It’s time to preview the Hawai’i defense.
Like Texas A&M, Hawai’i runs a base 4-3 defense and that isn’t going to change under first year defensive coordinator Legi Suiaunoa. That’s because, in addition to being the defensive coordinator, Suiaunoa also coaches the defensive tackles.
In fact, Suiaunoa has a reputation for developing very good defensive linemen. Prior to joining the Hawai’i staff, he coached the defensive line at Montana where he developed Tyrone Holmes into a senior consensus All-American who led the FCS in sacks in 2015 with 18.
Last year, Hawai’i defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa ran a 4-3 defense. But Lempa left Hawai’i to work as a defensive analyst for Michigan. Yet, that isn’t going to change the defensive philosophy of the Rainbow Warriors.
Even though the Rainbow Warriors lost several key players from last year’s defensive line, look for this to be the toughest part of the Hawai’i defense.
That might mean that UCLA may not gain much yardage on the ground. But, at the same time, considering that Hawai’i is a much less talented team than the Bruins, it might be the right time to consider pounding the ball on the ground to establish the running game for UCLA.
The defensive line is anchored by Meffy Koloamatangi at defensive end. So far this season, Koloamatangi is tied for the team lead in sacks with 2. The other defensive end is David Manoa, but also look for Zeno Choi to see quite a bit of playing time.
At the tackles, Samiuela Akoteu is the big 320 lb. nose tackle while Viane Moala will start at the other tackle spot. Moala leads the defensive line 9 tackles including 3.5 TFLs.
In Hawai’i’s 4-3 defense, look for Solomon Matautia to start at Sam linebacker, but Jeremiah Pritchard will get plenty of playing time there too. That’s because Matautia and Pritchard are two of the team’s top tacklers so far this season.
Russell Williams, Jr. will start at Will linebacker on the other side and Jahlani Tavai will get the start at Mike. Not surprisingly, Tavai leads the team with 23 tackles. Having a huge nose tackle playing in front of you tends to free you up to make stops and that’s exactly what Tavai does.
While the secondary is the weakest unit for Hawai’i, the Bruins will stay away from senior safety Trayvon Henderson, who was “one of only four players [last season] with double-digit TFLs and PDs,” according to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly.
But the rest of the unit is made up of underclassmen. The other safety is junior Daniel Lewis, Jr. and the starting cornerbacks are junior Manu Hudson-Rasmussen and sophomore Rojesterman Farris II.
Look for Jedd Fisch to use the run to keep the defense honest while also looking to Josh Rosen to pick on the underclassmen in the secondary. Rosen could go looking for Caleb Wilson again on short passes just like he did last week against Texas A&M.
Expect another 300-yard-plus day from Rosen and another high-scoring game from the Bruin offense.