2015 CFB Preview – Hawaii

    Hawai'i Rainbow WarriorsGo to Team Page Rainbow WarriorsGo to Selection Page           Okay, so fine. Hawaii isn’t going to light

    April 3, 2019

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    Okay, so fine. Hawaii isn’t going to light everyone up under head coach and offensive coaching legend Norm Chow like it did when June Jones was at the helm.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    But can it build off the baby steps taken last year to become more of a factor?

    The team was far, far more competitive last season with great battles in losses to Washington and Oregon State early on while avoiding the massive blowouts that had become all too common in Chow’s first two seasons.

    Hawaii went 4-9, but outside of a 35-14 loss to Utah State and a 49-22 loss at Colorado State, the team fought hard. The defense held its own more often than not, but the offense wasn’t able to do its part in tough losses to San Diego State, Colorado, Nevada and Fresno State. But, again, at least the team was more competitive.

    With 17 starters returning, a star quarterback transfer in USC’s Max Wittek, and with a few big coaching changes to try to shake things up, this is Chow’s best – and probably last – chance at coming up with the team and the season Hawaii fans were hoping for when he was hired.

    Known as the quarterback guru’s quarterback guru, Chow’s resume of players he helped turn into stars stretches from Steve Young to Ty Detmer to Phil Rivers to Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart. But his USC days with Pete Carroll are over a decade ago, and now he has to make some magic with an offense that can’t get the passing game going.

    The strange part about Hawaii under Chow – at least last season – is that if there was just any sort of a consistent offense, this would’ve been a dangerous team that might have been just good enough to come up with a winning season. The schedule might be too nasty to do that, but there’s hope.

    Wittek or Ikaika Woolsey must boost up the passing attack that finished 119th in the nation in efficiency. The top receiving weapons are back, there’s a good running back in Steven Lakalaka to work around, and the line could be a strength with a little bit of time.

    The defense that was better than the overall stats should be terrific at linebacker and gets three starters back in the secondary, but the season hinges on the ability of the offense to put the pressure on with more points, more pop, and more big plays.

    Can Hawaii be the Mountain West’s surprise team? Chow deserves it.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator Don Bailey will try to breathe some life into a woefully inefficient passing game with a high-octane, up-tempo attack that’s designed to keep defenses on their heels. He might have the quarterback who can run it with USC transfer Max Wittek eligible and ready to roll, and the receivers are in place to finally start to get things going. Steven Lakalaka is a talented back to balance the attack out a bit, and the line should be better – now it has to be better in pass protection after allowing 41 sacks.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: Former SMU head coach Tom Mason takes over a D that did a nice job last season of keeping things from getting out of hand, but it has to create more big plays and has to avoid getting hit by the big pass play. The front three has to find some more options, but there’s size up front to work around. Simon Poti leads a veteran linebacking corps full of seniors, but the strength should be the secondary that gets back three starters led by safety Trayvon Henderson.

    What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation has to be solid. Ikaika Woolsey was okay at times last season on the way to 2,538 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he threw 13 picks and didn’t do enough to get the ball down the field. Enter Max Wittek, who has the arm and the passing skills to wing the ball all over the yard, and he’ll need to with new offensive coordinator Don Bailey who’ll bring in a more up-tempo attack. Bailey helped lead an Idaho State offense that led the FCS in passing, so now expect more bombing away.

    What to watch for on defense: Can the secondary avoid getting hit by the big play? New defensive coordinator Tom Mason comes in after having a rough time as the interim head coach at SMU, but he inherits a good group with six returning starters and a nice-looking back eight that should be able to keep games from getting out of hand. With a decent secondary with Ne’Quan Phillips at one corner and Trayvon Henderson at safety, there’s hope for even more improvement out of a group that was solid throughout last year. However, there were times when the secondary couldn’t stop the really, really big bomb, and it proved costly. Rice’s Driphus Jackson had a rough day overall, but he connected on a few huge plays to come up with the win. Utah State’s Kent Myers connected on 14-of-15 passes, and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson fired at will. Keeping teams to under eight yards a pass is a must.

    The team will be far better if … it can just start moving the ball. The offense only converted on 33% of its third down chances and couldn’t sustain drives. The defense isn’t good enough to dominate games and needs to be off the field as much as possible. With the passing attack the Rainbow Warriors are supposed to have, coming up with the successful midrange pass plays shouldn’t be that hard. They just have to do it week in and week out now.

    The schedule: There isn’t a week off in the 13-game schedule. It’s a long, long season without a break and a ton of travel.
    – The Rainbow Warriors will log on plenty of miles early on with five road trips before Halloween. After starting out the year against Colorado, it’s going to be rough with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State on the road in a four week run.
    – The payoff is a break late – everyone wants to be in Honolulu in November. Hawaii gets the last three games and four of the last five games at home.
    – Going to Boise State is brutal, but getting Air Force at home should be interesting and going to New Mexico isn’t too bad in interdivisional play.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the road game at UNLV. On November 7th, it’s the final road game of the year, and by this point the team might be gassed. It’s a winnable game, but only if the team is in decent shape.

    Best offensive player: Senior OT Ben Clarke. It might not be sexy for a Hawaii offense that’s supposed to be known for its passing and its ability to crank out big yards in chunks, but even though the attack needs Max Wittek to be the star, Clarke is the rock. The veteran left tackle has been one of the few constants for the Rainbow Warrior offense over the last few seasons, and now he’ll be the anchor of what should be the best line yet under Norm Chow.

    Best defensive player: Junior S Trayvon Henderson. A good hitter with nice size and the experience to be the leader of the secondary, Henderson will combine with corner Ne’Quan Phillips to give Hawaii one of its strongest units. The athletic ball hawk was the team’s second-leading tackler last season and has five picks in two years. He’ll patrol the back eight in a variety of roles.

    Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Max Wittek. Hawaii has tried out several quarterback options over the last few years of various skills and talents, but there hasn’t been the playmaking ability or the consistency the team has needed. Ikaika Woolsey might be the returning starter – don’t count him out of the mix quite yet – but Wittek needs to be the guy who was supposed to be the next big thing for USC. A big, strong passer, he looks the part, and now he has to bring the production.

    The season will be a success if … Hawaii wins six games. It would mark the best season in three years and a two-win improvement after a disappointing 2014. The problem is the schedule with a few non-starters – forget about beating Ohio State, Wisconsin or Boise State on the road – and with nasty Mountain West games against San Diego State and Nevada. However, UC Davis, New Mexico, UNLV, San Jose State and ULM are all winnable, and there has to be a few upsets along the way, but with so much returning experience coming back, six wins would be a nice year.

    Key game: Oct. 17 at New Mexico. If everything goes to form, Hawaii will probably be 1-5 to start the season, or at very best 2-4. Four of the last five games are at home, though, so if the Rainbow Warriors can get past New Mexico in Albuquerque, and with a trip to Nevada to follow, this is a must win to be in the mix for a possible winning season.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 122 – Hawaii 63
    – Sacks: Opponents 41 for 264 yards – Opponents 24 for 179 yards
    – Punt Return Average: Hawaii 8.8 yards – Opponents 1.6 yards

    Players You Need To Know

    1. OT Ben Clarke, Sr.
    One of the key parts to the line over the last few years, he earned all-star honors after starting every game in each of his three seasons. At 6-3 and 285 pounds, the Colorado native has good size and was a mauler in the middle before moving to the outside. He needs to be better in pass protection against the craftier defensive linemen, but he’s very smart and he’s quick at left tackle.

    2. QB Max Wittek, Sr.
    The 6-4, 240-pound USC transfer was a star recruit out of Mater Dei High school in California – the same school that produced Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart. However, he didn’t take over the Trojan program as expected, being used mostly as a backup to go along with a few spot starts when Matt Barkley was injury. However, he has the size, the arm, and the skills to be exactly what the Hawaii offense needs to jumpstart the air attack again. He sat out last season and knows the system and knows what he’s doing, but in his final year he has a chance to close out with a bang.

    3. S Trayvon Henderson, Jr.
    The hope was for the 6-0, 190-pounder out of Sacramento to be a playmaker right away after coming up with 113 stops in ten games for his high school team, and he came through. He blew off other Mountain West teams to come to Hawaii, and he made his mark getting two starts and seeing time in 11 games making 26 tackles with a team-leading three interceptions, and then he showed off everything he could do last year. Always around the ball, he tied for second on the team with 63 tackles with a sack, three tackles for loss and two picks. He might not be all that big, but he has great range and has the smarts to always be in the right spot.

    4. CB Ne’Quan Phillips, Sr.
    The 5-9, 185-pounder out of Miami is a baller who isn’t afraid to get after a receiver and fights to make a play. He earned all-star honors as a sophomore making 64 tackles with two broken up passes, and followed it up with another strong year with 54 tackles with three sacks and a pick. He’s a tone-setter in the secondary who’ll fight to come up with a stop making ten tackles against UNLV – eight in the open field – and with all nine of his tackles solo against Colorado. If challenged, he’ll come through.

    5. WR Marcus Kemp, Jr.
    At 6-4 and 185 pounds, the Utah native has good size to go along with special athleticism. The Utah state champion high jumper can make himself bigger by going up to get the ball, and he has the toughness and fight to go after the ball when it’s in his range. The leading receiver in yards, he averaged over 14 yards per pop making 56 catches for 797 yards and three touchdowns. Hot at the end of the year, he finished up with back-to-back 100-yard games against UNLV and Fresno State. Watch out for his numbers to go through the roof with the faster-paced attack.

    6. WR Quinton Pedroza, Sr.
    Strong and tough, the 6-2, 220-pound former Utah Ute has good quickness to go along with his size and hands. While he has the athleticism to come up with the deep play, he’s at his best on the midrange passes and fighting his way to get open. Now he has to do more to be a scorer and weapon with two of his three catches coming in the win over Wyoming while hitting the 100-yard mark twice on the year. He missed two games banged up or else he would’ve hovered around the 70-catch range. The numbers should be through the roof this year.

    7. RB Steven Lakalaka, Jr.
    A talented get for the program, the 2012 Gatorade Hawaii Player of the Year is strong, quick, and tough when he has to grind out a yard. Able to be a workhorse at times, he hit the 100-yard mark twice last season with 124 against Northern Iowa and following it up with 123 against Colorado, but then he became more of a rotation back finishing with 646 yards and two touchdowns before getting knocked out for the year hurt. At 5-10 and 215 pounds he has the size, and he has the hands to be more of a receiver. Expect him to be a bigger part of the offense with the ground game all to himself.

    8. LB Simon Poti, Sr.
    Tied for second on the team in tackles, the 6-0, 220-pound inside defender held up well making 63 stops on the season to go along with two sacks and a pick. The former JUCO transfer started out his career walking on at San Jose State and then became a good prospect at the lower level. Very smart both on and off the field, he’s an academic all-star while always doing a great job of finding his way around the ball to get the tackle. He doesn’t deliver a huge pop, but he’s consistent.

    9. QB Ikaika Woolsey, Jr.
    While he’s not huge at 6-1 and 210 pounds, he’s a mobile, active option with a baller’s mentality. He took over the starting quarterback job from a crowded field completing half of his passes for 2,538 yards and 13 touchdowns. The problem is his accuracy, or lack of it, throwing 13 picks and being way too inconsistent. He only ran for 203 yards and a touchdown, but his numbers are skewed a bit after getting sacked way too often – he’s a better runner than the numbers show. At the very least, he’ll be a change of pace option if he doesn’t take back his starting gig.

    10. DE Kennedy Tulimasealii, Jr.
    The Hawaii line is a bit thin, but Tulimasealii is a good one to work around as a 3-4 end. He’s not built for the part at 6-1 and 280 pounds, but he gets off the ball in a hurry getting in on 40 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss as a rotational starter. An academic all-star in the classroom, and a mauler on the field with the ability to hang out in the backfield, he’s healthy again after missing time hurt as a freshman and should blossom now that he knows what he’s doing.

    Head Coach: Norm Chow
    4th year: 8-29
    Sept. 3 Colorado
    Sept. 12 at Ohio State
    Sept. 19 UC Davis
    Sept. 26 at Wisconsin
    Oct. 3 at Boise State
    Oct. 10 San Diego State
    Oct. 17 at New Mexico
    Oct. 24 at Nevada
    Oct. 31 Air Force
    Nov. 7 at UNLV
    Nov. 14 Fresno State
    Nov. 21 San Jose State
    Nov. 28 ULM
    Ten Best Hawaii Players
    1. OT Ben Clarke, Sr.
    2. QB Max Wittek, Sr.
    3. S Trayvon Henderson, Jr.
    4. CB Ne’Quan Phillips, Sr.
    5. WR Marcus Kemp, Jr.
    6. WR Quinton Pedroza, Sr.
    7. RB Steven Lakalaka, Jr.
    8. LB Simon Poti, Sr.
    9. QB Ikaika Woolsey, Jr.


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