Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s 41-34 home loss to San Diego State

Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s 41-34 home loss to San Diego State

Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s 41-34 home loss to San Diego State 


HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors fell behind by three scores early in the 2nd quarter and fought tooth and nail the rest of the way to get back into Saturday’s matchup with San Diego State, even taking the lead into the final 15 minutes of play after a Nick Cenacle 52-yard catch-and-run went for six as time expired in the 3rd quarter. 

Despite the fight, the ‘Bows ultimately fell to the Aztecs, 41-34. Turnovers and dynamic plays for SDSU proved to be the difference, scoring 21 points off four Hawai’i turnovers (3 fumbles, 1 INT) and using a blocked punt on the first drive of the game to set the stage for the fight waiting ahead for UH. 

That said, there were so many positives to take away from the game. It’s almost more frustrating to have lost than be able to learn from a win because of that. Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Hawai’i’s 41-34 home loss to San Diego State. 


1. The final score will fool you on UH’s defensive performance. 

Loyal followers of the Hawai’i football takeaway articles that drop each Monday may recall a harsh reality check of where the ‘Bows defense was after allowing 44 points on the road to UNLV right before the bye week. Among the things referenced in the piece were the struggles to finish tackles and awarding free yards via penalties to opponents. 

We’ll start there to uncover how the UH defense, despite “giving up” 41 points, looked far better in their first showing after the bye. 

While using the raw defensive grade given out by PFF for each game would be enough to show you the point (it was the ‘Bows highest-graded defensive performance of the season), the underlying numbers are what should pique interest of fans moving forward. It was the 2nd-highest tackling grade of the 2023 season for the Rainbow Warriors (62.8, behind 77.9 grade vs UAlbany), showing strides in finishing tackles and not allowing opponents to bounce off contact and burn the ‘Bows for bigger gains. There will be “missed tackles” in every game for defenses, but Hawai’i entered the evening averaging 13 allowed missed tackles per game (according to PFF). They improved that number to 10 missed tackles on Saturday night, a marginal improvement but an important one at that. Linebacker Jalen Smith had a pair of missed tackles in his second career start but also provided four “stops” for the ‘Bows defense, good for second among UH defenders. Safety Peter Manuma, who left the game with injuries a few times throughout the night, also was credited with two missed tackles but led the team with six “stops” and recorded his first interception of the season. It was the first pick for the ‘Bows since Week 2 against UAlbany when true freshman Elijah Palmer snagged his first collegiate pick. 

The turnover was a pretty welcome sight as well after not forcing a turnover at UNLV. Hawai’i’s defense was expected to be a strength coming into the season and have added ability to take the ball away but have yet to win the turnover battle against an opponent this season. That does need to change going forward but shouldn’t be an impossible task as the Rainbow Warriors try to get healed up increasingly as the weeks roll on. Manuma did finish the game despite a couple scary moments for the stud sophomore safety. 

UH also posted a season-low for penalties, getting flagged twice for just 11 total yards in the loss. While it’s a little thing for now, Hawai’i can only win games by winning on the margins and that includes disciplined play leading to no free yardage. Saturday was a monster step towards being the fully-working machine that the ‘Bows know they can be. 

It is important to note the position that the defense was put in against the Aztecs this past weekend as well, as a blocked punt on the first possession of the game saw Hawai’i’s defense already have heels on the goal line for the first snap. A similar situation happened late in the contest as well after a Landon Sims fumble inside Hawai’i territory allowed SDSU to punch in a second TD forty-nine seconds after re-taking the lead in the 4th quarter. A 70-yard pick-six also goes on the final score by no fault of the defense, which held San Diego State to just 5-of-14 on 3rd down conversion attempts and forced the Aztecs to settle for FG tries three times. 

While there are things to improve still (the lack of sacks and ability to generate pressure on opposing QBs in general jumps to mind), Saturday was an encouraging leap forward for a talented Hawai’i defense that has struggled to fully put it together to this point. 

2. Steven McBride deserves national attention, even if it’s just a little bit. 

Few people knew what to expect from McBride entering this season. The senior had just transferred in from Kansas, where he had accumulated 21 receptions across parts of three seasons for the Jayhawks and was entering into an offense that relied greatly on the rushing attack the season prior. 

The coaching staff had an idea of what the 6-foot-1 speedster could do in the new Run-N-Shoot offense while pitching him to join the program and McBride quickly developed an on-field rapport with starting quarterback Brayden Schager in the offseason. That chemistry has translated into game action for the senior and the ‘Bows offense as he’s racked up 626 yards receiving on just 35 catches, good for an average of 18.2 yards per catch for McBride. 

He’s turned up the production even more recently as well, leading all pass catchers in the nation over the past two weeks in receiving yards after performances of 180 and 157 yards against UNLV and SDSU, respectively. It’s also the first time that the senior has gone over 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games in his career. McBride is a big-play machine, holding the ‘Bows top three plays from scrimmage in terms of total yards gained with catches of 65, 62 and 55 yards and leading the team with six TD receptions. 

The senior bet on himself by transferring out of a Power 5 program to go to a Group of 5 school and it has paid dividends for McBride. He started the year hot, cooled off for a few weeks and immediately sprinted past the competition again. He ranks 14th in the nation (among FBS schools) in receiving yards, below names like LSU’s Malik Nabers and Washington’s Rome Odunze who are expected to be selected in this year’s NFL draft. 

This isn’t to say McBride should generate 1st-round or even Day 2 draft buzz, but it is time that the ‘Bows big-play threat gets the true respect he deserves. 

3. Hawai’i won’t be going to a bowl game this year. 

Okay. It was positive to begin for a reason. It’s time to deliver the blow now that it’s been softened a bit. 

The ‘Bows aren’t going to be a bowl team this season. It’s been a stated goal of players and coaches alike to get Hawai’i back to bowl eligibility this season, but Saturday’s loss made an already-difficult climb nearly impossible with just six games left on the schedule and five wins required for a guaranteed bowl berth. 

A quick look at the remainder of the year for Hawai’i goes as follows: at New Mexico, home for San Jose State, away for Nevada, home for Mountain West-leading Air Force, in Laramie, Wyoming for a date with a strong Wyoming team and a season finale at home against a spunky Colorado State program that just upset Boise State. 

Now, this is not to say that it’s impossible for the ‘Bows to run the table (or close to it) on the way to end the season. The path is there with just two of those opponents currently above .500 on the season in Wyoming and Air Force. If Hawai’i were to beat the other four teams currently at .500 or worse in their meetings, an upset in only one of those two games would be needed for bowl eligibility. 

Hey, on any given weekend. 

Realistically speaking, this young ‘Bows team will continue to see highs and lows in year two of Timmy Chang and staff and will experience growing pains in winnable games that could potentially lead to losing outcomes. Any combination of two losses pretty much ends the ‘Bows hopes at a bowl game and young players are bound to make some errors. Young coaches, too. 

The outing against SDSU was encouraging in so many ways but also displayed how UH still doesn’t have enough talent/skill level hasn’t yet developed to the level where they can survive critical errors in key moments of games and still win. The ‘Bows took steps forward on defense, Schager threw for a new career-high in yardage again and UH put up a season-high in points, yet still lost. 

A bowl game isn’t in the cards for the 2023 season, but the pieces here and experiences to come this season will build the foundation for next year’s team to re-join the end-of-season festivities. 

Slow start, rough finish dooms ‘Bows in offensive slugfest versus SDSU

Slow start, rough finish dooms ‘Bows in offensive slugfest versus SDSU

Slow start, rough finish dooms ‘Bows in offensive slugfest versus SDSU


HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-5, 0-2 MWC) fell to the San Diego State Aztecs (3-4, 1-2 MWC) on Saturday night, 41-34. Another slow start came back to bite the ‘Bows late, as they allowed the first 17 points of the contest before getting on the board. 

Hawai’i lost four turnovers and had a punt blocked deep in their own territory, neutralizing a career-game from QB Brayden Schager as the ‘Bows ran out of time and fell at home to conference-foe San Diego State for the 10th time in 12 meetings since UH joined the Mountain West. 

The Rainbow Warriors received the opening kickoff after SDSU won the coin toss and deferred, quickly going 3-and-out and setting up to punt the ball away when the Aztecs came crashing through the protection and blocked Matthew Shipley’s punt to set San Diego State up inside the Hawai’i 20-yard line for their first possession of the day. 

The ‘Bows defense, tasked with a tough challenge from the outset, held strong to keep the Aztecs’ offense to just three plays and three points — settling for a 22-yard field goal from SDSU senior kicker Jack Browning to make it 3-0 after three minutes of game action. Hawai’i’s beginning-of-game offensive struggles continued with three-and-outs on the next two drives (though they were not helped by field position on the 2nd drive, starting at their own 8-yard line). 

San Diego State extended the lead to 10-0 on the next possession, starting inside Hawai’i territory and working their way down the field in six plays to score on a Lucky Sutton 1-yard run up the gut with 4:16 left in the first quarter. The ‘Bows finally grabbed a first down on the next drive, though the offense couldn’t get much more working. 

UH’s defense attempted to give the offense a spark as safety Peter Manuma produced his first interception of the season to open the second quarter, but SDSU’s defense answered with an interception of their own — a 70-yard pick-six of Schager — to open up a 17-0 lead with 12:19 left in the 2nd quarter. 

Things continued to look bad for the ‘Bows to start the next drive began from their own 9-yard line following a penalty on the kickoff, but the offense began to find legs as the run found life to boost the aerial attack. Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei scampered for an 11-yard gain on the first play and for 24 yards on the drive to add some extra space for Schager to work with. Aided with extra time, Schager dropped a pass in the bucket for a 17-yard TD to Pofele Ashlock and cutting the Aztecs’ lead to 10. It was the first time Ashlock got in the end zone since September 1 against Stanford. 

The ‘Bows defense forced a three-and-out following the touchdown, but a muffed punt allowed the Aztecs to recover inside Hawai’i territory without sending their own defense back onto the field. Once again, the Rainbow Warriors’ defense bent but did not break AND were rewarded for their efforts this time. After forcing the SDSU drive to stall at the 33-yard line, Aztecs’ kicker Jack Browning’s 51-yard FG attempt went wide-left and kept the score at 17-7. 

Hawai’i played complementary football quickly after as Schager connected with Steven McBride for 62 yards to set the ‘Bows up at the SDSU 5 and hit 6-foot-5 receiver Alex Perry with a jump ball for a TD two plays later to make it a one-score game with 90 seconds left in the first half. 

The ‘Bows defense got one more stop on the next drive, allowing Timmy Chang to dial up some deep ball attempts that ended up falling to the turf to close the opening 30 minutes of play as Hawai’i entered the locker room down by three, 17-14. 

SDSU was stonewalled by the Hawai’i defense once again to kick things off in the second half, forcing a punt after four plays and only one first down before Browning pinned the ‘Bows back at their own 7 for their first drive of the third quarter. UH’s offense would go 64 yards in 10 plays on the drive, knotting the score at 17 apiece at the 8:34 mark of the third period. 

The Aztecs responded with points of their own after a long drive, going 68 yards across 13 plays before getting stopped inside the Hawai’i 10 and settling for a 24-yard field goal to re-take the lead, 20-17, with less than a minute to play in the quarter. 

Schager and company worked quickly once again as time in the third quarter wound down. It was Schager delivering another beautiful throw, this time to WR Nick Cenacle who galloped by two SDSU defenders as the quarter clock expired to give the ‘Bows their first lead of the night, 24-20. 

San Diego State answered back with a quick strike of their own three plays later, as Jalen Mayden found a wide-open Mekhi Shaw for a 69-yard TD reception to jump back ahead, 27-24. The Aztecs found pay dirt again 66 seconds later after an Ashlock fumble was recovered by SDSU inside the Hawai’i 25-yard line and Lucky Sutton ran it in from two yards out to extend the lead to 10 with 12:27 left in regulation. 

The ‘Bows would not go quietly though despite the critical mistakes that had happened to that point. Needing just three plays of their own, Hawai’i went 75 yards to bring it within three once again as Schager connected with McBride for UH’s longest play from scrimmage this season (a 65-yard reception) and RB Landon Sims punched it in from two yards out for the sophomore’s first career rushing touchdown. 

Needing a stop, Hawai’i’s defense strapped up the boots once again and got exactly that. The ‘Bows forced a turnover-on-downs after SDSU went for it on a 4th-and-1 from the Hawai’i 21-yard line and came up short with 5:39 remaining in the fourth. The ‘Bows would fumble the chance again though. 


The Aztecs’ defense was able to pry the ball loose from Sims on a second down run and recovered it, bringing UH’s defense right back out onto the field in the same spot it had gotten a much-needed stop just 32 seconds beforehand. San Diego State would soak up nearly three minutes of game action afterwards, all but icing the game with 2:11 left with a Jaylon Armstead rushing touchdown making it 41-31. 

Hawai’i quickly worked to the SDSU 30 and elected to kick a 47-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining and all three timeouts in hand, understanding that two possessions would be needed no matter what with a score. 

The ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by the Aztecs and UH was unable to get one last stop, allowing SDSU to pick up a first down and kneel out the remainder of the clock to drop Hawai’i to 2-5 overall on the season and 0-2 in Mountain West play. 

San Diego State’s Mayden finished the day with 221 yards through the air and another 53 yards on the ground to tie for the team rushing lead, tossing one TD and one INT in the win for the Aztecs. RB Cam Davis tallied 53 rushing yards across 10 carries as well for SDSU, who had three of their TDs come from the ground. Mekhi Shaw led the Aztecs pass-catchers with six receptions for 126 yards and a score. 

Brayden Schager had a career-best 427 yards passing, going 29-for-47 with three TD tosses and an interception for Hawai’i. The ‘Bows offensive line had a powerful performance, surrendering just one sack all night and providing time for their junior signal caller to work. Saturday was the 16th consecutive game that Schager had thrown a TD pass, continuing to mesh with the explosive weapons at his disposal. 

Speaking of those weapons, Steven McBride finished with 157 yards receiving on five catches just two weeks after posting a career-best 180 yards at UNLV. Ashlock had the largest target share with 13, hauling in eight catches for 68 yards and a TD. Nick Cenacle posted a career-high 100 yards receiving while scoring his first college TD in the loss for the ‘Bows. 

Hawai’i outgained the SDSU offense, 480 yards to 378 yards, but lost the turnover battle once again with four giveaways and just one takeaway (while allowing a blocked punt deep in their own territory). San Diego State scored 21 of their 41 points off Hawai’i turnovers. The UH offensive line allowed a season-low one sack against SDSU just two weeks after giving up a season-high six sacks at UNLV. 

The ‘Bows now hit the road for a Mountain West bout against New Mexico, who fell 52-24 at home to San Jose State this past weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for noon HT and will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV. New Mexico opens as two-point favorites ahead of next week’s matchup. 

Quick Hits: Hawai’i’s comeback effort falls short against SDSU, 41-34

Quick Hits: Hawai’i’s comeback effort falls short against SDSU, 41-34

Timmy Chang addresses the media following Hawai’i’s 41-34 home loss to San Diego State.

Quick Hits: Hawai’i’s comeback effort falls short against SDSU, 41-34


HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors started slowly once again, spotting the San Diego State Aztecs 17 points to open the game before working their way back to tie it and eventually take the lead. A 21-point 4th quarter by SDSU gave the Aztecs the advantage back and the program’s first win in over a month while keeping the ‘Bows searching for a conference victory. 

Below, you can find quick hitters of the action from the ‘Bows home loss to the Aztecs – the 10th time in 12 meetings since joining the Mountain West that Hawai’i has fallen to SDSU. 



  • The ‘Bows offense goes 3-and-out to open the game and San Diego State blocks the punt and takes over at the HAW18. 
  • Hawai’i’s defense holds strong inside their own 20, keeping the Aztecs to a field goal for game’s 1st points. 
  • UH’s offense goes 3-and-out again, the ensuing punt puts SDSU at own 25 to begin second drive. 
  • Hawai’i defense holds their end of bargain to force a quick possession and punt from Aztecs, only for offense to be unable to muster a first down once again. 
  • The Aztecs strike quickly after picking up game’s first 1st down and score three plays later to make it 10-0 with 4:16 left in the opening quarter. 
  • ‘Bows pick up their first 1st down of the game on the next possession but sputter quickly after, calling a timeout on 4th-and-2 and punting afterwards. 
  • San Diego State begins to drive the field as the first quarter ends and Hawai’i’s defense provides a jolt with a Peter Manuma INT. It was his first of the season and Hawai’i’s second pick forced this year. 
  • The Aztecs’ defense answers with an INT of their own, a 70-yard pick-six to open a 17-0 SDSU lead with 12:25 left in the opening half. 
  • The Rainbow Warriors’ offense finally wakes up, goes 91 yards on 10 plays, capped by a 17-yard Pofele Ashlock TD catch, to get on the board and cut it to 17-7 with 7:49 left in the first half.  
  • Hawai’i defense forces a punt but UH muffs it, recovered by SDSU inside ‘Bows territory with 6:06 left in half. 
  • San Diego State unable to capitalize, as Hawai’i’s defense holds tough and Jack Browning misses from 51 yards out to keep the score at 17-7. 
  • The ‘Bows go 67 yards in three plays, accented by a 62-yard “Schager Bomb” to WR Steven McBride and capped by an 8-yard TD catch by Alex Perry with 90 seconds left in the first half. 


  • Hawai’i’s defense forced a punt on the opening SDSU drive of the 2nd half. 
  • ‘Bows drive into Aztecs’ territory, tie the game at 17 with a 46-yard field goal by Matthew Shipley. 
  • San Diego State’s next drive goes 68 yards across 13 plays to re-take the lead with a 24-yard Browning field goal with less than a minute left in the 3rd quarter. 
  • The ‘Bows travel 75 yards in 56 seconds to take their first lead of the night as Schager delivers a beautiful ball in stride to Nick Cenacle, who runs by two SDSU defenders on the way to paydirt on the 52-yard TD catch-and-run to close the 3rd quarter. 
  • The Aztecs answer on the next drive with an explosive offensive play of their own as Mayden connects with a wide-open Mekhi Shaw for a 69-yard touchdown to take the lead, 27-24, with 13:33 left in regulation. 
  • The ‘Bows fumble on the ensuing drive inside their own 30-yard line, recovered by the Aztecs and punched in three plays later for the second TD in 66 seconds for SDSU.  
  • Hawai’i quickly struck back with a 3-play, 75-yard TD drive highlighted with a 65-yard “Schager Bomb” to McBride to set the ‘Bows up inside SDSU’s 10-yard line. 
  • A ‘Bows defensive stop went to waste after the ensuing Hawai’i offensive possession ended with a lost fumble after just two plays with 5:07 left in the game. 
  • San Diego State found the needed breathing room and more with a touchdown by Jaylon Armstead with 2:11 left in regulation giving the Aztecs a 10-point lead. 
  • Hawai’i quickly moved down the field and elected to kick a 47-yard field goal with 59 seconds left to make it a one-possession game with all three timeouts in hand. 
  • SDSU recovered the onside kick attempt by UH and picked up a first down two plays later to ice the 41-34 road win for the Aztecs. 

Hawai’i falls to 2-5 and 0-2 in Mountain West play as they hit the road to take on a New Mexico program that dropped a home contest this weekend against San Jose State, 52-24. The ‘Bows turned in a strong performance for three quarters, needing 15 minutes and change at the start to get their legs under them, though. 

Add that 15-minute cushion along with game-changing plays like a blocked punt, pick-six and multiple fumbles inside Hawai’i territory and it was a tall order to come back and win. As is the case in many ‘Bows losses, it was the self-inflicted errors that cost the contest for UH. 

All that said, it’s an excellent time to remind you that this is an exceptionally young Hawai’i team going through growing pains on the fly. It just hurts more when forced to learn from a loss’s tape rather than a victory’s film. 

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