JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii defensive coordinator Greg McMackin shared a laugh with defensive back Gerard Lewis during yesterday's practice.
Mack won’t leave DBs in a corner
NEW ORLEANS » When defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville brought transfers Gerard Lewis and Myron Newberry to the islands he never said anything about leaving them on one.
But that's what happened a lot in 2006. Most times the diminutive but tenacious Hawaii cornerbacks won their battles with taller receivers. Sometimes they didn't.
Often, they fended for themselves as safeties were committed to other duties closer to the line.
It was a formula that sometimes made Lewis and Newberry look like Martin and Lewis, through no fault of their own other than their lack of height at 5-feet-8. But in the big picture it was OK, as UH went 9-3 despite the corners giving up a big play here and there.
But then Glanville left to be head coach at Portland State, and in came Greg McMackin, coming back to the Warriors after seven years away. He arrived with an aggressive philosophy similar to Glanville's, with a couple of key differences -- differences that have helped UH go 12-0 and earn a berth in Tuesday's Sugar Bowl against Georgia.
The 2006 defense allowed 42 touchdowns in 14 games and yielded 377.8 yards per game. This season the numbers are better: 32 and 348.9. The Warriors have intercepted 18 passes in 2007 and had 14 last year.
Most of the talk upon McMackin's arrival was about switching from a 3-4 front to a 4-3. But another change also had a big impact: McMackin did not blitz the safeties or commit them to run support as much as his predecessor.
"Last year every snap was pretty much cover 3," strong safety Jake Patek said. "But Coach Mack likes to have all four secondary players back together."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Defensive backs Myron Newberry, Jake Patek and Gerard Lewis prepared to run drills during practice at the Saints' practice facility in New Orleans yesterday.
That helped Lewis and Newberry continue to play with confidence, and aggressiveness.
"Coach McMackin preached playing as a team, and that's what we did, all season," said Newberry, who intercepted a team-high four passes this year. "When he came in, he said I did a good job last year, but he was going to get me some help, I wasn't going to be on an island all the time."
Newberry said he can break for the ball more assertively when he knows the safety is nearby and on his way to help rather than scrambling to get to the play from the line of scrimmage.
"If they know help is up top, I wouldn't say they take more chances, but they can be more aggressive," free safety Desmond Thomas said. "If we play according to the rules (of the scheme) and the playbook, we're in sync and we can make plays."
The corners have made their share, especially in the clutch; Lewis' break-up of a LaTech 2-point conversion try gave UH an overtime win at Ruston, Newberry picked off one to clinch the Warriors' other OT win, at San Jose State.
"Our corners aren't that big, but they play big," Patek said. "They're not going to let a height disadvantage bring their play down. They're playing with a chip on their shoulder but they're not going to let it get to them."
But in the final third of the regular season, the Warriors often reverted to leaving the corners alone, using safeties to help stop the strong running games of Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and Washington.
"We know we can play nine in the box sometimes and they can hold their own," Thomas said.
The Warriors may consider doing that against UGA running back Knowshon Moreno -- possibly the best offensive threat UH has to deal with all season.
If that happens, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford will get one-on-one opportunities to make big pass plays to his receivers.
"If you try to load up on the run he can certainly hurt you with the pass," McMackin said.
Patek said it's all about "doing what we need to win each game."