Ok, let's take a look at this Hawaii team that will be facing off against Notre Dame in a little over 24 hours. Feel free to add any comments, corrections, or criticisms. Also, make sure to check out Tombo's work at UHFootball.blogspot.com. He does a great job covering Hawaii football.
First off, Hawaii's season to date:
Now let's take a look at the positions.L @ Florida (12-1) 10-56
W Weber State (10-4) 36-17
L @ Oregon State (8-4) 17-45
L San Jose State (6-6) 17-20
W @ Fresno State (7-6) 32-29
W Louisiana Tech (7-5) 24-14
L @ Boise State (12-0) 7-27
W Nevada (7-5) 38-31
L @ Utah State (3-9) 14-30
W @ New Mexico State (3-9) 42-30
W Idaho (2-10) 49-17
W Washington State (2-11) 24-10
L Cincinnati (11-2) 24-29
Greg Alexander. RS Junior
2008 stats: 131 completions, 206 attempts, 1634 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs.
Greg Alexander started Hawaii's first game of the season against Florida but was benched during the game for his rocky start. He rode the pine the next few games while Hawaii tried two different starting quarterbacks. Alexander returned to the field in a relief role against Nevada and wound up leading the team to a come from behind victory. Since that game he's been the starter and led Hawaii to a 4-2 record after a 3-4 start. In the last six games, Alexander has been completing nearly 65% of his passes and has a stellar 12-2 TD/INT ratio. Depth: Redshirt junior Inoke Funaki took over the starting job from Alexander early in the season but wasn't terribly effective with a poor 6/12 TD/INT ratio. Five of those interceptions came against Boise State, which led to Funaki losing his starting job. Still, Funaki provides some experienced depth off the bench if Hawaii needs him. Tyler Graunke also started a game this season, but is firmly the third QB at this point.
Kealoha Pilares. Sophomore.
2008 stats: 54 attempts, 281 yards, 5 TDs.
Sophomore Kealoha Pilares missed the last two games due to injury, but is expected to return to the starting lineup against Notre Dame. Hawaii's running game is ranked 108th in the nation, but Pilares averages an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. He has also spent some time working out of the slot where he has 26 receptions for 230 yards and 2 TDs. Still, his sprained right foot has been giving him a bit of trouble at recent practices so it will be interesting to see how effective he can be during the game. Depth: Senior Daniel Libre actually led the team in rushing with 431 yards on 98 attempts. He also leads the team in rushing TDs with six. If Pilares's foot starts to affect his performance, look for Libre to get the bulk of the carries in the game. 5th year senior David Farmer started three games this season and as the team's best blocking running back will see even more time if the ND defense is getting early pressure on QB Greg Alexander.
Greg Salas. RS Sophomore.
2008 stats: 50 receptions, 755 yards, 3 TDs.
Michael Washington. Senior.
2008 stats: 56 receptions, 693 yards, 5 TDs.
Malcolm Lane. Junior.
2008 stats: 31 receptions, 584 yards, 6 TDs.
Aaron Bain. Senior.
2008 stats: 44 receptions, 448 yards, 4 TDs.
Although not as prolific as last year's passing attack, Hawaii still boasts the nation's #33 passing offense. Spreading out the field with four receivers on most downs, Hawaii has a quartet with over 30 receptions this season. Michael Washington leads the team in receptions and for his efforts this season was recently named 2nd Team All-WAC. At 5'8" 170, he's also the smallest of the main Hawaii receivers. The deep threat is Malcolm Lane, who boasts an impressive 18.84 yards per catch. He also leads the team in receiving touchdowns with six. When Hawaii decides to test ND deep, Lane will be the likely target. He's also 12th in the nation in kickoff return yards with a 27.8 yard per kick return average. Another quick receiver, Greg Salas led the team in receiving yards, but was fourth in receiving TDs. He's also the team's biggest starting receiver at 6'2" 200 pounds. Rounding out the starting receivers is junior Aaron Bain. He's been getting Greg Alexander's attention as of late as he has led the team in receptions over the past four games. Depth: Redshirt junior Jon Medeiros provides a bit more depth off the bench. He only has nine receptions on the season, but caught two of them, one good for a touchdown, in the final regular season game against Cincinnati.
Hawaii doesn't list a tight end on their roster, preferring to use multiple receivers instead.
LT - Aaron Kia. RS Junior.
LG - Keith AhSoon. RS Senior.
C - John Estes. RS Junior.
RG - Lafu Tuioti-Mariner. RS Senior.
RT - Keoni Steinhoff. RS Senior.
John Estes is a solid presence in an otherwise leaky offensive line. Estes was named 1st Team All-WAC for the second straight season and has started 40 games in his college career. However, as a whole the Hawaii line has allowed an NCAA leading 49 sacks on the season. In the past two games alone, Hawaii has allowed 10 sacks. Part of the reason for the high sack numbers has been the injuries that have forced some shuffling along the line all season long. Estes and the right side of the line have started every game this season, but the left side has seen some changes. Keith AhSoon, who started at left tackle last seaosn, missed six weeks before returning to the starting lineup at left guard. Aaron Kia didn't begin the year as a starter, but came on as an injury replacement and has started the last 10 games. Depth: Laupepa Letuli started the season as the team's left tackle but was lost to injury. He's able to play now and provides depth off the bench at both tackle and guard.
DE - David Veikune. RS Senior.
2008 stats: 71 tackles, 16.0 TFL, 9.0 sacks, 4 FF.
DT - Keala Watson. RS Sophomore.
2008 stats: 28 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 blocked kicks.
DT - Joshua Leonard. Senior.
2008 stats: 36 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR.
DE - John Fonoti. RS Junior.
2008 stats: 55 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 FR.
In addition to being named 2nd Team All-WAC, defensive end David Veikune led the Hawaii defense in sacks and tackles for loss. He's also been on a roll lately as all nine of his sacks have come in the past six games after failing to get a single sack in the first seven games. Likewise, 11 of his 15 TFL have come in the second half of the season. 6'2" 300 pound defensive tackle Keala Watson joined Veikune on the 2nd Team All-WAC honor roll and teams with 6'3" 305 pound Joshua Leonard to give Hawaii plenty of size along the interior of the defensive line. 6'2" 255 pound John Fonoti is listed on the roster as a linebacker, but has started at defensive end all season long. He's second on the team in sacks for a defense that is currently ranked 11th in the nation in total sacks.
WLB - Adam Leonard. Senior.
2008 stats: 81 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks.
MLB - Solomon Elimimian. Senior.
2008 stats: 112 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF.
SLB - Brashton Satele. RS Junior.
2008 stats: 50 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF.
Hawaii uses slighly different nomenclature for their linebacker corp. For the Warriors, Adam Leonard is the Stub linebacker while Brashton Satele is the Buck 'backer. Soloman Elimimian is the lightest of the three starting linebackers at a listed 225 pounds, which is somewhat unusual considering he is the middle linebacker. But he been more that effective at that spot. For the second straight year he has led the team in tackles and the senior with 48 career starts under his belt was also recently named Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the WAC. Adam Leonard received 1st team All-WAC honors as well after finishing the regular season as Hawaii's second leading tackler. Satele moved around a bit during the season, finally emerging as the starting Buck linebacker three games ago. He's the team's biggest starting linebacker at 6'1" 255 pounds, which will definitely help Hawaii's rush defense. Depth: R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane started three games during the year, but was far below the other starters on defense as he finished the regular season with 22 tackles, good for 14th on the team.
CB - Jameel Dowling. RS Senior.
2008 stats: 66 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR.
FS - Ryan Mouton. Senior.
2008 stats: 36 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR. 2 FF.
SS - Keao Monteilh. RS Senior.
2008 stats: 41 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.0 sacks, 5 INTs.
CB - Calvin Roberts. RS Senior.
2008 stats: 55 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR.
One of the best athletes on the team, free safety Ryan Mouton was the third Hawaii defender named 1st Team All-WAC. Normally a safety, Mouton moves to the nickel back spot when Hawaii brings on an extra defensive back. Highlighting his importance to the team, Mouton also started 2 games at receiver, catching 8 passes for 71 yards. While Mouton led the team in passes broken up, his fellow safety Keao Monteilh led the team in interceptions with five. At cornerback, Jameel Dowling was 4th on the team in tackles, which usually means he was the corner that opposing teams picked on the most. Calvin Roberts was right next to Dowling as the team's fifth leading tackler so teams weren't exactly scared to throw his way either. Depth: 5th year senior Erik Robinson started most of the season at strong safety before getting injured. He is back now and will rotate in with Monteilh. When Hawaii goes to a nickel, Robinson usually will come in as the extra defensive back. 5th year senior Desmond Thomas started when Ryan Mouton missed time with an ankle injury and will see some snaps if Mouton needs a break.
Hawaii Game Analysis
The thing that jumps out at me after writing this is just how old the Hawaii team is. Of the 22 starters, only 1 (running back Pilares) isn't at least a junior. 18 of the 22 starters are at least seniors if you go by when they graduated high school. There are no true freshmen on the entire 2-deep. Contrast that with 8 freshmen on ND's 2-deep, 5 of which have started a game.
Hawaii's team is full of junior college transfers and transfers from other colleges, which explains why there are so many college veterans on the team. However, that experience hasn't translated into discipline as Hawaii leads the nation in penalties and is only second to TCU in penalties per game. It's hard to say if the penalties are more of the personal foul or false start variety, but Hawaii lately has had a reputation of hitting through the echo of the whistle. A lot of electronic ink has been used writing about ND's passion and willingness to fight back this season. How they handle an (overly) aggressive Hawaii team from the start will give us an early clue as to how the game might unfold.
I mentioned a few times how the second half improvement was noticeable in a few players like QB Greg Alexander and DE David Veikune. They certainly have stepped up their production, but it's only fair to point out that their competition over those games was hardly impressive. The first 7 opponents that Hawaii faced went a collective 62-26 on the season while the last 6 only went 28-46, including 4 teams that won 3 or fewer games. How much of that late season improvement was due to Hawaii improving and how much was due to the much lower level of competition?
Looking at the talent levels, ND has the edge at just about every position. But what has made this season so maddening is that despite the edge in talent, Notre Dame has still struggled and looked awful at times. Getting Micheal Floyd and Brian Smith back from injury will definitely help as they not only are two of the more talented players on their side of the ball, but also the two likely to fire up teammates through their play. It's easy to relax when the days leading up to the game are filled with beach parties and trips to water parks. If ND can focus and not treat thet entire bowl game trip like a vacation, ND should win, perhaps even easily. But nothing has come easy this season. Assuming ND starts out slow, they will need to avoid the 4th quarter collapses that have plagued them the latter half of the season. Both teams have been rather generous to their opponents with turnovers (ND is 85th in turnover margin, Hawaii is 90th), so it's very likely that the game could come down to which team is able to hold on the ball more. Much has been made about Hawaii's nation worst sack numbers, so if the Irish defense are ever going to have that breakout sack-filled game we've all been waiting for, now's as good a time as any.