For the first few games of 2013, junior Taylor Graham started at quarterback and looked absolutely awful: 46 of 100 passing for 462 yards, 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Eventually, Norm Chow abandoned hope for Graham and started senior Sean Schroeder (after some brief, ugly play from Ikaika Woolsey). The decision paid off, the offense scored at an above average rate, and the fortunes of the Rainbow Warriors could have changed drastically if the defense hadn't fallen apart at roughly that same time.
Unfortunately for Chow and Co, Schroeder is gone. Graham and Woolsey battled for the job through the spring and fall, and Woolsey has been named the starter against Washington. Both players had a negative impact on the offense during limited playtime last season. Woolsey's final statline for the year: 11 of 29 passing (37%), 143 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.
Woolsey's main advantage over Graham is his athleticism. It's not clear to me exactly how dangerous he is as a runner because I've never seen him play. From what I've read, he'll at least be able to extend plays by rolling out of the pocket, and if flushed by the pass-rush he will be a threat to scramble for some extra yards.
Washington will be breaking in three new starters in the defensive backfield, so it should come as some relief that Woolsey is raw as a passer. Even if he has improved, it's unlikely that he will be able to do much more than manage the game and minimize mistakes. For even that to be possible, his offensive line will need to keep Shelton from collapsing the middle of the pocket while simultaneously keeping Kikaha from enveloping Woolsey in multiple bearhugs.
The Rainbow Warriors return four of five starters along the O-line, with left tackle Mike Milovale the only loss. Ben Clarke, who started at center all last year, will take over the left tackle spot. Kody Afusia will plug in at center after starting 15 previous games at guard.
It's easy to see the 86 returning starts and assume a big step forward is inevitable, but it's worth remembering this group was mediocre at best last season. It's fair to expect some improvement, but one more year won't necessarily turn a weakness into a strength. Washington's offensive line is in a similar spot; lots of experience has led to heightened expectations that now must be met on the field. The major difference: the Husky O-line is ahead in terms of raw talent and quality of past performance.
The Husky offensive line is also fortunate to avoid facing Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, and friends. Shelton is too massive for just about any center to handle alone. Kikaha finished last season dominating WSU and BYU tackles that were at least as talented as Ben Clarke, who will be making his first career start at tackle.
It would be fairly shocking to see Hawaii's line hold Washington's pass-rush in check, but the run game could be a different story. Hawaii's run game improved as the year went on and finished very strong (more on that below), and blocking for a senior back is a simpler task than protecting a first-year starter at QB.
Even with the early quarterback troubles, Hawaii averaged 301 passing yards per game in 2013, good for 20th in the nation. Starting Schroeder in week four against Fresno State helped the offense immensely and made volume passing possible, the impact of late-season addition RB Joey Iosefa should not be underestimated.
Underclassman Steven Lakalaka led an afterthought run game until November 9th against Navy, when Iosefa returned from a foot injury and instantly became Hawaii's bellcow. In UH's final four games, the 6'0" 240-pound bruiser carried the ball 124 times for 586 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Extrapolate that over a full healthy season (I know, a dangerous game to play), and we're talking about All-Conference production.
This year Iosefa is fully healthy and will be running behind almost the exact same line that helped pave the way for his success at the end of '13.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Chris Gant is gone after leading the team in receiving in '13, and starting tight end Clark Evans has also departed. Aside from those two, most of the depth at wide receiver returns. Gant and his big-play abilities will be missed, but senior Scott Harding (56 catches for 631 yards and one touchdown) and junior Vasquez Haynes (29 catches for 354 yards and three touchdowns) are next in line.
Woolsey won't begin the season with a clear-cut number one target, but with Marcus Peters likely to be blanketing Harding, guys like Haynes and Keith Kirkwood (12 catches for 250 yards and four touchdowns), will need to step up and get open if Woolsey is to manage an efficient game.
Edit: Shame on me for missing the news from early this month that Kirkwood has transferred to Temple and Haynes is sidelined by injury and should miss this game. Marcus Kemp will start in place of Haynes. Clearly the depth at WR is not as strong as I had previously thought.
Hawaii's offense will not be as good as Washington's offense. Hawaii's offense will certainly not be as good as Washington's defense. That being said, the Huskies will need to pay particular attention to Hawaii's run game. With a question-mark at QB, a 240-pound senior at RB, and a veteran offensive line, Chow will have every reason to pound the ball. Washington was also surprisingly weak against the run last year.
If the Rainbow Warriors can successfully get Iosefa rolling, it will give Woolsey a much better chance to survive the Husky pass-rush and perhaps even pick on the young Husky defensive backs. If Iosefa is stuffed up the middle a few times early on and Woolsey is left to make plays on 3rd and long, things could get ugly very quickly.