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1. Still here for now
They're still playing football on the islands. To call that a victory is to set the bar awfully low, but it's something. When your financial struggles are well-known enough that UAB is using you as a "See? We're not alone!" reference point, and when you've won eight games in three years, survival should not be taken for granted.
It should also not be enough. Over the last 30 years, Hawaii has won at least nine games 10 times, has spent portions of five seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, and has attended 10 bowls. The low points have been quite low -- 5-31 from 1996-98, 3-9 in 2000, 4-20 from 2012-13 -- but a rebound has always come in short order. Bob Wagner (once), June Jones (three times) and Greg McMackin (once) have all led the Rainbow Warriors to 10-win seasons and bowl appearances (usually in their home stadium), and Hawaii has through the years crafted an identity for pass-happy offenses and aggressive, fun defenses. And when the teams are fun, the fans will come. Aloha Stadium averaged 43,514 in attendance during Hawaii's 12-0 run in 2007; the Warriors averaged just 27,451 in home attendance last season.
When Norm Chow took the Hawaii head coaching job in 2012, it almost felt like an obligation on both ends. Hawaii was offering the job to a native son, a Hawaii native who was once known as one of the best offensive minds in football but who hadn't actually been part of a good offense for a while. Chow, meanwhile, seemed mostly content with never having been a head coach and was advancing in age (he was 66 when he debuted), but felt the "Come home, Norm" pull and took the job at a discount; his base salary was potentially half that of his predecessor.
It felt like more a marriage of convenience than conviction, and thus far the results have not been stellar. Chow has made iffy assistant coaching hires, and after placing an absurdly unlucky team on the field in 2013 -- Hawaii ranked 89th in F/+ but finished 1-11 -- the opposite happened in 2014; the Rainbow Warriors regressed to 111th, in part because of woeful quarterback play, but fell into a couple of lucky wins and "improved" to 4-9.
One has to figure that Chow begins 2015 on one of FBS' hottest seats. His contract runs through 2016, but his buyout drops precipitously after this season. After another tough season, relieving him of his duties might be the kindest thing for everyone involved. But a little bit of desperation and urgency might not be a bad thing.
2. Continuity would be good
An iffy budget can trickle down. Not only might it limit the pool of available head coaches, but when you do find a head man, it will also limit his ability to draw assistants. So Chow's odds of locking down a good staff were already minimal before he started making some questionable choices. His first choice for offensive coordinator in 2012 was Tommy Lee, a 40-year coaching veteran who hadn't coached for five years since losing his job as Montana Western's head coach. He was an old friend of Chow and came at a good price, and Hawaii's offense ranked 123rd in Off. S&P+ in 2012.
That was the most egregious reach, but it was indicative of an ongoing problem. Lee lasted one year. Chow's first defensive coordinator, Thom Kaumeyer, lasted two. Kaumeyer's replacement, Kevin Clune, lasted one. And in 2015, Chow had to hire two new coordinators (three including special teams): Don Bailey on offense and Tom Mason on defense.
Any hire can work with the right personnel, but Mason was a relatively uninspiring hire. He was June Jones' DC for seven years at SMU, and when he had good attacking talent up front, he knew how to use it. And when he didn't, he employed a bend-don't-break defense that bent and bent and bent.
Bailey, on the other hand, was the other kind of affordable hire. He was named Football Scoop's FCS offensive coordinator of the year at Idaho State last year, leading a high-octane, pass-happy attack that averaged 40.3 points per game, ran only 45 percent of the time (which would have ranked 105th in FBS) and averaged one play every 20.6 seconds (which would have ranked about 10th). A lot of Idaho State's offense resembled the stereotypical Big Hawaii Offense of years past. We'll see if he has the personnel he needs (he might not), but this was a sensible, exciting hire. And now we'll see if, in case Chow is still at UH in 2016, he actually doesn't have to hire new guys next offseason.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-9 | Adj. Record: 1-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 111|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|18-Oct||at San Diego State||76||10-20||L||24%||-16.8||9%|
|8-Nov||at Colorado State||49||22-49||L||2%||-46.7||0%|
|15-Nov||at San Jose State||116||13-0||W||23%||-17.2||39%|
|29-Nov||at Fresno State||102||21-28||L||11%||-29.0||8%|
|Points Per Game||20.9||111||26.8||65|
3. Three unlikely wins (and an unlikely loss)
The win expectancy numbers above are intended to say "With the key stats at hand in this game, Team A could have expected to win X percent of the time." It is an in-game probability figure.
Hawaii traded unlikely results early in the season, losing a game it should have won against Washington and winning a game it should have lost against UNI. And in conference play, the Warriors stole two victories.
Hawaii's 13-0 win over San Jose State came with a 39 percent win probability, as the Spartans outgained the Warriors by 222 yards but missed three field goals, turned the ball over on downs three times inside Hawaii's 40, and turned the ball over twice inside the 20.
The win over UNLV was even less likely. Hawaii won the yardage battle by 104 yards but lost two fumbles and lost the field position battle by 12 yards per drive. But Hawaii scored with 15 seconds left to cut UNLV's lead to 35-31, recovered an onside kick, and scored again as time expired.
It was a thrilling, stolen win.
Luck and randomness were cruel to Hawaii in 2013, when the Warriors lost five games by seven or fewer points. But luck and randomness also prevented Hawaii from another one-win campaign last year. It may have kept Chow employed (if Hawaii could have afforded to buy him out in the first place). How will the team respond to a second life of sorts?
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||35.0%||123||Succ. Rt. +||80.6||125|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.2||56||Def. FP+||99.0||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.5||115||Redzone S&P+||79.8||125|
|Q1 Rk||120||1st Down Rk||122|
|Q2 Rk||125||2nd Down Rk||125|
|Q3 Rk||116||3rd Down Rk||121|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Ikaika Woolsey||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars||0.7444||210||416||2538||13||13||50.5%||38||8.4%||5.1|
|Beau Reilly||6'6, 190||RSFr.||2 stars||0.7593|
|Max Wittek||6'4, 240||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9573|
4. Start with a quarterback
Don Bailey's 2014 Idaho State offense was exciting and aggressive. Quarterbacks completed 60 percent of their passes and averaged an aggressive 12.9 yards per completion while throwing picks less than 2 percent of the time and getting sacked less than 3 percent of the time. Two Bengal receivers had 60-plus catches, and five more had between 20 and 40. Plus, because of tempo, the top two running backs combined for 31 carries per game as well.
Bailey found the depth he needed in Pocatello, starting with quarterback Justin Arias. He's got options at quarterback at Hawaii, but nothing is proven. Ater two different quarterbacks (Jeremy Higgins and Taylor Graham) were lost for the season with injury, Ikaika Woolsey took over the starting job and struggled. He had his moments -- 13-for-21 for 229 yards against UNLV, 8-for-9 for 173 against Wyoming -- but the combination of a 51 percent completion rate and 12.1 yards per completion was quite awful, especially combined with a bad sack rate and double-digit interceptions.
Woolsey is the incumbent, but two others will get every opportunity in the world to overtake him. Beau Reilly kept his freshman redshirt on last season though he was the No. 2 guy by the end of the year because of injuries, but the big name is a senior newcomer: former USC quarterback Max Wittek. Wittek never found traction with the Trojans (53 percent completion rate, three scores to six picks) but still has the arm and look of a blue-chip quarterback.
The quarterback will bear the weight of Bailey's offense. Is one up to it?
|Steven Lakalaka||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8578||159||646||2||4.1||3.6||31.4%||1||0|
|Diocemy Saint Juste||RB||5'8, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256||73||372||3||5.1||5.9||37.0%||3||1|
|Ikaika Woolsey||QB||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars||0.7444||72||444||1||6.2||5.6||47.2%||4||3|
|Pereese Joas||RB||5'6, 170||Sr.||NR||NR||7||67||0||9.6||5.6||71.4%||0||0|
|Keelan Ewaliko||WR||5'11, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7905||7||47||1||6.7||4.0||57.1%||0||0|
|DJ Riggins||RB||5'10, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8310|
|Melvin Davis||RB||6'2, 235||Jr.||NR||0.7900|
|Paul Harris||RB||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||0.8000|
5. Then find a running back
Rushing stats are tricky because you don't immediately know anything about the quality of the blocking the line delivered, the number of defenders in the box, et cetera. With good blocking and a good passing game, perhaps Steven Lakalaka could deliver high-quality numbers. But he didn't last year. His 31 percent opportunity rate (percentage of carries that gained at least 5 yards) ranked 88th among the 98 rushers with at least 150 carries. His 3.59 highlight yards per opportunity also ranked 88th. He offered neither efficiency nor explosiveness, and you need one or the other. Diocemy Saint Juste produced much better averages in fewer carries and went off in two of Hawaii's wins (combined against Wyoming and UNLV: 28 carries, 216 yards), but for one reason or another, he only averaged six carries per game.
That leads you to believe that any of three newcomers could see the field pretty quickly in a Bailey offense that demands a high volume of playmakers. D.J. Riggins is the rare three-star Hawaii freshman, Melvin Davis is a big, reasonably touted JUCO transfer, and Paul Harris is an All-American JUCO return man who saw some success on offense, too. If one of these three emerges as a quality threat, the numbers could be here.
There are fewer concerns in the receiving corps, at least from a volume perspective. Last year's top two targets are back; Quinton Pedroza wasn't an amazing No. 1 receiver, but Marcus Kemp was just about the only big-play threat Hawaii had last year, and big junior Vasquez Haynes returns after missing 2014. If one of three youngsters -- sophomore Ammon Barker, sophomore Keelan Ewaliko and BYU transfer Dylan Collie -- emerges, the numbers here are probably fine, too.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Quinton Pedroza||WR-Z||6'2, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8777||114||59||674||51.8%||25.6%||52.6%||5.9||-72||5.8||53.1|
|Marcus Kemp||WR-X||6'4, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819||109||56||800||51.4%||24.5%||56.0%||7.3||91||7.3||63.1|
|Vasquez Haynes (2013)||WR||6'2, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8122||46||29||354||63.0%||9.5%||45.0%||7.7||-1||8.9||35.6|
|Donnie King Jr.||WR||28||14||199||50.0%||6.3%||67.9%||7.1||21||7.4||15.7|
|Ammon Barker||WR-X||6'4, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8210||26||10||162||38.5%||5.8%||38.5%||6.2||26||5.2||12.8|
|Harold Moleni||TE||6'2, 245||Sr.||2 stars (4.9)||0.7482||23||10||74||43.5%||5.2%||69.6%||3.2||-58||3.5||5.8|
|Justin Vele||FB||6'0, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||17||13||90||76.5%||3.8%||70.6%||5.3||-62||4.7||7.1|
|Steven Lakalaka||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8578||11||7||53||63.6%||2.5%||27.3%||4.8||-32||5.6||4.2|
|Keelan Ewaliko||WR-F||5'11, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7905||10||6||141||60.0%||2.2%||70.0%||14.1||67||11.6||11.1|
|Metuisela 'Unga||TE||6'5, 250||So.||NR||NR||3||1||21||33.3%||0.7%||66.7%||7.0||7||8.9||1.7|
|David Manoa||TE||6'3, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685||3||0||0||0.0%||0.7%||66.7%||0.0||-4||0.0||0.0|
|Diocemy Saint Juste||RB||5'8, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256||3||1||-1||33.3%||0.7%||0.0%||-0.3||-15||N/A||-0.1|
|Ryan Pasoquen||WR-Z||6'0, 190||Sr.||NR||NR||2||0||0||0.0%||0.4%||0.0%||0.0||-3||N/A||0.0|
|Dylan Collie||WR||5'10, 175||Fr.||3 stars||NR|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Ben Clarke||LT||6'3, 285||Sr.||2 stars||0.7000||37|
|Dejon Allen||RG||6'2, 270||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472||11|
|Frank Loyd Jr.||RT||7|
|Brenden Urban||C||6'1, 295||Sr.||NR||NR||6|
|Elijah Tupai||LG||6'4, 265||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8150||3|
|Leo Koloamatangi||LG||6'5, 275||Jr.||NR||0.7733||3|
|John Wa'a||LT||6'4, 310||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7832||2|
|RJ Hollis||RG||6'4, 285||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Matt Norman||OL||6'5, 250||Jr.||NR||0.7000|
6. Then find some new linemen
Relatively speaking, Hawaii's line was a strength last year. The Warriors couldn't create opportunities for their backs (which may have been the backs' fault) but excelled in short-yardage situations and kept defenders out of the backfield on rushes. They did this despite throwing out six different starting line combinations throughout the season, including each of the first four weeks of the year.
Unfortunately, while shuffling can often result in a nice bank of experience, four players who had combined for 83 career starts are now gone. Three-year starting tackle Ben Clarke is back, as are three sophomores who combined for 16 starts last year, but while this line might not be worse than it was last year, it might not be better either.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.6%||59||Succ. Rt. +||96.5||81|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.3||86||Off. FP+||97.0||99|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||60||Redzone S&P+||90.2||105|
|Q1 Rk||118||1st Down Rk||67|
|Q2 Rk||83||2nd Down Rk||89|
|Q3 Rk||63||3rd Down Rk||96|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kennedy Tulimasealii||DE||6'1, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8369||13||34.0||4.6%||9.5||2.5||0||1||1||0|
|Luke Shawley||DE||6'3, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||13||29.5||4.0%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Kory Rasmussen||DL||6'2, 270||Jr.||2 stars||0.7961|
|Penitito Faalologo||DE||5'11, 250||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|David Manoa||DE||6'3, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685|
|Sione Kauhi||DE||6'5, 240||Fr.||NR||NR|
7. No line injuries, please
With players like defensive end Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed, Stephon Sanders and Ja'Gared Davis in recent years, Tom Mason proved that if he has disruptive talent in his front seven, he'll figure out how to use it. And in Kennedy Tulimasealii, he has at least one potential grenade up front. Linebackers Simon Poti, Julian Gener and Benetton Fonua have shown decent athleticism as well.
But after losing five of last year's top seven, the line has been drained terribly of available talent. Tulimasealii and Luke Shawley are the only returning linemen who recorded a tackle last year (and Shawley had no disruptive presence whatsoever), and while some newcomers could help out, there are barely enough names to fill in a two-deep. Any injuries up front could result in either walk-ons or undersized freshmen seeing the field.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jerrol Garcia-Williams (2013)||LB||6'2, 215||Sr.||NR||0.7000||12||56.0||7.1%||3.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Simon Poti||ILB||6'0, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||13||51.0||6.9%||3.0||2.0||1||0||1||0|
|Julian Gener||ILB||5'11, 235||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8056||7||41.0||5.5%||5.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Benetton Fonua||ILB||6'0, 245||Sr.||2 stars||0.7659||13||35.0||4.7%||4.0||1.0||1||2||1||0|
|Lance Williams||OLB||6'0, 220||Sr.||2 stars||NR||13||18.0||2.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremy Castro||OLB||6'4, 240||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8861||13||15.5||2.1%||2.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Austin Slade-Matautia||LB||6'1, 220||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Rashaan Falemalu||LB||6'1, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7633|
|Malachi Mageo||LB||6'2, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|LB||6'3, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR|
|Russell Williams||LB||6'1, 225||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7900|
|Manly Williams||LB||6'2, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7867|
8. A truly awesome linebacking corps
If the line holds up, and it probably won't, the linebackers could thrive. Five of last year's top seven are back, Jerrol Garcia-Williams is back from an ACL injury, UCLA transfer Jeremy Castro could be ready for a breakthrough, and newcomers like Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea (Arizona) and Russell Williams (JUCO) might demand playing time. Mason's 2013 SMU linebackers were aggressive and creative, and he's got similar tools here. But it all depends on the line.
Meanwhile, despite an only decent pass rush, the secondary made some plays, too. Corners Ne'Quan Phillips, Dee Maggitt and Nick Nelson combined for 20 passes defensed, and Phillips, safety Trayvon Henderson and nickelback Gaetano DeMattei combined for 13 tackles for loss. From a recruiting perspective, the defensive backs might have been the most well-touted unit on the team, and the playmaking helped to back that up.
Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of boom-or-bust here, too. Hawaii ranked a decent 78th in Passing Success Rate+ (efficiency) but a miserable 118th in Passing IsoPPP+ (explosiveness). Mason tried to stay pretty conservative with his DBs at SMU, though, so it will be interesting to see what changes. Maggitt and leading tackler Taz Stevenson are gone, but Henderson, Phillips, Nelson and DeMattei are back, and three-star newcomers Dejaun Butler, Solomon Matautia and Cameron Hayes could build nice depth. There are pieces to like here, especially if Mason can tamp down on the big plays allowed.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Trayvon Henderson||S||6'0, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093||11||58.5||7.9%||3||1||2||0||0||0|
|Ne'Quan Phillips||CB||5'9, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8135||13||50.5||6.8%||6||3||1||6||1||0|
|Nick Nelson||CB||6'0, 190||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7926||10||33.5||4.5%||1||0||0||6||1||0|
|Gaetano DeMattei||NB||5'8, 175||Sr.||NR||NR||13||23.5||3.2%||4||1||0||0||0||0|
|Daniel Lewis Jr.||S||5'11, 180||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8141||11||18.5||2.5%||0||0||2||1||0||0|
|Marrell Jackson||S||6'0, 185||Sr.||NR||NR||10||8.5||1.1%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Jalen Rogers||CB||6'1, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||6||6.5||0.9%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Jerrell Jackson||DB||6'0, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993|
|Dejaun Butler||CB||5'11, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8033|
|Solomon Matautia||S||6'1, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8331|
|Cameron Hayes||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115|
|Keelan Ewaliko||KR||5'11, 175||So.||29||20.3||0|
|Diocemy Saint Juste||KR||5'8, 180||Jr.||6||18.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||36|
|Field Goal Efficiency||70|
|Punt Return Efficiency||88|
|Kick Return Efficiency||93|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||1|
9. Mr. Diversity is gone
I don't think we appreciated Scott Harding enough in the college football universe. He averaged 41 yards per punt, pinned opponents inside the 20 34 times, and helped Hawaii to rank second in the country in Punt Efficiency. Oh yeah, and he averaged 8.8 yards per punt return and averaged 7.0 yards per target as Ikaika Woolsey's No. 3 receiver. One guy did those things!
Harding's numbers were certainly replaceable at receiver and returns, but his punting was a major field position weapon for a team that needed one. Losing him might turn a top-40 special teams unit into a top-80 special teams unit.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Ohio State||1|
|3-Oct||at Boise State||21|
|10-Oct||San Diego State||76|
|17-Oct||at New Mexico||94|
|21-Nov||San Jose State||116|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-21.6% (99)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||118 / 102|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / -6.7|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-0.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||2.7 (1.3)|
10. The wins come late (if they come)
You can talk yourself into Hawaii improving this year. The Warriors need a quarterback and one more running back and receiver, but there are three to four candidates for each of those spots. The offensive line could be decent, and if the defensive line isn't completely awful, the back seven or eight of the defense could be excellent.
Unfortunately, the early schedule is miserable. By Oct. 4, Hawaii will have played on the road against three teams that ranked 25th or better in F/+ last year. If the Warriors don't beat Colorado in the opener, they're staring at a 1-4 start when San Diego State visits on Oct. 10. If this snowballs, Chow could be gone by the time lesser teams begin showing up on the schedule in November. The schedule makes for a tenuous tightrope walk, but if the Warriors maintain their confidence through the first five games, there are wins to be found. But you need a few ifs for this to work out well for Chow and the Warriors.