By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: With so much changing for the Hawaii program the last couple of years, having to deal with another faux pas by head coach Greg McMackin wasn't exactly the way the Warriors were hoping to kick off the 2009
campaign. Unfortunately, after the second-year head coach inserted his foot into his mouth with regard to Notre Dame, the previous year's opponent in the Hawaii Bowl, he found himself suspended for 30 days and that put the program
at a huge disadvantage.
The Warriors managed to squeeze out a 25-20 win against tiny Central Arkansas in the season opener and also picked up a 38-20 win against Washington State the following week, but those two programs combined to post a 6-18 record in
2009 so there really wasn't much reason to celebrate. The campaign went down
hill from there as Hawaii suffered not only six consecutive losses, beginning
with a 34-33 defeat at the hands of UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium, but also had to
deal with the loss of starting quarterback Greg Alexander who was injured
against Louisiana Tech in the Western Athletic Conference opener on September
30th. Alexander's left knee injury was severe enough to require surgery and
bring an end to his season, which pushed junior college transfer Bryant Moniz
into the starting lineup.
With the quarterback position in shambles and left up to a youngster who was
still learning the ropes himself, the Warriors limped along through a winless
October before finally gaining some momentum with a 49-36 win over Utah State
on November 7th. Consecutive victories over New Mexico State, San Jose State
and Navy actually took Hawaii to the brink of the postseason, sporting a 6-6
record as it prepared for a visit by Wisconsin in the regular-season finale on
December 5th. Unfortunately, the Warriors didn't find the end zone until late
in the fourth quarter in what wound up as a lopsided 51-10 loss to the
Hawaii finished in a tie for fifth place in the WAC at 3-5 and was 6-7 overall
last season as the offense took the spotlight once more (437.5 ypg) and the
defense continued to progress slowly.
OFFENSE: "I expect him to improve this year," is what coach McMackin says of wideout
Greg Salas who was one of the most productive receivers in all of college
football last year. "He has been working harder than he has ever
worked...We've played him outside, last year we brought him inside because
he's quick enough, he's a 4.5 runner in the 40 and he can deal with the
linebackers inside and then get up the football field so we're expecting big
things of Greg."
Salas is a senior this year and will be a marked man given that he finished
fourth in the nation in receiving yards per game with 122.3 yards. For his
efforts Salas was not only a semifinalist for the Belitnikoff Award, he was
also an All-WAC First Team selection.
Joining Salas in the receiving corps will again be fellow senior Kealoha
Pilares who started all 13 games for the Warriors a season ago. Pilares, who
is build in the mold of the numerous slight and speedy receivers who have
attended Hawaii in recent years, had 66 catches for 690 yards and four scores
Just as important as the return of both Salas and Pilares is that of Moniz.
The signal-caller was thrown into the fire last year and responded by
converting better than 57 percent of his pass attempts for 14 touchdowns and
just 10 interceptions. Just as important, Moniz also placed third on the team
in rushing with 117 yards, a characteristic that was quite uncommon among
Hawaii QBs prior to McMackin taking over the squad.
Seniors Alex Green and Chizzy Dimude are listed as the primary running backs
on the depth chart, but despite the former having gained 453 yards and scored
twice in 2009, the fact that the offensive line will be made up of new faces
means yards between the tackles will be hard to come by.
DEFENSE: The Warriors had a decent defense in 2008, one that ranked fifth in
the conference and 66th in the nation in stopping the run with only 142.1 ypg
allowed. However, it was a much different story for the group last year as
they again ranked fifth in the WAC, but this time around settled all the way
down at 107th in the country with a lofty 201.9 ypg allowed.
Nevada, which led the nation in rushing put up 312 yards on the Warriors, yet
it was actually Louisiana Tech that generated a hefty 352 yards to top all
Hawaii opponents. Throw Wisconsin into the mix with 301 yards in the season
finale and clearly the run defense is an area that needs significant attention
Elliott Purcell and Vaughn Meatoga stand as the lone returning starters on the
defensive line for the Warriors, but between them the combined for just 45
total tackles a year ago, so they'll be needing significant help in the
trenches to make enough of a difference.
The Warriors will be rather deep in experience in the secondary, especially
with Mana Silva heading back for his senior season. Silva played in all 13
games in 2009, yet even though he started just 10 at free safety he still saw
enough passes thrown his way to come up with a league-best six interceptions,
ranking him 11th in the nation in that department. Fellow seniors Lametrius
Davis, Spencer Smith and Jeramy Bryant will also be involved in coverage
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Scott Enos is back as the starting kicker for the
Warriors after hitting all 34 of his PATs and 12-of-19 on field goal chances,
but should the offense struggle again this season he'll need to make some
improvements on his field goal accuracy. As a freshman last year, Alex
Dunnachie handled the punting duties for Hawaii, averaging 39.2 yards per
kick, and for the most part the coverage team helped to keep him on the field
by making sure the unit averaged 36.5 net yards per punt. Bringing back punts
was far from a strong suit for the Warriors in 2009, the team averaging a mere
6.5 yards per return, but still Ryan Henry will be the primary man in that
position. Although, considering Salas averaged better than 11 yards per return
when he got his hands on the ball, don't think that his ability to make
something happen won't go unnoticed.
OUTLOOK: Hawaii has consistently had one of the top passing attacks in college
football over the last decade, but as anyone will tell you, throwing the ball
all over the field doesn't guarantee a win.
The schedule makers did the Warriors no favors by pitting them against USC in
the season opener, especially since Lane Kiffin needs to get his crew off on
the right foot. "Our fans are excited, the whole state's excited," coach
McMackin says of the appearance of USC out on the island. "I don't think the
sanctions are going to hurt them in that game, that first game. I believe,
actually, it's going to get them ready to play...they're gonna want to make a
It also doesn't help that Hawaii has to travel all the way to New York to face
off against Army on September 11th, not to mention the stop in Boulder seven
days later to challenge the Colorado Buffaloes. The home date with Charleston
Southern might be the only guarantee on the schedule for the Warriors because
the Western Athletic Conference slate provides very little in the way of
certainty. Although, after taking on Boise State in Idaho on November 6th, it
is conceivable that Hawaii could finish the season strong when dealing with
San Jose State and UNLV at home, with a meeting versus New Mexico State on the
road mixed in for good measure.