UCLA Football Preview: Todd Graham Enters Second Season with Hawai'i
The former ASU head coach was hired in 2020 to replace Nick Rolovich.
Before I get started with our coaching and special teams preview for this week’s Hawai’i game, I have a bit of housekeeping to do. We remain tremendously grateful for all the support everyone has provided by subscribing since we debuted at the start of a pandemic.
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Now, onto this week’s the Hawai’i coaching and special teams preview….
The last time UCLA played Hawai’i was in 2017. It was Jim Mora’s final season in Westwood and the Bruins rolled over Nick Rolovich’s team 56-23. That season also turned out to be Todd Graham’s final season as the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Despite that loss to the Bruins, Rolovich really turned the program around for his alma mater after three seasons that saw Norm Chow win just four games. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that another school came calling just as Rolovich was rebuilding the progam. That school was Washington State. Exit Rolovich. Enter Todd Graham.
Graham has to be laughing at his old friends in Tempe after the ASU recruiting scandal as he brings his Rainbow Warriors onto the mainland looking to improve upon last year’s 5-4 record.
There’s little doubt that Graham is a good football coach. He compiled 46 wins in his six seasons in Tempe which is the most in a six-year span in program history and puts him third on ASU’s all-time wins list. Something tells me Sun Devil fans are wishing he were still there.
Graham’s son Bo was promoted to offensive coordinator during the offseason. The younger Graham’s career has largely followed his dad’s. When Todd Graham took over the Hawai’i program last year, Bo signed on as the team’s running backs coach. After G.J. Kinne left to become the offensive coordinator at UCF, Bo was promoted to be Hawai’i’s offensive coordinator for this season. With his dad’s history being predominantly on the defensive side of the ball, Graham will definitely have a large impact on the team’s offensive fortunes this season, but he’s never served as an OC at the collegiate level before.
If that’s not enough, Graham also has added quarterback coaching duties and that’s a position he hasn’t coached before. As a result, the Rainbow Warrior offense may not be ready for primetime quite yet.
With Todd Graham’s background in defense, he has restructured the defensive staff this season. Victor Santa Cruz, last year’s defensive coordinator, will now only coach the defensive line. Meanwhile, Trent Figg joins the staff as the “Associate Head Coach Defense” and defensive backs coach. While Figg served as the team’s chief of staff last season, he was successful as the defensive coordinator at Southern Arkansas and also served in that capacity at his alma mater William Jewell College, a Division II school in Missouri.
Let’s look at the Rainbow Warrior special teams.
Sophomore Matthew Shipley handled all of the field goal attempts for Hawai’i last season. He was perfect on PAT attempts, going 26-for-26, but he was just 8-for-14 on field goal attempts. He made all four of his field goal attempts inside 30 yards and made two of three between 30 and 39 yards. His achilles heel, however, were attempts greater than 39 yards. He only made two of seven attempts longer than 39 yards. His long for the season was 44 yards.
Shipley also handled the bulk of kickoffs for the Rainbow Warriors. Of the 33 kickoffs he made, 16 went for touchbacks. Junior punter Adam Stack handled 13 kickoffs and seven went for touchbacks. So, overall, about half of Hawai’i’s kickoffs went for touchbacks, which is typical for a college team since the touchback rule was changed a few years ago. Stack may not kickoff at all this season. Instead, Kyler Halvorsen may get some kickoff reps.
Last season, Stack punted 44 times with 15 fair catches and 11 going inside the 20. He averaged 43.41 yards per punt with four longer than 50 yards. His long for the season was 61.
Look for seniors Calvin Turner, Jr. and Dior Scott to handle both the kickoff and punt return duties. Turner is the Warriors’ proverbial dangerous return man. Last season, he ran one back 92 yards against Houston in the New Mexico Bowl. Scott had the bulk of punt returns last season, but almost all of them were fair catches.
That wraps up our coaching and special teams preview for Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl.