December 28, 2007

Warriors say don't take their defense for granted

NEW ORLEANS -Hawaii linebacker Solomon Elimimian figures he's heard the question 100 times: Do the Warriors' defensive players feel overshadowed by the team's high-powered passing offense?

Not really.

"I get that question a lot. All our defensive players get that a lot, but we're not too worried about that," Elimimian said. "We have a great offense. No matter what, we're still going to be in the game because of our offense. As far as the defense, we're kind of in the shadows but there's been a lot of games this season that we helped win the game."

For example:

At Louisiana Tech, defensive back Gerard Lewis broke up a potential game-winning two-point conversion in the team's 45-44 overtime win. At San Jose State, lineman Michael Lafaele forced a Spartan fumble with under three minutes to play and defensive back Myron Newberry sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone in overtime.

Later at Nevada, the Warriors forced the Wolf Pack to punt with 2:16 remaining left to set up the game-winning drive.

Head coach June Jones has certainly liked what he's seen.

"I knew we'd be much more improved because our personnel is better. We're stronger and quicker than people think we are and Coach (defensive coordinator Greg) McMackin has done a great job with the zone blitz scheme and other things that we do to create disruptions."

Although the numbers may not indicate such - Hawaii is surrendering 24.2 points per game - but that's a far cry better than last season when the Warriors didn't even crack the top 90 nationally in total defense among Division I-A teams.

This year, the Warriors are ranked 33rd nationally and second in the Western Athletic Conference.

McMackin's newly installed 4-3 defensive alignment has been the key.

"Everyone has a role and that's why I think this thing has worked because everybody has stayed together and played together and accepted their role," McMackin said. "There's no jealousies and there's no stars, just a bunch of guys playing football and playing together."

There are plenty of players rotating in and out of Hawaii's defensive side.

The Warriors can thank their high-powered offense led by Heisman trophy finalist Colt Brennan for that.

Because Hawaii has a penchant for quick scores, it's increased the number of defensive snaps the Warrior defenders must play.

But McMackin isn't complaining.

"I've always been with passing coaches, I've been with (Dennis) Erickson, with (Mike) Leach, with Mouse Davis, and Jack Elway and I prefer that because you always have a chance to win," McMackin said. "Now, our stats aren't going to be great because they score quickly, so you better be in shape.

We play 10 defensive linemen who have played all year long. We also play five linebackers and obviously we have the nickel and dime packages. We play a lot of players because we play a lot of reps."

Finding a way to slow down Georgia running back Knowson Moreno is Hawaii's latest challenge.

The freshman sensation leads the Bulldogs with 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns and Jones compares him to another running back he saw regularly while an assistant with the Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders.

"Even if you've got a free shot at this guy, that's no guarantee that you're going to tackle him. He's that good," Jones said. "It's like when I coached in Detroit. We had a Barry rule. We'd always say for everyone of our guys to block someone but leave one for Barry because he was always going to make him miss. That's the kind of ability that (Moreno) has."

McMackin said it will take a team effort to make sure the Warriors limit Moreno as much as possible.

"Every single guy has a role on this football team, whether he be on the scout team or someone who rolls in with a starter," McMackin said. "We like to say we have three starting tackles and three starting ends, but we roll in more guys than that. We'll need to in order to try and slow Georgia down."

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