UH defense sky-high on Kauai
By Stephen Tsai
LĪHU'E — Dave Aranda knew the sky was the metaphorical limit for his Hawai'i football defense. After all, he had an above-the-clouds perspective.
"I thought there was good focus on the plane ride over," the defensive coordinator said of the Warriors' trip to Kaua'i for yesterday's scrimmage at Vidinha Stadium. "Everyone had their game face on. I thought they were prepared."
For the defense, the emphasis of the 68-play scrimmage — for all 15 practices of spring training, in fact — was to establish a pass rush.
In 2009, the Warriors amassed 19 sacks and 30 hurries, meaning they pressured the opposing quarterback only once every 7.2 pass plays. As a result, opponents completed 64.07 percent of their passes, a ratio that was 15th-worst among 120 Division I-A teams.
But yesterday, they were able to produce seven sacks in 48 pass plays. Because most of the pressure came from the front four — led by left end Kamalu Umu and defensive tackles Vaughn Meatoga, Haku Correa and Kaniela Tuipulotu — the linebackers rarely blitzed.
"I was really impressed with the D-line as a unit," Aranda said. "I thought they were able to create a pass rush with four guys. That was a problem last year. I know that (defensive line coaches) Tony (Tuioti) and Cal Lee really worked hard on it. I'm glad to see those guys play well."
Although the offense was able to rest several key players — including running backs Alex Green and Chizzy Dimude, and slotbacks Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares — the defense gave extended time to Meatoga, a Kaua'i resident.
"Last year (on Maui), I didn't get to play at all," Meatoga said. "Coach (Aranda) told me he was going to let me play."
Umu, who also was raised on the Garden Island, said: "It was good to play in front of everybody."
Linebacker Aaron Brown, who moved from safety last year, played well, recording two sacks and recovering a fumble. He redshirted last year because of a severe hamstring injury.
"It was nice to hit people and get some live action," Brown said. "Our defensive line put the pressure on the quarterback, which we were somewhat emphasizing this year."
As for playing linebacker, Brown said, "it's feeling like second nature."
To be sure, the offense had some moments, as offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich rotated players from the four units. Brent Rausch, Cayman Shutter and Shane Austin each threw scoring passes.
Rausch, who did not play last year because of a finger injury, completed 8 of 11 passes for 129 yards. His lofted a throw to left wideout Darius Bright on a go-pattern that resulted in a 47-yard touchdown.
"It was a 'go' route, and I just had to go," said Bright, who sprinted along the left sideline. "(The pass) kind of hung up. I had to adjust to it."
Rausch said: "I used the wind a little bit. I threw it on the inside, and it kind of carried out there. It was a nice read by Darius."
Rausch was sacked four times, although he felt victimized by a quick whistle. Quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit.
"I think Brent helped himself now and then," Rolovich said. "He needs to get more consistent. But he did a lot of good things."
Shutter and right wideout Billy Ray Stutzmann — freshmen who redshirted last year — teamed on a 40-yard scoring play. The "nine" route is similar to a go route, and quite familiar to both players.
"We always try to get a lot of routes in the offseason to work our timing," Shutter said. "We've probably thrown that route over a hundred times. When we get on the field, it's more memory."
Stutzmann agreed, noting: "We've been working a lot (together) ever since we found out we were both going to UH."
Austin closed the scoring with a 6-yard strike to left slotback Ryan Henry, who maneuvered to his right on a double-crossing play. Henry curled into the open after Austin looked to the other slotback.
"He came back to me," said Henry, who made the leaping catch.
The name of the play? Salas said: "It's called 'Ryan Scored a Touchdown.' "