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It’s easy – and fun – to be a Warrior optimist in July

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With the opening of fall camp still a month away, your expectations as a University of Hawaii football fan can be as unrealistically high as you want. It’s your prerogative, especially if you’re the one signing the check for the season tickets or the pay-per-view package.

It doesn’t matter that magazines and websites say UH won’t bounce back from its first losing season in four years and make it to its bowl game. You prefer to look at the pitcher of Kool-Aid as way more than half-full.

For now, I’ll go along, but just part of the way. Great receiver corps? Agreed. Solid secondary? Yes. Improved defensive front? Check. Mobile quarterback with pretty good accuracy and understanding of the system? Affirmative.

You know what that adds up to, right?

A really good team … if the opponents’ defenders have to count to five Mississippi before crossing the line of scrimmage.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m questioning the physicality or toughness of the guys on the offensive line yet, just their experience and cohesion.

WE NOW head into Greg McMackin’s third year as head coach. This is significant to some in the rose-colored-glasses, because they draw a parallel to the first two years under June Jones, 1999 and 2000.

Hawaii had a winning record and went to a bowl game its first year under each coach, but suffered a losing season the second year.

So, going into Year 3 under McMackin, the optimists club predicts something akin to the Warriors’ 9-3 mark of 2001 — and not a continuation of the current downward trend: 12-1 and the Sugar Bowl in 2007 (Jones’ last year), 7-7 in 2008, and 6-7 last season.

You may agree that’s an overly simplistic case for projected success.

I like simple arguments, but only those based in logic — such as the one we often hear about offensive line experience. And that is where the 2001 and 2010 Warriors differ drastically.

"Our only new starter was Uriah Moenoa at right tackle," recalled UH running backs coach Brian Smith, who was the center in 2001. The rest of the lineup was Lui Fuata at left tackle, Manly Kanoa at left guard and one of the greatest players in UH history, Vince Manuwai, at right guard.

It was a formidable group that led the way to 462.7 yards and 40.2 points per game.

By contrast, the current Warriors return no one with double-figure starts in Division I. Plenty of the potential starters have been in the system a long time, but most were backups to a line that yielded 36 sacks for 223 yards last year and some were also understudies to the group that allowed a whopping 57 for 348 in 2008. Toss in Matagisila Lefiti — who looked promising at center in the spring — being out for fall camp due to surgery, and even the most hopeful fan might be somewhat concerned.

IT’S TOO early to pop all your balloons, so here are some numbers that might make you feel a little better about prospects for the fall. You know that 2001 offensive line, the one I just told you was so good? Well, it gave up nearly as many sacks (33) for almost as many yards (214) as last year’s, in one fewer game. This after just 10 sacks in the 3-9 season of 2000.

"Rolo would hang in there and was willing to take sacks to have a chance to make big plays," Smith said, speaking of then quarterback and now offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. "The sacks went up, but the big plays went up, too."

I never thought of more sacks allowed as an indicator of more success, but in this case it makes sense.

And in July, when everyone’s still 0-and-0, you’re allowed to make the stats mean whatever you want.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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