Game Day: Albany vs. Hawaii

Sep. 8—Quarterback Reese Poffenbarger is "Johnny Football, " and only partially because he displays the creativity and moxie of the Heisman-year version of Johnny Manziel.

GREAT DANES OFFENSE Quarterback Reese Poffenbarger is "Johnny Football, " and only partially because he displays the creativity and moxie of the Heisman-year version of Johnny Manziel. Offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose, who is serving as interim head coach in Greg Gattuso's absence due to illness, likens Poffenbarger to the lead character in the 1988 film "Johnny Be Good." Ambrose noted Anthony Michael Hall's Johnny Walker was "a gunslinging wild quarterback and Reese is exactly the same. He's a very talented guy. He has tremendous passion for the game. He has the unique ability to make every single play happen, whether it's scripted or not. That's why they call him Johnny Football." Poffenbarger is a quick reader who can decipher defenses during his drops and fire into letter-sized windows. He does not have to go through the full menu of progression before throwing. "I think when you label somebody as a gunslinger, it means they're willing to sling a ball around and make throws other quarterbacks might not try to make, " Poffenbarger said. "But I don't think it means somebody who doesn't take care of the ball." He has started the season with 78 passes without an interception. He also has not fumbled. While not a running quarterback, last week he scrambled 54 yards to the end zone for the longest scoring run of his life. He began playing the sport when he was 5. Ambrose said he knew Poffenbarger "before he was even a thought. I knew his parents forever." Poffenbarger played for a high school program that Ambrose's dad started. Ambrose said Poffenbarger has the green light to improvise on plays that have been in the playbook for weeks. "I trust him implicitly in everything about football, " Ambrose said.

GREAT DANES DEFENSE After allowing 34.1 points per game in 2022, the Great Danes flipped two key defensive assignments. Bill Nesselt went from overseeing the special teams to serving as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Joe Bernard is now the special teams coordinator and D-line coach. "They spent tireless hours throughout the offseason studying what type of defense they wanted to employ and how different they wanted to be from last year, " Ambrose said. "Coach Nesselt and his staff have done a great job running with that." The Great Danes have had heat-seeking pass rushers in the past. Jared Verse, regarded as the top edge rusher for the 2024 NFL Draft, amassed 14.5 sacks in 15 games over two years before transferring to Florida State two years ago. This year, simplified schemes have quickened the attack, leading to 10 sacks against Fordham. D-end Anton Juncaj had four of them. Juncaj, who practices yoga to improve flexibility, has adjusted after moving from hybrid end. Now AJ Simon is playing the "dog, " a flex position with the choice of dropping into coverage or storming the backfield. "AJ is one of the fastest guys I know, " Juncaj said. Half of the starting secondary arrived through the transfer portal. Amir Hall, who had 19 passes defended in two seasons with Richmond, is regarded as a speedy cover defender. Free safety DaeSean Winston is a transfer from Temple.

GREAT DANES SPECIALISTS It has been a steady progression for John Opalko, who did not produce any stats in the 2021 spring season, appeared in four games in the 2021 regular season, and was 8-for-14 last year. But he is 3-for-4 in the first two games. Sam Hogan is averaging 53.9 yards on kickoffs, while opponents are averaging 16.6 yards per return. Roy Alexander's average kickoff return is nearly 30 yards.

RAINBOW WARRIORS OFFENSE On a miserably humid night in the opener, running back Tylan Hines suffered full-body cramps that limited his play in the middle quarters. Last week against Stanford, he dropped two passes early while the Warriors' running game struggled to get traction. But on the final drive, Hines went across the middle to catch passes of 10 and 5 yards. He then flattened a pass rusher and rolled into the open to secure another Brayden Schager pass for an 18-yard gain. "The very last drive was an identity drive for him, " said Keiki Misipeka, who coaches the running backs. "He made a few catches, made guys miss." Of that pancake-and-roll, Misipeka said : "Just being a baller, that was what he did. He went out and made a play. That was like the old Tylan." Hines insisted : "I've been me, never changed." Running back Landon Sims is iffy for Saturday's game, but Nasjzae Bryant-Lelei has been medically cleared to play, and Jordan Johnson also is available. In UH's run-and-shoot, the coverage determines the Warriors' counter punch, When Stanford congested the tackle box, UH beckoned 5-7, 165-pound slotback Koali Nishigaya, who caught six of seven passes as the targeted receiver. Nishigaya, who runs the most precise routes, or flex tight end Devon Tauaefa might start in the second slot position opposite Pofele Ashlock. Jonah Panoke, who was projected to start in the opener until he suffered a leg ailment, should be ready to play. Maurice Ta 'ala also has recovered from an ailment and is expected to start at right guard. Arasi Mose has emerged as a technically sound backup at both guard spots.

RAINBOW WARRIORS DEFENSE Noah Kema will be in the opening lineup as a replacement for suspended middle linebacker Isaiah Tufaga, who must sit out the first half after incurring a targeting penalty last week. Tufaga and weak-side linebacker Logan Taylor each have a team-high 14 tackles. "He's not your quickest or fastest or most explosive player, " linebackers coach Chris Brown said of the 24-year-old Kema. "But he's solid. What I love about him is he's the old man in the room. The other two guys can make tackles for loss, but Noah will consistently make the tackle for only a 2-yard gain. He always makes the tackle." If the Warriors transform from a 4-2 to 4-3, Kema will become the strong-side linebacker on the line of scrimmage or against a tight end. Brown said Kema, a former defensive lineman, has the strength and burst to mix it up in the trenches. Elijah Palmer, one of three freshmen from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, started at nickelback last week. He made seven tackles—all solo stops. If Cam Stone is held out to mend fully from a leg ailment, JoJo Forest and Caleb Brown will rotate as the wide-side corner. "Just working on consistency, " Forest said. "Last play doesn't matter. Last game doesn't matter. The next play makes the game."

RAINBOW WARRIORS SPECIALISTS In competitive cycling, the domestiques set the way as windshields or pace-setters for the team leader. On kickoffs, the jammers (JoJo Forest and Virdel Edwards ) narrow the return lanes to help the gunners (Chuuky Hines and Caleb Brown ) take aim at the ball carrier. Hines and Brown have been clocked at a prorated 22.9 mph in the "flying 10 " sprint. "Me and Chuuky race to see who gets down there first, " Brown said.