Hawaii Bowl to feature top offenses
Defense will prove to be difference-maker for Hawaii, Tulsa
The Associated Press
HONOLULU -- The Hawaii Bowl is expected to be a shootout with two of the nation's most prolific offenses on display. No. 24 Hawaii and Tulsa average 1,000 yards of offense and 80 points combined, but Golden Hurricane head coach Todd Graham isn't buying into all the talk of an offensive showdown when the teams meet Friday.
"Everybody wants to talk about offense. Everybody wants to talk about throwing the ball all over everywhere. The bottom line of this game, just like any other game, the team that plays the best defense is going to win,'' Graham said. "That's how you win championships. No offense to the offensive guys.''
The Golden Hurricane (9-3) are riding a six-game winning streak, which includes a 28-27 victory at Notre Dame. In the past six games, Tulsa has averaged 43.2 points and 523 yards of offense. Their pass defense, which allows 305.7 yards and is ranked 119th in the nation, will be tested against the high-flying Warriors, who lead the nation in passing at 387.8 yards.
"It's been the same story all year, everybody's pass offense versus our pass defense,'' Tulsa defensive back Charles Davis said. "If we take care of our jobs and create takeaways, we'll come out with a victory.''
But not many teams have been able to slow down the Warriors (10-3) with the exception of Boise State. Hawaii convincingly won nine of its past 10 games and shared the Western Athletic Conference title with Boise State and Nevada after being picked to finish near the bottom of the league.
"To go to a bowl game and win a conference championship, all of those things are on our check-off list. Our last goal is to win a bowl game,'' said Hawaii running back Alex Green, who rushed for 1,168 yards this season, including a 327-yard performance at New Mexico State.
Green, who became the first 1,000-yard rusher for pass-heavy Hawaii since 1992, is one of the surprises this season for the Warriors. The other is the much-improved defense that leads the nation in takeaways with 36. "To finish off the season with a win would be the ultimate for us,'' said safety Mana Silva, who has eight interceptions to lead the defense.
Graham said dealing with Hawaii "will be a handful.'' He said the Warriors have had many great receivers and quarterbacks through the years, "but I was impressed with this quarterback, this receiving corps, this running back. I couldn't put any [Hawaii] team that I've watched in the past ahead of this group. I think they're that good.''
Junior quarterback Bryant Moniz, a former walk-on and pizza delivery boy, has thrown for 4,629 yards and 36 touchdowns while completing 66 percent of his passes. He is surrounded by play-making receivers, including Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.
Salas needs just three receptions to break Davone Bess' season record of 108 set in 2007 and is 39 yards shy of breaking Ashley Lelie's mark of 1,713 yards set in 2001. Salas already owns the school career receiving mark of 4,131 yards. "Having the last game here in Hawaii is big to me, personally,'' the senior said. "This place has really shaped me and helped me become a mature man.''
Tulsa's spread, no-huddle offense led by quarterback G.J. Kinne isn't too shabby either. The Golden Hurricane, co-champions of the Conference USA West Division, are ranked fifth in total offense (503.5) and 10th in scoring (39.7). Kinne has thrown for 3,307 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 557 yards and seven TDs.
Tulsa also features speedy receiver-returner Damaris Johnson, who leads the nation for the second year in all-purpose yards with a 191.8-yard average.
"Tulsa is an excellent football team. We're in the top 25. That's what we're both playing for is to be in the top 25 or 20 in the country,'' Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin said. "They're a balanced, big-play offense.''
Most of the Tulsa players are making their first trip to the islands and were soaking up the sights and sounds of Waikiki. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be in Hawaii. We want to enjoy it, but we know there's a task at hand - the game. That's what we're here for,'' Davis said.
The Warriors, who missed the postseason last year, are making their 10th bowl appearance, including sixth at the Hawaii Bowl. The Warriors are 3-2 in their hometown bowl and lost to Notre Dame, 49-21, in 2008 in McMackin's first season.
"It's going to come down to who gets the turnovers, who makes the plays, who comes out focused,'' McMackin said.
Tulsa (9-3) vs No. 24 Hawaii (10-3), 8 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN
- Series Record: Hawaii leads, 5-3.
- Last Meeting: 2004 -- Hawaii 44, Tulsa 16.
What's at Stake
The Warriors are trying to cap a surprisingly successful year with a bowl victory after sharing the Western Athletic Conference title with Boise State and Nevada. They are making their first bowl appearance since losing to Notre Dame in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl. The Golden Hurricane, riding a six-game winning streak, are also returning to the postseason after missing out last year. This is Tulsa's fifth bowl appearance in six years and 17th overall.
Hawaii's offense against Tulsa's defense. The Warriors lead the nation in passing with 387.8 yards per game, and have scored 118 points in the past two games. The Golden Hurricane rank 119th in pass defense, allowing 305.7 yards a game.
Players to watch
Hawaii -- WR Greg Salas needs three receptions and 39 yards receiving to break the Warriors' single-season records in those categories. The big, physical playmaker has 106 receptions for 1,675 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
Tulsa -- QB G.J. Kinne leads Tulsa's balanced attack that's ranked fifth in total offense (503.5) and 10th in scoring (39.7). The Conference USA offensive player of the year has thrown for 3,307 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 557 yards and seven TDs.
Facts & Figures
Tulsa is the smallest school in the FBS with 4,194 students. ... Hawaii RB Alex Green is averaging 8.8 yards per carry and has 1,168 yards rushing on the season. ... Tulsa's Damaris Johnson is fourth on the NCAA's career all-purpose yardage list with 7,470 yards. The junior needs 104 yards to pass DeAngelo Williams for third place. ... Hawaii leads the nation in takeaways (36) and interceptions (23). ... Hawaii DB Mana Silva is tied for the national lead with eight interceptions. ... Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz leads the nation in passing (356.1) and total offense (361.9). ... The Golden Hurricane have a 7-10 bowl record, but have won their past two bowl games.