Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The epitome of a pass-happy offense, the Hawaii Warriors figured to be a major player in the Western Athletic Conference once again last season, but head coach Greg McMackin could not have been prepared for the up- and-downs that went along with the 2011 campaign.
The leader in total offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision just a season earlier, quarterback Bryant Moniz was predicted to be on his way to another huge campaign after averaging 367.3 ypg in total offense in 2010. However, what McMackin and Moniz didn't see coming was an injury-shortened campaign that toppled the Warriors. Moniz did open with a bang though, accounting for almost 300 yards of total offense in a 34-17 stomping of Colorado as he ran for a career-high 121 yards, the most by a Warriors quarterback in 15 years.
Unfortunately, there was little time to savor the season-opening triumph as the team bowed to both Washington and UNLV on the road before Moniz lit up the skies with 424 yards and 7 touchdowns against UC Davis in a 56-14 final to even the season slate at 2-2. Victories over Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and Idaho had the team sitting at 5-3 and 3-1 in conference, but a narrow 28-27 setback against San Jose State on the road in the middle of October prevented the Warriors from being the top team in the WAC.
Following the victory over the Vandals on the road by a mere two points, the Warriors began spiraling out of control, losing to Utah State, Nevada and Fresno State. In the meeting with the Wolf Pack, not only did the Warriors bow by two touchdowns, they also lost Moniz to a season-ending ankle injury. Backup quarterback Shane Austin attempted to pick up the pieces as he threw for 232 yards and a touchdown, but Nevada was simply too strong. A victory over Tulane in late November moved the program to 6-6, but the prospects of another postseason appearance began to fade and disappeared altogether as the squad lost to BYU, 41-20, at home in early December to fall below .500.
Hawaii ranked last in the WAC and 113th in the nation in rushing with just 95.4 ypg, and was also eighth in the league and 110th in the country with 3.15 sacks allowed per game as the squad finished 3-4 in their final year in the WAC before moving over to the Mountain West Conference. Not only did the program change leagues, they also picked up a new coaching staff as McMackin announced his retirement and Norm Chow was brought in to run his pro-style offense which paid huge dividends during stops at BYU, USC and Utah as an offensive coordinator.
OFFENSE: With the change at head coach, the Warriors also made other moves in leadership, perhaps the most significant from an offensive point of view would be the squad moving on after Nick Rolovich who was not retained as offensive coordinator.
Rolovich was setting passing records for Hawaii before Timmy Chang, Colt Brennan and Moniz were heaving the ball down the field. With Rolovich out of the picture, the new starting quarterback and the rest of the crew on offense will be taking their instructions from Tommy Lee.
David Graves, who stepped in for Moniz last season, is the only returning quarterback with any measure of game experience, but transfer Jeremy Higgins has made it clear that he too is competing for the starting nod and is not giving up so easily. Duke transfer Sean Schroeder and true freshman Ikaika Woolsey are also part of the competition, but might have to settle for spots further down on the depth chart.
"I'm not going to put a time table to it," Chow said of picking his starter at QB. "I'll know. I've done this for a little bit. My gut will tell us when to make a decision. It may be tomorrow, it may be three weeks from now. It would be better if we did it in a hurry...but we're not going to make (the decision) until we're sure we're doing the right thing."
The good news for whomever is selected to sling the ball around for the Warriors is that four of the six returning starters on offense are skilled wide receivers. Billy Ray Stutzmann led the team in receptions with 78, leading to 910 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Jeremiah Ostrowski stretched his 65 catches into 687 yards and 5 scores. Justin Clapp accounted for 38 grabs for 356 yards and 4 TDs and, as a freshman, Trevor Davis tallied 28 receptions for 366 yards and 3 TDs. That's the good thing about the Hawaii offense is that so many receivers are used every year that there are almost always ones who return with experience.
Depending on how Chow wants to spin it, perhaps running back Joey Iosefa will become an even more crucial piece of the offensive puzzle in 2012. Last year Iosefa started 11 games as he generated 548 yards and 7 TDs on the ground, proving that he can be a major contributor for the Warriors when called upon.
DEFENSE: In 2011, the Warriors placed five of their starters on defense on All- WAC teams, but unfortunately each of them is no longer with the program. However, even with those losses, the defensive line is still considered one of the strongest aspects of the entire Warriors team heading into this season.
Paipai Falemalu will be the anchor for the unit, a local product who generated 50 total tackles, 6 for loss including 4.5 sacks a year ago. Falemalu also posted 7 quarterback hurries which was tops on the team.
Behind the front line, the Warriors lost quite a bit of punch at the linebacker position with both Corey Paredes and Aaron Brown moving on to the professional ranks. However, junior Art Laurel is certainly someone the team can build around in the middle after he led the team last season in both TFLs (14.5) and sacks (9.0).
Juniors John Hardy-Tuliau and Mike Edwards are set to defend the back half of the field from their defensive back positions. Hardy-Tuliau is the top returning tackler with 73 stops, tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions and also registered all but one of the team's 5 blocked kicks a year ago, so there's little he can't do.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The key figures on special teams remain intact from last year, from placekicker Tyler Hadden, to punter Alex Dunnachie and long-snapper Jake Ingram.
Hadden shared time with Kenton Chun last season and also dealt with a hip injury along the way, so maybe his numbers were not as strong as they could have been, particularly on PATs where he failed on 3 of his 21 attempts. His 5- of-10 effort on field goals is also a bit misleading since he was used almost exclusively on long-distance tries, so expect his accuracy to improve quite a bit in 2012.
Dunnachie helped to pin opponents back when the offense for the Warriors failed to get the job done. The Australia native is averaging close to 41 yards per punt for his career and was the main reason why Hawaii lead the nation in fewest opponent punt returns with a mere 4.
OUTLOOK: Making the leap to the Mountain West might not be as big of a deal for the Warriors as it is for other former members of the Western Athletic Conference, but that's just because Hawaii already feels somewhat displaced by being all alone out in the South Pacific. That said, the Warriors are still expected to struggle quite a bit as they were picked to finish seventh by the media.
"You have to go play the games," coach Chow says. "Obviously the teams that got picked ahead deserve it. I think our goal is to be the best we can be. We're going to worry about ourselves and not worry about our opponents. Obviously we do schematically, but our goal is to be the best we can be."
Kicking off the campaign with a trip to USC, one of many former stops for coach Chow, will test the resolve of the Warriors, as will a stop in Provo to challenge the BYU Cougars late in September. At no point does Hawaii have to travel deep into the continent, one of the few positives about the schedule for 2012, and the one stretch where they do play in consecutive weeks on the mainland they are clashing with Colorado State and Fresno State, a couple of schools with new head coaches that could be caught off guard.