There is one unique drill in which the Hawaii quarterback lowers the front of his helmet, then throws, essentially blind-folded, to a receiver running a route.
“It’s a Luke Skywalker thing,” offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said.
The drill’s intent is not to illustrate that, yes, UH quarterbacks can run the four-wide offense with their eyes closed. It is to show — or, more precisely, not to show — the quarterback’s tendencies.
In this read-and-attack passing offense, the quarterback needs more than a strong arm, nimble feet and archer’s confidence. He needs a poker player’s demeanor.
Defensive players often claim a quarterback’s eyes are the window to his playbook.
“It’s not really the eyes as much as the body language,” Rolovich said. “It’s a quarterback’s feet all the way to the shoulders. (Defensive players) can’t really see the quarterback’s eyes. They’re looking at the body language. If a quarterback’s feet are really quick, the ball might come out right now.”
During one of the passing drills, ground-level videos are shot. Later, the quarterbacks meet in the third-floor conference room. On the Smart Board, close-up videos of each quarterback appear. Is he locking on a receiver? Is he tipping the play? In poker parlance, does he have a “tell”?
“The ground-level film has been very effective for themselves in terms of what they’re doing, just their general up-close body language,” Rolovich said.
Which goes back to the blind test. By closing his eyes, a quarterback learns to envision the options without visually — or physically — locking in on a receiver.
The theory is this: When a quarterback can control his body, he can control the defender reading his body language. The key is to make a defender think he is going one way, and then throw the other way.
In UH’s offense, every play is a menu of about four main selections. While there is an order — the progressions — it is not inflexible.
Rolovich’s message to the quarterbacks: “Don’t be a robot. You need to be creative in every situation, in terms of how you move people. You have your own initial reads and everything, but if you want me to tell you what to do every play, it’s not going to happen. You’re going to see the picture, the front side and the back side, and you’re going to have a feel thing.”
Rolovich said former UH quarterbacks Tim Chang and Colt Brennan can face the same defense in the same situation but come away with a different throw.
“There are different ways to run a play,” Rolovich said. “You can’t be a robot when it comes to progressions. One. Two. Three. Four.’ There are times, maybe, when it’s good to go: One. Two. One again. We talk about the eye battle. Who are you moving in that situation? It could be corners. It could be safeties. It could be parts of the under-coverage.”
Rolovich likens a quarterback’s understanding to staring at autostereograms.
“It’s kind of like when you stare at those dot pictures for a long time,” Rolovich said. “And then, ‘Oh, I see the 3-D picture.’ If you’re a quarterback and you study the offense long enough, you can see the picture.”
Rolovich said starting quarterback Bryant Moniz has that visual gift.
As to why Moniz is so successful, Rolovich smiled and said: “He’s not a robot.”
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS
The perception is the four-wide offense is a controlled short-pass attack. The reality is Hawaii’s version was the nation’s most successful big-play offense in 2010. According to cfbstats.com, Bryant Moniz was No. 1 in completed passes of at least 10 yards (194), 20 yards (74) and 30 yards (38). Of Moniz’s 555 completions, 35 percent went for a minimum of 10 yards.
‘Moniz and Shane Austin are seniors, and David Graves has been deemed the early leader for the 2012 starting job. Look for Graves to receive significant work in specific situations this year.
Two transfers who are redshirting this season — Jeremy Higgins (Utah State) and Stump Godfrey (New Mexico) — get to practice. Graves, Higgins and Godfrey are skilled on rollouts, adding another wrinkle to the read-and-attack offense.