9th Island Nightmare: 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows loss at UNLV heading into bye week

9th Island Nightmare: 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows loss at UNLV heading into bye week

Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager hit as he throws via UNLV Athletics

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. 

UNLV runs wild to beat Hawai’i, 44-20, takes back Island Showdown Trophy

UNLV runs wild to beat Hawai’i, 44-20, takes back Island Showdown Trophy

UNLV runs wild to beat Hawai’i, 44-20, takes back Island Showdown Trophy

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 1, 2023

The wait for the first road win in the Timmy Chang era continues a bit longer. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-4, 0-1 MWC) fell to the UNLV Rebels (4-1, 1-0 MWC) on Saturday, 44-20, seeing this season’s trend of slow starts in games continue in the program’s conference opener at Allegiant Stadium. 

The ‘Bows defense struggled to get off the field on third down and saw the Rebels’ run game gash the unit for 307 yards on the ground, the highest single-game rushing total for a ‘Bows opponent since last season’s October 29th home loss to Wyoming when the Cowboys rushed for 365 yards. It’s the fourth time in the last two seasons that the ‘Bows have given up 300 or more yards on the ground. 

Hawai’i’s defense started strong, forcing a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession in just 46 seconds. UH’s offense responded with a fruitless first drive of their own before UNLV began the scoring with a quick 5-play, 66-yard drive on the next possession. The Rebels ran four times for 50 yards before redshirt freshman Jayden Maiava completed his first pass of the day, a 16-yard score to RB Vincent Davis Jr, putting UNLV ahead 7-0 with 9:04 left in the first quarter. 

UNLV extended the lead to 10-0 with a 52-yard FG from K Jose Pizano at the start of the second quarter, capitalizing on a failed 4th-and-3 try from the UNLV 38 by Hawai’i with three points. UH would get on the board with the next drive, airing it out to senior WR Steven McBride twice for completions of 24 and 35 yards respectively to put the ‘Bows in field goal range and make it 10-3 with 12 minutes left in the first half.

The Rebels would answer back with a long, methodical 13-play drive that killed off over seven minutes in the second quarter but ended with UNLV settling for a 27-yard FG to push the lead back to 10 with under five minutes left in the quarter. Hawai’i looked to respond with points of their own, but two more sacks (including a strip sack to end the drive) from UNLV gave the home squad a chance to bury the visitors in the first half. The fumble by Schager was just the second lost fumble of the season for Hawai’i, the other coming in the Week 4 win over New Mexico State. The Rebs’ defense totaled five sacks in the opening 30 minutes on Saturday as they continuously had the ‘Bows offensive line off-balance. 

UNLV punched in the 2nd TD of the afternoon quickly following the turnover, using a pair of Hawai’i personal foul penalties to push inside the red zone. That allowed RB Courtney Reese to rush it in from four yards out and extend a 20-3 halftime lead for the home team. 

The slow start to the game has become the norm for the ‘Bows so far through six games. Hawai’i has been outscored 130-50 in the first half this season and 66-17 in the opening quarter, something that has been on the minds of the coaching staff for weeks. It was a familiar spot for UH, who went into last week’s halftime down two touchdowns before coming back to beat the Aggies on a last-second field goal.  

The ‘Bows looked to get the momentum going on their end once again in the second half with a one-play scoring drive, as Schager connected with McBride on a 51-yard TD pass after some trickery left the UNLV defense fooled, making it 20-10 with less than four minutes off the third quarter clock. 

Hawai’i’s defense was unable to come up with the complimentary stop on the ensuing drive, as tackling issues continued to pop up for the defense. The ‘Bows allowed three runs of 10+ yards on the possession, including the 21-yard touchdown scamper by Reese that saw three missed UH tackles help push the Rebs’ lead back to 17 with 8:11 remaining in the third. 

The ‘Bows looked to be in business again after a 55-yard completion to McBride set them up deep in UNLV territory, but two incompletions and a run for a loss forced UH to settle for a 34-yard field goal to cut it to 27-13 with five minutes remaining in the third. The 55-yard pass was the ‘Bows longest play from scrimmage this season. 

In need of a stop with time as the enemy, Hawai’i struggled to get off the field on third down and allowed the Rebels to move the chains to drain the remainder of the quarter. After a false start pushed UNLV back for a 3rd-and-18 at the start of the fourth, the ‘Bows were able to force a field goal try from 48 yards by the Rebs’ – one that skipped off the bottom of the uprights and through to make it 30-13 with 14:22 left for Hawai’i to mount a comeback. 

Once again, UH’s offense worked quickly (with the assistance of a couple UNLV penalties) to keep the visitors’ hopes alive. This time, it was redshirt freshman Alex Perry breaking free for a wide-open 38-yard touchdown catch to cut the Rebs’ lead back to 10 with 12:47 left. Once again, the defense could not get the stop the team needed. 

The Rebels went 80 yards in 10 plays, cutting off another four and a half minutes from the clock and pushing ahead, 37-20, on Maiava’s second TD pass of the day. The former Kaimuki QB found Jacob De Jesus for an easy 3-yard score to put Hawai’i’s comeback hopes on life support in his showcase against his hometown team. 

Hawai’i saw a Pofele Ashlock catch-and-run of over 50 yards on 4th-and-5 called back for an illegal pick play, forcing the ‘Bows to punt from deep in their own territory instead and UNLV put the cherry on top two plays later (with the help of a face mask penalty) with a Donavyn Lester 22-yard TD run to open the biggest deficit of the day for the ‘Bows, 44-20. 

One last-ditch effort for UH saw a drive deep into Rebels’ territory, but the opportunity ended with an INT in the end zone ripped from the hands of WR Karsyn Pupunu and may or may not have hit turf. UNLV would kneel on the next possession to take back the Island Showdown Trophy and avenge last season’s loss in the islands. 

UNLV’s Maiava finished the day 11-for-21 passing the ball for 142 yards and 2 TDs, adding in four rushes for another 32 yards in what may be his final start before the return of injured starter Doug Brumfield. Six different Rebels finished with 30 or more rushing yards as the team averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Donavyn Lester led the way for the Rebs’ with 12 carries 98 yards and a TD. 

Hawai’i’s Schager posted his third 300-yard performance of the season, throwing for 313 yards and two TDs to go along with two turnovers (1 fumble, 1 INT) on 22-of-35 passing in the loss. It’s the 15th consecutive game the gunslinger has thrown a touchdown pass for the ‘Bows. He was also sacked six times, five coming in the first half. McBride finished with a mind-boggling new career-high of 180 yards on six receptions and added his sixth TD catch of the year. The Kansas transfer finished with 205 all-purpose yards in the game. 

The ‘Bows went 1-for-11 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, continuing another season-long problem. Hawai’i is converting at just a 32% clip on third down this season while seeing struggles getting off the field defensively, allowing opponents to convert at a 47% rate on the money down. 

Hawai’i heads home to the benefit of a bye week, which couldn’t come soon enough for a banged-up ‘Bows team that saw Elijah Palmer need to be helped off late. 

Timmy Chang called the conference-opener a “must-win” for the Rainbow Warriors but now must lead his squad past the loss and use the game as a “must-learn” going forward. With penalties, missed tackles and slow starts continuing to creep up in the worst moments, Hawai’i now has a chance to self-scout and correct ahead of the meat of the conference slate. 

The ‘Bows return to action on October 14 when they host San Diego State with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m. HT at T.C. Ching Complex.