Tom Ahi of the Hawaii Blog was kind enough to spend a little time with us this week telling us about the 12th ranked Hawai'i Warriors. Tom has a great blog. I think it is probably the best blog in the WAC. They take their football very seriously over in the islands, and it is exciting to see a resurgence in the Warrior program. A BCS bid would really be special, but to get there they have to get by Washington. This is a game they will be talking about for years in Hawai'i one way or another.
John: We have heard plenty about Colt Brennan this season, but what about the Warrior defense? Who are some of the standout players to keep an eye on Saturday?
Tom: After spending the previous two years under Jerry Glanville's 3-4, the Warrior defense switched to a 4-3 defense at the start of this season under coordinator Greg McMackin. With an emphasis on team speed, blitzing, and forcing turnovers, the Warriors D adjusted quickly to McMackin's schemes and now ranks 18th in the nation in turnovers gained, 13th in interceptions, 7th in sacks, and 4th in tackles for loss. Among the outstanding players this year, defensive end David Veikune leads the team with six sacks, middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian leads the team with 120 tackles, while outside linebacker Adam Leonard has been all-purpose, with 92 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 sacks and 2 defensive TDs. P.S. I got the stats from the NCAA site NCAA SITE LINK
Tom: From what I've seen and heard, Jake Locker and Louis Rankin will probably be the two best rushers Hawaii will see all season. Tell us a little about what they bring to the table. Do you think Jake's concussion from a few weeks ago will affect the game plan? For instance, will there be less designed runs for Jake, and/or more passing?
John: Jake is the best running quarterback I have ever seen. Every time he touches the ball he is a threat to pick up some big yards on the ground, in fact he will actually finish with over 1000 rushing yards this season. Jake has the uncanny ability to make people miss, and at 240 pounds he also can take most defenses head on and drag them with him. Jake is fully recovered from his concussion and neck injury suffered against Oregon State. I think the Huskies will have around a dozen designed runs for Jake on Saturday night.
Louis is a quality running back. He doesn't have the size to be a power back, but once he hits a seam and gets in the secondary he can outrun just about anyone. Last week he took a kickoff return to the house against WSU. Louis depends on his blockers to create those seams, and has two two hundred yard plus rushing games this season. This is his last game as a Husky and he will be testing the Hawaii defense all night as Washington tries to control the ball, and the clock.
John: Is Hawaii really going to pass the ball 70% or more of the time on Saturday night?
Tom: It's not that Hawaii can't run the ball. June Jones just chooses not to. Or at least he'd like people to think so. When you have a quarterback like Colt Brennan and an exceptional receiving corps who can break 8 yard passes into 40 yard touchdowns, you can't blame him for throwing it a lot. But when UH does run the ball, the top 3 running backs are all averaging about six yards
a carry. Something else to keep in mind is the shovel pass to the running back, which acts almost like a draw play. That all being said, I believe the breakdown is about 70-30 pass vs run, so yes that can be expected in this game.
Tom: What do you think are Washington's strengths and/or weaknesses on defense? What do you envision the defensive game plan will be against Hawaii?
John: Colt Brennan should be licking his chops because he will be facing the worst defense in the history of Washington football. UW can't stop the run very well, and when it comes to passing we make average QB's like Tuitama, and Brink look like Heisman Trophy candidates. One thing you will notice is the Husky defense is not coached very well. UW will give up a big cushion of 10-12 yards which Brennan will pick apart. We spend most of our time in a three man pass rush and only blitz around 10% of the time. That means Brennan will have a lot of time to set up his throws.
For UW to win they need to ignore the run and rush the passer. Pressure is the only thing that will slow down the Hawai'i offense. Willingham has said they are going to rotate younger players in all night to keep people fresh for the pass rush.
John: I read a note that Hawai'i is one of the top schools in the country when it come to stopping the run. Is that because teams need to pass to stay up with your offense, or are you guys' legitimately tough against the run?
Tom: It's a little bit of both. Some teams come in thinking they need to play ball control, grinding out the clock on the ground. But when UH goes up by two or three touchdowns, time suddenly becomes precious, and opposing offensive coordinators have to abandon their game plan to try and keep up. Early this year, as the defense was still gelling and getting used to McMackin's schemes, Louisiana Tech was pretty successful running the ball. But as the season has progressed, the UH defense has stiffened, assignments and gaps have been filled, and the defense is playing as a unit. UH had one of their best defensive gamesof the year against Boise State, holding the Broncos' explosive offense to just 332 total yards. I have to say though, the Warriors will face a great challenge trying to contain Locker and Rankin.
Tom: You mentioned that Louis Rankin took back a kickoff return for TD last week. Overall, how are the Huskies on special teams? Hawaii has had a few breakdowns on return coverage in the last half of this season, and a great kick return game could cause headaches for the Warriors. Do you think special teams play will play a big part in this game?
John: The Huskies are improved on special teams this year. The punting and place kicking has been very consistent. Rankin is one of the better kickoff returners in the country. We aren't that special returning punts. Anthony Russo has had only one great runback this year. We do tend to give up too much on kickoff returns, and it has hurt us at times this year. Special teams really make up 1/3 of the game. Rankin has the ability to hurt you so that could be a factor.
John: Most of us will be staying in Waikiki. I haven't been there in years, can you tell us a couple of great places to eat in that area other than Roy's? Another question is we all know this is a big game for Hawai'i, and we have also heard the crowd can get a little rough in Aloha Stadium. any suggestions?
Tom: John, first of all, I hope you have a great trip to Hawaii! I haven't been to too many restaurants in Waikiki recently (I'm currently in Cali), but one place to visit would be Lulu's Surf Club. (Click for the link) I hear the food is great, and they have UH memorabilia for sale to take back home with you, hehe. They also host the Call the Coach radio show with June Jones, so definitely a good place to check out "enemy territory". Let me know if you'd like me to send you a list of other restaurants to check out. As for the fans at Aloha Stadium -- most of them are great, but as with anywhere else, there are fools who cause trouble. After the whole hubbub over some Fresno fans getting harassed during their game, UH and Aloha Stadium officials beefed up security, June Jones filmed a PSA asking fans to show aloha to their opponent, and in the end Boise fans had a great time. I didn't hear of any complaints. Most of the people you'll encounter in Hawaii and Aloha Stadium are very nice, even if they rib you about your team. You should have a great time.
Tom: Any score predictions? Do you think Locker will get the 90 yards he needs to break 1000?
John: I have to go with Hawaii in this one, but Washington will be in it to the very end if all the other games they have played this season are any indication. Our record might not be that good, but we have taken every team into the fourth quarter this year win, or lose. It is going to be a high scoring game, and I predict the Warriors win 49-35 behind the 600 yards of passing Colt Brennan will put on the board against the Huskies.
I am pretty sure Locker will go over 100 yards since nobody has been able to stop him all year. The real question is how many yards Louis Rankin, and Brandon Johnson will get? If UW can put together around 200 yards from the tailbacks they will be in great shape to win this one.
John: What about you, what is your prediction?
Tom: I want to say Hawaii will win big and put an exclamation point on an undefeated season, but I have to agree with you that it'll be a hard-fought game. UW won't be able to stop the Warriors' offense, but the combination of Locker and Rankin will give UH problems as well. In the end, the momentum and the rockin Aloha Stadium crowd will be too much for the Huskies to overcome and the Warriors will pull out a 42 to 31 victory. Thanks John, this was fun. Hope you have a great trip.