertiser that asked fans who should start Friday’s game, Rolovich received an overwhelming 75-percent of the vote. But Rolovich is quick to downplay any QB controversy.
“Everyone is welcome to their own opinion,” he said, “But when it comes down to it (Jones) decision counts on this field so that’s how we got to go with it.”
The Bulldogs on the other hand don’t have to worry such things. Senior QB David Carr has exploded upon the football scene this season leading Fresno State to impressive victories over Colorado, Oregon State, and Wisconsin. Through seven games Carr has completed 64-percent of his passes for 2145-yards with 17-touchdowns and just three-interceptions.
Carr is near the top of every NFL-pre draft list and a possible Heisman candidate. Last season against Hawaii, Carr burned the Warriors for 257-yards passing, two TD passes, and two TD runs in a 45-27 Bulldog victory.
“Carr is a great player,” said Hawaii associate head coach George Lumpkin, “We expect him to throw and run when nothing’s open…if you give him comfort back there then he’ll beat you.”
On offense Carr has an entire arsenal of playmakers to work with. Senior running back Paris Gaines leads the team with 639-yards rushing and five touchdowns. A trio of explosive wide receivers, senior Rodney White (50 rec. 700 yards, 4-TD’s), junior Bernard Berrian (41 rec. 579 yards, 5-TD’s), and sophomore Marque Davis (21 rec. 285-yards, 3-TD’s) are a threat to the distance. If Hawaii defensive back Nate Jackson is unable to play due to a motorcycle accident earlier this week the Warrior secondary will have its work cut out for them.
Up front the Bulldog offensive line averages 6’4, 307 and present a problem for Hawaii’s smaller defensive front. On the other side of the ball Fresno State boasts a solid defense led by All-America candidate senior defensive tackle Alan Harper (6’2, 285) who leads the team in sacks (7) and tackles-for-losses (14). Hawaii will also have to keep an eye on free safety Bryce McGill who leads the team in interceptions (3), and has three sacks.
“This is the kind of game,” Jones said, “You just have to make one more play than they do.”
However since upsetting Wisconsin last month, the Bulldogs have been severely tested by weaker opposition. Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, and Colorado State all gave Fresno a good scare and last week’s home loss to Boise State wiped out any chances to appear in a major bowl game. Don’t expect the Bulldogs to roll over and play dead though and its just the way Hawaii likes it.
“Right now,” Tinoisamoa said, “They’re one of the toughest in the conference…So we’re looking now to play our best game because we know we’ve got to be at our best to beat these guys.”
Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. this afternoon at Aloha Stadium, which might make things difficult for fans. Jones jokingly asked the governor to declare today a holiday to make it easier for fans to attend but for junior linebacker Chris Brown the sooner it starts the better.
“I think I’m going to let it all out,” he said, “I’m going to have to control myself during the week but come Friday its time to let it all out.”