Warrior Running Backs coach Keith Uperesa touched on schemes and responsibilities in Monday’s Na Koa lunch meeting.

He showed clips on punt coverage pointing out a formation with three defenders lining up on the right with another in motion to follow the trio down the field.  Alex Dunnachie’s rugby style punting buys time for the four defenders to clear downfield unabated to apply quick hits if the returner attempts to take the ball. 

That scheme worked to perfection against Air Force when the returner picked up a bouncing ball and was stripped of it during the tackle.  Defensive back Charles Clay recovered the fumble, but the Hawaii offense lost a fumble of their own around the Falcon’s 10 yard line.

On punt returns, Uperesa said the returners job is to make the first man miss, then get what he can.  He felt Scott Harding has the ability to make anyone miss who is within five yards of his reception.  Kickoffs have to go deep and defenders must charge downfield fast and attack blockers.

It is all about gap assignments when it comes to defending option teams.  Uperesa felt the defense did a great job of getting the ball back in good field position.

On offense, Uperesa illustrated the intricacies of their 7 protect (five offensive linemen and two running backs) and 6 protect (with one running back).  They have to contend with stunts, dogs and blitzes from any of the 11 defensive players including the linemen, linebackers, corner backs and safeties.  The key is to communicate who is taking who and how to react to the actions.

Uperesa pointed out some cues from the defensive alignment to watch for.  For example, when a defense switches from two safeties high to one high, the running backs have to figure out where the second safety is because that is probably where the pressure is going to come from. 

If there are two defenders stacked on a receiver there’s a possibility of a blitz is coming.  The receivers must recognize this as well and break off of their route to fill the space vacated by a blitzers.

Uperesa stresses that the backs must avoid using chop blocks.  He showed an example of missing the charging defender, and another of the defender flipping into the air and nearly landing on our quarterback’s plant leg.   Even when the chop block works, the defender is normally on top so gets up first.

He says the most common reason given for throwing chop blocks is the backs did not feel they would be in position in time.  He shows the backs via film that they had time and they need to block upright.

Asked to evaluate the running backs, Uperesa called John Lister slithery, Will Gregory as a fast, power runner, and Joey Iosefa as an all power runner.  Uperesa explained how running plays are designed with runner’s initial targets and showed how they should look for the wall of the backs of the offensive linemen and hit the crease. 

Asked about fumbles, Uperesa reported that each practice begins with ball security drills.  Running backs need to secure the ball high and tight, which they do in practice, but in the excitement of the game that is forgotten and you see the ball go down to waist level.  Looking at the ball carrier from the back, you should see the non ball carrying elbow pumping to fuel the run, however, the ball carrying elbow should not be seen at all.

The coach thanked Na Koa for everything and emphasized the importance of the off-season support like summer school.  Attending summer school for the veterans, and the bridge program for incoming freshmen gives everyone a chance to assimilate to college life, get to know their teammates, chase away homesickness and participate in the strength and conditioning program and informal workouts.

Uperesa confessedHawaiiis the hardest place to have, and listen to, a nutritionist.  He alluded to morning practices where NCAA rules permits them to offer only bagels and nuts so the players grab all they can.  He reported that during the off-season they are allowed to provide one meal a day and the players have to get creative with their funds for the rest of their meals.

Written by Gareth Sakakida