With just four games to go in 2013 the Mids welcome to Annapolis a team who have to fly just under 4,800 miles for this contest, the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 9; 3:30 p.m. EST
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, Md.)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 (1-7 MWC, last in Mountain West; No bowl game)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked
SERIES HISTORY: Hawaii leads, 2-0. (Last meeting: Hawaii 24, Navy 17, in 2009)
OFFENSE: The Hawaii offense was flat out painful in 2012 scoring just 254 points for an average of just over 21 points per game. This, remember, is a school that just six years previously (2006) had scored a monstrous 656. To put it into its most simple terms, the offense from last year would have needed 31 games (over two and a half seasons) to match that output.
Coming into 2013 there is one big barrier preventing Hawaii from making any kind of monumental leap on offense, the offensive line. A combination of injuries, lack of depth, and shallow confidence, is plaguing this unit, a fact which will keep the offense short of its potential unless things improve quickly. As a show of how bad this situation is Hawaii allowed five sacks in the spring game to recently converted defensive end George Daily-Lyles.
If the line can somehow improve then expect Hawaii to be much more balanced on offense than they were last season. Hawaii flat out ran the ball too much last year, one of the reasons why this team was 0-7 when trailing after the first quarter. When the ball does need to be run, however, Hawaii has lost one of its better options. Sophomore to be Will Gregory exited the program over the winter taking with him his 691 yards and 5 yard per carry average. Gregory was the only Rainbow Warrior on the roster with game breaking speed so the load will be on 240 pounder Joey Iosefa until someone else steps up.
Conclusion: Strong armed Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham could light a fire under the Hawaii passing game, if he is given time in the pocket to do so. The wide receivers are a solid bunch, but as the spring game showed it doesn't matter how good the skill position players are if the quarterback is getting lit up all day. This is a game where the Navy pass rushers have to take over and force Hawaii into running the ball and check down throws. Graham has a rocket arm and if he is given time he could pick Navy apart if the defense lets him get comfortable.
DEFENSE: The Hawaii defense was just as bad as the offense for most of last year, but there are signs that improvement is being made. With another year in the system of defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer it will be interesting to see if the improvements are good enough, fast enough for this fall.
This defense is at its best on the back end where the Rainbow Warriors have three safeties who can all make things happen. Seniors John Hardy-Tuliau, Charles Clay, and sophomore Marrell Jackson all need to be on the field for this defense to be at its best. As such expect to see plenty of sub packages on the defensive side of the ball to get these three playmakers on the field. There is a question at cornerback where Mike Edwards jumped early to the NFL, but the general consensus is that the secondary is in pretty good shape.
The front seven lacks experienced size, but there is help coming in the form of giant freshman Kennedy Tulimasealii. The 300 pounder, on a light day, will provide instant help at defensive tackle and will boost a rotation which has the ability to be pretty good if everyone is healthy. The end rotation as well could be decent, especially if Daily-Lyles spring game turns out to be more than just a case of beginners luck. If he plays well enough to hold down a spot in the rotation after being moved through necessity, then the pass rush will benefit.
Conclusion: Hawaii was at its worst last year against fast paced, spread them out offenses. Obviously that is not the forte of this Navy squad so it will be interesting to see if those spread principles Navy has been practicing finds their way into this game plan. Hawaii has recruited heavily for size inside, so it will be worth watching the battle on the interior of the line to see if the Navy guards and center can move the big tackles. If they can then expect a solid dose of the option, if not then the Mids will have to change things up and get their runners into space.
Other Factors: Though Hawaii will miss Edwards at cornerback, they will miss his All-American return skills even more. Last fall Edwards returned three kicks for touchdowns and was a threat to change field position every time he touched the ball. That skill set is far from easy to replace. Hawaii also have to replace a very good punter in Alex Dunnachie.
Conclusion: This is a game Navy should win comfortably unless Hawaii is far ahead of projections in their rebuilding plan. Norm Chow has a great football brain, but it is of little use when his offensive line is as close to shambolic as any team in the FBS. The Rainbow Warriors will make strides on defense compared to last year and overall the team is definitely heading in the right direction. The 2013 season however comes too soon for all those pieces to be in place and Navy win at a canter.
Preseason Preview: Navy vs. Hawaii
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