Sep. 2—While it was not perfect—two incompletions and a false start—the Warriors' season-opening scoring drive showed what happens when the routes, blocks and reads are synced to a brisk pace.
WESTERN KENTUCKY OFFENSE WR—0 Jaylen Hall 6-3 180 Gr.
WR—11 Malachi Corley 5-11 210 So.
WR—17 Dalvin Smith 6-3 190 Fr.
WR—4 Michael Mathison 5-10 180 Jr.
WR—7 Daewood Davis 6-2 195 Sr.
LT—76 Mark Goode 6-6 300 So.
LG—78 Quantavious Leslie 6-3 310 So.
C—53 Rusty Staats 6-4 310 Jr.
RG—64 Vincent Murphy 6-2 305 So.
RT—75 Gunner Britton 6-6 305 Jr.
QB—16 Austin Reed 6-2 230 Gr.
Head coach Tyson Helton's offense is a mixed plate of post-snap reads he learned as a receivers coach for June Jones' run-and-shoot ; a blend of pro style, spread and pistol from two stints under Bobby Petrino disciple Jeff Brohm ; and sampling Houston Baptist's version of the Air Raid that was borrowed from Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech and now the Arizona Cardinals. The smoothie offense resulted in Bailey Zappe throwing for 5, 967 yards and an FBS-record 62 TDs last year. Zappe is with the New England Patriots, but the keys to the Hilltoppers' spread-and-conquer offense have been handed to Austin Reed, one of 40 incoming transfers. Reed previously was at West Florida, where he led the Argonauts to the 2019 NCAA Division II championship. Reed has been able to manipulate the tempo fluctuations of an offense that takes between 13 seconds and 24 seconds for the next snap. Reed is particularly quick (average snap-to-throw time of 0.97 seconds ) and accurate (5-for-5 last week ) on screens. While he is not a true scrambler—two rushes for 6 yards last week—Reed is elusive in the pocket. He was not sacked in 34 pass plays. The Hilltoppers opened with an empty set last week, but then morphed into variations of four-receiver sets. Slotback Malachi Corley is speedy on outs and slants (three TDs last week ) and is a threat on jet sweeps. Josh Simon, who was mostly attached to the line as a blocker last week, is a sure-handed tight end. Running back Jakairi Moses averages 3.0 post-contact yards.
WESTERN KENTUCKY DEFENSE OLB—3 JaQues Evans 6-2 250 So.
DE—34 Juwuan Jones 6-3 275 Jr.
DT—97 Darius Shipp 6-1 305 Sr.
DT—99 Brodric Martin 6-5 320 Jr.
OLB—1 Jaden Hunter 6-2 240 Sr.
LB—23 Will Ignont 6-1 235 Sr.
LB—24 Derrick Smith 6-2 220 Sr.
CB—12 Kahlef Hailassie 6-1 200 Jr.
S—2 A.J. Brathwaite 6-0 190 Jr.
S—18 C.J. Jones 5-10 195 Sr.
CB—21 Upton Stout 5-9 180 Fr.
A month after Tyson Summers was brought in to coach the safeties, he was promoted to defensive coordinator following Maurice Crum's departure to Mississippi. Summers is the third WKU defensive coordinator in as many years. After working together at UAB, Summers understands the paradoxical aggressive-elastic style of complementing Helton's quick-paced offense. Against Austin Peay, the Hilltoppers limited third-down conversions (36 %) and forced five three-and-outs on 14 possessions. Summers built defenses around a four-man front as DC at Central Florida (2012-14 ) and head coach at Georgia Southern (2016-17 ). But his approach widened as a quality control coach under Georgia's Kirby Smart. In WKU's odd front, defensive end Juwuan Jones aligns next to the two space-eaters, who can set up in the gaps or with one across the center. The splits are tight, resulting in 1.7-yard average on third-down rushes. Outside linebacker JaQues Evans often sets up as an edge defender. Nicknamed "Donut, " Evans can zero in on a quarterback with a quick-step burst or by dragging an offensive tackle. Last week, Evans broke to his left to impede a wideout's takeoff, pirouetted and flattened a running back on a perimeter run. He finished with 13 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and no misses. On the back end, WKU can play a four-across zone, set a safety as a centerfielder 13 yards away, or move up the safeties to join the inside linebackers as second-level defenders.
WESTERN KENTUCKY SPECIALISTS PK—44 Brayden Narveson 6-1 205 Jr.
KO—46 Cory Munson 6-2 205 Jr.
P—47 Tom Ellard 5-10 190 Fr.
LS—59 Jake Bowman 6-0 215 Fr.
40 Zach Lassiter 6-1 201 Sr.
KR—4 Michael Mathison 5-10 180 Jr.
PR—21 Upton Stout 5-9 180 Fr.
Brayden Narveson, who transferred from Iowa State in 2020, converted 23 of 29 field-goal attempts last year and connected from 23 yards last week. He appears to have completely healed from offseason surgery. Tom Ellard of Melbourne averaged 45.7 yards on six punts in the opener, but two were returned for a 16.0-yard average. Last year, the Hilltoppers surrendered 18.6 yards per punt return.
HAWAII OFFENSE WO—1 Jonah Panoke 6-2 190 Jr.
SB—3 James Phillips 5-9 160 Sr.
LT—75 Ilm Manning 6-4 295 Sr.
LG—69 Stephan Bernal-Wendt 6-1 325 Sr.
C—61 Eliki Tanuvasa 6-2 300 Sr.
RG—71 Micah Vanterpool 6-6 315 Sr.
RT—77 Austin Hopp 6-6 310 Sr.
TE—7 Jordan Murray 6-5 240 Sr.
WO—9 Dior Scott 5-9 175 Sr.
QB—13 Brayden Schager 6-3 215 So.
QB—18 Joey Yellen 6-3 220 Jr.
RB—31 Dedrick Parson 5-8 205 Sr.
While it was not perfect—two incompletions and a false start—the Warriors' season-opening scoring drive showed what happens when the routes, blocks and reads are synced to a brisk pace. "I would hope that's who we are, " quarterback Brayden Schager said. "I thought that was a great drive. It showed some things off." But the Warriors would not find the end zone again, and Vanderbilt parlayed two perfect-storm UH fumbles into touchdowns. The quarterback competition has been extended through Saturday, although Schager (18-for-35 for 161 yards ) and Joey Yellen (10-for-20 for 89 yards ) are both expected to play against WKU. The Warriors' four-vertical offense will seek tight end Jordan Murray, who had a single catch on six targets last week. Jalen Walthall, a second-year wideout from Houston, has entered the rotation. Last week, Walthall secured 62.5 % of the passes when he was targeted, and averaged 5.0 post-catch yards. Schager, who grew up in Dallas, and Walthall bonded after both committed to UH in 2021. They were teammates on a squad that won a Pylon 7on7 Tournament. After a redshirt season was abbreviated to four games in 2019, James Phillips was buried on the depth chart as a reserve running back the next two years. Phillips moved back to slotback this spring, and now is a speedy option on slants, curls, quick outs and deep routes. The lopsided score forced the Warriors to throw into coverages last week, but they hope to improve after misfiring on five 20-plus-yard passes.
HAWAII DEFENSE DE—7 Mataio Soli 6-4 230 Sr.
NT—55 Blessman Ta 'ala 6-2 305 Sr.
DT—90 John Tuitupou 6-4 300 Sr.
RE—42 Jonah Kahahawai-Welch 6-2 230 Sr.
MLB—1 Penei Pavihi 6-3 245 Sr.
WLB—17 Isaiah Tufaga 6-1 230 Sr.
NB—9 Malik Hausman 6-0 180 Sr.
CB—8 JoJo Forest 5-11 165 Jr.
S—26 Leonard Lee 6-0 190 Sr.
S—25 Matagi Thompson 6-2 185 Fr CB—23 Virdel Edwards II 6-2 210 Jr.
Nose tackle Blessman Ta'ala is a middle manager with authority. Against Vanderbilt, Ta'ala did not record a tackle in 42 snaps. But similar to a rim protector in basketball, Ta'ala turned the inside lanes into dead ends, with his two-gap cancellations and low-leverage push. Ta'ala is capable of benching 455 pounds, and his 400-pound power clean is a record for a UH defensive lineman. Ta'ala's point attack creates double teams and keeps the guards off linebackers. "You want to build from the inside out, and he's a good centerpiece, " defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro said. Vanderbilt spread its offense and used tight ends to bracket UH's defensive ends, leading to an average of 11.9 yards on perimeter rushes. The Warriors worked on wrapping, angles and leverages to avoid repeating last week's 19 missed tackles. Maryland transfer Devyn King is ready to join Virdel Edwards II, JoJo Forest and Hugh Nelson II in the cornerback rotation. The biggest surprise has been safety Matagi Thompson, a 2021 commit who delayed enrolling at UH until January. The Punahou School graduate has drawn comparison to former UH safety Nate Jackson because of his wiry frame, range, play-calling and open-field tackling.
HAWAII SPECIALISTS PK /P—2 Matthew Shipley 6-1 180 Jr.
KO /PK—46 Kyler Halvorsen 6-0 175 Fr.
LS—44 Solomon Landrum 5-11 215 Jr.
H /P—86 Ben Falck 6-6 230 Jr.
KR—22 Jalen Perdue 5-10 170 Sr.
PR—9 Dior Scott 5-9 175 Sr.
There is ample reserve power behind kicker /punter Matthew Shipley. In practice, Ben Falck drew oohs with a 75-yard punt. Kicker Halvorsen has a strong right leg developed through strength /conditioning coordinator Kody Cooke's squat-lifting program and years of running the steps at Kaiser High's stadium and ascending the Koko Head Crater Trail. Kickoff returner Jalen Perdue has clocked 10.7 seconds over 100 meters.