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1. Norm Chow still hasn't led a good offense since 2004
I felt bad. Aesthetically, Hawaii's hire of Norm Chow seemed just about perfect. One of college football's most celebrated assistants heading home to take the reins of a program that was neither far removed from success nor built sturdily for future success. It made perfect sense through that prism. But this celebrated offensive assistant hadn't been in charge of a celebrated offense for a while.
[H]e hasn't led a good offense since 2004. After he returned from three years with the Tennessee Titans, he took over a UCLA offense that had ranked 109th in Off. F/+ in 2007 and led offenses that ranked 114th, 88th and 90th. When he took the Utah offensive coordinator job in 2011, UCLA's offense improved to 66th. Meanwhile, he inherited an offense that ranked 62nd in 2010, and they ranked 95th last fall. He won his Broyles Award in 2002; who won in 2001? Randy Shannon. Things change.
So if you made a hire in part because of his reputation as an amazing assistant coach, and he hasn't been an amazing assistant for a while, is he still a no-brainer good hire? (Then again, I wasn't a fan of the James Franklin hire at Vanderbilt either. So what do I know?) One thing is certain: he's connecting with the community in a way that few coaches could. He will be given time and patience, and he has responded with some ambitious recruiting -- according to Rivals.com, Hawaii has offered two five-star prospects and eight four-star prospects from Hawaii to Maryland. We'll see if that pays off.
Now, in fairness, my criticism was a little bit short-sighted. Being a head coach requires a completely different skill set than being a good offensive assistant. A head coach is part-coach, part-politician, and part-guidance counselor. And while Chow's run of offensive success had stopped a while back, there was nothing saying he couldn't make up for that by acing the two latter parts of the job.
Also in fairness: In the first year, my criticism was also correct. From 2005-11, the era for which we have F/+ rankings, Hawaii never ranked lower than 103rd and ranked 43rd or higher three times. After plummeting from 43rd to 87th in 2011, the Warriors cratered all the way to 121st in 2012. Granted, a lot of that was probably going to happen no matter how good the coaching job might be -- Chow was engineering a pretty stark shift in offensive philosophy, and the defense was replacing a lot of starters -- but it still happened. The defense actually held rather steady (96th in Def. F/+ in 2011, 90th in 2012), but the offense was an outright horror show. In 2010, Greg McMackin's offense ranked 28th in Off. F/+; in 2011, it fell to 70th. In 2012, it was the worst offense in FBS, ranking 124th out of 124.
For a man once known as an offensive guru, this isn't a good look. Can some new blood in the offensive coordinator chair right the ship a bit? And with the personnel on hand, are we looking at part two of a two-year salvage job?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 121|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||at USC||10-49||L||16.3 - 30.9||L|
|16-Sep||Lamar||54-2||W||15.8 - 13.2||W|
|22-Sep||Nevada||24-69||L||21.6 - 37.0||L|
|28-Sep||at BYU||0-47||L||13.2 - 42.7||L|
|6-Oct||at San Diego State||14-52||L||14.4 - 25.6||L|
|13-Oct||New Mexico||23-35||L||19.5 - 32.4||L|
|27-Oct||at Colorado State||27-42||L||16.7 - 32.0||L|
|3-Nov||at Fresno State||10-45||L||21.6 - 24.8||L|
|10-Nov||Boise State||14-49||L||18.1 - 24.9||L|
|16-Nov||at Air Force||7-21||L||4.4 - 25.3||L|
|25-Nov||UNLV||48-10||W||15.5 - 10.3||W|
|1-Dec||South Alabama||23-7||W||27.9 - 13.4||W|
|Points Per Game||21.2||102||35.7||106|
|Adj. Points Per Game||17.1||123||26.0||45|
2. One unit came around
Through two months of the season, there was almost nothing redeeming about Hawaii's level of play. The offense was terrible, and the defense was below average. The Warriors lost by 45 at home to Nevada and by an average of 41.3 points in road games against USC, BYU, and San Diego State. Those were all bowl teams, obviously, but when the schedule eased up, Hawaii didn't really fare any better, losing by 12 and 15 points, respectively, to New Mexico and Colorado State. More good teams (Fresno State and Boise State) meant more 35-point losses.
There were few redeeming aspects to Hawaii's play in 2012, but one cannot deny that the defense raised its game down the stretch.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 30.5, Hawaii 16.8 (minus-13.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 19.7, Hawaii 17.5 (minus-2.2)
In the five final games of the season, Hawaii's defense improved to good, then better-than-good. Despite the gaudy point totals, the Warriors' defense held up about as well as a decent defense should against Fresno State and Boise State, allowing 5.9 yards per play in these two games and falling victim to a complete and total lack of offensive support. The Warriors held a decent Air Force offense under five yards per play, then totally dominated two bad offenses; UNLV and South Alabama combined to gain just 369 yards, 2.8 per play, and score 17 points.
There is enough experience returning to think that Hawaii can maintain this late improvement to some degree. But how much will this matter if the offense doesn't start picking up some of the slack?
|Q1 Rk||122||1st Down Rk||122|
|Q2 Rk||115||2nd Down Rk||121|
|Q3 Rk||124||3rd Down Rk||122|
3. I honestly can't find one nice thing to say about this offense
In terms of the advanced per-play measures above, Hawaii's best rankings were as follows: Fourth Quarter S&P+ (104th, benefiting from the fact that opponents' scrubs were often playing in the fourth quarter of blowouts), Rushing PPP+ (113th), Second Quarter S&P+ (115th), and Standard Downs PPP+ (116th). Or, to put it another way, in the 25 advanced categories above, Hawaii didn't rank in the nation's bottom 10 in two.
Egregious. Absurd. Odious. Abhorrent. Ghastly. Pick your favorite fun word for awful, and Hawaii's offense was that. Chow and offensive coordinator Tommy Lee tried to do their quarterback, Sean Schroeder, some favors by throwing more on standard downs and running more on passing downs, and he responded with a 51 percent completion rate, a nearly 10 percent sack rate, and more interceptions than touchdowns. And while running back Will Gregory showed a little bit of big-play potential, three other running backs, who combined for more than 18 carries per game, combined to average 3.6 yards per carry. The line oculdn't do favors for the backs, the receivers couldn't do favors for the quarterbacks ... nothing worked. Nothing at all. And the one thing that almost worked (Gregory) has graduated.
4. It gets younger, at least
After more than four decades in football, Lee announced his retirement following the season. Another local guy and longtime friend of Chow, Lee got to finish his career close to home, but he didn't get to finish it with much success.
Chow replaced him with Aaron Price, the son of (and former offensive coordinator for) retired UTEP head coach Mike Price. UTEP's offense was hit-or-miss with Price in charge, but a) there were some hits (51st in Off. F/+ in 2009, 63rd in 2011), and b) he is three decades younger than Lee, and this position needs as much youthful energy as possible to revive last year's [pick your adjective] offense. If Price brings any major changes to the table, it will potentially be in the form of leaning more heavily on the run. But with a pretty new quarterback to test drive, maybe he won't do that.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Sean Schroeder||6'3, 200||Sr.||NR||175||344||1,878||50.9%||11||12||35||9.2%||4.3|
|Jeremy Higgins||6'1, 200||Jr.||** (5.2)||29||48||335||60.4%||1||1||5||9.4%||5.6|
|Taylor Graham||6'5, 235||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Ikaika Woolsey||6'1, 215||RSFr.||**|
5. A QB-friendly approach only works if you have a QB
Again, Chow and Lee tried their best to give Schroeder as many easy passes as possible, but it didn't really work out for anybody involved. Schroeder, a Duke transfer who transferred in 2012 and was eligible immediately, had almost nothing to work with in the receiving corps and responded with ... nothing. And he seemed to almost play worse against lesser defenses. Against New Mexico and Colorado State, he was 39-for-88 (44%) for 472 yards, two touchdowns and three picks. In wins over UNLV and South Alabama, he was 23-for-45 (51%) for 332 yards, two scores, and two picks. He was 0-for-5 against Air Force. It was a tough, tough year.
Now, entering his senior season, Schroeder is having to fight it out just to remain on the two-deep, as Ohio State transfer, and former four-star recruit, Taylor Graham will likely be Hawaii's starter in 2013. Check that: There's "no question" that he's the starter. He is an old school, statuesque, pocket passer with presence and a hand cannon. While we don't know precisely how good he may be -- he never saw the field in Columbus -- it probably doesn't take much of a leap to assume he alone upgrades Hawaii's talent level a good amount.
6. Will Graham matter?
In Taylor Graham, Norm Chow now has a little bit of talent around which to build. But that will only matter if Graham can find actual receivers to whom he can throw, if he has a line that can protect him, and if he has a running game that can keep him out of persistent second- or third-and-longs. He's got running back Joey Iosefa, whose size is intriguing and who can pinball around between the tackles pretty well. He's got Billy Ray Stutzmann, Hawaii's leading receiver from the last two years; Stutzmann doesn't have nearly the explosiveness to counter his poor catch rates, but if an NFL caliber quarterback is throwing him the ball, maybe he raises those rates a bit. (And no, we don't know yet whether Graham is "NFL caliber.") He's got Aussie Scott Harding, who actually had a better catch rate than Stutzmann (barely) and averaged more than 15 yards per catch. But perhaps most importantly, he's got some newcomers, too. Three junior college transfers join the receiving corps, as do intriguing freshmen running backs Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy St. Juste.
(Meanwhile, does he have a line? Probably not.)
|Joey Iosefa||RB||6'0, 240||Jr.||** (5.2)||125||463||3.7||4.0||1||-22.0|
|Sean Schroeder||QB||6'3, 200||Sr.||NR||19||75||3.9||3.3||1||-2.5|
|Steven Lakalaka||RB||5'10, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Diocemy St. Juste||RB||5'9, 190||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Billy Ray Stutzmann||WR-Z||6'0, 185||Sr.||*** (5.5)||70||35||447||50.0%||6.4||19.1%||52.9%||6.4||52.0|
|Chris Gant||WR-X||6'0, 185||Sr.||** (5.4)||39||22||232||56.4%||5.9||10.7%||56.4%||5.8||27.0|
|Scott Harding||WR-Z||5'11, 195||Jr.||NR||38||20||308||52.6%||8.1||10.4%||47.4%||8.4||35.8|
|Trevor Davis||WR||6'1, 175||Jr.||*** (5.5)||28||17||235||60.7%||8.4||7.7%||67.9%||8.0||27.3|
|Joey Iosefa||RB||6'0, 240||Jr.||** (5.2)||25||19||153||76.0%||6.1||6.8%||56.0%||6.1||17.8|
|Clark Evans||TE||6'4, 245||Sr.||*** (5.5)||19||9||137||47.4%||7.2||5.2%||47.4%||6.4||15.9|
|Bubba Poueu-Luna||WR||5'11, 180||Jr.||*** (5.5)||0||0||0||0.0%||0.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.0||0.0|
|Craig Cofer||TE||6'4, 255||Sr.||** (5.2)||5||3||17||60.0%||3.4||1.4%||80.0%||2.6||2.0|
|Terrance Polk||WR||5'11, 180||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Josh Long||TE||6'4, 240||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Vasquez Haynes||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Ammon Barker||WR||6'4, 210||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|David Lefotu||RG||6'3, 305||Jr.||** (5.2)||18 career starts|
|Blake Muir||LT||12 career starts|
|Ben Clarke||C||6'3, 275||So.||**||12 career starts|
|Mike Milovale||RT||6'3, 310||Sr.||** (5.4)||9 career starts|
|Sean Shigematsu||RT||6'5, 290||Jr.||** (5.2)||7 career starts|
|Chauncy Winchester-Makainai||LG||6'4, 320||Sr.||NR||4 career starts|
|Kapua Sai||LT||3 career starts|
|Kody Afusia||LG||6'2, 305||Jr.||** (5.2)||2 career starts|
|Jordan Loeffler||LT||6'5, 305||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Ben Dew||OL||6'3, 305||So.||** (5.2)|
|Kiha Sai||OL||6'3, 315||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Ethan Watanabe||OL||6'2, 275||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Elijah Tupai||OL||6'4, 255||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|John Wa'a||OL||6'4, 285||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Q1 Rk||101||1st Down Rk||56|
|Q2 Rk||66||2nd Down Rk||44|
|Q3 Rk||34||3rd Down Rk||92|
7. The defense was honestly pretty decent
Granted, the Hawaii defense looked spectacular compared to its offense last year, but there really was some honest-to-God improvement late in the year, and enough pieces return to think that might continue. The Warriors were pretty exciting (and glitchy) up front, making a healthy number of plays behind the line of scrimmage against both the run and pass (80 tackles for loss, 28 sacks). Granted, they made a lot of these plays in the second half, when a given game was out of reach; and granted, they had some serious issues in both the redzone and the first quarter. But the pass defense was quite efficient, and if they leveraged you into passing downs, they new how to close out the drive.
8. Lights out on passing downs
There were some big plays allowed along the way, but Hawaii did a lovely job of shutting things down on passing downs. The Warriors were 19th in the country in Passing Downs Sack Rate; seven different Warriors had at least two sacks; defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer brought an aggressive reputation to the table, and he inherited some nicely aggressive pieces here.
Of course, he must now replace a couple of the nicest aggressive pieces -- end Paipai Falemalu and corner Mike Edwards, to name two -- but end Beau Yap and pass rush specialist Tavita Woodard return, four junior college transfers enter the rotation, and Hawaii returns one of the Mountain West's better sets of linebackers.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Beau Yap||DE||6'2, 260||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||29.5||4.4%||10.5||3||0||0||1||0|
|Tavita Woodard||DE||6'4, 255||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||29.5||4.4%||5.5||5.5||1||2||0||0|
|Siasau Matagiese||DT||6'2, 300||Sr.||** (4.9)||11||15.5||2.3%||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|Marcus Malepeai||DT||6'1, 250||Jr.||** (5.3)||10||9.5||1.4%||1.5||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Ho'oikaika Cavaco-Amoy||DE||6'2, 255||Sr.||NR||6||3.5||0.5%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Moses Samia||NT||6'1, 305||So.||** (5.2)||2||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|David Moala||DT||6'2, 315||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Kennedy Tulimasealii||DT||6'1, 300||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Ualesi Sale||DE||6'1, 245||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Art Laurel||WILL||6'0, 235||Sr.||** (4.9)||11||42.0||6.3%||13.5||4||0||1||1||0|
|Kamalani Alo||LB||6'2, 215||Sr.||** (4.9)||12||32.0||4.8%||0.5||0.5||0||0||2||0|
|T.J. Taimatuia||SAM||6'3, 245||Jr.||NR||12||28.5||4.2%||2.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jerrol Garcia-Williams||SAM||6'3, 205||So.||NR||11||27.5||4.1%||3||1||0||0||0||1|
|Kendrick Van Ackeren||LB||12||21.0||3.1%||0.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|Lance Williams||WILL||6'2, 220||So.||**||12||20.5||3.1%||1||0||0||0||0||1|
|Brenden Daley||MIKE||6'3, 255||Sr.||NR||10||20.0||3.0%||1.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Benetton Fonua||MIKE||6'1, 220||So.||**||8||14.0||2.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|George Daily-Lyles||LB||5'11, 255||Sr.||** (5.3)||7||11.5||1.7%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Darryl McBride, Jr.||LB||11||11.0||1.6%||2.5||2.5||0||0||1||0|
|Tevita Lataimua||LB||5'11, 230||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Darzil Washington||LB||6'2, 240||So.||** (5.2)|
9. You can build around these linebackers
Hawaii played a lot of linebackers in 2012 -- seven had at least 20 tackles, 10 had at least 11 -- and most of them return in 2013. In Laurel, Kaumeyer has a lovely blitz option, but beyond that, he's just got a lot of options, period. He's got speed options in Kamalani Alo and Jerrol Garcia-Williams; he's got power options in T.J. Taimatula and Brendan Daley. Kaumeyer enjoys crafting an aggressive defense, and between the depth at linebacker, increased size up front (especially if former Arizona State tackle David Moala is ready to go), and experience in the secondary, he should enjoy pressing buttons with this defense.
(Moala, by the way, has a spectacular bio: volleyball player in high school, brother in the NFL, Fresh Prince of Bel-Ai.)
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Marrell Jackson||FS||6'0, 180||So.||NR||12||48.0||7.1%||1||0||0||5||2||1|
|John Hardy-Tuliau||SS||5'11, 180||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||36.0||5.4%||3||1||3||3||0||0|
|Charles Clay||SS||5'11, 200||Sr.||NR||12||24.5||3.6%||0||0||0||4||0||1|
|Ne'Quan Phillips||CB||5'9, 180||So.||** (5.4)||12||21.5||3.2%||2||0||2||2||0||1|
|Tony Grimes||CB||6'0, 175||Sr.||*** (5.7)||11||20.5||3.1%||1||0||0||5||0||0|
|Dee Maggitt||CB||5'8, 170||Jr.||** (5.4)||10||11.0||1.6%||0.5||0||0||3||0||0|
|Dante Johnson||S||6'1, 185||So.||NR|
|Ryan Pasoquen||DB||6'0, 190||RSFr.||NR|
|Tigi Hill||DB||6'2, 215||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Trayvon Henderson||DB||6'1, 195||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Barry Higdon||DB||6'3, 180||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Scott Harding||5'11, 195||Jr.||15||34.7||1||1||2||20.0%|
|Tyler Hadden||5'11, 180||Jr.||52||61.1||9||17.3%|
|Tyler Hadden||5'11, 180||Jr.||29-29||7-10||70.0%||6-11||54.5|
|Scott Harding||KR||5'11, 195||Jr.||4||18.0||0|
|Scott Harding||PR||5'11, 195||Jr.||23||12.8||1|
|Special Teams F/+||29|
|Field Goal Pct||101|
|Kick Returns Avg||8|
|Punt Returns Avg||16|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at Oregon State||25|
|5-Oct||San Jose State||72|
|2-Nov||at Utah State||46|
|16-Nov||San Diego State||53|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||99|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||100|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-14 / -0.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (7, 8)|
10. A glimmer of hope? Maybe?
Taylor Graham is an exciting specimen. Of this, there is little doubt. But it is difficult to build too much optimism in this offense considering just how [adjective] it was last year. If Graham can immediately show big-time potential, and if a couple of newcomers can spruce up the skill position ranks a bit, then Hawaii's offense will improve to a decent degree, but that might just mean a rise to 100th or so in Off. F/+.
Still ... that's improvement. And combined with a defense that could be legitimately decent, that could be enough to win some games. Hawaii plays five teams projected 95th or worse (only two at home), but improvement on offense could still lead to improvement in the win column, say, to 4-5 games or so. Like so many other rebuilding MWC programs, bowl eligibility seems like a bit of a stretch, but Norm Chow can at least take a step or two toward proving me wrong in 2013. I'm not incredibly optimistic, but in Graham and the defense, there's a smidgen of hope.
For more on Hawai'i football, visit MWC community Mountain West Connection.