9th Island Nightmare: 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows loss at UNLV heading into bye week
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 2, 2023
HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors saw known flaws anchor the team down in the 44-20 conference-opening loss at UNLV on Saturday as the Rebels dominated in the trenches and ran for over 300 yards in the latest installment of the “9th Island Showdown” between the programs.
It’s a sour taste to the end the first half of the season for the ‘Bows, losing the “Island Showdown” trophy (shaped as a large, golden pineapple) to a rival and failing to reach .500 and grab the program’s first road win under Timmy Chang… again. Toss in the numerous injuries that UH continues to deal with and it’s been a rough go of it for the ‘Bows lately.
Luckily for Chang and the program, they return home with a bye week before getting back in action at T.C. Ching Complex against San Diego State on October 14. With nearly two weeks before the next time they suit up, Hawai’i should get a chance to not only get healthier on both sides of the ball but also make adjustments and develop the young talent even more as they enter the meat of Mountain West Conference-play.
That time to make adjustments, changes and develop younger talent proved to be a boon for the ‘Bows in ’22, seeing jumps in offensive efficiency and production in their commitment to Run-N-Shoot concepts. For Chang and staff, they hope to make similar use of the time this season as they continue to work towards bigger goals.
With all of that said, here are three takeaways following the ‘Bows road loss at UNLV, 44-20, and some things to think about heading into the bye-week and beyond.
1. It continues to be the same problems plaguing UH in each loss.
It feels fair to have a negative tenor to start the takeaways. Hawai’i gave up over 300 yards on the ground, struggled to get off the field on 3rd down and lost 44-20. They also surrendered six sacks, one of which forced a critical fumble in the first half to set up points for the Rebels, while failing to register any sacks of their own. That’s… not good.
What makes it sting worse for ‘Bows fans is the familiarity of the problems. It’s the fourth time in the past two seasons that a UH opponent has run for 300 or more yards and the fifth time this season that Hawai’i’s defense has given up more than 100 yards on the ground. UNLV was 8-of-15 on 3rd down conversions on Saturday, marking the fourth time this season that Hawai’i has allowed a 3rd down conversion rate of 50% or higher. Both of those issues can somewhat be attributed to the ‘Bows head-scratching tackling problem, one that has aided extending opposing offensive drives and seen otherwise bottled-up plays go for extra firsts and scores.
It can be tough to get off the field on 3rd down as it is, but when it consistently seems like offenses are in manageable situations that aren’t as easily predictable on the play calls, the job gets even tougher. Even more, the ‘Bows have struggled to create turnovers at the rate they expected coming out of training camp. Hawai’i has lost the turnover battle in four of their six outings this season, tying in the other two contests.
We’ll get into it more, but injuries certainly haven’t helped UH through six games and have forced some players to see more action early in the season than originally accounted for. A lot of that has been youth and lack of experience working the way to the forefront while experiencing growing pains.
Obviously, issues are alongside the other side of the ball as well. The running game continues to be spotty at best as they’ve dealt with numerous injuries of their own. Sophomore RB Tylan Hines has seen a dip in production in his second year while playing through injuries and Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei continues to get his sea legs under him after missing the start of the season from a training camp injury. While they struggled against a good UNLV defensive line, the ‘Bows offensive line has been playing through pain all season long. That’s part of the deal of an O-lineman role, but the bye-week will be good for continuing to get better as a unit while healing up some of the bumps and bruises.
Lastly, two more turnovers for Brayden Schager hurt Hawai’i in the end (though the interception to close the game didn’t carry TOO much value) while he continued to show off all the positives that helped him earn the QB1 job for the team. He threw for over 300 yards for the third time this season and tossed a TD for the 15th consecutive game, but even he will continue to say that he could’ve (and should’ve) been better for his guys.
The issues that hurt the ‘Bows aren’t anything new. Those things will need to be cleaned up and consistently polished if Hawai’i wants to compete with the top of the crop in the Mountain West.
2. Hawai’i needs to get healthy / get next-man-up, up-to-speed.
It was just mentioned a bit to end the last blurb, but Hawai’i has been decimated with crucial injuries at multiple points this season with one coming as a full knock-out blow to defensive captain and senior LB Logan Taylor. After the defensive stalwart was knocked out for the rest of the year with an ACL tear against UAlbany, it has taken some time for UH to replace both the production and vocal leadership that Taylor provided on the field.
His running mate, LB Isaiah Tufaga, has upped his level of play since Taylor’s injury. UH finds itself in a mirror situation from last season when Tufaga went down for the season to injury and Taylor emerged as one of the key Hawai’i defenders. With the shoe figuratively on the other foot, Tufaga has slowly worked his way back towards being the heat-seeking missile he can be all over the field for the ‘Bows. He finished Saturday afternoon with a career-high 10 tackles for UH and continued to be a pre-game captain for the coin toss.
Next to Tufaga, however, has been a mixture of next-man-up and consistent rotation to try and replace what Taylor brought to the field. Seeing more time since Taylor’s injury has been any combination of Nalu Emerson, Noah Kema and Jalen Smith (who started for the first time in his college career and tallied 10 total tackles). The trio has had many good moments in their opportunity to step in, but nobody has clearly taken a hold of the role that Taylor filled. As the team heads into the bye week, it’s a perfect time for someone to separate and take hold of the opposite starting job.
One route to get there? Cleaning up missed tackling problems.
According to PFF, Hawai’i’s defense has 75 missed tackles this season with a concerning trend of defensive backbone positions not finishing the play. Of those 75 missed tackles, the safeties and linebackers for UH have accounted for 36 of them. On Saturday, Hawai’i had 18 missed tackles from the defense with those two position groups tallying nine of them. Whoever can help solve the ‘Bows tackling issues at the next levels of the defense is in for a big-time role for the rest of the season.
Speaking of big-time roles, plenty of important Rainbow Warriors have spent time on the training table this season. Starters such as CB Cam Stone, RB Tylan Hines and CB Virdel Edwards II have all missed games this season due to injury while key depth pieces like Bryant-Lelei, RB Landon Sims and WR Jonah Panoke (among many others) have been banged up along the way. Standout nickel cornerback and true freshman Elijah Palmer had to be helped off the field in UH’s loss as well, though it’s unknown if the injury will keep the defensive back out currently.
All those words to say — the bye week came at a perfect time for Hawai’i.
3. The offense continues to be a work in progress; that should scare the rest of the Mountain West.
It’s always nice to end off on a positive note and that’s what’s happening here.
Hawai’i’s offense has struggled to keep Brayden Schager upright at times, has yet to unlock the run game and Tylan Hines has been hit with a killer second-year slump to go with his injury-filled start to 2023. Despite that, Schager has continued to produce each week to the point where his numbers rank among the top 10 nationally in multiple categories such as TD passes, yards, attempts and completions among all QBs. Redshirt freshman receiver Pofele Ashlock continues to look like a bright, emerging star for the coming games (and years) in the Run-N-Shoot offense.
You could even argue that Ashlock hasn’t been the team’s most productive receiver this season, as Kansas transfer WR Steven McBride continues to tear it up on the field with his first true opportunity to shine in college. The senior pass catcher set a new career high with 180 receiving yards while hauling in his sixth touchdown of the season.
We would be here all day if the job was to list off the multiple contributors in the Rainbow Warriors’ WR room, which has shown that it may be the deepest position group on the team. The best part about it is that so many of the WRs are underclassmen with a chance to continue development in both the short and long term.
Couple that with the talent that a full-health Tylan Hines brings to the table alongside an offensive line that continues to work to get more cohesive as the weeks progress and the potential for Hawai’i to be a top-tier offense in the conference exists. Without any semblance of a consistent running attack, Hawai’i checks in at fifth for total offensive yards among Mountain West programs with 2026 total yards with a solid non-conference schedule of defenses faced. That could spell for a scary combination if the run game finds its legs for the ‘Bows and Schager and his WRs continue taking steps as the weeks progress.
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