Volume 6, Issue 2 University of Houston
Briles, Coogs look to complete
Hawaii won't have much 'advantage' on home field
By Keenan Singleton
During his first season as Cougar head football coach, Art Briles has been called just about everything. Genius. Savior. Folksy. But he has never been called an alchemist.
He hasn't had the impossible task of transforming ordinary metal into gold, but his job has been no less daunting.
He had to transform attitudes, both from within the football program and outside it, convincing alumni and the local media with impressive wins. And he did it with his patented "five-minute" plan.
Senior center Rex Hadnot will anchor Houston's massive offensive line against Hawaii's quick front four at the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Day.
"We went into the season, as with every season, expecting to go to a bowl game," Briles said. "But not just make bowl games, win bowl games."
When UH meets Hawaii on Christmas Day in Honolulu, Briles will get his chance to complete UH's transformation.
"We've been under the radar for the last 10 to 12 years," Briles said. "(The Hawaii Bowl) is our chance to get back over it."
Standing in UH's way is the Hawaii Warriors (8-5, 5-3 in the Western Athletic Conference). Head coach June Jones, himself no stranger to the "five-minute" plan — he led Hawaii to the biggest turnaround in Division I-A in 1999, leading the Warriors to a 9-4 record a year after going winless.
The Warriors are never in a rush to rush the ball; they employ the run 'n' shoot offense, a scheme heavily dependent on the pass. Hawaii's offense averages 54 pass attempts per game, a Hulk-like statistic compared to UH's defense, which ranks 90th (of 117 Div. I-A teams) in the nation.
But if the Cougars are concerned about Hawaii's two-headed monster at quarterback, junior starter Timmy Chang and his oft-used backup senior Jason Whieldon — the two have combined for 4,803 and 36 touchdowns — they aren't showing it.
"As a defensive end, I'm excited," junior Joe Clay said. "We get to play a lot of pass defense, meaning I get to rush the quarterback a lot."
The Warrior receiving corps is led by junior Chad Owens (85 receptions, 1,134 yards and nine touchdowns), but Hawaii has a plethora of receiving threats -- a dozen Warrior receivers have at least 10 receptions this season.
The Honolulu Advertiser reported Monday that four integral players, including Owens (sore left foot and flu-like symptoms), will not be in the starting lineup against the Cougars. Hawaii's two-best pass rushers are included in that group. Senior defensive end Travis LaBoy (the WAC Defensive Player of the Year) is expected to be an academic casualty and senior defensive tackle Isa'ako Sopoaga (flu-like symptoms) also won't start in the Hawaii Bowl.
The Hawaii defense is experienced and big, two adjectives that could pop Houston's freshman quarterback, Kevin Kolb, repeatedly on Christmas Day — the Warrior two-deep (starters and back-ups) includes 16 upperclassmen and 11 seniors. The Warriors' defense excels mainly because of the play of its beefy defensive line, which averages a husky 290 pounds per player (compared to UH's 263). Enter UH's beefier answer, a massive offensive line (average weight 325), led by senior center Rex Hadnot.
"The strength of their team is their front four," Hadnot said. "Our O-line needs to establish itself early and try to open some things later."
"We have to withstand their first push and wear them down," Kolb said. "Try to use the weight room as much as possible."
Although the game is played in Honolulu, Briles insists this is not a home game for the Warriors. And even if it were, he said, the Cougars should still be able to succeed in a hostile, road environment.
"It's a concern," Briles said. "(Their fans) are going to be real excited. It's not a regular bowl game and they won't be as comfy as usual. We've been a tough road team all year, and I expect the same on Dec. 25."
And if Briles and his boys are able to win game No. 8, you can call Art Briles one more thing.
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