Warriors want to 'pick' on opposition
By Ferd Lewis
At an early morning hour when alarm clocks are going off in some of the nearby dorms, assistant football coach Chris Tormey has the wake-up call for the University of Hawai'i defense on the field.
"Catch the ball!" Tormey shrieks at a defensive back who couldn't hold on to a possible interception.
"If we catch the ball, we beat UNLV," Tormey reminds. Even as the Warriors prepare for the 2010 season, 2009 is shrilly ringing in the ear holes of their helmets.
After the fewest interceptions (12) and take-aways (22) by a UH defense in four years contributed to a 6-7 record and bowl-less season, the Warriors have put a premium on raising those numbers.
And the game at Nevada-Las Vegas that UH lost, 34-33, makes for a vivid reminder. The Rebels took the game, scoring with 36 seconds left, on a 67-yard drive during which the Warriors twice had opportunities to short-circuit with interceptions.
Instead, it became Exhibit "A" of a game and season that got away from the Warriors. Determined not to repeat the experience, producing turnovers has been an overriding topic for the Warriors in the spring, much more so than in recent years.
Coaches counsel on technique, scream the mantra and reinforce it by tacking on extra, end-of-the-session, drills to refine form and change a culture.
"We don't want our DBs just to be receivers with no hands," associate head coach Rich Miano says. "We want them to be receivers that like to hit, tackle and cover people."
With that, the defense is constantly reminded to, as Miano puts it, "strip, scoop, punch, rake..." the ball away from the offense.
So, with each takeaway, such as defensive back Jordan Gomes' sticky-fingered interception yesterday, the defense raises a group cheer and the offense shudders a little in the on-going, one-upmanship competition.
It has made for some contentious moments on the practice field to be sure, but has raised the competitive ante. The reasoning is two-fold and solid: While the defense scrambles to wrest the ball away, it also puts pressure on the offense to protect the possession.
That's something that also didn't happen much last year when the UH offense coughed up 33 turnovers and, combined with scant takeaways by the defense, ranked the Warriors 113th among 120 major college programs in turnover margin and last in the WAC.
Of course, as Miano takes pains to remind, "in 2007 Colt (Brennan) threw five interceptions in one game against Idaho. But our defense came up with six, so we still won the game. That's the way we have to look at it."
And, if their attention wanders, Miano bellows, "you guys can't get enough of this work, trust me."
Not this spring, anyway.