USU readies for battle in Hawaii

USU readies for battle in Hawaii

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LOGAN -- A team on its way down the Western Athletic Conference ladder--Hawaii--meets Saturday with a team that believes it is on its way up the ladder, in Utah State.

The Warriors were an undefeated, non-BCS darling two seasons ago when quarterback Colt Brennan led them all the way to the Sugar Bowl, where Georgia "de-cleated" them 41-10. Coach June Jones left for Southern Methodist after that bowl loss, and since then the Warriors have fallen from WAC-contender status.

"They're a good football team," USU head coach Gary Andersen said. "They're in an area they're not used to. They're used to going to bowl games and competing for championships. This is uncharted waters for them for many, many years."

Second-year coach Greg McMackin has had to deal with losing his senior starting quarterback, Greg Alexander, to an ACL tear, as Hawaii has struggled to a 2-6 (0-5 WAC) record. Alexander had thrown for 1,433 yards in four games before injury ended his season.

It's a clear blow to Hawaii's chances, as Alexander threw nine touchdown passes to current starter Anthony Moniz's six, despite 16 fewer attempts. Alexander also has one less interception and was completing his passes at a 65 percent clip, compared to Moniz's completion percentage of 56.

Junior safety Rajric Coleman is pumped for the chance to play a team that consistently goes with four wide receivers on first down, as opposed to the steady diet of WAC-power-rushing attacks USU has seen.

"It's great for me being a DB," Coleman said. "That's our chance to go get some picks and for us to shine a little more. We've got to accept the challenge of them throwing it and let everyone know you can't throw on Utah State."

Andersen said the key to forcing Hawaii to punt the football will be mixing up coverages and taking Moniz out of his rhythm.

"You have got to keep them off pace," Andersen said. "You can't let them sit back there and know where you're at. You can't let them play catch. The key is to mix up enough coverages from man to zone, and different types of zone coverages, to force him to not be able to just go to his first read."

Hawaii sports the WAC's second-worst rushing attack at 80 yards per game, which means USU has a great chance to post its season-best rushing defense performance in Aloha Stadium.

The flip side of the coin is that even with injury difficulties at quarterback, McMackin has coaxed a WAC-leading 352 passing yards per game from his offense. That's partially due to a great group of wide receivers, led by senior Greg Salas, who leads the WAC with 59 receptions and 977 yards.

Two of Salas' wingmates, Kealoha Pilares and Rodney Bradley, are also in the WAC's top receiving five. Add to that mix Jovonte Taylor, who had a career day in UH's loss to Nevada last week with six catches for 109 yards, and Moniz will have no shortage of options against the Aggies.

"They're small but they're really fast and explosive," Coleman said of the Warrior receivers. "They can do a lot after the catch. No. 7 (Taylor) is really dangerous with the ball in his hands."

Hawaii may get its yards through the air, but Andersen points to a favorable turnover margin for USU and an unfavorable one for Hawaii as a possible turning point of the game.

"We've been good, not great when it comes to getting turnovers this year," Andersen said. "We're at 16 right now, which is good for a season, not great. It will be huge for us to go over there and have the opportunity to get turnovers. Hawaii has been turning the football over, and we're plus-seven in the turnover category for the year, which is extremely good. They're minus 11, which is extremely bad so we surely hope going over there that the turnovers keep coming our way and not their way."

USU and UH are virtually even in points allowed per game, with the Aggies allowing 31 and the Warriors giving up 32.9. On offense, USU is scoring nearly a touchdown per game more than Hawaii with 27 ppg to 21 ppg.

But in Hawaii's favor is the program's traditional resilience on the island and USU's lack of pepper in the second half of games so far this year. At stake: maybe a few rungs on a figurative ladder.


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