I just got off the phone with Stephen Tsai, who covers Hawaii for the Honolulu Advertiser. He told me about the Rainbows. I told him about Notre Dame. In the end, we concluded that these two flawed teams may very well play an entertaining game.
Here's what I was able to learn about the offense.
Hawaii struggled to replace Colt Brennan early in the season. His longtime backup Tyler Graunke was supposed to be his replacement but ran into off-the-field problems. As a result, coach Greg McMackin resorted to using five different quarterbacks (starting four) this season before settling on junior Greg Alexander during the final six games. Alexander, who is 6-3, 230 pounds, is a classic run-and-shoot quarterback. He is a good scrambler but is not a natural runner, if that makes sense.
This a classic run-and-shoot offense, remember. Brennan's four best receivers from last year are all gone. Malcomb Lane is the speedster and deep threat but lacks consistency. Greg Salas is the more polished receiver. Slot receiver Michael Washington is the Rainbows' leading receiver with 56 catches. He's quick but not fast, according to Tsai, and struggles to make yards after the catch, but is a reliable target that Alexander looks for frequently. The other slot receiver is Aaron Bain. He's got 44 catches.
Tsai says running back Kealoha Pilares is Hawaii's best offensive player. He missed the past three games after spraining his foot but is expected to start against Notre Dame. Pilares will carry the ball eight-to-10 times per game. He will also line up in the slot and make plays in the passing game.
Hawaii has the nation's 33rd best passing offense. It will be pitted against a Notre Dame defense ranked 18th in passing efficiency defense. I wonder if that second stat is a little misleading, however.
San Diego State's quarterback was a freshman, Michigan was struggling to find someone at that position who could run first-year coach Rich Rodriguez's offense. Michigan State's Brian Hoyer is solid but unspectacular. Purdue's Curtis Painter was a good college quarterback having a bad year, in part because he lost many of the weapons who made him so effective as a junior. Still, Painter, the most accomplished passer Notre Dame played until the season finale against USC, completed 29 of 55 passes for 359 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Stanford's Tavi Pritchard ended the season as the 85th most efficient passer in Division I. North Carolina, Washington and Pittsburgh all played backup quarterbacks against Notre Dame. Boston College's Chris Crane, who was trying to replace first-round draft pick Matt Ryan, was averaging an interception every 12 attempts when the Irish played the Eagles. Anyone who saw that game knows Crane was not an accomplished passer. Navy played a backup quarterback against Notre Dame and Syracuse's Cameron Dantley, the son of ex-Notre Dame basketball standout Adrian, was such a sought-after recruit that he had to walk on --- at Syracuse. My long-winded point is this: Notre Dame didn't play a top-tier quarterback until the final game of the season, when Mark Sanchez threw for four touchdowns.
It makes me wonder if Notre Dame's strength --- pass defense --- could turn into a weakness against a high-caliber passing team.
They will need to get some pressure. That shouldn't be difficult. Hawaii has allowed 49 sacks, which is the second highest total in Division I. Teams haven't accumulated those sacks by blitzing, as Notre Dame often does. Tsai said that the line struggles with speed-rushing defensive ends. Most teams have chosen to play Hawaii straight up and have found their front four is able to get pressure while allowing everyone else to drop back into coverage. If Notre Dame could get consistent pressure from their defensive line it would be a big help, but that hasn't happened much this season.
That's all -- for now. Tomorrow we'll address the defense.