JM: Although Hawaii became famous for its passing attack under June Jones, Hawaii continues to be known for its physicality. The offensive line was lacking in both depth and talent this offseason, but the team seems to have done a surprisingly good job in putting a formidable offensive line on the field. They have blocked well for several different UH running backs already. On defense, the Rainbow Warriors’ two defensive ends in a three-man front have excelled. Luke Shawly is third on the team in tackles and has 1.5 sacks, while Kennedy Tulimasealii has 3.5 tackles for loss.2, Norm Chow’s first three seasons have a combined record of 8-29. This season off to a 2-1 start. What’s been the big difference in season four?
JM: The schedule was certainly an advantage. Although Ohio State was as tough as a matchup as it gets, the Warriors capitalized on home games against FCS program UC Davis and narrowly defeated a struggling Pac-12 program in Colorado. This season, however, Hawaii has welcomed a large class of transfers and late junior college additions over the summer that have made an immediate impact - headlined by USC quarterback transfer Max Wittek.3, How would you grade out Hawaii’s first three games in terms of the program’s strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball?
JM: Run offense and pass defense have been Hawaii’s stronger points so far this season. At running back, despite the varying health of returners Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste, junior college transfers Paul Harris and Melvin Davis have proven to be capable FBS backs already. On defense, the Warriors have given up less than 200 passing yards per game. Three defensive backs rank in the top six tacklers for Hawaii through three games.4, For years the identity of a Hawaii offense was a heavy emphasis on throwing the football with the running game being an afterthought. How has that changed under Chow?
JM: This certainly isn’t the June Jones teams of the 2000s. Chow runs a balanced attack and the addition of Don Bailey at offensive coordinator has implemented more spread looks into the offense. Hawaii has ran 100 times and thrown 88 times in three games this year. Hawaii had more read option looks last year, but that doesn’t quite fit Wittek’s style.5, Receivers Marcus Kemp and Devin Stubblefield each went over 100 receiving yards against UC-Davis. Was that a surprise or expected from the duo, and how do they play off each other to make things challenging for the defense?
JM: The numbers put up by Kemp and Stubblefield combined were certainly a surprise. In fact, Hawaii hadn’t had two players put up over 100 yards in the same game since 2010. Kemp is a regular in the box score after becoming the Rainbow Warriors’ top receiver as a sophomore last year. Stubblefield, however, is a freshman and hadn’t caught a pass for Hawaii until last weekend.
Utah transfer Quinton Pedroza is typically Kemp’s complement in the offense. Dylan Collie, formerly of BYU, has also been a welcomed addition to the unit with six receptions and 75 yards through three games.6, Who have emerged as the standout players on defense?
JM: Jerrol Garcia-Williams earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after logging 15 tackles versus UC Davis and now has the second most tackles on the team. Cornerback Nick Nelson has also been credited with seven pass breakups. Tulimasealii has also impressed with his team high 3.5 tackles for loss.7, Despite its beauty, it’s tough to recruit top-end players to Hawaii and keep the best island players on the island. How has this staff done on the recruiting trail?
JM: The 2016 class was an unusual one. Few freshman were actually signed as the process typically goes. Hawaii had several scholarships open after signing day and waited to grab several junior college players that had been passed up due to qualification issues. Nearly every player targeted by Hawaii made the grades and qualified through the clearinghouse in time. Chow also added multiple transfer in hopes of making an immediate impact and making a push forward for this program. Hawaii will see its recruiting improve in the near future with Abe Elimimian taking over as defensive backs coach. He has already had success in the Los Angeles area in his first recruiting cycle.8, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Hawaii trouble? Where do you think the Warriors have the edge over the Badgers?
JM: I expect Wisconsin’s pass defense to give Wittek and the offense trouble. If Hawaii can’t move the ball through the air, it will be another long day for the Hawaii offense in Big Ten country. I expect Hawaii’s pass defense to give Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave some troubles. Hawaii keeps Wisconsin from breaking the big plays and keeps the score interesting going into the third quarter.9, What is the one thing Hawaii needs to do well in order to win Saturday?
JM: Hawaii needs to get the offense going in the first half, in particular the passing game. Hawaii thought they finally had an answer to the quarterback position in Chow’s tenure with Wittek, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet. He has completed only 50 percent of his passes with five touchdowns to four interceptions while averaging 180 passing yards through three games.10, What needs to happen for Hawaii fans to feel good about their chances in the Mountain West Conference?
JM: Anything except a blowout loss should leave Hawaii fans feeling confident in its chances for the Mountain West’s West Division. To date, Hawaii is the only team in the division with an FBS win from its 28-20 victory over Colorado in the season opener. Boise State is the only other team in the entire conference to post a nonconference win over FBS competition so far through three weeks. The conference, especially the West, is certainly up for grabs. Despite Chow’s 8-29 record in three years, they have as good of a chance as any in making the Mountain West Championship Game.