Serendipity brought linebackers coach Sean Duggan to the Na Koa Coach’s Lunch a week late. But, after a game where linebackers accounted for 39 of the 116 solo and assisted tackles (just over a third) and linebacker Jahlani Tavai was named the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week, timing was perfect.
Duggan said it was a nightmare to prepare for Air Force, it demanded discipline and involved implementing a whole new defense. It was not very good at first, but as the players experienced more and more success they began to buy in. However, you can’t duplicate the speed of the Falcon offense in practice.
Still, the players adapted to the speed of the game soon after the first series, played man to man all game, and had a lot of bodies around the ball. Just to change things up, the defense had various linebackers crashing B and A gaps. It was not perfect, but the effort and excitement cancelled out the altitude propaganda.
Things went relatively well until the fourth quarter when the Falcons marched 72 yards in 19 plays eating up 8 minutes and 18 seconds. They utilized double options with the quarterback, and cutbacks off the fullback dive to accomplish their success. The coaches saw that, but did not want to change up the responsibilities and create confusion to counter it. The defense started to close up the back side to limit the gains. You know the rest.
On the final drive in overtime, Duggan says they knew the Falcons would run on second and 7 yards so they called for the front six to press and they did for no gain. On third and 7 Jahalani Tavai charged the quarterback forcing a high incompletion. On fourth down everyone knew a pass was coming and that it was going to their 6’4″ receiver. Kory Rasmussen charged in untouched and forced the quarterback to throw off his back foot and lob a short floater which Jalen Rogers promptly leaped for and ended the game with an INT.
Hawaii played a disciplined game and was called for just one penalty. Also remarkable was getting two fumbles, one in the Falcon red zone against a team who is disciplined themselves – two penalties.
Although the New Mexico Lobos, this week’s opponent at home, also runs the option, they are slightly different from Air Force in that they use the triple option and regular formations, their quarterback throws well, and they have speed.
In a quest for linebacker recruits, Duggan wants smart guys with speed and strength. And he wants good people who are open to new cultures. Duggan himself is assimilating into the Hawai‘i culture with his “slippers.”
Duggan is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio who attended Boston College playing linebacker for four years. “I was not the fastest or the strongest so I had to be smart, not make mistakes.” Kevin Lempa was the defensive backs coach at the time and taught Duggan a lot about being a good person.
A marketing major, Duggan figured on getting a job somewhere, but the then defensive coordinator Don Brown offered him a volunteer job coaching linebackers to see if that suited him.
It did, and when Hawai‘i Defensive Coordinator Kevin Lempa asked him if he wanted to go to Hawai‘i, he said “when do we leave?”