Countdown to the 2014 Season – No. 11 – Hawai’i
Note … This is the second in a series of previews for the 2014 season, ranking CU’s opponents from the easiest to most difficult. The first preview, Massachusetts, can be found here.
For years, Norm Chow was considered one of the best assistant coaches in college football. From BYU to USC to UCLA to Utah, Chow led offenses to success, and was annually thought of as being one of the top candidates to take over a head coaching job. At different times, interviewed for head coaching jobs at North Carolina State, UCLA, Kentucky … even the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.
Two years ago, Chow got his opportunity to be a head coach, coming home to his native Hawai’i.
A storybook ending … except for the results.
Hawai’i has gone 4-22 under Chow in his two seasons as the coach of the Warriors. After a 3-9 campaign in 2012, the wheels fell off last fall. It took a season-ending defeat of Army to pick up the season’s first win, and avoid only the second winless season at Hawai’i in the modern era.
It’s safe to say that the Hawai’i team which will be playing at Folsom Field on September is not of the same caliber as the team which defeated Colorado in the 2011 season opener.
Coming off of a 3-9 inaugural season under Norm Chow, there was reason to believe that the second season would be at least as productive. A 30-13 loss to USC in the opener was a loss to be sure, but the Warriors hung with the Trojans, leading in the second quarter before USC posted 17 points in the final four minutes of the first half to pull away.
The USC game, though, proved to be a microcosm of the Warriors’ 2013 season. Hawai’i posted close losses to No. 25 Fresno State (42-37 – a Bulldog team CU fans, as you will recall, were glad to avoid), UNLV (39-37), and Colorado State (35-28).
With an 0-9 record and a winless season ever closer to becoming a possibility, Hawai’i lost two straight games in overtime, falling to 28-21 and to Wyoming, 59-56. Showing a little moxie, the Warriors closed out the season with a 49-42 win over Army, with the Cadets leaving the islands with a 3-8 record.
As noted in the above scores, offense was really not the problem for Hawai’i. The Warriors finished the 2013 with the 19th-best passing attack in the nation, throwing for over 300 yards per game. Hawai’i also posted a respectable 27.4 points per game (better than CU’s 25.4 points per game).
The problems were on defense. Every 2013 opponent scored at least 28 points, with half of the opposing teams scoring 39 points or more. In the overtime loss to Wyoming, Hawai’i put up 56 points (all in regulation, the Warriors did not score in overtime), with the offense generating 624 yards of total offense … But the defense gave up 59 points and a ridiculous 793 yards of total offense to the Cowboys.
It did not come as a surprise, then, when defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer was dismissed at the end of the season, replaced by Utah State assistant Kevin Clune.
The quarterback position at Hawai’i will be the one to watch this August. Last season, junior college transfer Sean Schroeder had the job, and performed well, throwing for 2,960 yards and 28 touchdowns (with only 14 interceptions). There were a few options during spring practices, with sophomore Ikaika Woosley and senior Jeremy Higgins the best of those competing.
All you need to know about the Hawai’i quarterback position, however, comes from the fact that the Warriors were active suitors of USC transfer quarterback Max Wittek. Wittek, considered to be the No. 3 pro-style quarterback from the Recruiting Class of 2011, was looking for a chance to play elsewhere, and was recruited by, amongst others, Texas and Hawai’i. Wittek, however, did not have enough credits to graduate this past spring, and will be a December graduate at best … so he won’t be playing against CU, or anyone else, this fall.
Whoever does take the snaps for Hawai’i this fall will have plenty of help. Senior running back Joey Iosefa missed the first seven games of last season with a foot injury, but came on strong in the final five games, rushing for a team-leading 590 yards and five touchdowns. Hawai’i will be without wide receiver Chris Gant, who had 973 yards receiving last year, but do have senior Scott Harding (56 catches for 631 yards) returning.
Good news / bad news for Hawai’i along the offensive line. The group returns all of its starters, but it was a group which was not as dominant as hoped. The only non-senior along the line, junior center Ben Clarke, is a good bet for all-Mountain West Conference honors this fall.
As noted, the Hawai’i defense will be getting a makeover this fall, as Kevin Clune takes over as defensive coordinator. Clune’s credentials are impressive: During the 2013 season, Clune helped coach a Utah State defense that allowed just 17.1 points per game to rank first in the Mountain West and seventh in the nation.
Still, Clune will not be able to take the field himself, and there is a distinctive lack of talent in the Hawai’i defensive roster, especially in the front seven. The Warriors lose linebackers Brenden Daley and Art Laurel. Senior Beau Yap (37 tackles, 5.5 sacks) is the best of the remaining players. Junior Jerrol Garcia-Williams (56 tackles) and UCLA transfer Jeremy Castro, a four-star prospect from the Recruiting Class of 2012, should help.
The Hawai’i secondary is, to put it politely, a work in progress. The Warriors lost both safeties to graduation, and there are no dependable cornerbacks. To help remedy the problem, Hawai’i signed six defensive backs as part of the Recruiting Class of 2014, but none were available for spring practices. This August, it will be a learn-as-you-go process as Hawai’i tries to field a defensive backfield capable of competing in the Mountain West Conference.
Hawai’i will spend the month of September, 2014, being an honorary member of the Pac-12. The Warriors open with home games against Washington and Oregon State, with neither game a likely victory. Hawai’i then gets a break – of sorts – taking on Northern Iowa. The Panthers went 7-6 last season, including a 28-20 win over Iowa State in the 2013 opener.
After spending the first three weekends of the season at home, Colorado becomes the first road game of the season for Hawai’i on September 20th. It is a poorly kept secret that Hawai’i does not play as well on the road as it does at home, and that has held true under Norm Chow. In two seasons at Hawai’i, Chow has yet to lead the Warriors to a road victory (0-12).
The Warriors will get a bye week after taking on the Buffs, giving the Warriors a slight advantage in being able to put all of their energies towards their game against the Buffs before beginning their Mountain West schedule.
As the Hawai’i game approaches this fall, Buff fans will be reminded of the “brick” game in 2011. The Buffs played the Warriors in the season opener that fall, the first game for head coach Jon Embree. The Hawai’i game was much anticipated with promise by the Buff Nation. Colorado, though, laid an egg, falling 34-17, leaving Buff fans with a sour taste which would last for two seasons.
The Hawai’i game this fall, though, should be more like the 2010 game in Boulder. The Buffs fell behind early, 10-0, but rallied for a 31-13 victory. Hawai’i is a struggling program right now, and will not have the ship righted by the time the Warriors land in Boulder.
The Warriors under Norm Chow will likely come to Boulder with a 1-2 record, having fallen to Washington and Oregon State, while handling FCS Northern Iowa. The Buffs’ psyche will also be at issue. If Colorado is 2-0, having beaten Colorado State and Massachusetts, there will be great enthusiasm for the Folsom Field opener. A 1-2 record, or, heaven forbid, an 0-3 record, and the mood of the Buff Nation will be considerably different.
Best bet: Colorado takes care of business against Hawai’i. The Buffs have too much talent for the Warriors, and the Hawai’i program is in disarray in what may be Norm Chow’s final season. If the game were in Honolulu (as it will be for the 2015 season opener), this might be a closer game.
Colorado posts a much needed – and much desired – double-digit victory.