In the days since Hawaii beat Duquesne 42-21 last Saturday at Aloha Stadium, several people have told me that UH’s defense “sucks,” or described it in some other non-complimentary manner.
Maybe that’s a somewhat understandable sentiment considering UH (now 4-1) was playing against a team from a lower division and favored by around 30 points. Still, I reminded them that the Warriors allowed just one score after the first quarter — the first quarter during which Duquesne jumped to a 14-0 lead because of Hawaii mistakes … on offense, defense and special teams.
A lot of this criticism has been directed at the UH defensive backs; that’s because at their position mistakes are often the most noticeable — and also, perhaps, because UH allowed just 24 net rushing yards (including three sacks of quarterback Daniel Parr for -22 yards) compared to 142 in passing. Well, maybe the UH pass defense wasn’t very good compared to its stifling run defense that allowed less 0.9 yards per attempt and just one first down.
Parr was elusive in the pocket. But even though he was adept at buying time with his feet, open receivers were not always easy to find. He completed 14 of 26 passes (54 percent) and the Dukes’ longest play went for 29 yards.
Cornerbacks coach Abe Elimimian said the secondary met its goals of allowing around 50 percent in completions and limiting long gains.
Those who still want to say the defensive backs were bad will point to three passing touchdowns by Duquesne. Those plays were for 6, 13 and 20 yards.
Zach Wilson‘s interception on Duquesne’s first possession of the second half was the final significant momentum-changer of the game; UH led just 21-14 at the time, Wilson’s pick set up a 43-yard drive, and the Warriors would score another TD to put the game out of reach at the midway point of the fourth quarter.
“He’s not doing a good job,” Elimimian said of Wilson, who has started three of Hawaii’s five games. “He’s doing a great job.”
The corner on the other side, Ro Farris, has impressed former UH and NFL safety Rich Miano. Miano, who was a UH defensive assistant for 13 years, is now an analyst for the Warriors TV broadcasts.
“I look at him and I see a future NFL player,” Miano said.
There was one play on Duquesne’s first series where Farris was beat on a double-move by the receiver. Farris wisely committed pass interference, turning a potential touchdown into a 15-yard penalty.
“There are two kinds of cornerbacks,” Miano said. “The kind who have been beaten and the kind who will be beaten. You’re doing great, then all of a sudden you get beat for a TD and people think he had a terrible game.”
In this case, there was no touchdown. Duquesne punted four plays later.
What do cornerbacks and left tackles have in common? On the surface, not a whole lot other than being members of a football team. They’re often the smallest and biggest guys on the field.
But the players who stop passes and those who stop pass rushers can empathize with each other for being noticed mostly for when they make mistakes.
“You’re out in space doing well for 68 plays, then all of a sudden a guy makes a double-move on you for a touchdown on the 69th play,” Miano said. “Same for the left tackle. He does his job great the entire game and then one time the defensive end gets in for a sack and a fumble where the quarterback gets hurt.”
They are two of the hardest positions in all of sports at which to succeed — because so often one mistake can lead to a game-changing play, and cornerbacks and offensive tackles are often pitted against players with great physical talent. Cornerbacks and offensive tackles have to learn many of the same fundamentals to be successful, Miano said.
“Believe it or not, there’s a lot of similarity in technique,” he said. “Even more than other positions, your base, your ready position, is critical. You’ve got to be ready to move back, forward, sideways. We talk about it all the time. Guys who teach O-line play. bump-and-run, pressing a guy, using their hands like a defensive player, keeping balance and changing direction.”