Pack to deal with Hawai’ian Punch
When Caleb Spencer played quarterback at Kamehameha High School in Honolulu, Hawai’i two years ago, he had dreams of staying home and playing for the University of Hawai’i.
Spencer suffered a season-ending injury his senior year, and the four-year offers never materialized. He was forced to go the junior college route, and was converted into a wide receiver at Palomar College in San Diego. Hawai’i and San Diego State showed some interest, according to Spencer, but he would have had to stay another year at Palomar. Spencer signed with Nevada instead.
Now, Spencer is returning home, and he’d like nothing more than to help the Wolf Pack (2-3, 0-1) upset heavily favored Hawai’i (1-2, 1-1) tonight (9:07 p.m. kickoff) in a Western Athletic Conference football game at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium.
Spencer will be performing in front of approximately 70 family and friends. Several family members came out to San Diego and Las Vegas to watch him play. He and teammate Shaun Tagatauli have been battling for their teammates’ extra tickets this week.
“It will be good to be home,” Spencer said. “It will be good to play against some of the guys I played against in high school. It will motivate me a little more.”
Spencer has done a commendable job, catching a second-best 31 balls for 279 yards and two scores. He’s been an effective underneath, possession-type receiver for the Wolf Pack.
The Wolf Pack will need big games from guys like Spencer, fellow wide receiver Nichiren Flowers (38-524-3), running back Chance Kretschmer (81.5 yards rushing per game) and quarterbacks Jeff Rowe and Travis Moore to outscore the run-and-gun Hawai’i offense.
Nevada’s offense hasn’t been nearly as consistent as coach Chris Ault would like. Rowe, who has passed for 1,004 yards and seven scores, has been yanked for poor play from three games this season. The offense has turned the ball over 10 times, putting the defense in precarious situations throughout the season, but should be able to move the ball against Hawai’i.
The Hawai’i defense is young, giving up a shade over 26 points a game. Hawai’i rebounded last week with five sacks in a 44-16 win over Tulsa.
“Some of the things we did Tulsa didn’t have a lot of time to work on because we’d played a wishbone team (Rice) the previous week,” Hawai’i coach June Jones said. “We had a lot of time to work on things, and we caught Tulsa at the right time.
“We’re pretty good up front. We’re just young. Physically we’re pretty good.”
Melila Purcell is a good pass rusher at left end and Matt Faga has been stout in run support. Outside linebacker Tanuvasa Moe and middle linebacker Ikaika Curnan are the fourth and fifth-best tacklers. The secondary, led by cornerback Abraham Elimimian is the strength of the team.
The young Wolf Pack defense, with five players starting for the first time, will have its hands full with Hawai’i quarterback Timmy Chang, who has thrown a school-record 159 passes this year without an interception, and talented wide receiver Chad Owens.
Chang has completed 94 of 159 for 1,043 yards and eight scores, and it should be a lot more according to Jones. Chang is 1,175 yards shy of becoming the all-time leading passer in NCAA history.
“He (Chang) is much more focused,” Jones said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play.
“We need to support him better. We’ve dropped four or five touchdown passes. We dropped six passes the first half last week.”
Nevada played its best defensive game of the season last November when it upset Hawai’i 24-14, thoroughly shutting down Chang. Cornerback Paul Pratt said it was a combination of various defensive formations and a lot of pressure up front that stifled the Hawai’i offense.
“Obviously we’ll be taking a little something out of everything, including last year’s game film,” said Barry Sacks, Nevada’s co-defensive coordinator. “I can’t say enough about the guy (Chang). He’s a great quarterback. He does a good job of seeing the whole field. We have to figure a way to shut him down.”
Shut the passing game down, and you beat Hawai’i. The running game at Hawai’i is non-existent. The top runner, diminutive Michael Brewster, has gained less than 300 yards this year.
Nevada won’t know how much defensive tackle Chris Barry (sprained ankle) will play. Ezra Butler will start at one tackle, and Matt Hines and Matt Swan will play in Barry’s spot when the Wolf Pack are in a 4-3 alignment. This, however, could be a game where the Wolf Pack might try to clog the passing lanes against Chang and worry less about the pressure.
This is a game that Nevada needs. The Wolf Pack have seven conference games left, and must produce five wins to become bowl eligible. Considering two of those games are against Fresno State (Nov. 20, away) and Boise State (Nov. 27, home) it will be a difficult task.
You won’t catch Hawai’i overlooking Nevada, especially after last season.
“They are a little like we were until we got going,” Jones said. “They play pretty hard and are a pretty good football team. They played hard and good against San Diego State. I’m sure they’ll come in with the same mindset.”
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1281.