One memory stands out most to Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes about the Warriors' 31-13 loss to Colorado in Boulder last year: He was "gassed."
The same could be said for many of his teammates as CU's offense ran up and down the field in the second half against the sea-level-trained Warriors.
"You don't want to blame the elements but definitely I felt myself out of breath and fatigued," Paredes said in a phone interview this week.
The altitude factor is one reason new CU head coach Jon Embree hasn't put too much stock in the way the Buffs were able to dominate the second half last year as he's game-planned for Hawaii.
The Warriors will be enjoying ample amounts of oxygen on Saturday night when they host CU at Aloha Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPN2). The redemption factor will be running high.
And while much of the discussion in Colorado has focused on how the Buffs will contain UH's Heisman-caliber quarterback Bryant Moniz, CU will also be facing a Warrior defense that many believe is ready for a breakthrough year as the best in the Western Athletic Conference.
Granted, being called the best defense in the WAC is kind of like having the title "Best beaches in the Big 12" bestowed upon your college town. The league is known for offense, not D.
But little by little, coach Greg McMackin's second stint in Honolulu is bringing a culture shift to the UH defense.
Hired by June Jones as defensive coordinator in 2007, McMackin took a unit that was ranked 93rd in the country a year before and turned it into the 34th-best in the nation in his first season. The next year he took over for Jones as head coach.
While the defensive production lagged a bit in 2008 and 2009, the Warriors showed signs last season that they were turning the corner. They still gave up 25.5 points per game. But the opportunistic group led the nation in turnovers forced with 38, and also scored five defensive touchdowns.
Senior defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga said McMackin's increased emphasis on recruiting defensive players and instilling an aggressive style have finally started to come to fruition.
"When he came in his main thing was that we were going to be an attacking, swarming defense that made plays with emotion," the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Meatoga said. "That's kind of been our motto."
The Warriors D is enjoying some experience this year as well, with six starters back, most notably in the middle where Meatoga returns alongside senior Kaniela Tuipulotu (6-2, 300). Paredes (6-0, 235), the middle linebacker, has moved outside in the wake of the arrest of linebacker Aaron Brown.
"Their two defensive tackles are real good players," Embree said at his Tuesday press conference. "(Paredes) does a lot of good things. He's a guy who always finds himself around the football. He reminds me a little of (former CU Butkus Award winner) Matt Russell. Whenever there's a fumble, whenever there's something, he's there."
Embree and his coaching staff have made it clear that they intend for a power running game to be the Buffs' calling card on offense -- and not just when the altitude is in their favor.
"Hopefully we'll wear some teams out on the road," said CU tailback Rodney Stewart, one of two Buffs to rush for more than 100 yards against Hawaii last year along with Brian Lockridge.
The Buffs have the confidence of knowing they were able to out-muscle Hawaii once before. And as Paredes said, the CU linemen are bigger than they're used to facing on a weekly basis in the WAC.
But while the Warriors concede they were flat-out beaten by CU, they also were embarrassed with the way last year's game went down.
Hawaii led 10-0 at halftime and appeared to have control despite a couple of missed scoring chances.
"The defense and offense never came out with a sense of urgency the second half, and that's why we lost the game," Paredes said. "Definitely this is one of the top games on our list to get redemption for."