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Hawai’i football hits new low, suffers first shutout loss at home in 25 years
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 29, 2023
HONOLULU — It was a homecoming game to remember for some players connected with the University of Hawai’i football program as San Jose State visited Mānoa for the first time in two years.
The problem? Those players suit up for the San Jose State Spartans now.
The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-7, 0-4 MWC) fell to the San Jose State Spartans (4-5, 3-2 MWC) Saturday night, 35-0, as UH lost on homecoming night for the first time since 2016. SJSU has now won four consecutive meetings between the programs, the longest winning streak for the Spartans in the series.
Coming off one of the biggest gut-punch losses of the season, Hawai’i returned home to welcome a red-hot San Jose State team led by former UH starting QB Chevan Cordeiro to T.C. Ching Complex for homecoming. The Spartans entered the weekend on a two-game winning streak after consecutive 20+ point victories over New Mexico and Utah State and a chance to go over .500 in conference play for the first time this season.
The visitors stunned everyone in attendance by deferring possession to the 2nd half before recovering the opening kickoff inside of the Hawai’i 10 with a perfectly executed kick long that took a Spartans’ bounce to avoid a touchback. Worse for UH, star CB Cam Stone left immediately for the locker room with an injury and did not return.
The much-maligned Hawai’i defense was rapidly put in a tough position after just three seconds elapsed from the game clock, but the ‘Bows stepped up to stop SJSU three straight times to force a field goal try that went wide-right to keep the game scoreless.
The ‘Bows offense went on to pick up two consecutive 1st downs, matching the season-long total of 1st downs picked up on opening drives, before punting the ball away and pinning San Jose State deep in their own territory. It looked like Hawai’i’s defense again stepped up to force a three-and-out, but a personal foul penalty awarded SJSU a free first down.
The penalty sparked the Spartans’ offense, marching down the field on a 12-play, 93-yard scoring drive capped by RB Quali Conley’s five-yard TD rush for the game’s first points, midway through the 1st quarter.
UH QB Brayden Schager and company looked to answer back with points of their own, quickly moving into SJSU territory with a 21-yard reception by redshirt freshman Alex Perry to set up the ‘Bows at the SJSU 44. That was the furthest they’d get, gaining -1 yards over the next three plays before punting the ball away. Once again, Hawai’i punter Matthew Shipley boomed a kick inside the Spartans’ 15 to put the SJSU offense in an unfavorable spot with 2:11 left in the opening frame.
The short-game attack and running backs for San Jose State moved the visitors out of the back of their own side of the field before UH LB Isaiah Tufaga punched the ball free from Conley after the back gained 32 yards and CB Virdel Edwards II recovered it right before the end of the quarter for the Hawai’i defense’s fifth takeaway of the season (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions). It was Edwards’ first career fumble recovery.
The ‘Bows couldn’t capitalize on the rare takeaway, gaining just one first down on a Solo Vaipulu 14-yard rumble to end the 1st quarter before a holding penalty set the offense back with a 1st-and-20 at midfield. The next three plays resulted in just eight yards as Hawai’i punted, dropping a punt inside the opponent’s 15-yard line for the third time.
SJSU’s offense married the run and passing game perfectly on the next drive, going 86 yards over 13 plays (7 rush, 6 pass) and using an 8-yard Nick Nash TD catch to go up 14-0 with just over five minutes left in the first half.
Hawai’i’s offense failed to pick up a first down after facing a 1st-and-5, thanks to an incompletion, sack for seven-yard loss and completion behind the sticks on third down, punting for the fourth time in the first half.
The balanced offense of the Spartans continued to roll on the next drive to take a 21-0 lead just before the halftime break, going 70 yards in nine plays as RB Kairee Robinson found pay dirt for the 12th time this season and continuing his streak of at least one TD in every game this season for SJSU.
Despite the slow starts previously this year, Saturday’s contest was the first time Hawai’i had been shut out in the first half of a game all season. The ‘Bows had just 94 yards in the first half compared to the Spartans’ 280 total yards of offense as the visitors took a three-score lead into the locker rooms.
Hawai’i forced San Jose State to punt for the first time all evening on the opening possession of the 2nd half but matched with a three-and-out of their own immediately after. SJSU’s Robinson started up the scoring again quickly after the UH punt, taking the first offensive snap 52 yards to the house in 11 seconds to push the Spartans’ lead to 28-0 just three minutes into the 3rd quarter.
The ‘Bows saw two unusual contributors to the running game pick up first downs on the drive after, as Schager scrambled his way past the line-to-gain on 3rd-and-6 before Shipley took a fake punt 17 yards on 4th-and-14 to take Hawai’i into opposing territory for the third time all night. The promising drive ended two plays later when Schager was intercepted in the end zone on a miscommunication with receivers. Spartans’ corner Jay’vion Cole returned the pick out near midfield.
It looked like SJSU would continue to put points on the board with the takeaway after an impressive escape and throw-on-the-run by Cordeiro on 4th-and-10 to pick up the 1st down, connecting with Nash inside the red zone again after narrowly avoiding the ‘Bows pass rush.
The Spartans went for the kill shot on the drive, going for it on 4th-and-1 and getting stuffed behind the line to turn the ball over on downs with 3:43 left in the 3rd quarter.
Hawai’i’s offensive line struggles, which have been on display all season between pass protection and run blocking issues, reared their ugly head once again. Schager was flagged for intentional grounding trying to get the ball away while being hit before getting sacked on the very next play on 3rd-and-17 to push the game into the 4th quarter.
The teams traded punts to begin the final 15 minutes of play, each picking up one first down before stalling in their own territory. SJSU marched 60 yards down the field in six plays, seeing Cordeiro throw his second TD pass of the night to make it 35-0 with 6:45 remaining to play.
‘Bows backup QB Jake Farrell took his first snap for UH to begin the next drive as Schager watched the remainder of the game from the bench and took a step back after a tough day.
“Our quarterback is Brayden Schager,” Hawai’i HC Timmy Chang said of the benching after the game. “I wanted Brayden to take a back step… [end-of-game benching] was done with me, done with other quarterbacks… sometimes it’s just seeing it from another point of view, a different perspective.”
Farrell was able to help the offense pick up a pair of first downs but would be intercepted on a 4th-and-6 play with under three minutes left. San Jose State would run out the remainder of the clock, retaining possession of the Dick Tomey trophy for the fourth consecutive year.
Cordeiro turned in an impressive performance in his return home in his new digs, going 16-for-26 passing for 251 yards and two TDs and no turnovers. SJSU’s Robinson became the second UH opponent to rush for over 100 yards this season, running all over the ‘Bows for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The Spartans ran for 217 yards in total, the third straight game over 200 yards on the ground for SJSU and fourth total this year.
Schager finished 17-for-29 passing for 132 yards and an interception. It’s the first time in 18 contests that the junior failed to throw a TD pass, breaking the fourth-longest streak in the nation. Shipley finished as Hawai’i’s leading rusher with his single rush for 17 yards, as Landon Sims finished with four rushes for 15 yards. Shipley also punted the ball seven times and pinned San Jose inside the 20-yard line three times throughout the night.
The futile offensive performance marks the first time the ‘Bows have been shutout at home in the 21st century, last being blanked on the islands back in 1998 against SMU. It’s also the first time Hawai’i has been shut out in general since the team’s 38-0 loss at Utah State in 2017.
The ‘Bows have hit rock bottom two weeks in a row and now will hit the road again to take on a red-hot Nevada Wolfpack team, winners of two straight after beating New Mexico, 34-24, this past Saturday. A program looking for answers of any kind on the road will return to the stomping ground that Chang and staff inhabited just two seasons ago, hoping to turn their fortunes around. Nevada opens as four-point home favorites against Hawai’i. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. HT and will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV.
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