Dec. 4, 2008
Here's the one that caught everyone's eye once it appeared on the 2008 schedule: the return to the island of Oahu to face Hawaii. Or, as the locals like to write it, Hawai'i.
I'm not local. For my convenience it'll be Hawaii as it appears on my globe at home.
For those that don't know, as the radio sideline reporter in 2002, I was in the middle of an all-out brawl at the last contest in Aloha Stadium. Under then-coach June Jones, Hawaii had a reputation of "rumbling" with their opponents once they had lulled then into an "island trance".
The strategy works like this: the jet from the contiguous 48 arrives, they place a Hawaiian lei around your neck, snap a picture of you with Diamondhead in the background (an inactive volcano), cart you off to a luau, fill you full of fruity drinks and hula girls, and then they've got you!
At that point you're giving everyone the "hang loose" sign and all you can think about is finding the next hammock to swing back and forth in as the waves lap up on Waikiki Beach.
Then suddenly...it's kickoff!
The girls in grass skirts suddenly have Hawaiian Warrior paint on, the ukuleles have turned to war drums, some mascot named "Vili" is pointing a spear at your fans and the friendly folks offering flowers and massages are calling you names not normally found in the Webster's dictionary.
At least, that's the way it was six years ago.
Back then, Rick Minter hollered into my microphone, "This is a disgrace!"
Back then, then-AD Bob Goin vowed never to return.
Back then, the WAC officials (who were more than familiar with games at Aloha Stadium) whistled an inordinate number of penalties on the Bearcats, while Hawaii seemingly played errorless football (not!).
But things change. June Jones is gone, Rick Minter is gone, Bob Goin is gone and Mike Thomas and Brian Kelly seized an opportunity. So, cue the Hawaii Five-O theme!
And before you think the university's going back on its word, Mike Thomas secured the help of some guys that should alleve any fears you have of this game.
Yes, Bearcat fans, stand up and give a hearty welcome to the Big East officials who will call this game!
Sounds fair to me.
Whether you're watching from the island, or watching from home in the wee hours of the morning, this should be a pretty good tune-up for UC's bowl game. And for you history buffs, this game will take place one day before the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Hopefully our guys will get a good look at that and be thankful for what they have. Guys of similar age in 1941 weren't always so lucky.
THE ONE BEFORE THE BOWL....
WHERE: Aloha Stadium (home of the Pro Bowl)
WHEN: 11:30 at night in Cincinnati, 6:30 in Oahu (ESPN2)
THE SERIES: Tied 1-1 (UC beat'em 57 years ago)
LAST TIME OUT: 20-19 Hawaii in 2002 (see above intro)
UC OFFENSE VS. HAWAII DEFENSE
Greg McMackin is the new Hawaii coach and was previously the defensive coordinator for June Jones. However, the Warriors aren't shutting anyone down and it's not unusual for the opponent to light'em up for 30 or more (Florida and Oregon St. had 56 and 45 respectively). They do play better at home because their opponents have the body clock issues that Hawaii suffers when it's on the road (it's a 5-6 hour flight just to get to the mainland). On paper, UC should score a ton here. Thing is, how will UC approach this game? This could be a game where players that didn't get as much time during the Big East season, finally get some time in a game that really doesn't affect UC's bowl standing. So, you could see all the quarterbacks that graced the field this year. Or, you might get a glimpse of an Isiah Pead in the backfield. Or maybe more of Armon Binns at WR or Adrien Robinson at TE. While Brian Kelly never wants to go thru a game in cruise control, logic would say you'd see free substitution here. This game could give them a nice headstart on bowl preparation in that respect. As we've seen with this offense, when it's run correctly, it's interchangeable parts.
NOD: UC should score enough to win, but I wouldn't expect the full arsenal to be unleashed. BK will do what it takes to win the game, but you have to think he'd like to get a lead and let the "2's and 3's" wrap it all up.
HAWAII OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE
Hawaii's offense statistically resembles UC's. They rely on the throw more than the run, although they can come up and bite you with the run when you're not looking for it. The former WR coach under June Jones, Ron Lee, has taken over this "run and shoot". So far, when the Warriors have scored over 30, they've won. Conversely, the two times UC's surrendered points like that, they've lost. Greg Alexander has been the QB of late, but it's not unusual for Hawaii to play three quarterbacks in a game. They run four receivers at you, the best being the "Z" Malcolm Lane, who's complemented by a 5-9 elusive guy in Michael Washington out of the "H" slot. Playing without Mike Mickens until the bowl game (torn meniscus) could make this a difficult game to defend. As long as Brandon Underwood continues to step up as he has, the Bearcats should be able to hang with the Warriors downfield. The key to the game will be the defensive line pressure that Connor Barwin, Terrill Byrd, Lamonte Nelms and Adam Hoppel can muster against a "healthy" line full of 300-plus pound Spam aficionados.
NOD: Boise St. and Oregon St. both held the Warriors to 7 points. Realistically, in Aloha Stadium, that's unlikely in this game. Look for Hawaii to be on the constant attack and if the Bearcat D-line can't be a factor, this game could be closer than anyone expected.
This is a game where even if Jake Rogers is back in the groove, you might see Brandon Yingling as a reward for being a senior. Again, changes like this will all hinge on how the game is flowing. If it's close, Brandon and any other reserves will have the same view as the rest of the folks in flowery shirts. Kevin Huber has some rebounding to do as his production has sloughed off some late in the year. Hawaii's kicker is named Dan "The Iceman" Kelly. However, a quick look at his percentage shows that like all quirky, human kickers, "The Iceman" sometimes melts under pressure. Obviously, you'd like to see a lot of Hawaii's punter Tim Grasso and not so much of return specialists Malcolm Lane and Ryan Mouton. Both have had returns of 90-plus yards this year.
NOD: Kicking's a wash, Huber should be back to drawing rain and you hope the Big East officials are watching "blocks in the back" on the Warrior returns.
THROW IT OUT AND SEE WHAT STICKS
Hawaii is guaranteed a spot in the Christmas Eve Sheraton Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium with seven wins. Again, I'm guessing UC would like to run some new faces out to help rest the regulars and get some looks at guys they haven't seen much of. But for pure competitive reasons and the fact the game's on ESPN2 without much competition by Hawaii kick-off time, I don't see BK rolling over and letting the Warriors shock the Bearcats. This is a reward game for a program and non-regulars playing could be rewarded. The biggest reward to any athlete or coach though is to wind up on the left side of the score. Plus, this is a chance for UC to go in the record books as far as regular season wins.