Summer Sneak Peek: BYU vs. UH and Chow
At one point in his career, Norm Chow expected to be the head coach in the house that LaVell Edwards built.
It took 12 years after Edwards’ retirement, but Chow will finally coach his first game as a head coach in Provo on September 28th.
That’s when the University of Hawaii Warriors invade LaVell Edwards Stadium to take on BYU, a place where Chow coached as a grad assistant, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for 27 years and made a name for himself as one of the greatest offensive minds in the game.
After nearly 40 years in the business the 66-year-old Hawaii native was hired as the Warrior’s 22nd head coach in December and charged with getting the program back to the level when June Jones ran the show and Hawaii appeared in the Sugar Bowl.
However, the man who has coached six first-round NFL draft picks and three Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback begins his head coaching career with a group of no-name, unproven signal callers.
David Graves (6-0, 195 Jr.) and Utah State transfer Jeremy Higgins (6-1, 200 So.) emerged from spring camp neck and neck for the starting job.
Graves filled in for the injured Bryant Moniz as the starter at the end of last season, including a 41-20 loss to BYU in Honolulu. In that game he completed 13-23 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown in Hawaii’s run and shoot offense. Graves has been challenged by the adjustment from the run-and-shoot to the pro-style attack of Chow.
He was pushed in the spring by Higgins. The former Aggie showed some real flashes, but was also wildly inconsistent. Jeremy comes from more of a traditional offense but played very little in Logan, appearing in two games as a freshman.
Since Graves has played in 16 games and has two starts under his belt, it would figure that he would get the nod if he is successful in making what amounts to a pretty steep transition in philosophy and practice.
Chow will have the services of seven players with starting experience back on offense. But only three of those earned starting spots in his new offense when the post-spring depth chart was released, including guard David Lefotu (6-3, 305 So.), X receiver Billy Ray Stutzman (6-0, 175 Jr.) and running back Joey Iosefa (6-0, 240 So.).
There is some good experience coming back at receiver, but the Warriors will have to find a tight end, a position that Chow has leaned on heavily throughout his career. Hawaii hasn’t employed a tight end since June Jones became the head coach in 1999.
Then there is the issue of trying to put together an offensive line with just one returning starter coming back in Lefotu.
In fact, there are so many question marks on offense that it would seem be next to impossible for the offense to be clicking on all cylinders early in the season. The Warriors also have the challenge of playing five of their first eight games on the road, including their first two roadies, at USC to start the season and at BYU three weeks later.
On defense the Warriors return just four starters from a team that surrendered 387 yards and 29 points per game. They gave up 530 yards to BYU in 2011 with a banged up Riley Nelson at the controls of the Cougars offense.
Linebacker Art Laurel (6-3, 235 Jr.) is expected to be the leader of Hawaii’s 4-3 defense this season after starting 10 games at linebacker and defensive end last year. As a sophomore he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
Defensive end PaiPai Falemalu (6-3, 245 Sr.) is the lone returning starter on the defensive line. He was second on the team with 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. He also tallied seven quarterback hurries.
Laurel and Falemalu combined for 111 tackles in 2011, but the Warriors lose their two top tacklers from last season in Corey Peredes (107) and Aaron Brown (103), and could have some problems stopping the run this year due to a number of holes to fill in the front seven.
In the secondary, Hawaii has two returning starters at the corners, including John Hardy-Tuliau (5-11, 180 Jr.), who was third on the team in tackles last season while playing free safety. He also had a team-high three interceptions and was tied for second with 11 pass break ups.
Hardy-Tuliau is expected to move to cornerback in 2012 and team up with Mike Edwards (5-10, 180 Jr.), who missed spring ball due to surgery. He is expected to be back and ready to go for fall camp after also recording 11 pass break ups last season. Edwards also received recognition as one of the top kick return specialists in the WAC after averaging nearly 25 yards per return.
On special teams both place kicker Tyler Hadden and punter Alex Dunnachie return for 2012 along with their deep snapper Luke Ingram. Dunnachie had just four punts returned in 2011, while Hadden had his struggles, connecting on just 5 or 10 field goal attempts and missing three extra points.
It appears to be an uphill battle for Chow in his first year at the helm in Hawaii, but the offensive guru turned head coach has a good shot at eventually getting the program to the next level. After decades of getting some of Hawaii’s top high school players to leave the islands, he has made the convincing of recruits from the talent-rich state to stay home as his top priority, and his name recognition and reputation should help him do just that.
In fact, after just five weeks on the job, Chow landed Hawaii’s Gatorade Player of the Year in running back Steven Lakalaka, who originally committed to UCLA, as well as the state’s defensive player of the year Benetton Fonua, who was a USA Today All-USA player at linebacker.
So although BYU looks like a solid favorite in the game this September, Chow’s presence on the islands should make this once-heated rivalry all that more interesting on a number of fronts.