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Too Much Information: The Passing Game (Part III)

MaconDawg and I have been delving inside the Run and Shoot in an effort to show how Hawaii does what Hawaii does and to offer some basic examination of how to stop it. We now turn to the numbers themselves to see how well the two Sugar Bowl combatants have performed in this area thus far and how they stack up against one another.

As I indicated previously, the Warriors lead the W.A.C. and rank second nationally in aerial offense, hooking up on 70 per cent of their passes for 8.9 yards per attempt and 450.2 yards per game. Heisman Trophy finalist and defending MaxwellPundit winner Colt Brennan's league-leading 379.5 passing yards per contest exceed by more than half a football field the passing average of W.A.C. runner-up (or is that passer-up?) Chase Holbrook of New Mexico State. Hawaii's Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen, C.J. Hawthorne, and Jason Rivers are four of the top eight receivers in their conference, both in grabs per game and in receiving yards per outing.

What you may not know is that June Jones's squad has been pretty stout against the pass, as well. (After you've gone up against Hawaii's offense in practice, confronting another team's offense in a game poses a less daunting challenge, I suppose.) The Warriors rank second in the league in pass defense, allowing 217.2 yards per game through the air and surrendering league lows in touchdown tosses (15) and yards per pass (6.1). (Proficiency is relative, however; five S.E.C. teams have held the opposition below 6.1 yards per pass this season and four Southeastern Conference squads have given up fifteen or fewer touchdown passes.)

As one would expect in the W.A.C., Hawaii has had to face some quality aerial offenses along the way. Although the Warriors have gone up against five opponents ranked lower than 80th in passing offense---Georgia, ranked 84th, will be the season's sixth such opponent---they also have crossed paths with four teams ranked in the top 35 in the land through the air.

We begin with the Biggest Little Football Program in the World.

At Nevada (ranked 35th in pass offense), June Jones's squad limited the Wolf Pack to 134 aerial yards. U.N.R. was held to such a low total in a two-point home loss to Hawaii primarily because the Pack relied on the ground game: Nevada ran the ball 48 times for 216 yards, averaging almost twice as many yards per carry (4.5) as the Warriors were able to claim (2.4), while attempting only 20 passes (including Colin Kaepernick's 22-yard touchdown toss to Luke Lippincott). The fact that Nevada was shut out yesterday afternoon (in a game against the third-place team in the Mountain West in which the Wolf Pack tallied only 137 passing yards despite having thrown the ball more times than U.N.R. ran the ball) does not augment the value of Hawaii's narrow win over the Pack.

The Warriors' date with San Jose State (33rd in pass offense) likewise produced a narrow Hawaii victory on the mainland. The Spartans initially found themselves in a 14-0 hole, but they dug themselves out of it by tying the score with an 84-yard punt return and a 24-yard interception return, after which S.J.S.U.'s Adam Tafralis went to work. The Spartan signal-caller connected on 27 of his 47 forward passes for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 68-yarder to Kevin Jurovich.

The W.A.C. championship came down to the Warriors' showdown with Boise State (22nd in pass offense), in which the Broncos ran a balanced offense en route to a 39-27 setback in Honolulu: B.S.U. attempted 37 passes and ran the ball 35 times, enjoying significantly more success through the air (231 yards) than on the ground (101 yards).

Finally, Hawaii went up against New Mexico State (5th in pass offense) in a lopsided affair that featured a combined 41 rushes and 105 passes. The Aggies racked up 365 yards through the air yet turned the ball over frequently and were crushed by a 50-13 final margin. Naturally, N.M.S.U.'s numbers were affected by the wide margin by which the Aggies trailed, as New Mexico State attempted a dozen passes in the final quarter.

But, hey, what's a 50-13 whipping as long as you get to air it out, right, Hal?

Against Hawaii, Boise State's Taylor Tharp averaged 6.4 yards per pass and threw one touchdown and one interception, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick averaged 6.7 yards per pass and threw one touchdown and one interception, New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook averaged 6.3 yards per pass and threw one touchdown and two interceptions, and San Jose State's Adam Tafralis averaged 6.4 yards per pass and threw two touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Warriors' Adam Leonard and Myron Newberry between them have picked off eight passes this season, yet they still have a -1 turnover margin because they have thrown as many interceptions as they have gathered in (19 apiece) and they have lost more fumbles (10) than they have recovered (9). Hawaii's offense has had as many passes intercepted in the red zone as Hawaii's defense has picked off inside its own 20 yard line (4 each).

This bodes well for the Bulldogs, whose nine interceptions in 2007 are the second-fewest thrown by any S.E.C. team this year. Matthew Stafford has thrown twice as many touchdown passes (18) as picks (9) and the Red and Black, despite ranking only eighth in the S.E.C. in aerial offense (200.3 yards per game), have the league's third-highest yards per pass average (7.1).

Moreover, the 'Dawgs have been much improved through the air lately. In the six games they have played since the debacle in Knoxville, the Classic City Canines have tallied 201, 217, 225, 237, 99, and 214 passing yards, respectively, despite having run the ball more times than they have thrown the ball in each of those half-dozen contests . . . and Mike Bobo has been comparing notes with Derek Dooley, the son of Georgia's current winningest head coach and himself the head coach of a band of Bulldogs who rolled up 410 yards and 44 points on Hawaii earlier this season.

Brennan may be a Colt, but Stafford is a stallion.

The area of greatest concern, of course, is the matchup of the Warriors' offense with the Bulldogs' defense. Georgia ranks seventh in the S.E.C. against the pass, permitting 205.2 yards per game through the air. However, the Red and Black have hauled in as many interceptions as they have allowed touchdown passes (11 apiece).

No other Southeastern Conference squad has allowed as few touchdown tosses in the red zone as the five surrendered by the stingy Georgia D. Only half of the opposition's 40 trips inside the Bulldogs' 20 yard line this season have resulted in touchdowns, and three-fourths of those 20 T.D.s have come on running plays. Although the Warriors lead the W.A.C. in red zone offense, Hawaii has twice as many passing touchdowns in the red zone (28) as rushing touchdowns (14), so June Jones's squad may find the sledding a bit tougher in the shadow of the Georgia goalposts.

Finally, it is worth noting that the season-high single-game performances of Georgia's opponents against the Bulldogs in pass attempts (52), pass completions (34), passing yards (373), touchdown passes (3), and yards per pass (10.7) came in a two-week span against two opponents (Florida and Troy) who passed because they had no other choice. The Red and Black held third-quarter leads of 28-17 over the Gators and 34-20 over the Trojans, necessitating that Florida complete passes of 12, 27, and 33 yards in the final stanza and that Troy throw the ball ten times in the last fifteen minutes.

All right, that's enough of all that fancy-schmancy "forward pass" business. In our next installment, we'll begin looking at football the way real men play it . . . by running the dadgum ball.

Go 'Dawgs!