After a rejuvenating week of practice following last Saturday's disappointing 35-31 home loss to Utah State, the University of Hawaii football team says it has turned the page on its past struggles and is coming closer together as a unit.
Tonight (5:15 p.m. HST), in a nationally televised (ESPNU) matchup between defending Western Athletic Conference co-champions, the Warriors will find out just how much closer they've become when they square off against the University of Nevada at Mackay Stadium in Reno.
"We know what we did wrong" against Utah State, receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann said. "So we just put it behind us. We got to move forward. The season's one game at a time so we're taking this week as serious as we can.
"I think as an offense, we're coming even closer than we already were. With a few guys going down (because of injuries), we know there's certain guys that got to step up. We just know as an offense we need to come together and just play as a team."
Following their 28-point second-quarter outburst against Utah State, which put them up 28-7 at halftime, the Warriors were only able to add a field goal and 168 yards of total offense after the break. The Aggies, meanwhile, wrangled the game's momentum after halftime with 280 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Utah State's last touchdown came with 14 seconds left in the game, nearly leaving the Warriors in tatters.
"I'm very impressed by (the way we practiced this week)," cornerback Mike Edwards said.
"Because I didn't know how it was going to be coming into this week, I didn't know how I was going to be, honestly, coming into this week. Because it was just so tough for me, and I'm sure it was tough on everybody, but you got to forgive and forget.
"You got to forgive everybody that was in the situation, and you just got to forget about the game and move onto the next one."
The "next one" for the Warriors was supposed to serve as the unofficial WAC championship game a month ago when ESPNU decided to telecast the game and changed its starting time. But upset losses to San Jose State and Utah State in the meantime have nearly squashed Hawaii's hopes to repeat as conference champions.
Hawaii is 5-4 overall and 3-2 in WAC games while Nevada, 5-3 overall, is in first place in the WAC at 3-0 and controls its own destiny. Revenge could also be a factor in this game as Nevada's only loss last season was a 27-21 defeat to Hawaii at Aloha Stadium.
"We know they're a good team, (and) they're playing at home," Stutzmann said. "It's going to be a tough place to win, but we're gonna bring our 'A' game and we're going to do everything we can to win."
Nevada is certainly no slouch when playing at Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack have a 15-game home winning streak, which is tied for third longest in the country, and though the Warriors lead the overall series 8-7, they are only 1-4 in games played in Reno.
Hoping to change those fortunes for Hawaii, while also warming up its bench in what is expected to be near-freezing game-time temperatures with strong winds, the Warriors believe they have rekindled a fire that has been missing from recent games.
"There's just a new fire (after losing to Utah State)," quarterback Bryant Moniz said. "Guys just trying to push other guys to do something, trying to keep the tempo at a high tempo and get things done; instead of just lollygag around practice. So I think we're going in the right direction now for our last four games."
Hawaii will return home after playing Nevada and host Fresno State, Tulane and Brigham Young University to finish the regular season.
The Warriors need two more wins to play in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.
"We've been having to go up and down all year," Edwards said. "But we've got so much of a great team and we've been working so hard, that like Mo said, the fire is lit, it's been lit, it's just time to put it all together.
"That's what we're working on now, just putting it all together, all three phases of the game. And honestly, I feel like this is the week that we're going to light it up."
Kevin Riley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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