Cardinal Sins: Three Takeaways from Hawai’i Football’s Week 1 loss to Stanford
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 4, 2023
HONOLULU – The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors fell for the second time in as many games this past Friday, dropping their home opener to the Stanford Cardinal, 37-24.
Much like the first game of the season for Timmy Chang’s squad, there were many positives to take away from the matchup against Troy Taylor’s team. Unfortunately for the ‘Bows, many of the same issues also persisted through Week 1’s loss after showing themselves against Vanderbilt.
Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Friday night’s loss to Stanford before Hawai’i prepares to host the Albany Great Danes for Week 2.
1. The defense is better than last year but needs to start making splash plays.
Look all around the Hawai’i defense and you will see the new and returning pieces on that side of the ball for defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro and crew. From star defensive back transfer Cam Stone to true freshman corner Elijah Palmer, the newcomers made their presence known all throughout the ‘Bows home opener.
For some reason, Stanford continued to test the pre-season All-Mountain West honoree Stone through the air. He answered the challenge across 24 coverage snaps, allowing just one reception for nine yards while being targeted five times. Stone finished as the top-graded ‘Bows defender in coverage by PFF, finishing the night with a 71.6 coverage grade and as the 2nd-best overall graded defender for Hawai’i (only behind defensive lineman Jonah Kahahawai-Welch) on the night with a 72.9 overall rating.
Finishing right behind the senior Stone was freshman Elijah Palmer, a 2023 graduate of Bishop Gorman in Nevada. The Hawai’i staff has been incredibly excited for the newfound pipeline that has been created between the national football prep powerhouse and the ‘Bows program since LB coach Chris Brown left the Gaels and joined UH. Palmer showed why on Friday, earning the 2nd-best PFF coverage grade of all Hawai’i defenders with a 68.8 grade in his first career start for the ‘Bows. The nickel corner was all over the field, totaling seven tackles in the loss – good for 2nd-most among UH defenders.
It wasn’t all peachy-clean for the ‘Bows. Stanford TE Benjamin Yurosek dominated all night to the tune of a game-high nine catches for 138 yards and a touchdown catch as Hawai’i defenders struggled to wrap up Stanford players all night (11 missed tackles in total according to PFF).
On top of the struggles to finish plays, it was the second straight week the defense failed to produce an interception or fumble. With an aggressive offense in Chang’s Run-N-Shoot, turnovers are incredibly important to maximize opportunities. Not only were the ‘Bows struggling to get hands on the ball on defense but also struggled getting hands on the quarterback as well. Stanford sophomore QB Ashton Daniels was not sacked a single time Friday night, whereas Hawai’i’s Brayden Schager was taken down six times behind the line of scrimmage.
Without pressure in his face, Daniels was able to dice up the UH defense in his first start for new head coach Troy Taylor.
If the ‘Bows are to pull off upsets against bigger programs, it is imperative the defense begins producing turnovers and gets after the quarterback.
2. Penalties continue raining on the ‘Bows parade
Undisciplined play is a coach’s nightmare.
Timmy Chang’s crew struggled with the amount of penalty yardage they gave up in Week 0 to Vanderbilt (7 for 59 yards against Commodores) before nearly doubling that negative output in Week 1 versus Stanford by being flagged 11 times to give the Cardinal 114 free penalty yards.
Not only did they hand out over a full field’s worth of free yardage, but many penalties also came at inopportune times for the ‘Bows by extending offensive drives for Stanford. The visitors scored 20 points on drives that the UH defense was called for a penalty, including a back-breaking roughing the passer on third down with the Cardinal backed up and Hawai’i within two scores and more than 12 minutes left.
Add in a pair of targeting penalties that resulted in immediate ejections for a pair of ‘Bows defensive starters and the errors became too much for the team to overcome.
The defense of the ‘Bows was not the only culprit of sloppy play. The offense and special teams each had blunders that backed up the team just as momentum began to mount for Hawai’i. After falling behind in the first half, 14-7, a holding penalty backed up the offense for a 2nd down needing 20 yards to move the chains. A punt was the result, quickly giving the ball back to Stanford for another touchdown drive to go ahead two scores with less than five minutes left in the second quarter.
If the ‘Bows want to compete for a bowl this season, the undisciplined penalties need to end rapidly. Albany, who held Marshall scoreless in the first half in Week 0, comes to the island looking for an upset of a program still searching for their first tally in the win column for 2023 and hopes the trend of Hawai’i hurting itself on the football field continues.
3. Pofele Ashlock will challenge for an All-Mountain West selection by season’s end.
Gross amounts of negativity to start these takeaways for a team who had lots to smile about following the first two outings of the year. While the Rainbow Warriors sit at 0-2 after two games, junior QB Brayden Schager leads the nation in passing yards with back-to-back career high games, totaling 706 yards to go along with six touchdown tosses to only two interceptions. The return to the Run-N-Shoot has resulted in a pair of games with three or more touchdowns to begin the season, something Hawai’i didn’t accomplish until five games into 2022.
The biggest of all the positives though must be redshirt freshman wide receiver Pofele Ashlock.
The 6-foot-1 pass catcher is the first freshman in ‘Bows program history to start their career with back-to-back 100+ yard receiving games and has now been honored twice as the Mountain West Freshman of the Week winner. He gave the world a taste of what could be expected going forward against Vanderbilt, demonstrating a high level of chemistry from fellow Texan Brayden Schager with seven catches for 127 yards and a score in his debut.
He helped the ‘Bows pick up six first downs himself against Stanford, adding in a pair of touchdowns as he busts onto the college stage. After two games, the wideout leads the team with 15 catches, 241 yards and three scores. He also has been a yards-after-the-catch machine to start the year with 60 yards coming from the creativity of his feet after the reception.
Ashlock’s 241 yards puts him atop all college wide receivers after Week 1, while his three touchdowns are tied with teammate Steven McBride for third-most in the nation for the season. He also has the most first downs among wideouts with 11 different receptions that have moved the chains so far for Hawai’i this season.
In an offense with many strong and reliable weapons (and a quarterback that does a nice job spreading the ball around), Ashlock has distinguished himself ahead of the others as a go-to for Schager through two weeks. While McBride has produced, alongside Alex Perry and Koali Nishigaya, Ashlock continues to present issues for opposing defenses trying to shut down the Texas-connection between the WR and QB. The redshirt freshman is a star in the making, so it’s a good thing he’s been watching and talking to some other ‘Bows WR greats.
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