The University of Hawaii will make its first ever trek into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against the University of Florida Gators Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. game that is the season opener for both teams. The Warriors have a lousy travel agent. August afternoons are absolutely brutal in The Swamp. Hawaii will also be just four days removed from a six-hour time difference.
The Warriors will spend two days in Atlanta practicing and getting ready for the Gators before they head to Gainesville on Friday for a walk through in The Swamp.
Here is a breakdown of Hawaii vs. Florida:
New Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin will bring five new assistant coaches to the Sunshine State for their Warrior debut. Defensive line coach Dave Aranda, defensive tackles/special teams coach Ikaika Malloe, quarterback coach Nick Rolovich, running backs/offensive line coach Alex Gerke, and offensive line coach Brian Smith will play in perhaps the most unwelcome venue in college football .
In fact, Hawaii is the only school in Division-I with brothers as position coordinators. Ron Lee runs the Hawaii offensive coordinator, while Cal Lee runs the Warriors defense. Ron Lee was mentored by former Hawaii run-and-shoot guru Mouse Davis.
Florida counters Urban Meyer, 72-16, as a head coach with one national championship. The Gators have three new assistants — Dan McCarney (defensive line), Vance Bedford (cornerbacks), and Kenny Carter (running backs) are excited to coach in their first game in The Swamp.
Big Edge: FLORIDA
FLORIDA OFFENSE VS. HAWAII DEFENSE:
The depth chart will state that Florida returns eight starters from 2007. Don’t be so easily fooled. Left tackle Phil Trautwein is a former starter, forced to sit out last season due to injury. And while Mike Pouncey wasn’t a starter on the offensive line, he did start four games at defensive tackle. It’s not entirely like he hasn’t experienced the wars in the trenches and that certainly accounts for something.
Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow returns, looking to lead the Gators to an SEC Eastern Division title. Tebow has several major weapons at his disposal — a veteran offensive line, skilled playmakers at the receivers’ positions and talented running backs. You could also throw in superior depth.
I expect the Gators to work out a variety of looks in hopes of executing them to near perfection in games against Miami and Tennessee to open the early schedule. Florida definitely wants to flex its muscle and run the football. The Gators have a stable of backs and Meyer will want to see what they can do in a live setting. I’m especially interested in seeing some of double tight end formations and if the Florida offensive line moves the Warriors defensive line off the ball.
Hawaii returns two starters on the defensive line and left defensive tackle Fale Laeti is penciled in as a reserve on the depth chart. It really doesn’t matter — it’s the first game of the season with a 12:30 p.m. start time — the Warriors coaching staff will be running guys in and out the there.
The strength of the Warriors defensive unit is their linebacking corps. Buck linebacker Soloman Elimimian (6-0, 225) missed a week of practice and just returned on Monday. Two-year starter Adam Leonard (6-0, 235) joins Elimimian as players who will play under the watchful eye of NFL scouts. Junior outside linebacker Blaze Soares (6-1, 235) was a key reserve last season playing in nine games. He was expected to take over one of the positions, but was injured just after practice opened and will miss the opener. Brashton Satele will suit-up in the middle for the Warriors.
The Warriors must replace both of their starting corners and safety However, the Hawaii coaching staff actually feels much better about the talent level of their secondary this season. They feel as though this will be a more physical, athletic group. I have to believe this will be an enormous first test out of the gate and just don’t see tremendous success for the Warrior secondary.
Huge Edge: FLORIDA
HAWAII OFFENSE VS . FLORIDA DEFENSE:
Who will be the starter at quarterback for Hawaii? Sophomore Brent Rausch (6-4, 180) was named the starter, but has struggled the past few days with soreness in his throwing arm. Junior Greg Alexander (6-3, 230) received most of the snaps with the first-unit in his place. Last season’s top reserve quarterback Tyler Graunke practiced for the first time this week after dealing with academic difficulties. He was not scheduled to make the trip to Gainesville.
Whoever wins the job will be throwing to senior Michael Washington, senior Aaron Bain, and junior Brice Lane. Washington (3), Bain (5) and Lane (14) secured a combined 22 receptions in 2007. Former head coach June Jones did not believe in substituting to the degree that many other head coaches do.
Injuries have played a big role in disrupting the running game. The top two running backs were injured and the position will apparently be manned by Leon Wright-Jackson (6-1, 215) or Daniel Libre (5-8, 185).
The Warrior offensive line returns three offensive starters from a year ago — Keith AhSoon (6-1, 315) has moved from left tackle to guard. Center John Estes (6-2, 295) and right tackle Keoni Steinhoff (6-3, 295) will once again man his right side spot. Hawaii has no depth up front and if conditions are indeed radical, expect the Gators to reap the benefits.
The Florida defense has a few new faces. There are several players fighting for a spot on the defensive line. Lawrence Marsh has looked the most impressive from start to present at defensive tackle. The Gators will utilize a rotation including Terron Sanders, Justin Trattou and Matt Patchan. The first defensive ends group contains Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.
The Gators might be playing without middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. A.J. Jones, Ryan Stamper, and Dustin Doe will be the starters in the event Spikes is out. Brandon Hicks will be the top backup. The Gators were expected to have some quality competition with Lorenzo Edwards. But, Edwards was injured during drills and has missed some quality time.
The Florida secondary returns cornerbacks Joe Haden, Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson, and Jacques Rickerson. The word is that Haden, Pierre-Louis, and true freshman Janoris Jenkins have looked good in practice. With Hawaii going four wide most of the time, expect Haden, Pierre-Louis and Jenkins to be in the game most of the time.
The safety position will be manned by sophomores Major Wright and Ahmad Black. They will be backed up by true freshman Will Hill and receiver-turned-defensive back Justin Williams.
Lou Groza candidate Dan Kelly returns for his fourth season as the Hawaii placekicker. He connected on more than 70 percent of his kicks. Kelly has also nailed a game winning field goal, as well as, a field goal that sent a game into overtime.
Senior Tim Grasso also returns for his swan song for the Warriors. He averaged 39.7 yards per punt. Ryan Mouton and Malcolm Lane are back to return kicks. The pair was among the top 20 in the nation last season.
The Gators have an ongoing battle between Jonathan Phillips and trued freshman Caleb Sturgis for the placekicking job. Sophomore Chas Henry returns to handle the punting duties. Henry averaged 39.3 yards per kick.
Brandon James is one of the nation’s most dynamic return men. James is on-track to secure several records both kickoff and punt returns. Who will join him on the kick return team? Rainey? Demps?
Hawaii gets the edge returning both kickers. The Warriors also have their kickoff return men back. I do think that Florida is the better punt block squad.
Slight Edge: HAWAII