Hawaii's offense may look familiar

Colt Brennan

ATHENS – For longtime fans of the Atlanta Falcons, Hawaii's offense will look very familiar.

It will bring back memories, not necessarily good memories, but memories nonetheless. Warriors head coach June Jones coached the Falcons from 1994-1996, using his run-and-shoot offense to compile a 19-30 record in those three seasons. Jones' lack of success as an NFL head coach did nothing to diminish his dedication to what some Falcons' fans derided as a gimmick offense.

Jones has carried the system all the way to Honolulu, where the Warriors are putting up staggering offensive numbers in his ninth season as head coach. Fourth-ranked Georgia (10-2) plays No. 10 Hawaii (12-0) on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

"When you have a system you believe in, and you continue to recruit better and better players, you are going to get pretty doggone good, and that's what June has done over there," said Nevada coach Chris Ault, whose team lost 28-26 to the Warriors this season. "Their system fits their personnel, and their personnel fits their system. Most importantly, it's what they believe in."

Jones has numbers to back up his belief. For the seventh year in a row, the Warriors finished the regular season in the nation's top two in passing yards. This year they are second with 450.2 per game.

They lead the nation in scoring with 46.2 points per game and are third in total offense with 529.3 yards per game.

"There are a lot of good ways to skin a cat, and Coach Jones has been honing that offense for most of his football life," said Boise State coach Chris Peterson, whose team fell 39-27 to the Warriors. "He knows it inside and out and has assembled some good players to go along with it. The interesting thing about this is we'll see how this run-and-shoot does against a team like Georgia, which is a heck of a team and a heck of a program."

After raising that question, Peterson declined to answer it.

"It's hard for me to answer that question," he said. "Coach Jones ran this in the NFL. The bottom line is it always comes down to players. It doesn't matter what system you run, ifyou've got a lot better players than I've got, you're usually going to win. They do a great job with that system, and they've got some good players to go into it, so it'll be interesting."

If the system is so wonderful, why aren't their more copycats? The spread offense seemingly has swept the naton due to its success at places like West Virginia and Florida, but the run-and-shoot remains marooned in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only one true devotee. Neither Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt nor defensive coordinator Willie Martinez can remember facing a true run-and-shoot.

"I don't think anybody is willing or patient enough to do that," Richt said. "A lot of people feel like you have to have some kind of balance in your running game or you can't survive in anybody's league. You've just got to be sold out to it. The head coach has got to be sold out to it, and the coordinators have to be sold out to it."

The system is run entirely out of the shotgun formation and rarely uses fewer than four wide receivers. The Warriors, who throw on 70 percent of their plays, are the only team in the country this year with three receivers.

"You better have a lot of people that can play some pretty good coverage because they can move the ball around," Ault said. "It's really a fun offense to watch and very difficult to defend. The different situations they can put you in based on down and distance really can raise havoc with a defense."

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