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3 takeaways from Hawai’i football’s 42-21 road loss to New Mexico
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 23, 2023
HONOLULU — Saturday’s game between Hawai’i and New Mexico pitted two programs with long situational losing streaks against one another, ultimately seeing the Lobos win a home conference game for the first time since 2017 while the Rainbow Warriors remained winless on the road during the Timmy Chang era.
Hawai’i turned the ball over four times, created no takeaways and saw a pressing offense sputter in the second half as the ‘Bows gave up over 400 yards of total offense against a New Mexico program that had just come off of a 52-24 home loss to San Jose State the week prior.
Ahead of their own “Homecoming” game where Hawai’i will host former friend and current foe in Chevan Cordeiro and San Jose State, here are three takeaways of our own regarding the Rainbow Warriors following the team’s Week 8 loss.
1. The Hawai’i defense has some sort of mental block on the road.
This won’t be an article spent trying to solve the issues that have arisen during this season for Hawai’i. There are far more qualified people to figure that out, already on the case inside the building.
Instead, it’ll be spent pointing out the noticeable difference between the ‘Bows and their defensive performance between home and away games this season. Save for an opening performance against a Vanderbilt team that ranks 128th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards per game, the Rainbow Warriors have not held a single opponent to under 100 rushing yards in a game this year. Looking at the three road games since Vanderbilt, Hawai’i has given up an average 253.6 yards on the ground and nine rushing touchdowns while continuing to lose the line of scrimmage.
The ‘Bows, even including the previously mentioned Vandy game, have yet to hold an opponent under 35 points while going on the road this season. For a team averaging 23.5 points per contest across all eight games, Hawai’i needs the defense to get off the plane ready to play.
The frustrating part of it all for UH fans is that the defense has proven to be a capable unit at times this year. Just a week ago in this same article for the SDSU game, the first takeaway was about the score being misleading for how the unit played. That is the furthest thing from the case this week as they continued to show the issues that plagued them from the jump, posing the question of coaching or personnel being the issues.
2. The coaching staff needs to focus their efforts on adding some real beef to the trenches.
To build off of the last takeaway, Hawai’i’s struggles don’t exist only against the run. While UH’s secondary has plenty of talent in the room, they’re being asked to cover for longer periods of time when the ‘Bows are unable to generate any pressure. Hawai’i registered one or less sacks — they had just one this past week — in six of eight games this season while opposing defenses get home against Schager and UH far more often with multiple sacks given up in seven of eight contests.
This isn’t just beating on the big boys for the ‘Bows right now, they’re outgunned up front with other programs employing bigger guys up front. Hawai’i tries teaching the mean streak needed on defense to dominate in the trenches, but opponents continually win the battle up front. It’s arguably worse on the offensive side of the ball, demonstrated by Hawai’i’s nation-worst run game and the aforementioned sacks given up each game.
It’s an issue that is hard to fix at this point in the season, but a big offseason lies ahead for the players making names for themselves in the trenches and for the coaching staff’s recruiting journey. Depending on development from returners this offseason, Chang’s coaches may need to hit the transfer portal hard to grab experienced linemen to add up front.
3. The situation that Timmy Chang took over was worse than expected, meaning the solution takes longer, too.
With old friend Chevan Cordeiro coming back to town to put his own special spin on Hawai’i’s “Homecoming” game, it feels like a good time to remind fans how brutal of a spot the program was in when Timmy Chang took over.
The current San Jose State QB was selected as the preseason Mountain West offensive player of the year and has helped lead the Spartans to a 4-5 record and a big win last weekend against Utah State. Cordeiro was one of 19 players to hit the transfer portal from former Hawai’i head coach Todd Graham’s final season before the Texas-native resigned from the position amid allegations of mistreatment of players in 2022.
In came Chang, the former Rainbow Warriors’ star QB turned offensive coach that paid his dues elsewhere in the Mountain West before returning home to try and rebuild the heap of rubble that Graham left behind him.
From that heap, a diamond in the rough in Brayden Schager has emerged despite not being the traditional archetype of a Run-N-Shoot quarterback. The junior QB has taken steps in each of the previous two seasons under Chang and company to becoming one of the more productive quarterbacks for all FBS programs. Schager moved over 5,000 career passing yards in the loss at New Mexico and into 8th-place all-time for Hawai’i QBs, passing Dru Brown’s 5,273 yards.
Hawai’i leaned on a veteran run-game last season with upperclassmen manning many of the starting roles along the offensive line. All of those key contributors have since graduated, leaving holes for players to enter and gain experience in their wake. With that experience typically comes growing pains, many of which are coming in waves across the entire team while UH deals with a bevy of injuries on top of the new starters already working into place.
This has almost been like Year 1.5 for a very young team — including the coaching staff. In some ways, one is left to wonder how much a veteran addition to the coaches on each side of the ball would assist in the development of players and Chang’s key coordinators alike. Dan Morrison, “the QB Whisperer” in the Run-N-Shoot, has been around practices since the summer to help Schager and Chang both get more comfortable in their bigger roles this season. Could an addition to the defensive coaching staff see an uptick in performance there next season or even before this year ends?
No matter what, Hawai’i is steps away from being back to the point where fans and coaches would like it to be. The players in place have shown dynamic flashes throughout the season but haven’t been able to get any type of real consistency yet from this group. To make a full culture shift and create a sustainable winning program in Hawai’i, it’ll be important that the development of players like Pofele Ashlock and Peter Manuma continue as this season progresses and for the staff to keep finding success stories in the transfer portal like WR Steven McBride while recruiting at levels closer to their 2024 class than prior groups in national recognition.
Most of all, Hawai’i needs its best players to stay healthy. Every game has felt like another key Rainbow Warrior leaves with injury or has been another week without an important player. Between Tylan Hines and Logan Taylor, UH has two players alone that they hope to have for the long-haul next season in efforts to return to bowl eligibility.
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