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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Warriors turning out turnovers

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

When safety Jacob Patek quickly closed ground on an open receiver and punched the ball loose from behind in a recent practice, the University of Hawai'i defense savored the play along with him. Coaches from across the field exulted.

What Patek did and plays like those are envisioned as more than a quick highlight in a run-of-the-mill practice session. The hope is that they will become a series of signature moments for a swift defense that aims to create a reputation for forcing turnovers and further helping fuel the high-scoring Warrior offense.

Indeed, if they have heard it once, UH defenders have heard "the game is all about turnovers" mantra a hundred times already this summer. Still, coaches shout it, exhorting their charges to live it.

In this case there is reason to hope that it will be more than a toss-it-up-and-hope-it-sticks dream. There is history that suggests it can happen.

The last time Greg McMackin ran the UH defense here, the Warriors had one of the most productive defenses in school history, forcing 35 turnovers in a 13-game season. It was the 9-4 campaign of 1999 that marked the biggest single-season turnaround in NCAA history and an aggressive, pouncing defense was a big part of the rebound from the depths of an 0-12 record for futility.

While the defense was rebuilt, it was also reprogrammed. The Warriors made going after turnovers their trademark and knew what to do when they got them, recycling five into defensive touchdowns.

The defensive paydirt was not an accident, as visitors to the Warriors' campus practice field these days have come to understand. There are strip drills, circuit tackle training and a swarm school that instruct, minutely, not only how to separate opponents from the ball but how to turn each opportunity into a quick trip to the end zone.

All part of McMackin's portfolio. "In my last year (1998) with Seattle we set the NFL record for defensive touchdowns," McMackin said. At Texas Tech a defensive back punched the ball loose from a receiver inside the 10 and the Red Raiders took it the distance the other way in a stunning reversal of fortunes.

This year the Warriors' defense seeks not just to hold back opposing offenses, it wants to go on the offense itself. And, if it can't score itself, then to put the ball right back in the hands of what should be the most potent offense in UH history.

"One of our goals one of our biggest goals is to average three turnovers a game," McMackin said. "With this (UH) offense that's an opportunity for us to score a lot of points."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.