In 2012, Norm Chow, the offensive architect of Pete Carroll's juggernaut Southern California teams, took the head coaching job at the University of Hawaii. Born and raised in Honolulu, Chow seemed like the perfect head coach to bring Hawaii back to where they were under June Jones, where the Rainbow Warriors won eight-plus games in seven out of nine seasons.
Chow was known as one of the premiere offensive masterminds in college football, leading BYU's unstoppable offenses of the 1980's and 1990's and molding Phillip Rivers' into a first round pick, before crafting the electrifying USC offenses during the Pete Carroll era.
"He is arguably the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football, certainly in terms of championships and wins and people he has coached," Carroll said about Chow.
After leaving USC and stumbling around the NFL and college football for a few seasons, Chow returned home to take his first head coaching gig. In the three seasons with Chow at the helm, unfortunately he has not been able to rejuvenate the program. He has yet to crack five wins in a season, including a 1-11 campaign in 2013 and surprisingly, his offense has been a major disappointment. After averaging only 20.9 points per game, 3.71 yards per rush and a 49.3 completion percentage in 2014, Chow had to make a change to save his job.
In came Don Bailey from Idaho State, FootballScoop.com's FCS Offensive Coordinator of the Year. In 2014, Bailey's Bengal offense ranked second in the FCS in total offense, first in passing with 348.1 yards per game, scored 40.3 points per game and they won eight games, which was a massive improvement over their 3-9 record in 2013.
It was tough to recruit to Idaho State, especially before Bailey was hired, due to disappointing seasons where the offenses sputtered. With the Bengals' playing in a dome, Bailey implemented a spread offense based on tempo. Last season, the Bengals averaged a snap every 20.6 seconds and 82.7 plays per game.
"Three plays a minute. Twenty seconds," Bailey said when asked what his optimum pace would be. "Three plays per minute is about what Baylor does. I know we were at 2.86 plays at Idaho State per one minute in clock, real clock."
Even though Bailey ran a spread, up-tempo offense, that completed 59 drives in under three minutes, it was very balanced. Out of the 992 plays they ran last season, they passed the ball 535 times compared to 457 run plays.
Bailey's philosophies differ from the head coach. Bailey likes to adapt to the strength of his personnel, while Chow forces his principals and his west coast offense onto his players. Before this season, Chow has had total control of the offense, calling plays from the sideline rather than having a coordinator call plays from the booth. With his job in jeopardy, Chow has handed the reigns over to Bailey, who has his fingerprints on the offense and will call all plays from the booth.
The Rainbow Warriors won their first game of the season against Colorado, Chow's first opening game victory as a head coach. The offense racked up 302 yards of offense and put up 28 points on a team from a power five conference.
When I turned on an Idaho State game from 2014, or last week's Hawaii game versus Colorado, a few things were consistent: 10 or 11 personnel, the pistol formation and a vertical passing attack.
10 personnel (4 WR, 1 RB) out of the pistol:
11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) out of the pistol:
Vertical passing game
Although Bailey had a nice balance of pass-to-run at Idaho State, a good amount of his touchdowns came from the three verticals passing game. This has continued at Hawaii, where two of quarterback Max Wittek's three touchdown passes came on vertical routes.
If you watch a 2014 Idaho State game, they toss the ball vertically around the field, with excellent results. Here they are against Montana State where their quarterback threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns. They had two receivers with eight catches and 100-plus yards in receiving and a running back who racked up 127 yards on the ground in a 44-39 loss. Notice the amount of vertical shots they take, using three verticals and sometimes even one or two-man routes (white uniforms).
The vertical pass game has a kryptonite, and it is Cover 4. The match-up of the week comes on the perimeter, between cornerback Eli Apple and Hawaii wide receiver, Marcus Kemp. Kemp is a big wideout, standing at 6'4, 200 pounds and as noted in the video above, he is strong and great after the catch. Against Colorado, Kemp recorded six receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. Wittek, a former four-star recruit for USC, has a strong arm and can attack down field on the perimeter. It will be important for the secondary to not get sucked up in play action and not allow receivers to get behind them. Bailey's offense will put pressure on the secondary, as they try to score quickly. Getting Joey Bosa back will form a deep rotation to keep the defensive line fresh, help the pass rush immensely and force Wittek to get rid of the ball before the routes develop.