Hawaii Defensive Preview

We take a look at Hawaii's defense, which has struggled in the first three games of the season.

Hawaii’s biggest defensive issue through three games has easily been its tackling and Arizona will once again try to test the Rainbows in the open field.

UH plays a four man front and one player in particular is a name that Wildcat fans will be familiar with.

Makhani Kema-Kaleiwahea, formerly known as @Keoni Bush-Loo, is now in his senior year after transferring from Arizona.

He has started all three games at left end and has two sacks on the season to go along with eight tackles.

Although he struggles some in the run game, Kema-Kaleiwahea has been Hawaii’s best pass rusher and the offensive line will need to do better than it has in the first two games of the season.

David Manoa starts at the other end spot and the 6-foot-3, 240-pound redshirt junior has four tackles on the season. 

He has basically been a non-factor and although he has decent speed, Arizona has already faced better this season.

Plugging up the middle for Hawaii is former Colorado Buff Kory Rasmussen. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound graduate transfer is decent and more of a run stopper than anything as evidenced by his seven tackles and no other stats.

Next to Rasmussen at defensive tackle is 6-foot-3, 26-pound sophomore Zeno Choi. Once again, Hawaii has a smaller player on the line and he has struggled quite a bit in the early season. 

At middle linebacker is 6-foot-4, 235-pound Jahlani Tavai who may be one of the better defenders on the team.

He has 21 tackles, two of which came for a loss, and one interception. Tav has solid speed for a player of his size and will be considered the leader of the linebacker unit.

On his left side is 6-foot-2, 210-pound Malachi Mageo. He is another player that has struggled with tackling in the open field, but he does have some ability to at least get there and possibly get in the backfield if Hawaii chooses to be more aggressive.

The other linebacker is 6-foo-t1, 230-pound former JUCO linebacker Russell Williams. He has 11 tackles, including one for loss, and brings some nice size to the position. 

Hawaii’s defensive secondary isn’t actually all that bad on paper. Former Cienega standpoint Jalen Rogers will get the start at one of the corner spots and has nice size at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. 

He leads the team in numerous categories, including tackles, tackles for loss, interceptions, pass breakups, and passes defender.

Across from him is another JUCO product in 5-foot-11, 185-pound Jamal Mayo. He is up there in tackles with 19, but part of the reason is because he has been beaten on intermediate routes, which is where he tends to struggle a bit.

Junior Trayvon Henderson is a nice safety who is second on the team with 22 tackles to go along with a sack.

His strength is more against the run and Hawaii will often bring him closer to the line because of it.

The second safety is 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior Damien Packer. He has 19 tackles and one interception, which came against Michigan and was the first one of his career.

The reality is that Arizona’s offense should be able to score on Saturday. We said that last week and the offense struggled for a half, but you have to think the Wildcats will be ready to play.

Hawaii has had a major struggle with making the initial tackle, which makes you wonder if Arizona will try to establish the run early or work to get Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins into an early rhythm.

Players to Watch:

#5, DE Mekani Kema-Kaleiwahea: You know he will be motivated going against Arizona despite it ending on very good terms. He also happens to be Hawaii’s best pass rusher.

#7, LB Jeremiah Pritchard: The freshman is going to get some playing time and the Hawaii coaches have been high on him through the first few weeks.

Keys to the Game:

1. Establish a rhythm early: The coaches have been preaching it all week, but Arizona needs to do whatever it takes to get some kind of rhythm early. The worst thing that can happen, at least early in the game, are quick drives resulting in a punt.

2. Block: Sounds simple, right? It hasn’t been. Arizona’s offensive line has struggled in a big way and Hawaii has decent enough pass rushers to make the Wildcats pay.

3. Take Hawaii seriously: We’re not going to pretend the Rainbows should win this game, but Grambling State shouldn’t have been a close one either. 


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