In the midst of March Madness, a look ahead to fall 2019 begins at Manoa as Hawaii football starts spring practice. Hawaii is coming off of a 2018 season in which the Warriors’ season featured up-and-down results, but ultimately stomped out the negative expectations outsiders had entering the season. A young 2018 Hawaii team means the Warriors will return more experience than typical for a college football program. Having proven they can buck expectations and the infusion of new talent have things looking up. What does Hawaii need to accomplish this spring? Here are five things to monitor:
Five Storylines to Watch During Hawaii’s Spring Practice
1. Let’s not bury the lead story: McDonald vs. Cordeiro is the hot topic
It would be easy to look at quarterback Cole McDonald’s 2018 stat line and assume he’s the star of this team. The Warriors gunslinger finished 8th nationally in passing yards, 1st in the Mountain West. McDonald finished 2018 with a 3875 passing yards, 36 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions stat line (although, that 58% completion rate needs work). Despite all that, the job is not done. The quarterback battle took an unexpected turn late in the season when McDonald was benched in favor of freshman Chevan Cordeiro in the second half of the season finale vs. UNLV. Cordeiro rallied Hawaii back in stunning fashion and the quarterback controversy was on. McDonald then hit everyone with the Lee Corso, “NOT...soooo fast, my friends.” by bouncing back at San Diego State. Surely he put this topic to bed? Nope, both quarterbacks would alternate in the bowl game vs. Louisiana Tech, neither being effective and leaving us with the open topic heading into spring: who is Hawaii’s starting quarterback? Expect this heated competition to continue into fall, and maybe the season. This is where the spotlight is this spring.
2. Replacing John Ursua
Despite missing time due to injury, Hawaii Warriors wide receiver John Ursua put up a stat line worthy of the run-and-shoot wide receiver greats: 89 catches, 1343 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns. Hawaii won games, Hawaii lost games, but one constant remained: Ursua would make an impact.The junior wide receiver declared for the draft, foregoing his senior season. This leaves Hawaii with huge shoes to fill. Cedric Byrd returns at the other slot position, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but replacing Ursua will be one of the tougher tasks facing the coaching staff this spring and as the team enters the summer and fall. Aside from junior college transfer slotback Melquise Stovall, there are no obvious candidates as replacements. Do not be surprised if star recruit Lincoln Victor factors into this come fall.
3. Building depth on defense
Let’s be honest: Hawaii’s resurgence in 2018 was largely due to its high flying offense. The defense, however, had an up-and-down season, but mostly down. The Wyoming Cowboys were the only team the defense managed to hold under 20 points the entire season (13). The defense gave up 30 points or more on nine different occasions. If #Phase2 is to be successful, this unit must improve in 2019. For all its struggles, there was marginal progress made late in the season against UNLV, San Diego State, and Louisiana Tech. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai and defensive lineman Zeno Choi graduating won’t help the cause, but Hawaii does return a lot of experience and has several players coming off of redshirt that the staff is high on. Whatever the case is, the staff knows defense is not optional if this team wants to compete for the division title. They must begin to be mo’ bettah this spring.
4. Progression across the offensive line
One of the shock decisions exiting fall camp in 2018 was the move to start true freshmen Ilm Manning and Solo Vaipulu along the offensive line. It is highly unusual in college football to start true freshman on the offensive line, but it did pay off with Vaipulu earning honorable mention for all-conference honors. That said, there were struggles along the way. Hawaii finished 124th nationally in sacks allowed, although some of that is to be expected considering how much Hawaii throws the ball. Still, this young group took a beating against some of the tougher competition on the schedule, including allowing 9 sacks against Louisiana Tech in the bowl game. With experience under their belt, this unit returns all five starters for 2019. Progression during spring will be pivotal for a group that needs to keep McDonald/Cordeiro up right if #Phase2 is to bear fruit.
5. The beginning of Phase 2
For those not tied to the social media world, you’re probably wondering what #Phase2 is. It’s a hashtag Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich has been using, symbolizing the end of the rebuilding phase Hawaii football has been in since the struggles of the Chow era. With a ton of experience returning from an 8-6 team, Hawaii is looking to take the next step. With three Pac-12 schools on the schedule in the opening month of the season, the path will be more difficult than it was in 2018.
Spring ball will be a tool for the coaching staff to build off of the progress of 2018 with the intention of making an impact in the Mountain West title race. After beating San Diego State in 2018, Fresno State losing a boatload of talent from their 2018 championship team, and Nevada losing quarterback Ty Gangi, Hawaii will be looking to take advantage and officially announce their #back status. With high hopes, #Phase2 starts today with spring football at Manoa.
#Phase2 pic.twitter.com/Tyqjn8d3Pu— Dat 12 (@NickRolovich) December 11, 2018
2019 Hawaii Warriors Schedule
Aug. 24 - Arizona
Aug. 31 - Bye
Sept. 7 - Oregon State
Sept. 14 - @Washington
Sept. 21 - Central Arkansas
Sept. 28 - @Nevada*
Oct. 5 - Bye
Oct. 12 - @Boise State*
Oct. 19 - Air Force*
Oct. 26 - @New Mexico*
Nov. 2 - Fresno State*
Nov. 9 - San Jose State*
Nov. 16 - @UNLV*
Nov. 23 - San Diego State*
Nov. 30 - Army
-home games in bold