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Hawaii enjoys Big Easy before Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS - With Waikiki in its backyard, Hawaii knows how off-field distractions can get in the way. So the Warriors have a strategy of experiencing the Big Easy heading into the Sugar Bowl: get the distractions out of the way early.

No. 10 Hawaii, which arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday and faces No. 4 Georgia on Tuesday, had no curfew for the first two nights and was encouraged to enjoy the town with teammates and family members. With no limits on the travel roster, Hawaii brought 111 players, including scout-team members.

'This is a great group of kids and I am not worried we are going to do anything we would be ashamed of,' coach June Jones said Thursday. 'It's OK with me to let them experience something they may never get to experience again.'

Despite an 11-hour flight through four time zones, jet lag wasn't an issue. The players went shopping, walked around the French Quarter and took in the sights.

One of the Warriors' favorite attractions was the New Orleans Saints' indoor practice facility, where they opened practice Thursday. The team took the field right after the Saints.

'This is cool,' Warriors quarterback Colt Brennan said. 'This is obviously the next level, a place where a lot of us are trying to get. To be here, to see it, is really neat.'

Jones said it's been a world-wind experience so far.

'I tried to share with the team that this is the big time and the city of New Orleans is a great place to visit,' he said. 'A Super Bowl atmosphere surrounds us.'

Brennan said the first hurdle for the Warriors (12-0) was dealing with all the attention.

'We just got to get over the fact that we're on this big stage I think, once we're over that, we'll be fine,' the senior said.

Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis watched the first half-hour of Hawaii's scheduled two-hour practice.

'We're not really here scouting,' Loomis said. 'We're just allowing them to use the facilities.'

He was well-aware, however, of the talent on the Warriors, who won their first outright Western Athletic Conference title, finished the regular season as the only unbeaten team in major college football and earned a berth to their first Bowl Championship Series appearance.

Loomis said the Saints' story last year, as far as overcoming obstacles and having a special season, is similar to the Warriors' success this year.

With the Warriors working out at the Saints' practice facility this week, the Bulldogs (10-2) are practicing a few miles away at the Louisiana Superdome.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said it's difficult for his scout team to imitate Hawaii's high-powered offense, which averages 529.3 yards and an NCAA-leading 46.2 points.

'You can't duplicate it,' Richt said. 'You can try to line up with the same sets and try to run the same routes, but it is very difficult to run it with the same precision as they run it and the same precision as Colt Brennan throws the ball.'

Brennan expects Georgia to pressure him and play man-to-man, instead of dropping back into a zone defense because, 'we kill zone,' he said.

'I think with the athletes they have, the speed they have, their philosophy is going to be to blitz, bring the pressure, man-up and knock us off our timing and just rattle us,' he said. 'It's a good game plan, but we'll be prepared for it.'

Brennan said the Bulldogs could be the best defense he's ever faced. But he enjoys being an underdog for the first time this season.

'We understand what's going to be waiting for us in that dome,' he said. 'But we're excited to be here and we want to live up to that opportunity.'