4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HAWAII DEFENSE
– It was a rough year for a defense that gave up 440 yards per game and was ripped apart on the ground, and now it loses star LB Jahlani Tavai to the Detroit Lions. But he missed the late part of the season, and now all of the parts of the linebacking corps are back, starting with leading tackler Solomon Matautia and 87-stop running mate Penei Pavihi. Now this group needs help from the front.
– The pass rush fizzled over the second half of the season, but the parts are there get into the backfield. KK Padello is a smallish 215-pound speedster on the outside – finishing with 8.5 tackles – and 245-pound Manly Williams is a decent playmaker on the other side.
The Rainbow Warriors need 300-pound Blessman Ta’ala and 280-pound Samiuela Akoteu are veterans inside, and they need to hold up. JUCO transfer Mason Vega comes in to add depth on the outside, and Djuan Matthews is for the interior.
– The secondary only came up with five interceptions last season for one of the nation’s least-efficient pass defenses. Four starters return, starting with the safety tandem of Ikem Okeke and Eugene Ford – and they can hit.
Okeke came up with 87 stops – tying for second on the team – and 6-3, 215-pound senior Kalen Hicks will work somewhere in the mix after making 76 tackles as a corner. There are pieces – this is a BIG group of defensive backs – but now they have to make plays.