Honolulu • Ten years almost to the day since they gave up the most points in school history in a 72-45 humiliation here at Aloha Stadium, the BYU Cougars are back in paradise but not feeling all that comfortable. Hawaii always seems to rise to the occasion when the team from Provo pays a visit.
But BYU might be catching Hawaii at just the right time.
These are not June Jones' Warriors, or Bob Wagner's, for that matter.
Hawaii, which plays host to 8-3, bowl-bound BYU at 5:30 p.m. MST on ESPN2 on Saturday, needs a win to secure its second straight bowl bid under fourth-year coach Greg McMackin, the former Utah defensive coordinator (1990-92).
"If I know them, they're going to be ready," said BYU defensive tackle Simote Vea, a Hawaii native. "Hawaii always, always gets up for this game. I just tell my teammates to be ready for anything."
Hawaii (6-6) lost three straight games before snapping the skid with a 35-23 win over Tulane in front of only 21,542 fans at Aloha last week, UH's smallest crowd since 1998. A crowd twice that big is expected Saturday in the 50,000-seat facility.
The dwindling attendance here (before BYU visits) and the fact that the Warriors are flirting with their third losing season in four years under McMackin have some saying the coach might need a win to save his job.
"I have no idea [whether a win would silence the critics]," McMackin said. "Everybody has been pretty good. It is just the nature of the game. I have only got one focus, and that is competing and beating BYU. If we beat them, we go to a bowl game; if we don't, we don't. I don't listen to the critics. I don't even take the [newspaper] anymore. I quit watching blogs."
Since becoming just the third non-automatic qualifying school to play in a BCS game (a 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl after the 2007 season), Hawaii has lost Jones to SMU and mostly struggled under McMackin. The Mountain West Conference-bound Warriors did win a piece of the Western Athletic Conference championship last year with Boise State and Nevada, but were pounded 62-35 in the Hawaii Bowl.
They have been good offensively this season, even after losing quarterback Bryant Moniz to a broken ankle in a loss at Nevada two games ago, but weak defensively. Shane Austin and David Graves have split time at quarterback since Moniz went down, and Graves threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 57 yards and a TD against Tulane. Austin led the game-clinching TD drive.
The Warriors rank 72nd in the country in scoring defense, yielding 28 points a game, but are a respectable 32nd in scoring offense, at 32.4 points per game.
"They throw it for about 300 [yards] a game and run it for about 100. With their quarterback being hurt, that changes things slightly, but everyone else is still back," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The running back is good, the receivers are good, and the scheme is good. So yeah, it is still going to be a challenge."
At least, it does not appear that Hawaii's players have been involved in a point-shaving scandal, as some reports suggested last week after news outlets reported Hawaii officials received an anonymous letter accusing players of dogging it in recent games, including a 40-20 loss at UNLV.
"There are no allegations. It was an anonymous letter, and there is no investigation," McMackin said Monday when questioned about it during the WAC coaches teleconference. "It was an anonymous person that sent a [letter]. I can't talk about it, obviously, but there is no investigation."
Bottoming out in paradise?
Hawaii's fortunes since 41-10 loss to Georgia in Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2008:
2008 • 5-7 (No postseason appearance)
2009 • 6-7 (No bowl appearance)
2010 • 10-4 (lost to Tulsa 62-35 in Hawaii Bowl)
2011 • 6-6 (Warriors need win to become bowl eligible)
BYU at Hawaii
P Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN2