CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tim Tebow is a big challenge for linebacker Solomon Elimimian, above, and the UH defense.
UH task: stop Tebow
ATLANTA » If the Hawaii defense needed any reminders of what awaits on Saturday, the Warriors had only to stop by a magazine rack.
Chances are a shot of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was staring right back at them.
The Warriors open the season against Tebow and the fifth-ranked Florida Gators on Saturday, and trying to contain the reigning Heisman Trophy winner -- and cover boy of various college football magazines and this month's edition of Men's Health -- is a challenge equal parts daunting and exhilarating.
"I think it's great to play the best," UH head coach Greg McMackin said after the Warriors' practice at Georgia Tech yesterday. "They're the fastest offense in the country, they have the Heisman Trophy winner and they probably have 10 first- and second-round draft picks on their team. It's exciting to play a team like that -- you find out where you are real fast."
"Fast" is indeed the operative word when dealing with a Florida offense brimming with speed at the skill positions. The return of Tebow and six other starters off the nation's third-highest scoring offense last season contributed to the Gators' lofty preseason ranking and some national title buzz.
"I think it's great to play the best. They're the fastest offense in the country, they have the Heisman Trophy winner and they probably have 10 first- and second-round draft picks on their team. It's exciting to play a team like that, you find out where you are real fast."
Hawaii coach, on Saturday's matchup against Florida
Tebow's ability as a dual-threat quarterback was best illustrated in the 55 touchdowns he accounted for last season (32 rushing and 23 passing). He has at least one rushing score and one passing touchdown in an NCAA record 14 straight games.
"It's like putting another (running) back in the backfield," said McMackin, who calls the plays for the UH defense. "So they have an extra back that you have to account for."
But it won't be the first time the Warriors' defense -- expected to be the strength of this year's team -- has tried to corral a multi-talented quarterback. The Warriors held off Washington in last year's regular-season finale as quarterback Jake Locker sprinted for first downs or showed the ability to throw over the defense as well.
"That's a huge challenge when the quarterback is a dual threat," defensive end David Veikune said. "It's really not a big difference (in speed between Tebow and Locker), but Tebow's arm is more accurate."
Then there are the weapons at Tebow's disposal and an offensive line that returns three starters.
Receiver Percy Harvin's status for the opener is in question as he continues to recover from offseason surgery on his heel. Still, the Gators' speed across the field leaves little margin for error in execution.
Harvin's backup, Brandon James, was one of the nation's top kick returners last season. Starting receivers Louis Murphy and Deonte Thompson were members of Florida's track and field team in the spring.
"We're going to trust in the system we've got and I feel we have good speed on our team. I don't feel we're totally outmatched," linebacker Adam Leonard said. "They've got some speedsters, but I'm just thankful we're not running track, we're playing football."
For his part, Tebow, who tossed just six interceptions in 350 attempts last season, wasn't throwing much motivational material Hawaii's way when he spoke to the press earlier this week.
"They've got a pretty strong defense. They do a lot of good things," Tebow said. "They've got a good coordinator who puts their defensive packages together pretty well. They mix some of their blitzes really well. We'll have to be very sound in our protection with changing calls and different things like that. That's really one of their strengths."