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Too Much Information: The Passing Game (Part I)

I'm later than I meant to be getting this posted, for which I apologize most profusely, but, when it comes to breaking down the Hawaii Warriors, there are many, many numbers in need of crunching and, even when time is short, I remain steadfast in my commitment to providing not just a little information, not just a reasonable amount of information, but instead . . . Too Much Information.

This may shock you to learn, but Hawaii can throw the ball. The Warriors rank second in the nation in passing offense with 450.2 yards per game through the air and their numbers are just plain gaudy: 50.5 attempts per contest, 8.9 yards per pass, a 70 per cent completion rate, and 50 touchdowns through the air. That just ain't right.

How meaningful are those numbers? Discounting Hawaii's two games against Division I-AA competition (in which the Warriors cumulatively tallied 903 passing yards and 129 points), June Jones's squad has faced the Division I-A teams ranked 59th (Fresno State), 67th (Nevada), 79th (San Jose State), 89th (Utah State), 93rd (Idaho), 99th (Washington), 102nd (New Mexico State), and 112th (Louisiana Tech) in pass defense . . . but also the teams ranked 23rd (U.N.L.V.) and 37th (Boise State). The Bulldogs, who allow 205.2 aerial yards per contest, rank 24th in the land against the forward pass, making the Red and Black the third opponent the Warriors will have faced this season not languishing at or below---in some cases, significantly below---the halfway point of Division I-A against the pass.

Against the Broncos, Hawaii racked up nearly 500 yards through the air when facing a Boise State defense that surrendered an average of 211.6 passing yards per outing over the course of the campaign. The Warriors exceeded that total in the third quarter, in which Colt Brennan exploded for 215 passing yards in a fifteen-minute span.

Brennan connected on throws of 28 and 41 yards en route to a 130-yard, one-touchdown first period, which ended with Boise State and host Hawaii tied 7-7. In the second stanza, the Warrior quarterback hit only one pass longer than 14 yards, but he racked up 111 yards through the air and threw a touchdown pass in the course of building a narrow 19-17 halftime lead.

The Heisman Trophy finalist lit it up in the third frame, in which the Broncos took a short-lived one-point lead. The Hawaii signal-caller completed 15 passes, closing out the quarter with back-to-back passes of 28 and 38 yards, respectively, and throwing T.D. passes to three different receivers while building the 39-27 advantage that would turn out to be the game's final margin. Brennan threw just five passes in the fourth quarter as the Warriors ran out the clock in a scoreless final stanza.

Similarly, when tangling with the Runnin' Rebels in Sin City, Hawaii threw for almost 400 yards against a U.N.L.V. squad that ordinarily allowed 203.3 passing yards per game. It should be noted, though, that the Rebels' statistical proficiency against the pass probably is attributable primarily to the fact that they stink against the run.

U.N.L.V. ranks 87th in the nation in rush defense, surrendering 183.6 yards per game on the ground. Opposing teams run the ball more than 40 times per game against the Rebels, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The squad from Las Vegas has given up 23 rushing touchdowns in 2007. It makes sense, therefore, that the Rebels would be good against the pass on paper, since the opposition seldom needs to put the ball in the air . . . which is why said opposition bothered to throw the ball only a little over 28 times per game, in spite of the fact that the 7.2 yards per pass attempt allowed by U.N.L.V. are the second-most surrendered by any of the nation's top 29 pass defenses.

This explanation cannot explain away the Warriors' success against the Broncos through the air, however. Boise State boasts a defense comparable statistically to that fielded by the Bulldogs: Georgia permits 6.6 yards per pass, as opposed to B.S.U.'s 6.3, and the two teams are remarkably even against the run. The Broncs give up 114.9 rushing yards per game and 3.42 yards per carry, while the 'Dawgs concede 119.5 rushing yards per game and 3.41 yards per carry.

As was demonstrated above, though, Hawaii passed against Boise State because Hawaii had to pass against Boise State. Only two of the Warriors' first nine opponents held third-quarter leads on June Jones's squad, and those two teams (Louisiana Tech and San Jose State) rank 93rd and 75th in total defense, respectively. In Colt Brennan's prolific third quarter against B.S.U., the Warriors had to abandon any pretense of a running game---67 of Hawaii's 79 rushing yards against the Broncos, including the loss of a yard on the final kneel-down, came in the fourth quarter, when the home team was running out the clock---and take entirely to the air.

To their credit, the Warriors made it work, overwhelming Boise State with long bombs when the need arose, but the Georgia faithful ought to be given some degree of hope. Hawaii's passing numbers against the Broncos were not mere decorative filigree adorning a victory; they were a necessity without which the home team would not have won. Had B.S.U. surrendered, say, 350 yards through the air and kept Colt Brennan from completing any passes longer than, oh, I don't know, 25 yards, the Warriors would have lost.

In other words, Georgia doesn't have to stop Hawaii. The Red and Black just have to slow the Warriors down and make them work for it. Can the Bulldogs stop a Heisman Trophy finalist? Heck, look what they did to the Heisman Trophy winner.

Go 'Dawgs!