Hawaii Coach Likes His Defense

The Hawaii Warriors come into The Swamp Saturday as a team that knows a lot of about its defense and virtually nothing about the other side of the ball. The Warriors lost their head coach, June Jones, who designed and managed the run-and-shoot offense.

In addition they lost quarterback Colt Brennan who passed for more than 4,000 yards and 38 TDs and his top four receivers. The top returning runner, Keoloha Pilares will be primarily a receiver this fall.

New head coach Greg McMackin was the defensive coordinator last year and is happy to return his top two tacklers Solomon Elimimian (136 tackles) and Adam Leonard (104). They also return defensive end David Veikune who led the team with seven QB sacks. McMackin says he's counting on his front seven to help a rebuilt secondary.

"Our front seven is the strength of our team," McMackin said. "I think the depth of our linebackers, we're set with that. We have Sollie (Elimimian) and Adam (Leonard) who are really All-Defensive players of the league (WAC). And we also have Brashton Satele who's really come a long way. I also think our defensive ends are really good. We have David Veikune who is an All-WAC guy and we also have a guy named John Fonoti at the other end who's outstanding."

Offensively there are loads of questions surrounding this team as illustrated above. As a result McMackin struggled to come up with an answer when I asked him which players looked like they would emerge as his playmakers this fall.

"Well that's what we're in the process of identifying. They just have to continue to get reps. We've been going against each other and on scout teams and now we need game reps and we'll find out. We're playing I think one of the top two teams in the country and we'll find out where we are ad where we'll have to go."

Last season Hawaii averaged just 73 yards a game on the ground compared with 362 through the air. While the offensive scheme remains the same, McMackin says he wants to see more balance in '08.

"We're going to look almost the same as we did a year ago. Our offense is a "read" offense. You guys (Florida) run a spread option, and we run an option with a passing game so we're reading off coverages and that type of thing. We are going under the center a little more and get a little more flexibility. We're sorta between Mouse Davis and June Jones. We didn't run the ball very much last year and I think we have a couple of pretty good running backs so we hope to run the ball more. I know that Florida has a great run defense and they're not going to be easy to run against but we would like to run the football better than we did last year."

One thing that does stand out about Hawaii is special teams, notably their return game. The Warriors averaged 24.3 yards on kickoff returns and 12.4 on punt returns in 2007 scoring three touchdowns. McMackin said that emphasis will continue.

"I think special teams are very important and we spend a lot of time on special teams. During doubles (two a day practices) we spend an hour a day on special teams. I don't think it's a third of the game as far as snaps go, but it is a third of the game when you figure an offensive or defensive play takes about four seconds but a special teams play takes at least six-to-eight seconds so it averages out to be about a third of the game. I really think there are about six or seven plays in a game that determine the outcome of that game. So we're going to play our best players on special teams, because some of those seven plays could come during special teams so it's very important."

Hawaii is picked to finish fourth or fifth in the WAC this year and that seems about right. They have some capable players on defense, but no enough speed to keep up with the likes of Louis Murphy, Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey and all the other weapons the Gators bring to the field. Offensively they will gain some yardage with all their passing, but their offensive line will have trouble with the Gators defensive ends. Florida needs to play tight on the inexperienced Warriors receivers and take away the quick, easy completions and if they do that it will be a very relaxing afternoon in Gainesville.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel

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