Hawaii football treks to SEC country to face Vandy

Aug. 25—For his second season as head coach, Timmy Chang promised a full return to the run-and-shoot offense he mastered as a record- setting QB in the early 2000s. Chang takes over the play-calling, with co-offensive coordinators Ian Shoemaker and Roman Sapolu providing input. While the receivers will have run-and-shoot reads, this version employs a twist, often employing a tight end. Greyson Morgan or Devon Tauaefa will align in the slot or attached to the line. Morgan, who has recovered from a broken clavicle, has perfected the block-and-roll move to curl into the open. Thanks to intensive weight training, QB Brayden Schager, who can back squat 450 pounds, is capable of easily flinging a ball 70 yards. The so-called "quarterback whisperer" — Dan Morrison — has worked with Schager on deciphering defenses, finding the bounce-footed rhythm before throwing, and using a fake-out stare to trick defensive backs into moving out of position. The starting receivers are each at least 6-foot-1 and fast, giving Schager deep and jump-ball targets. Kansas transfer Steven McBride and Chuuky Hines should help Schager improve on last year's 33.9% accuracy on deep throws. Tylan Hines, who was voted a co-captain as a sophomore, is a "slashback" who can be used as a running back, inside receiver or pass protector. Last year, Hines registered a "nasty," UH's vernacular for a particularly vicious block. If Hines slides to receiver or needs a rest, Landon Sims — son of former UH standout Travis Sims — will get the call. Solo Vaipulu, a 290-pound guard, will be counted on as a big back in short-yardage situations. Unlike big backs of the past, such as West Keliikipi and Reagan Mauia, Vaipulu also is a dependable pass catcher.

With the offseason departures of secondary coaches Josh Brown and Abraham Elimimian, the Warriors have restructured the coaching assignments. Defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro oversees the safeties while also calling the plays. Steve Irvin coaches the cornerbacks, and former Warriors D-end Jordan Pu'u-Robinson is in charge of the ends, including the edge defender known as the "dog." In last year's game against Wyoming, UH receivers had difficulty separating from cornerback Cam Stone. Stone, who now is with UH, and Virdel Edwards II are aggressive open-field tacklers and man defenders with the burst for 10-yard blitzes. Peter Manuma and Meki Pei can set up in a two-deep zone; as middle backs in a four-across umbrella; or one aligning deep while the other covers a slot or attacks a running lane. Against power offenses last year, the Warriors bunched eight defenders within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage or moved up a nickelback and safety to form a 4-4 look. Noah Kema and Jalen Smith are options if a third linebacker is added to the 4-2 base. At 6-1 and 240 pounds, dog Jonah Kahahawai-Welch has studied videos of former UH sackmaster Kaimana Padello and worked on low-leverage moves to maneuver past taller blockers. "David slayed Goliath," Kahahawai-Welch said. "It's the same thing. I trust my technique."

Last year, point-scoring kicker Matthew Shipley was expected to miss one game because of a groin injury and another because of the stomach flu. He played in both. He was held out of this year's spring ball because of back issues. But Shipley kicked and punted with no problems in training camp. Shipley will continue as the point-scoring kicker, although he might cede some of the punting to his holder, Ben Falck. Falck also succeeds Kyler Halvorsen, who transferred to San Jose State, as kickoff specialist. Wyoming transfer Cam Stone, who scored on a 99-yard kickoff return two years ago, is a leading candidate to return punts and kickoffs.

In last year's season- opening rout of UH, quarterback Mike Wright rushed for 163 yards, passed for 146, and accounted for four touchdowns. But Wright, who was replaced in the starting lineup after three games, transferred to Mississippi State. While Wright was a speedy dual threat, AJ Swann, who is back as QB1, is at ease in the pocket or on play-action plays. He averaged only 2.71 yards on seven keepers or non-sack scrambles. After reaching out to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's trainer, Swann has refined a firm foot landing on throws, a technique he hopes will provide more zip on his passes. Last year, Swann was not intercepted in his first 159 passes. Ray Davis, who rushed for 1,042 yards, transferred to Kentucky, leaving running backs coach Jayden Everett to form a committee approach. Patrick "Cheeks" Smith and AJ Newberry are the speed backs; Chase Gillespie is the bruiser, and Sedrick Alexander is a combo of speed and power. Slot receiver Jayden McGowan, who is capable of sprinting 40 yards in 4.35 seconds, is an option on jet sweeps. Tight ends Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald completed their NCAA careers, and Cole Spence, who was projected to start at tight end, suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Justin Ball is an effective blocker who has worked on his pass-catching in camp. Fullback Logan Kyle often will team with Ball in double-tight-end sets. The pre-snap motions are diversions to the basic formula of the O-line — the "Grease Gang" — collaborating on zone blocks. "We love our combination blocks and moving down the field," right guard Bradley Ashmore said.

After back-to-back appearances in the College Football Playoff, linebacker Kane Patterson was on track to start for Clemson in 2022. But Patterson, who grew up in Nashville, decided he wanted to return to his home city to play alongside his younger brother, middle linebacker Langston Patterson. "Me and my brother talked about playing together ever since we started playing football," the elder Patterson said. "Having the opportunity to come here and play with him, no question. We're super close." Of the CFP games, Patterson said, "it was an experience of a lifetime playing on that level and that platform. But he also was moved to helping a Vanderbilt team that was 2-10 in 2021. Despite allowing 36 points per game, the Commodores went 5-7 last year. As the weak-side linebacker, Patterson is free to align as a stand-up end, looping pass rusher, gap canceler or flat defender. Ethan Barr is a box linebacker who is most effective in hunting ball carriers. Miles Capers, who missed last season because of an ACL injury, is back at the star position (end/linebacker hybrid). Defensive end Darren Aguwill not play because of a dislocated elbow suffered three weeks ago. CJ Taylor, who plays the safety-linebacker spot known as anchor, returned to practice this week after recovering from an ailment. Taylor scored on two fumble returns last year.

With a 6-4 high jump, Will Sheppard was expected to make the leap to the NFL after last season. "Just the belief in what we're doing," Sheppard said of remaining as a wideout and punt returner with the Commodores. Jayden McGowan, who ran 100 meters in 10.69 seconds in high school, will handle the kickoff returns. Kansas transfer Jason Borcila and freshman Brock Taylor are splitting place-kicking reps. Last year, Borcila suffered a hip injury in training camp but opted to play through it. He was 7-for-13 on field goals before deciding to shut down in November and prepare for surgery.

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