Honolulu, HI—If ever there was a pilgrimage to Mecca for a Hawaii football fan it was the 2008 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. More than 15,000 of Hawaii's hardiest fans flooded Bourbon Street and the Louisiana Superdome for what was supposed to be the greatest party in Hawaii sports history.
The only problem was that Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan served as a piñata for Georgia's unruly defense and the Bulldogs didn't stop hitting him until the football came out. By the time Brennan left the New Year's Day game with a bruised hand in the 4th quarter he had been sacked eight times, threw three interceptions and fumbled twice, once in his own end zone for a Bulldogs touchdown.
To say that Georgia didn't think Hawaii was a threat to run the ball and went after their quarterback with impunity would be an understatement. Heading into the game the Warriors offense ranked fourth in the nation in passing yards and dead last in rushing.
Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin was the defensive coordinator under June Jones then and remembers what happened to Brennan.
"It's just another phase that our offense has grown to," McMackin said at his press conference this week discussing quarterback Bryant Moniz's 121 yards rushing in the season-opener against Colorado. "You remember back to the Georgia game we didn't have anything to go to, and so our quarterback just stood there and got drilled. If we're having some problem (being rushed) off the edge now, we have something to take care of that."
That something is the run in the run-and-shoot offense that Hawaii employs and since their 41-10 loss in the Sugar Bowl it has increased steadily in each of McMackin's three years as head coach; from 683 yards in 2007, to just over 1,300 yards in 2008 and 2009, to nearly 1,500 yards in 2010.
"We could have thrown the ball more (against Colorado) but we were getting it on the ground," McMackin said. "And it is called the run-and-shoot and we proved it last year. We want to throw the ball (to) set up the run, but if we can get it on the run we'll take it on that too. And (Moniz has) the ability and he's faster than he's ever been; so people aren't going to be able to do what they've tried to do to us in the past."
Going into the Colorado game last week many people were excited to see a repeat of Hawaii's explosive air attack from years past. So when Moniz tucked the ball down and started running some people assumed there was a problem with the passing game that amassed 5,520 yards in 2010.
"It's not that everything didn't work in the passing game," McMackin explained. "We had one dropped ball (and) our slots were doing the right thing catching the ball. Everybody was in the right place but we put some (running plays) in. We put a sprint-out in... we had a read-option in... we knew they were going to come after Mo.
"So a lot of his running yardage, or most of his running yardage, was by design."
A design that McMackin and offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich learned from running back Alex Green's performance last year.
"If they're playing man, if they're doubling over people, then his second read is to go," McMackin said. "Because it's just the same situation as with Alex last year. If they're doubling and man-ing they're watching the man, and you just have to make one guy miss, and you can go."
Last season Green became the first Hawaii running back since 1992 to rush for more than 1,000 yards and his 18 touchdowns tied for most in school history, in April's NFL Draft he was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the third round.
Now the Warriors will call upon Joey Iosefa to start at running back in their four-receiver set. Against Colorado the red-shirt freshman from Pago Pago, American Samoa, was limited to 31 yards on 14 carries but he scored on a 22-yard shovel-pass in which he showed great balance and agility.
"I think (Iosefa's) got great potential," McMackin said. "He's a big guy, he's got a little wiggle to him, but he's a big physical guy and that's the first college game he's ever played. He's a freshman and I think he's just going to get better and better. He caught the screen, made the big play (and) got into the end zone. That was a big touchdown for us."
Added to the three touchdowns that Moniz rushed for against Colorado, the majority of Hawaii's scoring in their 34-17 win came from unfamiliar sources.
But heading into the second game of 2011 with expectations similar to where they were in 2007, it's an offensive transformation that can only help. Opposing defenses now have one more thing to worry about and fans of Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense have one more thing to get excited for.