Washington defensive back Myles Bryant doesn’t have much of a reference point for Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense.
There is some comparison to be made to Washington State’s Air Raid, he said, but even that won’t completely prepare the Huskies for what they’ll see against the Rainbow Warriors on Saturday.
“I feel like it’s pretty unique to who they are,” Bryant said, then grinned. “Coach (Jimmy) Lake was telling us that the Houston Oilers used to run it with Warren Moon back in the day. I mean, I don’t think I was around for that … so I think it’s pretty unique.”
Moon did indeed run the run-and-shoot with the Houston Oilers, although it was created by former high school coach Glenn “Tiger” Ellison and then refined by former Portland State offensive coordinator Mouse Davis. The offense typically features one running back and four wide receivers. It’s a flexible system, one that emphasizes receiver motion and spontaneous route adjustments based on defensive coverages.
Hawaii previously ran it successfully in the early 2000s. Quarterback Timmy Chang set the record for most NCAA completions and passing yards in 2004 while quarterback Colt Brennan set the touchdown passing record in 2006. Now, under head coach and former Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich, the system has made a return.
“They route adjust,” Lake said. “ They will basically play opposite of what you’re doing. If you’re playing on the inside, they’re going to break outside. It’s not just a designed route and they have to run the route right into the coverage. If you play deep, they’re going to go short. If you play short, they’re going deep.
“It’s going to be kind of a back-and-forth of us disguising things and trying to trick them a little bit and at the same time, we’ve got to make plays and they’ve got to try to make plays. It’s going to be a fun match-up to watch.”
It will be a test, Bryant admitted, like a game of cat-and-mouse. But the senior safety also couldn’t hide his smile. Eager to put the loss to Cal — and that disappointing third quarter — in the rear view mirror, the Huskies’ defense is ready to embrace the challenge.
“I think it could be difficult if you don’t go into the game plan knowing what’s set in stone and what really to do,” Bryant said. “But I think once you have a game plan, you can pretty much play (cat-and-mouse) back with them.”
Hawaii has already defeated two Pac-12 teams this season, beating Arizona 45-38 in the season opener and then topping Oregon State 31-28 last week. The Rainbow Warriors are averaging 541.5 yards of total offense and 38.0 points per game. They rank fourth in the country in passing yards per game (428.5) and 14th in total offense.
“This offense is completely unique,” Lake said. “We have not seen it since we’ve been here. This is the old-school, run-and-shoot offense. … This is an explosive offense. They’ve played two Pac-12 teams and scored a bunch of points. Quarterback’s got a big arm. They got receivers that come off the line fast. This is a completely different animal that we have not faced and it’s going to be an extreme challenge for our defense.”
Hawaii is led by receivers Cedric Byrd and JoJo Ward. Byrd has caught 21 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns this season . Ward has 14 receptions for 259 yards and five touchdowns, an average of 18.5 yards per catch.
Quarterback Cole McDonald has completed 59-of-93 passes for 799 yards and eight touchdowns in the first two games. But he’s also thrown five interceptions. The Huskies are still looking for their first turnover of the season, and they’ll likely get some chances against Hawaii.
“When I was watching film, I got really excited because they throw the ball so much, more than I thought they did,” said senior defensive back Elijah Molden. “That’s a tremendous challenge for the secondary and the defense in particular. We’ll have some opportunities. We’ll just have to make plays.”
Since the offense is so unfamiliar, Lake stressed the importance of film study to this week’s preparation.
“When we see a team that’s put up the amount of points that they’ve put up in those first two weeks against two quality opponents that are in our conference, that’s definitely going to grab everyone’s attention,” Lake said. “That’s just how we’re going to have to prepare: on film.
“There’s definitely certain aspects of their offense that we’ve seen before but it is a completely different animal that we have not faced. I think the guys are excited for the challenge.”