Blue Ribbon Preview: Hawaii
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What happened only once before isn't likely to happen again this season.
In 2010, the Hawaii offense became only the second unit in FBS history to produce a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and pair of 1,000-yard receivers en route to a 10-4 campaign and a share of the WAC title.
With only one of those components returning -- the other three are now part of the National Football League -- it seems unlikely the Warriors will go down that road again so soon, leaving head coach Greg McMackin to ponder his team's role in its final season in the Western Athletic Conference.
Most pundits believe Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada will go hard at each other before the three best teams in the league leave the WAC behind to join the Mountain West Conference in 2012.
How they finish is an interesting debate, but because the Warriors are the only team returning their starting quarterback in this soon to be depleted conference, some think Hawaii has the inside track.
The Warriors return only three starters on offense, six on defense and a punter, leaving them with more question marks than answers. Their offensive line is brand new, three of the four wideouts have left the building and even the running back position is accepting all casting calls with no proven starter stepping forward in the spring.
The defense has some quality components returning, including the WAC's second-leading tackler of a year ago. The Warriors also have some talented recruits coming in who can only make that side of the football better, giving McMackin a belief system that things will turn out well eventually.
Hawaii won nine of its last 10 regular-season games to gain a share of the league title with departed Boise State, now of the Mountain West, and Nevada, before laying an egg in the Hawaii Bowl loss to Tulsa. That left a bad taste for a team that opens the season with a home matchup with Colorado before taking another two-week road trip to the mainland to play Washington and UNLV.
"We should have a good idea what kind of a football team we have after those first three games," McMackin said. "We feel like we've got a good bunch of kids who are ready to play."
They'll need to be early and often as the defense must carry the day. Last year, Hawaii was first in the nation in forcing turnovers (38). The Warriors were second in interceptions with 23 and ninth in fumbles recovered with 15. That's the kind of defense McMackin preaches. In his fourth season as UH's head coach, McMackin has spent most of his career as a defensive coordinator.
He likes being in that huddle and is confident this unit will be every bit as good. The same can't be said for the offense with so many new faces dotting the lineup. Only three guys are back and one of them needs clearance from the NCAA to be able to suit up in the fall.
What do all these numbers mean? Both the offense and the defense will be hard pressed to match them, but give these guys some time to grow and they have as good a shot as anyone to be called WAC champions in their final time through the league.
Head Coach: Greg McMackin (Southern Oregon '67)
Record at School: 23-18 (3 years)
Career Record: 23-18 (3 years)
• Rich Miano (Hawaii '87) Associate head coach/secondary
• Cal Lee (Williamette '70) Assistant head coach/defensive ends
• Nick Rolovich (Hawaii '05) Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
• Dave Aranda (Cal Lutheran '99) Defensive coordinator
• Mouse Davis (Western Oregon '55) Wide receivers
• Gordy Shaw (Cal Poly '78) Offensive line
• Brian Smith (Hawaii '05) Running backs
• Dick Tomey (DePauw '60) Special teams
As the only starting quarterback returning in the WAC, senior Bryant Moniz (6-0, 200) was voted preseason WAC offensive player of the year by virtually every magazine and Internet site out there. The second-team All-WAC selection of a year ago finished first in the country in passing offense, averaging 360 yards a game, and total offense at 367.3. He was also first in the land in touchdowns with 39.
"Bryant has grown comfortable in this offense the past few years," UH offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said. "He can make all the throws and all the reads. He just has to get on the same page with all these new receivers."
He was certainly on the proper page last year, throwing for 5,040 yards, the third-most in WAC history and 10th in NCAA annals. Moniz was a key reason the Warriors won at least 10 games for the sixth time in school history, but this season he faces a bit of a challenge with only one starter back at receiver.
His backup is senior Shane Austin (6-0, 200), who completed 19-of-33 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Austin is a capable No. 2 man who started one game his sophomore season. He appeared in all 14 games last year, primarily as a holder, but make no mistake, should Moniz falter for any reason, Austin is good enough to get the job done.
The next two guys up are sophomores David Graves (6-0, 195) and Cayman Shutter (6-1, 185). Both played sparingly last year, but Graves did complete one pass in three attempts for a 41-yard touchdown strike. Shutter was 0-for-2.
A common misconception is running back is not a good spot on the field in the run-and-shoot offense Hawaii uses. But last year's starter, Alex Green, rushed for 1,199 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 363 yards and a score, catching the eye of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who chose him in the third round of the NFL draft last April.
Unfortunately for McMackin and Rolovich, there doesn't appear to be another one like him on the 2011 roster. The top prospect coming into fall camp is junior Sterling Jackson (6-0, 220), who redshirted last year. Originally from Mendocino College in California, Jackson rushed for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns his sophomore season in 2009. He averaged six yards a carry.
A couple of redshirt freshmen will also get some reps -- John Lister (6-1, 200) and Joey Isofea (6-0, 245). Isofea proved capable in the spring, despite not seeing any game action since his senior season at Fagaitua High in American Samoa in 2008. Isofea didn't play running back in high school, so there's a learning curve for him. He also needs to watch his weight.
"Not only is he physical, but he plays real hard, too," running backs coach Brian Smith said. "He plays through the whistle."
Lister is from Thousand Oaks, Calif., where the 2009 graduate rushed for 4,932 yards and 52 touchdowns. He holds nine school records, including averaging 197 yards a game in 2008 and the single-game mark of 322 yards. Jackson may be the front-runner, but both of these guys will get good looks.
So will incoming freshman Will Gregory (6-0, 200) of Dominguez High in Los Angeles. The talented recruit rushed for more than 700 yards in seven games his senior season. He was voted to the California Interscholastic Federation all-star team, despite missing the first five games of 2010 with a high ankle sprain.
The only returning starter at this position is senior wideout Royce Pollard (6-0, 175). Normally, 64 catches for 901 yards and seven touchdowns would be something to get excited about at the receiver spot. But departed slotbacks Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares combined to catch 207 passes for 3,195 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Both were drafted by NFL teams and both made everyone around them that much better, including Pollard, who will have a difficult time creating as much open space around him with Salas and Pilares missing from the scene. Still, Pollard averaged 14.1 yards a catch and has enough speed to stretch a defense.
Joining him at the other wideout spot is junior college transfer Darius Bright (6-3, 230), who redshirted last year. Bright is big and fast, and he could become a favorite target for Moniz on the deep ball. As a sophomore at City College of San Francisco in 2009, he caught 21 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns.
The top two slotbacks entering fall camp are converted wideout Billy Ray Stutzmann (6-0, 165) and part-time UH hoops point guard Jeremiah Ostrowski (5-9, 175). Ostrowski enters his junior season something of an unknown. In nine games last year, he caught four passes for 94 yards, including a long of 54.
The local boy became better known as UH's point guard. He didn't join the team until after football season was over, but by season's end, Ostrowski was the man at the point. Stutzmann enters his sophomore campaign well versed in the run-and-shoot.
He ran the same offense in high school and did a decent enough job as a freshman last year at wideout, catching 13 passes for 130 yards and a score. But no matter how well these two play, they'll be hard-pressed to match Salas and Pilares.
Two guys who will get hard looks are incoming slotback Promise Amadi (5-10, 175), a freshman from Ontario, Calif., and junior college transfer Cecil Doe (6-3, 200), a junior from Maple Grove, Minn. Sophomore Allen Sampson (5-7, 145) has moved from slot to receiver. He caught one pass for minus-two yards in 2010.
This is the part of the Hawaii offense that raised the most eyebrows during the spring. With only one possible starter back -- and his playing status for 2011 still rests with the NCAA -- there are serious issues along the forward wall.
The starting five Hawaii fielded in the Hawaii Bowl is gone. Left tackle Austin Hansen (6-4, 305) was suspended by the NCAA in the offseason but is hopeful he'll be back by the fall. He would get a starting nod if available. If not, the top two left tackles are senior Clayton Laurel (6-2, 290) and freshman Jordan Loeffler (6-5, 300).
The top two right tackles are junior Levi Legay (6-3, 280) and redshirt freshman Sean Shigematsu (6-4, 270).
Line coach Gordy Shaw said little separates that foursome, giving you an idea if the young players are close to the older players, then the young ones have an excellent opportunity to play right away. The other three line spots are a little more certain, but not by much.
Seniors Brett Leonard (6-5, 310) and Matagisila Lefiti (6-0, 285) have won starting jobs. They just don't know yet if they'll be at center or left guard. The right guard spot belongs to sophomore Chauncy Winchester-Makainai (6-4, 310).
But the real question for Shaw is, does he go with the youngsters or hope the seniors who weren't good enough to start last year are this season?
They'll find out in a hurry with Colorado coming to town in the opening game.
If the offensive line is a main cause for concern, the defensive front may be the safety net for the Warriors. Led by senior tackles Vaughn Meatoga (6-2, 285) and Kaniela Tuipulotu (6-2, 300), the Warriors will be tough against the run and pass.
Tuipulotu was second-team All-WAC last season, starting 13 games to anchor a defensive front that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in league play. He had 34 tackles last year and three batted passes. He also had a sack. Meatoga put together a solid season as well, finishing with 32 tackles and one sack.
Despite losing both ends to graduation, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is confident in the five-man rotation he helped establish up front. Junior Paipai Falemalu (6-3, 240) will move from outside linebacker to end with senior Liko Satele (6-2, 260), whose progress was slowed with a forearm injury in the spring, penciled in at the other.
Falemalu managed 35 tackles last year, including five sacks to tie for the team lead with two other players. He was a defensive back in high school and has steadily improved since joining the program. Satele hopes to be a bookend as well. He played in 14 games last year and made 11 tackles.
Aranda will also look at redshirt freshman Marcus Malepeai (6-1, 255), redshirt freshman Beau Yap (6-0, 250), senior Alasi Toilolo (6-3, 255) and redshirt freshman Alema Tachibana (6-2, 210) at different spots up front.
The sleeper of the group could be redshirt freshman Desmond Dean (6-5, 200).
He's a little light in the britches and wears a secondary No. 20, but to hear Aranda tell it: look out for this guy.
"He has a great get-off," Aranda said. "He has long strides. He's able to eat up a lot of grass and he has a great motor."
Also expected to be part of the rotation is redshirt freshman Moses Samia (6-1, 280). The starting four have experience, but it falls off hard after that with a lot of young players facing possible minutes if injuries occur. Last year, Hawaii was third in the league against the run, yielding 135.9 yards a game. And it started with the big guys up front.
Having two of three starters returning -- including senior Corey Paredes (5-11, 235) -- is a very good thing for the Warriors. Paredes was not only the leading tackler for UH last year, he finished second in the league and 14th nationally, averaging 10.8 a game.
The first-team All-WAC performer made a season-high 16 tackles at Colorado and another 15 in a win at New Mexico State en route to finishing with 151 for the season. He didn't have a sack, but he did manage four interceptions and two forced fumbles in becoming something of an enforcer downfield.
"He's our go-to guy," Aranda said of the co-captain. Paredes missed spring ball with shoulder surgery, but is expected to return full speed for fall camp.
Joining him is returning senior starter Aaron Brown (6-1, 220), who finished third for UH in tackles with 83, including five sacks. Brown also had three interceptions and six pass breakups. He and Paredes form a talented tandem. Just who will be the third guy back there is still open for debate.
Sophomore Art Laurel (6-0, 230) and junior Darryl McBride, Jr. (6-2, 200) are leading contenders for the third spot. Neither had any tackles last year and both could be used as up men during passing situations and on the line of scrimmage against the run.
Another two contenders are sophomore George Daily-Lyles (5-11, 235) and junior Jordan Monico (6-0, 235), who moved from running back in the spring. They lack experience, but could fit in nicely if called upon.
Like the defensive front and the linebacker position, Hawaii returns two starters in the secondary, senior safety Richard Torres (5-8, 180) and sophomore John Hardy-Tuliau (5-11, 165).
Torres has been used as a fifth defensive back at times in his career, but last season he still managed to finish fourth on the team in tackles with 57. He had two picks and five pass breakups, so he has a good nose for the football. He was a state champion quarterback and a talented wrestler, giving Hawaii a quality athlete.
Hardy-Tuliau was primarily a nickel back last year, but he started several games against pass-happy teams. He will be at one corner spot after managing 49 tackles and three pass breakups as a freshman.
Joining him will be shutdown corner Tank Hopkins (5-10, 175). The senior redshirted last year after suffering a hernia-like condition, giving Aranda some options back there.
Replacing Hardy-Tuliau at nickel is sophomore safety Kamalani Alo (6-2, 205). Aranda plans to look at a pair of incoming recruits, including junior safety Brandon Leslie (6-1, 205) and sophomore Tennessee transfer Mike Edwards (5-10, 175), who will play corner.
"We've got some talent back there," Aranda said. "And you need that in our league."
Tomey was brought in to fix special teams. Considering there is no set place-kicker, that's a pretty tall order for the former head coach of Hawaii, Arizona and San Jose State. Losing Enos could prove problematic, especially in the early going.
Fixing punt returns is another area of concern. Last year, it got so bad all Hawaii did was fair catch at season's end. The Warriors averaged a paltry 3.8 yards a return. Kickoff returns are also open for debate, with Sampson the leading contender.
"We're going to be better," Tomey said. "That much, I can tell you."
Hawaii is in search of a new place-kicker thanks to the departure of 2010 leading scorer Scott Enos, who scored 122 points last season. At this point, first-year special teams coach Dick Tomey is looking at three prospects.
They are senior Kenton Chun (5-6, 160), a transfer from Southern Oregon University, who will walk on.
So will sophomore Kyle Niiro (5-11, 205). He redshirted last year but was a solid place-kicker while at Kaiser High in Honolulu. Redshirt freshman Tyler Hadden (5-10, 170) will get a shot as well.
While the placekicking game is an uncertainty, such is not the case at punter with the return of junior Aaron Dunnachie (6-6, 220). Granted, this guy hit some off the side of his foot from time to time, but he still averaged 43 yards a punt as a sophomore.
Teams averaged a whopping 14.3 yards a return on punts, including one taken back for a touchdown. In 52 kicks, he knocked down 15 inside the 20 and forced six fair catches. He also had six touchbacks, but there is room for improvement for the lanky kicker.
The class act of this recruiting class is likely Edwards, who spent a year at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas to reflect on his legal problems while at Tennessee. But with Hopkins already set at one corner and the other spot being manned by a newcomer, look for Edwards to step in and play right away.
Aranda also wants to give Leslie a chance to make his mark. After spending one year at College of the Sequoias as a sophomore and his freshman season at Georgia Tech, like Edwards, he has skills. It's just a matter of both players getting comfortable with the UH system.
Rolovich also wants to give Doe a shot at wideout. Another junior college transfer, Doe spent two years at North Dakota State. Last year, he had 21 catches for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. Michigan State showed interest in him, but he decided he liked Hawaii's wide-open attack. It will take him time to adjust as well, but all three of these players possess big-game potential.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Hawaii will be a strong candidate to defend its shared WAC championship of a year ago. The Warriors have to rebuild a bit on offense, but the defense should be good, especially with a couple of solid recruits coming in.
Moniz will need time to get comfortable with his rebuilt offensive line and wide receiver corps. UH has two difficult games to open the year with BCS programs Colorado and Washington. But after that, it settles down a bit, giving the Warriors a good shot in the WAC.
The defense is sound, a big plus in a league where that comes at a premium. If the kicking game improves and Moniz gets the offense on the same page, look out. It could be another good year for McMackin and Co.
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