Defense's last chance vs. Army


HONOLULU — For the 15 University of Hawaii football seniors who play defense, Saturday’s season finale against Army will be their final one in a Rainbow Warriors uniform.

No doubt, they will play like it, and give 100 percent effort as they have all season long.

For defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer and his four position coaches — Lewis Powell (defensive line), Tony Tuioti (linebackers), Daronte’ Jones (secondary) and Chris Demarest (special teams/safeties) — the players’ performance may well decide their future with UH as well.

Nobody ever likes to see people lose their jobs, and in coaching circles, the saying is, “You’re not just firing coaches, you’re firing families.” It’s true in many professions, but especially in coaching, since losing your job usually means relocating to find another one.

But even the most naive college coach must understand that in Division I-A football, performance is measured largely by victories and statistics, and there usually is accountability when those numbers indicate failure.

Everyone is well aware of Hawaii’s victory total, but here are the gruesome statistics:

Opponent first downs: 25.1 per game (121st out of 125 DI-A teams)

Pass defense: 292.8 yards per game (118th)

Total defense: 502.7 ypg (116th)

Scoring defense: 38.5 ppg (112th)

Rush defense: 209.9 ypg (101st)

Opponent third-down conversions: 41.49 percent (85th)

Interceptions: 9 (tied for 78th)

Last Saturday’s 59-56 loss at Wyoming was particularly disturbing: a mind-blowing 793 total yards allowed (third most in any NCAA game this season), including 640 yards by Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, the best single-game total in 2013 so far.

Ankle injuries kept starting defensive linemen Moses Samia and Tavita Woodard out of the lineup and unquestionably played a factor … but if losing two players results in a total defensive collapse, then that would suggest a bigger problem to begin with.

Indeed, things were bad even when Samia and Woodard were healthy.

It also does not explain how — against a nickel package employing five defensive backs — Smith was still able to complete 29 of 48 passes for 498 yards, without an interception. Smith also rushed 19 times for 142 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown.

That makes six games in a row in which an opponent crossed the 100-yard barrier, and it would have been eight in a row if San Jose State’s Tim Crawley and Fresno State’s Marteze Waller gained just seven and five more yards, respectively.

But perhaps most frustrating — and revealing — is how often the Rainbow Warriors have given up the big play, both literally and figuratively.

According to cfbstats.com, UH has given up plays of 10 yards or more 198 times, which ranks the Rainbow Warriors 121st in the nation. That includes plays of 20 yards or more 69 times, plays of 30 yards-plus 34 times, 40 yards-plus 19 times and 50 yards-plus 12 times. Six times, opponents gained 60 or more yards on a single play, and three times – including twice on Saturday — it’s been 70 or more yards.

What often causes those big plays is busted coverage, or missed tackles, or misalignments, or failure to close gaps … or, all of the above. And usually, that goes back to coaching, to proper scouting, having players in the right position to make plays, and having taught them the correct techniques to execute.

Other times, it’s not just the big plays, but the shorter, inopportune ones that kill. And Hawaii has struggled in that category, as well.

Wyoming converted on 11 of 20 third-downs and both fourth-down situations. That means the Cowboys faced third or fourth down 22 times, and converted on 59 percent of them.

More critically, the Rainbow Warriors rank 101st in red zone defense, as opponents have scored 87.23 percent of the time they reached UH’s 20-yard line.

Coaches like to give the opponents credit, and Smith certainly was impressive in displaying all-around skills. But Wyoming was held to seven points just the week before and managed only 10 points the game before that, so Boise State and Fresno State obviously found ways to contain him.

Now the Hawaii defensive staff is tasked with containing Army, which leads the nation in rushing at 330.6 yards per game. Against the No. 2 rushing team, Navy, the Rainbow Warriors allowed 383 yards on the ground in a 42-28 loss two weeks ago.

Army operates out of a similar option attack and has similar personnel to Navy’s in terms of size and speed, so we shall see if and what Coach Kaumeyer and Co. learned from that experience.

If anything, the Black Knights (3-7) likely are not as good as Navy, and UH is at home this time instead of 5,000 miles away at Annapolis, Md.

If the results are the same, and especially if they are caused by the same blown assignments and poor tackling, then we will know for sure something is wrong with the coaching.

In essence, it could be the Kaumeyer staff’s last chance to prove otherwise.