Hawai’i upsets Air Force; 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows signature win of 2023

Hawai’i upsets Air Force; 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows signature win of 2023

Hawai’i upsets Air Force; 3 Takeaways from ‘Bows signature win of 2023

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED NOV 13, 2023

HONOLULU — We are back. 

Hawai’i (4-7, 2-4 MWC) stymied an elite Air Force rushing attack and forced four 4th quarter turnovers to steal the Kuter Trophy back from the Falcons Saturday, handing AFA its first conference loss of the year. The win comes on the heels of UH’s first road victory under Timmy Chang, giving the ‘Bows a winning streak for the first time under the former QB-turned-HC. 

Rainbow Warriors’ QB Brayden Schager finished an impressive 22-of-29 for 176 passing yards, adding a career-high 57 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) to help pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football this season. Hawai’i entered the game as near-20-point underdogs (+19.5) before beating Air Force by two touchdowns. 

After a two-week hiatus, here are three takeaways for ‘Bows football fresh off the press following UH’s impressive 27-13 win over Air Force on Saturday. 


1. The lights have come on for Brayden Schager. 

The junior QB didn’t have his typical gaudy passing numbers — the 176 passing yards against Air Force is his third-lowest total this season — but one can argue that it was one of his best performances as a college QB. 

For weeks, Schager consistently threw the ball all over the yard to different receivers and put up eye-popping numbers that put the Texas-native among the nation’s top QBs in production, but the wins refused to follow. The ‘Bows struggled with protection and saw the 6-foot-3 gunslinger end up on his back in bunches after being forced to hold onto the ball and refusing to take off and run when plays broke down. 

Since the ‘Bows were embarrassed by San Jose State on “Homecoming”, spectators have seen a different Schager. In Week 10 at Nevada, the UH quarterback tied a career best with 49 yards rushing, picking up key yardage to move the chains while helping the ‘Bows snap a four-game losing streak. He followed that performance by setting a new career high against one of the nation’s toughest defenses in Air Force, running around for 57 yards and his 2nd career rushing TD. The arm talent has never been an issue for Schager, oozing potential everywhere. The development of consistent efficiency against quality defenses and adding the threat of the sturdy QB taking off makes Schager a player that could challenge for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year status in 2024. 

While he may never be elite slinging the ball while being a runner at the same time, he has shown flashes that his legs could be unlocked more going forward. That’s excellent news for a Hawai’i program looking to get back into the meat of the competition in the Mountain West next season and one that continues to look at an outside chance at a bowl berth. 

2. The correct people are in place to lead UH’s program back to competence, competition, and coronations. 

Perhaps this will be read as an overreaction to a two-game win streak for a program that has looked lost at times during the season. It’s an understandable stance and not one to be ashamed of thinking. 

Instead, attention should be called to a noticeable difference in the Hawai’i team over the past two weeks. Since an embarrassing home loss to San Jose State, the first time the ‘Bows had been held scoreless on Oahu since 1998, Timmy Chang’s team has seemingly grown up fast. The coaches attribute much of the shift to the players taking on bigger leadership roles, holding one another accountable to the levels the program aspires to reach. 

“The best teams are player-led and it’s starting to get that way,” Chang said following UH’s win. “[The team’s] energy is unbelievable, and it’s been like that the last two weeks. There’s nothing different in scheme.” 

The player-led ‘Bows had their hottest start to a game this year in jumping out to a 7-0 lead after their first possession, a situation that had not happened all season for UH. After getting the lead, Hawai’i’s defense compounded the “good” with a stop of Air Force’s vaunted “triple-option” offense. 

“Shout out to our [defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro], he had a great game-plan for us and all we had to do was trust him and do our 111 and win our 1-on-1 battles,” said ‘Bows safety Peter Manuma of the inspired defensive effort. “It all came down to Coach Yoro and his game-plan and us just sticking and believing in it, trusting that he would put us in the right place.” 

The Rainbow Warriors defense, much picked on throughout the season, put together a masterpiece with four takeaways to help win the turnover battle for the second week in a row. After being among the nation’s worst programs in turnovers-to-takeaways, Hawai’i has turned the ball over just once in two weeks while taking it away six times (4 INT, 2 FF). 

It’s tough to remember the youth of the coaching staff that took over the Hawai’i program, especially when looking at the youth of the team and showing patience with player development. The past two weeks have been a testament to both players and coaches beginning to figure out winning consistently and winning tough at the FBS level. 

Patience.  

It’s a virtue, friends. 

3. Hawai’i has something for the future with Jalen Smith. 

After LB Logan Taylor went down with a torn ACL just four games into the year, a gaping hole was left in the Rainbow Warriors’ defense. For as good as senior Isaiah Tufaga is, he can’t cover the entire second level of the defense by himself. After losing his running mate, Tufaga had been forced to step into a bigger role while coaches cycled through the depth at the position to find a replacement for Taylor. 

Eventually, redshirt sophomore Jalen Smith got his opportunity to stake a claim for the job and the Bakersfield College transfer seized the role. Since UH’s loss at UNLV, Smith has been an impact player each weekend. In Taylor’s absence, the sophomore has racked up 55 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble this past weekend that Meki Pei scooped and returned for a touchdown. In other words, expect to see Smith’s name in the box score every game. 

That’s an excellent find for the coaching staff and good news for the ‘Bows in 2024, when Taylor returns but Tufaga’s spot will need to be filled as the former Saint Louis Crusaders’ alum graduates from UH. 

As the offense looks primed for a huge breakout next year, it’ll be vital for the UH defense to closely follow suit. Having the middle of the defense shored up and battled-tested ahead of time provides the ‘Bows a nice head start for the future. 

Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13

Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13

Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED NOV 11, 2023

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (4-7, 2-4 MWC) secured the biggest win of the Timmy Chang era Saturday, trouncing Air Force (8-2, 5-1 MWC) to take back the Kuter Trophy with a 27-13 win at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. UH was able to start quick and end strong, handing the Falcons the first conference loss in 2023 and setting up an explosive final two weeks atop the Mountain West standings. 

Below, you can find the quick hitters of all the action from UH’s 27-13 upset win over Air Force, the second win in as many weeks for the ‘Bows. 

1ST HALF: 

  • Hawai’i receives the opening kickoff, goes through the back of the end zone for a touchback. Reserve QB Dalen Morris, an active member of the Navy and short-yardage specialist, picks up the game’s first 1st down on a QB draw up the middle. 
  • ‘Bows quickly move down the field with a balanced offensive attack, alternating pass and run. WR Koali Nishigaya shakes off a couple of defenders to set UH up at the Air Force 5-yard line and Pofele Ashlock takes it in on the next play to give Hawai’i the lead, 7-0, with 7:58 left in the 1st quarter. 
        • Ashlock’s TD reception was his fifth TD catch in the last 5 games and also marked the first time that UH had scored on its first offensive possession of a game all year.
  • Air Force picks up one 1st down on its opening drive before UH’s defense buckled down to force the Falcons to punt. 
  • The Rainbow Warriors’ offense continues cooking, smoothly moving down the field into field goal range before being stopped on 3rd-&-short. K Matthew Shipley’s 48-yard FG try is no good, going wide-left to end the 1st quarter of play. 
        • The miss by Shipley was the senior’s first FG attempt to go awry since September 23 at New Mexico State. 
  • The Falcons’ offense moves methodically down the field, facing (and converting) multiple 3rd & 4th downs and short to work into the red zone. Hawai’i’s defense makes a stand, holding AFA to a 25-yard FG to keep the lead, 7-3. 
        • Air Force’s 2nd offensive drive spanned 11 minutes and 49 seconds. 
  • Hawai’i quickly marches down the field, using a Brayden Schager 40-yard scramble to move into Falcons’ territory before an incredible Steven McBride toe-tap catch set the ‘Bows up at the Air Force 1-yard line. 
        • The 40-yard rush by Schager was a career-long for the QB and marked UH’s longest running play of the year. 
  • After a few tries come up short, Hawai’i uses the “Braddahly Shove” to push Schager into the end zone for a TD with two seconds left in the 2nd quarter of play. Shipley missed the ensuing point-after-attempt wide-left as the ‘Bows took the 13-3 lead into the halftime break. 
        • The wide-left PAT is just the second miss in 121 career attempts for Shipley.

2ND HALF: 

  • Air Force receives the opening kickoff and calls for a fair catch, bringing the ball out to their own 25. The Falcons quickly work down the field and score on a 35-yard run by Dylan Carson, going 75 yards in five plays to cut the Hawai’i lead down, 13-10.  
  • The Rainbow Warriors answer back with a touchdown of their own as Pofele Ashlock’s 2nd TD catch of the night puts UH back up by 10. 
        • It’s the 2nd straight week Ashlock has had multiple scores and his third multi-TD game of the season. 
  • Air Force’s 1st official pass attempt of the day goes for a 65-yard gain to Cade Harris, who was chased down by UH CB Cam Stone to save Hawai’i from a would-be Falcons’ TD. A holding penalty would kill momentum for AFA, who would settle for a 27-yard FG try from K Matthew Dapore that missed to the left. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense moves past midfield to close out the 3rd quarter of action. The ‘Bows would punt just a minute into the final quarter after David Cordeiro’s run on 3rd down was stopped short of the line-to-gain. 
  • Air Force coughs up a fumble after LB Jalen Smith demolishes AFA backup QB Jensen Jones in the backfield and Meki Pei returns it for the 1st defensive TD of the season for Hawai’i, giving the ‘Bows a 27-10 lead with 11:02 left in regulation. 
        • The fumble return TD from Pei was the first fumble returned for a touchdown by a Hawai’i defense since 2021 at Utah State. 
  • AFA responds with a 21-yard FG after a four minute, forty-two second drive to make it a two-score game with 6:20 left in the 4th quarter. 
  • After being forced to punt, Hawai’i comes up with the first of three 4th quarter interceptions as Jensen Jones’ arm is hit while he throws, and Noah Kema secures the pick. 
        • The INT was the first of Kema’s career. 
  • After wasting a minute of game-clock and punting it away, Hawai’i’s defense comes away with another interception as Peter Manuma picked off 3rd-string AFA QB Ben Brittain to spoil another Falcons’ scoring chance. 
  • UH’s Stone comes up with his 1st INT of the season, the 3rd pick of the quarter and fourth takeaway total, to seal the win for the Rainbow Warriors and hand Air Force a conference loss for the first time in 2023. 

The Hawai’i defense forced a season-best four turnovers as the Rainbow Warriors strung together two wins for the first time under head coach Timmy Chang. The evening was filled with season-best performances as the ‘Bows committed no turnovers of their own for the second time all year and eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for just the third time in 2023. 

The 13 points by Air Force marked a season-low by a Hawai’i opponent as the Rainbow Warriors’ defense buckled down. Peter Manuma led the way with a new career-high 12 tackles, matching a season-high for the ‘Bows, set by Isaiah Tufaga earlier in the season at New Mexico. 

Brayden Schager finished an efficient 22-of-29 passing for 176 yards and three total TDs (2 pass, 1 rush) while setting a new career best with 57 rush yards to lead the Rainbow Warriors. 

Pofele Ashlock hauled in a career-high 12 catches, the most by a Hawai’i receiver since the 2019 season-opener against Arizona. It marked the second straight game the redshirt freshman was able to find the end zone multiple times for UH. 

Hawai’i looks to make it three-in-a-row next weekend as the ‘Bows hit the road to take on Wyoming in the final road contest of the 2023 season for UH. 

Hawai’i looks to make it two straight, steal Kuter Trophy from Air Force

Hawai’i looks to make it two straight, steal Kuter Trophy from Air Force

Hawai’i looks to make it two straight, steal Kuter Trophy from Air Force

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED NOV 9, 2023

HONOLULU — Finally. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (3-7, 1-4 MWC) snapped a 10-game road losing streak last weekend when they took down the Nevada Wolfpack, 27-14, for the program’s 1st conference win of the season. The ‘Bows now return home to the islands to host an Air Force program (8-1, 5-0 MWC) that fell from the undefeated ranks with a 23-3 loss to Army last Saturday. 

For the first time all season, Hawai’i won the turnover battle and the war in the trenches, racking up a season-high six sacks in the win over the ‘Pack. 

While a feel-good win over Nevada to get back on track was exactly what the doctor ordered for Hawai’i, the task to do it again against a more-proven opponent will be a far greater task. 


Tale of the Tape – Battle for the Kuter Trophy 

The history of the ‘Bows and the Falcons dates back nearly 60 years, first meeting one another back in 1966 and becoming regular foes from 1980-1997 when both Hawai’i and Air Force were members of the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC. 

The trophy, named for the late General Laurence S. Kuter who became the 1st head of the Pacific Air Forces Command in 1957, didn’t come into play until the 1980 matchup when UH conceived the trophy that had been sponsored by the Pacific Air Command for the then-annual matchup between the Falcons and the ‘Bows. 

It’s been a series that AFA has held steadily in hand, winning 14 of the 22 all-time matchups, including three of the four meetings from time in the Mountain West. The ‘Bows have lost two straight to the Falcons in Honolulu by a combined 81 points over the two meetings, struggling to keep the triple-option attack that Air Force employs at bay. 

It’s a scheme that has continued to work to great lengths of success. Air Force enters the upcoming weekend with the top rushing attack in the nation with an average of 284 yards on the ground per game, an area of concern for the Hawai’i defense for most of the season. On the other side of the aisle, UH has struggled along to the worst rushing attack in the FBS to the tune of just 65 yards per game, though the ‘Bows are coming off of a season-best 136 rushing yards in the win at Nevada. 

While running may not be the Rainbow Warriors’ game, airing out the pigskin sure is. Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager leads the Mountain West with 2,768 passing yards this season — also good for 7th in FBS overall — and a conference-best 22 TDs in the switch to the Run-N-Shoot this season. He’s continued uncorking “Schager Bombs” as well, tied with USC’s Caleb Williams for the most 50+ yard passes for FBS QBs this season with eight such plays. 

He’s been airing those deep passes out to a pair of reliable targets as well in Pofele Ashlock and Steven McBride, as the redshirt freshman and senior have each made national noise for their contributions this season. Ashlock leads all freshman FBS receivers with 60 receptions and 659 receiving yards while McBride ranks inside the top-20 nationally for receiving yards, totaling 785 yards through 10 games. 

Like it has been through much of the matchup’s history, Saturday will likely come down to the run versus the pass and who can remain the most disciplined on defense. A tough task awaits the ‘Bows, although Army showed last week it is not an impossible one. 


 

Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

As previously mentioned, Schager has enjoyed the switch to the Run-N-Shoot offense this season as he has seen his production skyrocket in his first full season as a starter. In addition to ranking inside of the top-20 in multiple categories nationally, the junior has five 300+ yard performances while climbing into historical UH company with the seventh-most passing yards in program history. With 269 yards on Saturday, Schager would become the seventh ‘Bows QB to throw for 6,000 yards in a career. 

The arm has never been the question for Schager, but there have been plenty of worries regarding his mobility. The 6-foot-3 gunslinger resembles a “pro-style” passer rather than the usual dual-threat QB fans have become accustomed to in the RNS scheme. Last Saturday, the QB showed off the wheels more than he had for most of the season, using a few designed runs and a few scrambles to rack up 49 more yards on the ground along with his 203 passing yards. If that version of Schager, one who keeps defenses honest with his legs while striking fear into others with his arm, is the new development here to stay, Schager should get a chance to move up further into the all-time ranks of ‘Bows and start adding wins to his resume as well. 

Lastly, it’s vital that he takes care of the football this weekend against a team that is 3-0 this season when forcing two or more turnovers in a game. Schager has struggled with ball security at times, tossing interceptions in bunches and recently struggling through some fumble issues (along with the rest of the offense). To have a chance at an upset this weekend, Hawai’i cannot afford to give away opportunities. 

Steven McBride – WR (Sr.) 

One of the most dynamic playmakers in the nation through Week 10, McBride’s dominance since moving from Kansas to Hawai’i has been remarkable. The senior wideout has continued to produce week-in and week-out, leading the team in TD receptions (8) and yards (785) while ranking second nationally with five catches of 50+ yards this year. 

After fellow stud receiver Pofele Ashlock got free for a pair of scores last week, look for McBride to get back in on the fun after being held out of the end zone for two consecutive games. The 6-foot-1 pass catcher has long been one of Schager’s favorite and most-reliable targets, dating back to spring practices in noticeable on-field chemistry. 

In a game that almost guarantees a loss in the time-of-possession category for the ‘Bows, quick scores can combat the long drives that Air Force will attempt to put together to chew up clock. McBride’s specialty has been flying past defenders down the field to haul in the “Schager Bombs” while also showing off some speed after the catch to blaze by opponents on short-yardage plays and turn them into explosives. He continues to get involved when opponents focus on shutting down the deep ball for Hawai’i with solid route running and quality hands that usually bring in anything within his catch radius. McBride has eclipsed 40 yards in eight of 10 outings for UH this year. 

Isaiah Tufaga – LB (Sr.) 

One of the captains of the defense, Tufaga has been a bright spot in the takeaways department recently. The senior can be seen involved in every play all over the field and has forced a fumble in two straight games, manning the middle of the defense at an exceptionally high level since running mate Logan Taylor went down with an ACL tear early in the season. 

Sophomore Jalen Smith could also have gone here, stepping into the role of the aforementioned Taylor and running away with it to take a majority of snaps recently next to Tufaga. It’s going to be important for both linebackers to be constantly communicating with the rest of the Hawai’i defense as they face off against the triple-option offensive scheme that the Falcons run. Tufaga is tied for the team lead in tackles with 65 total tackles this season (S Peter Manuma has also recorded 65 total tackles) while Smith has quickly shot up the ranks with more playing time, coming in with the 3rd-most tackles at 47 through 10 games. 

Facing off against a team that doesn’t want to throw the ball but will keep you guessing in the run game, it’ll be vital that both are on their A-games in communication, tackling and attempting to create some takeaways for a ‘Bows upset bid. 


 

Players to Watch – Air Force Academy Falcons 

Zac Larrier – QB (Sr.) 

Coming off a week where he set career-highs in passing attempts and completions, the senior QB hopes to get back to what he’s become accustomed to in the Falcons’ attack. Before AFA’s 23-3 loss to Army, Larrier hadn’t thrown the ball more than nine times in a single game while rushing less than 10 times in a game just once all year. 

The Falcons’ offense runs most efficiently when Larrier can keep the defense guessing on if he’s the one taking off or if it will be one of his multiple options in the backfield. Like much of the Academy, the QB shows elite discipline in most outings. In his 22 passing attempts last week, he threw his first two career interceptions as he was asked to try and lead a comeback effort with time as the enemy. 

One of the most direct ways for Hawai’i to pull off an upset on Saturday and put a dent in AFA’s Mountain West title hopes is for the ‘Bows to force Larrier to become a passer rather than a distributor, where he is far more inclined to make a mistake. To do so, the rushing attack for the Falcons needs to be shut down. 

Emmanuel Michel – FB (Sr.) 

The triple-option typically offers exactly that — multiple options on a single play — and can be tough to prepare for singular players within the system because it can be anyone in any week. Michel leads the Falcons with 163 carries for 733 yards and nine touchdowns this season, going through a six-game stretch where he received no fewer than 18 carries and topped out at 33 rushes for 148 yards and three scores in a win against San Jose State during the stretch. 

To build off the original point of making Larrier play quarterback and beat you as a passer, it’s key for UH to shut down the run game and Michel headlines it. He’s coming off his second-worst game of the season, going for just 37 yards on eight carries in the loss against Army. Otherwise, the strong 5-foot-10 runner has burnt teams over and over. He has eclipsed 100 yards in three games, just missing a fourth by three yards, but typically will not impress with game-breaking speed. A consistent force, his game-long rushes (apart from one 57-yard run) haven’t gone over 22 yards. Many of his touches come from misdirection and confusion so communication will be key for Hawai’i. 

Trey Taylor – FS (Sr.) 

The 2nd-team Mountain West selection from 2022 has enjoyed another nice season for the Falcons, tied for the second-most tackles on the team with 60 total in nine games while racking up a team-best two interceptions. The free safety is used as a chess piece in the AFA defense often, floating in coverage but getting his nose dirty in the backfield on passing downs as well with half-a-sack recorded. 

Taylor’s impact is felt on special teams as well. The senior recorded a blocked PAT earlier this season against Wyoming, the first blocked kick for Air Force since 2021. A clear playmaker on a strong Falcons roster, the less Taylor’s name is mentioned on Saturday, the better fortune for the ‘Bows. 


 

What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i vs Air Force 

It’ll be a tall order for the Rainbow Warriors to fill come Saturday when they host Air Force, trying to hand the Falcons the program’s second consecutive loss while attempting to put together a winning streak for the first time all year. The last appearance in front of home fans for Hawai’i was among the roughest outings in recent UH memory, how do the ‘Bows erase that from the minds of the faithful fans? Here are a few more storylines and keys to keep an eye on come Saturday evening in Mānoa. 

  • Can Hawai’i return to the promising trend of being less penalized than opponents? It’s been an up-and-down year for the discipline in the UH program, facing problems with the officiating laundry at times this season. They cleaned it up following the bye week but saw some penalties start to fly last weekend. That can’t happen against one of the least penalized programs in the FBS in Air Force. 
  • Do we continue to see the upward trend of the Hawai’i defensive line? All season, questions in the trenches for UH have existed. Coming off a week where the ‘Bows dominated against the pass with a season-high six sacks, can Hawai’i finally figure out their run-defense woes versus the nation’s best? 
  • Air Force’s defense once again ranks among the nation’s elite, forcing turnovers and shutting down the run consistently. The Falcons’ defense also keeps games within reach, holding the nation’s longest streak of holding opponents to 30 points or less in 16 consecutive contests. Hawai’i has the pieces on offense to explode, now will the ‘Bows ruin the streak? 
  • Does Dalen Morris get a little extra action for Hawai’i on Saturday? The active-duty Naval officer moonlights as one of UH’s QBs in one of the more impressive multi-tasking lives you’ll see, playing an important role in the ‘Jumbo’ packages and down near the goal line. Maybe he gets to let one rip on Military Appreciation Night at Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex? 

The ‘Bows have a chance to put together the first winning streak of the year in a development year for the program while trying to hand the first losing streak of the season for Air Force. Conversely, expect the Falcons to come out with an additional fire after an embarrassing loss for an otherwise elite team. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV with kickoff scheduled for 6:00 p.m. HT on Saturday on Saturday, November 11. It’ll be “Military Day” at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, where the first 750 fans will receive rally towels at Gate B from game sponsor First Hawaiian Bank.  

There will be an F-22 flyover during the pre-game and the Letterwinners Club will welcome 2004 graduate Britton Komine to be this week’s legend. Komine currently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Hawai’i Air National Guard. Air Force General Kenneth S. Wilsbach, the commander of the United States Pacific Air Forces, will also be recognized during the game along with Superintendent Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark and Director of Admissions Colonel Candice Pipes of the USAFA. 

Gates will open at 3:00 p.m. for “Kickoff at the Les” and parking will be open to the public one hour before gates open at 2:00 p.m. 

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang

Aug 26, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Hawaii Warriors wide receiver Pofele Ashlock (86) celebrates with running back Landon Sims (30) after a touchdown during the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED NOV 4, 2023

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (3-7, 1-4 MWC) snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday, taking down the Nevada Wolfpack (2-7, 2-3), 27-14, for the program’s first conference win of the season and the first road victory in head coach Timmy Chang’s year-plus in charge of the program. 

Below, you can find quick hitter from all the action of Hawai’i’s 27-14 road victory over Nevada. 

1ST HALF: 

  • Hawai’i receives the opening kickoff, picks up two 1st downs on the game’s first drive before being forced to punt. 
  • Nevada’s offense is forced to punt as the UH defense gets a three-and-out on the Wolfpack’s first possession. 
  • The ‘Bows pick up two more 1st downs but can’t do much more after a Nevada targeting penalty is picked up and a block in the back on Hawai’i kills offensive momentum. 
  • Hawai’i’s Isaiah Tufaga forces another fumble, his second in as many weeks, and it’s recovered by UH’s Elijah Palmer near midfield. 
  • UH gets on the board quickly after the takeaway, as K Matthew Shipley knocked home a career-best 50-yard FG for a 3-0 lead with 12:55 left in the first half. 
  • Nevada is able to work into Hawai’i territory, getting inside the 40-yard line before the offense stopped advancing and was forced to punt. 
  • The initial Wolfpack punt is perfect, resting at Hawai’i’s 1 without being touched. Unfortunately for Nevada, the punt is erased due to a false start. The second try goes into the end zone for a touchback. 
  • The teams trade punts before the game’s 1st TD drive, an 8-play, 57-yard drive for Hawai’i capped with 1-yard TD run from QB Dalen Morris to give the ‘Bows a 10-0 lead with 3:54 remaining in the 2nd quarter. 
  • The UH defense forces another three-and-out & the fifth punt in the 1st half from Nevada to get one more offensive chance before the halftime break. 
  • HAW QB Brayden Schager uses his arm AND legs to lead the ‘Bows down the field on another scoring drive, going 65 yards in 2:22 and connecting with WR Pofele Ashlock for a 26-yard TD pass and a 17-0 lead at half. 
  • For the first time since October of 2022, Hawai’i held an opponent scoreless in the opening half of play. 

2ND HALF:

  • Nevada opens the 3rd quarter with another three-and-out, Hawai’i answers back with a punt of their own. 
  • Former St. Louis QB and current Nevada QB AJ Bianco shows off his elusiveness, evading defenders to extend the drive and help the Wolfpack get on the board on the drive. RB Sean Dollars ran it in from two yards out for the Nevada score, making it 17-7. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense continues to struggle, giving the ball back to Nevada before the ‘Bows defense stepped up for their counterparts once again. Peter Manuma intercepts Bianco and returns it inside the Nevada 10 to set up the UH offense. 
  • The ‘Bows score for the second time off of a takeaway in the game as Schager finds Ashlock for the touchdown, again, to extend the lead back to 17 with 7:13 remaining in the 3rd quarter. 
  • Once again, the ‘Bows defense would do the job and force another punt from Nevada. WR Steven McBride fumbled the punt, and it was recovered inside the Hawai’i 30 by the Wolfpack. 
  • Nevada capitalized on multiple UH errors, including an ejection of CB Virdel Edwards II after two unsportsmanlike flags, as Dollars found the end zone for the second time to make it a 10-point game with 2:52 left in the 3rd. 
  • Hawai’i adds on three more after Shipley connects on his 2nd 50-yard FG of the afternoon, capping a drive spilling from the end of the 3rd and into the start of the 4th quarter to give the ‘Bows a 27-14 lead. 
  • Nevada drives deep into the red zone, even getting to the Hawai’i 1-yard line before getting turned away and turning the ball over on downs to keep the score at 27-14. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense is turned down, giving the ball back to the Wolfpack with under five minutes left in regulation. 
  • Two more times, the Hawai’i defense forces a turnover-on-downs by the Nevada offense after the Wolfpack to close out the road win with 6.0 sacks. 

Hawai’i posted a season-high six sacks and won the turnover battle for the first time all year as the ‘Bows defense, much maligned in recent weeks for lackluster performances, flexed their might and muscle against a Nevada team that had won two straight weeks before the matchup. UH also recorded 10 TFLs on Saturday. 

Continuing in the “uncharacteristic Hawai’i” category, the ‘Bows led for the first time at halftime all year and out-rushed an opponent, 136-to-124, while Schager completed 21-of-38 passes for 203 yards and two TDs and no interceptions and added another 49 yards with his legs. 

Redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock continued his strong first season of college play with another standout performance, leading the ‘Bows with nine catches for 87 yards and two scores. WR Steven McBride finished the afternoon hauling in four passes for 52 yards. 

LB Isaiah Tufaga and S Peter Manuma each helped create takeaways by the ‘Bows defense, something that has been a struggle (along with getting pressure) all season. While it might be too late for Hawai’i to make a run at a bowl game, there were massive signs of life on Hawai’i sideline in Reno. 

The Rainbow Warriors return home next week to host #25 Air Force, who fell on the road to formerly 2-6 Army on Saturday, 23-3. Can the ‘Bows help spoil AFA’s Mountain West title hopes? 

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 19, 2023

HONOLULU — At this point of the 2023 college football season, slow starts and the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors have become synonymous with each other. It has become especially frustrating for fans, coaches, and players alike as the team continues to come up short late despite inspired comeback performances at times. 

The ‘Bows hit the road this weekend to take on fellow winless-in-conference-play opponent New Mexico with a pair of streaks directly opposing the other. Head coach Timmy Chang has yet to win a road contest as the lead man of the Rainbow Warriors in a year-and-a-half at the helm of the program, despite some down-to-the-wire games that didn’t bounce the way of the ‘Bows. On the other side, UNM currently holds the longest conference losing streak in the nation with 14 consecutive losses in Mountain West play. Even more, the Lobos haven’t won a home conference football game in 20 straight outings. The last home Mountain West victory came back in 2017 when New Mexico took down Air Force, 56-38, in their 2nd conference game of the season. 

As the Rainbow Warriors come to town, one of the streaks will be forced to end for the programs fighting to escape the cellar of the Mountain West in 2023. Whose streak ends remains to be seen as both programs have strengths and weaknesses that diametrically oppose the other. Who can start fast? Who can finish strong? Most of all, who can leave the other looking up at the rest of the conference with a win on Saturday? 

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of time so you can make your own call.


Tale of the Tape – New Mexico, old friends come around once again. 

New Mexico and Hawai’i have met each other on the football field 26 times ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Rainbow Warriors holding the advantage, 16-10 all-time. A popular rivalry in the WAC back in the 1960s, the program’s inaugural game took place in 1964 and saw 17 more games between the schools be played over the next 20 seasons before taking nearly a 40-year hiatus from facing off in between the white lines. 

The rivalry took on a new meaning in 2012 when Hawai’i joined the Mountain West and the programs saw each other on the field once again. In five meetings since then, the ‘Bows have gone 2-3 but won the past two contests coming back in 2018 and 2019. Since then, New Mexico brought in a new head man for the program in Danny Gonzales, who is 9-28 in his four seasons taking over the reins. New Mexico’s head coach had history with the program, spending four seasons as a player for the Lobos before spending seven years as part of the coaching staff after graduating in various roles. Gonzales had stops at San Diego State and Arizona State in coordinator roles before coming back home to the program he once played in. It’ll be the second time the ‘Bows while take part in a game this season where both teams have head coaches that are alumni of the program they lead (Clark Lea, Vanderbilt in Week 0 was the other instance). 

All of those words should read: who knows with this one? 

Two teams that have struggled in their own ways, with Hawai’i on a 9-game slide on the road since Chang took over and UNM on a 20-game home conference losing streak that dates back to 2017. The ‘Bows have struggled in the first half this season, where the Lobos have excelled at times. New Mexico is coming off a nightmare-second half that Gonzales called “as bad [a team performance] as he had been a part of” in all three phases of the game, where Hawai’i has been far better in the second half of contests this season than in the first half of play. 

With both teams sitting in the cellar of the Mountain West standings currently, it’ll be vital for each team’s stars to show up with force on Saturday to try and help their program make a late-season push for the postseason. 


Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

The ‘Bows junior gunslinger has put up numbers this season, checking in at sixth in the nation in total passing yards with 2,088 yards in seven outings this year. Schager has even outpaced presumed-NFL 1st overall pick and USC QB Caleb Williams in the same number of games in yards and ranks just below other notable names such as Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., recently reaching a new peak with a new career-best 427 yards through the air last week at home against San Diego State. 

Despite Hawai’i’s struggles on the road, their QB has continued to put up solid numbers trying to keep the team in it during many second half comeback attempts. In three away games this year, Schager has thrown for an average of 265 yards a game while throwing six TDs and four INTs in those outings. He’s done it on respectable completion numbers as well, completing 76-of-113 passes — good for a 67.2% completion rate. 

If the ‘Bows are to pick up their first road victory under coach Chang and continue the home slide that New Mexico has been on, it will be because Schager continues to take strides towards being an elite QB in the conference.  

He’s been phenomenal completing the deep ball this season, leading the country with seven completions of 50+ yards, while continuing to produce with at least one touchdown pass a game in 16 straight games. 

His growth has taken the attention of opposing coaches throughout the Mountain West, who continue to sing the praises of the 6-foot-3 quarterback. UNM HC Danny Gonzales said that Schager was a QB that can “throw all over the place” and commented on the fact that despite Schager’s desire to throw the ball, the junior has begun to run in key situations more this season. This comes just a week after SDSU HC Brady Hoke told reporters that he had liked Schager for three years and called him a “really good player” and a pro-style QB. 

While those compliments feel nice, Schager himself would be the first to tell you they don’t mean much to him without wins accompanying them. This week on the road against a New Mexico team in a similar spot to his Hawai’i program, Schager has a prime chance to grab a win while continuing to put on display all of the steps forward he has taken this season. 

Jordan Johnson – RB (Soph.) 

Eventually, we will get the running back of the week correct here. 

Another player that coach Gonzales had high praise for in his Tuesday media availability, Johnson has stepped up in the absence of fellow back Tylan Hines this season. Should Hines continue to miss time with an injury sapping his explosiveness, the ‘Bows have an excellent player to take his place in the meantime. 

Johnson holds the best rushing performance of the season for UH with his 76-yard performance at home against UAlbany and had been a consistent 35-40 rushing yards a game since before taking just one carry against the Aztecs last week. 

Despite the lack of action, Gonzales didn’t have a lack of good things to say about the running back from Dallas, Texas, calling Johnson an explosive back and comparing him to “a little jitterbug that’s physical” and saying his speed can cause problems for opposing defenses. 

Johnson is also a player who can contribute to the passing attack, though that part of his game has been more hit-or-miss over the course of the season. In Hawai’i’s thrilling comeback win over New Mexico State, the 5-foot-9 back had a season-high 35 receiving yards to go along with 44 yards on the ground. 

The ‘Bows could use a similar performance against another college located in New Mexico, this time on the road facing the Lobos. If he’s healthy and Hines is still working his way back, look to Johnson to try and get the ‘Bows rushing attack charged up and help supplement an elite passing game. 

Peter Manuma – S (Soph.) 

Another repeat member of the “players to watch” portion of these articles, Manuma got banged up throughout UH’s 41-34 loss to SDSU last week but also recorded his first interception of the season while registering a season-high nine tackles (including one TFL). 

The high-energy sophomore is hard to miss on the field for the Rainbow Warriors for plenty of reasons, from his energy to his hair to his actual play. Manuma exhibits everything Hawai’i defense is supposed to be in a heat-seeking missile of a player that talks the talk and walks the walk between the white lines. 

Speaking of between the white lines, that’s everything Manuma covers for this UH defensive unit. The 6-foot sophomore safety can be seen involved in almost all plays past the line of scrimmage and his speed allows him to lock in on targets and pursue from across the field. He has also struggled with some missed tackles this season (as has the rest of the Hawai’i defense) that seem to stick out because he is so consistently involved in plays. 

Another player that Gonzales sang the praises of, it’ll be important for Manuma to finish on plays this Saturday while just being himself. The Hawai’i safety said he was okay to play following a physically-taxing Week 7 contest, but it can be tough to trust yourself to move the same when pain/injury are involved. 

If the free-ranging safety continues his style of attacking play while cleaning up missed tackles, he’ll help a Hawai’i defensive unit that has typically allowed opposing teams to gash them for explosive plays. If Manuma and the ‘Bows can limit explosives for UNM while producing plenty of their own, it’s a formula for a Timmy Chang and Hawai’i road win. 


 

Players to Watch — New Mexico Lobos 

Dylan Hopkins – QB (Sr.) 

Hopkins enters Saturday’s contest already as one of the best QBs in recent Lobos’ memory, already ranking fourth in single season passing yards since 2010 for the program with 1,165 yards in six games. The senior needs just 252 yards to move into the top three since 2010 and would take over the best single-season yardage production for a Lobos’ quarterback in the last 14 years with a game of 330+ passing yards against Hawai’i. 

That would be a tall ask for Hopkins, seeing as the Hawai’i defense has yet to give up a 300-yard passing performance to any single QB this season in seven games. That’s not the request from his Lobos’ coaches, who just hope to see the senior signal caller continue to be who he has been in 2023. Using his COVID year of eligibility, the former UAB QB came to the desert after throwing for nearly 4,500 yards and 31 TDs while throwing just 16 interceptions across 32 games played. He’s enjoyed a solid first half to his “super-senior” season with UNM, tossing seven touchdowns and only three picks so far. He’s not the dual-threat QB that other programs have had against UH this season, but much like Schager will use his legs enough to get by and move the sticks when the defense presents the opportunity. 

It’s key for Hawai’i’s defensive backfield to continue holding the standard of which they’ve played while the ‘Bows defensive line needs to do a better job getting home and finishing the job with sacks against opposing QBs after a few games without a recorded sack. With a bit less of a running quarterback across from them, it’s key for UH’s defense to limit the effectiveness of the fifth-year QB of the Lobos in a balanced New Mexico offensive attack. 

DJ Washington – WR (Sr.) 

Coming to Albuquerque with two years of eligibility after dominating the junior college level, the 6-foot-5 Washington has provided an additional jump ball threat for the Lobos’ offense and has been a comfortable target for Hopkins to look for. Washington’s 10 receptions are tied for 2nd-most among UNM pass catchers and is tied for the team lead with two touchdown receptions. 

With a bigger frame, Washington has the frame to box out smaller defenders and carve out short-yardage receptions to help move the chains. It’ll be interesting to see how the ‘Bows counter the Lobos’ hulking receiver with the variety of defensive backs at UH DC Jacob Yoro’s disposal. Washington is not close to the most explosive skill player for Gonzales’ program, so I wouldn’t expect a Cam Stone to travel with him and Virdel Edwards II could see another assignment with four players with 100 or more yards receiving on the UNM roster. 

If the Lobos are able to drive the length of the field, all eyes should be on Washington in the short-yardage passing plays in the red zone. 

He most likely won’t break long-yardage plays against the Hawai’i defense, but don’t be surprised if he is a pesky thorn in the side of the ‘Bows as they try to get off the field on defense. 

Jacory Croskey-Merritt – RB (Sr.)

Normally, these previews will include a defensive player to change up the offense chatter that fills the conversation. 

Not this week. 

The ‘Bows need to focus on not playing from behind as they head to New Mexico and the best way to stop the Lobos from scoring is to shut down the most consistent threat to enter the end zone. 

Croskey-Merritt is another new face to the program, spending the past four seasons at Alabama State before making the jump to the Mountain West. The fifth-year senior ran for 1,164 yards and 13 TDs in 31 career games and just two 100-yard rushing performances before his transfer to New Mexico. It’s been a rewarding transition as he leads the Lobos’ rushing attack with 431 yards on 63 attempts, good for an average of 6.8 yards per touch. 

Even more, he’s already run for seven scores on the ground in just five games played after scoring 13 total in 31 games at his last stop. 

He’ll be the main threat of an extremely balanced UNM offensive attack that will also throw other faces in the backfield to keep Croskey-Merritt as fresh as possible while trying to wear down the Hawai’i defense at the same time. 

It’s critical that UH doesn’t lose track of the 5-foot-11, 204-pound running back and get to him early behind the line of scrimmage. If he’s able to run wild, the ‘Bows could be in for a long afternoon. 

There’s reason to believe he’s heating up in production as well despite two straight losses to conference opponents. In those games, Croskey-Merritt ran for 171 yards total and a pair of scores versus quality opponents in Wyoming and San Jose State. 

For a team that has struggled at times against the run, keying in on the lead back for New Mexico seems smart. 


 

What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i @ New Mexico 

This weekend’s contest pits a pair of programs working tirelessly to rebuild to heights once seen and beyond but both clawing to get by the beginning stages of said-rebuild. With both sides having prime chances at ending streaks that are on the minds of players and coaches, Saturday’s game promises to be hard-fought despite it being the first meeting between programs in five years. Here are more specific things to keep an eye on as the teams take the field at 12:00 p.m. HT on Saturday. 

  • Can Hawai’i continue serving up “Schager Bombs” or is this the week that UNM figures out how to defend the deep ball? The ‘Bows best offensive attack to this point has been the quick drives that spawn from Schager throwing a rainbow spiral down the field to one of his streaking receivers for 50+ yards at a time. Defending deep passes was a concern New Mexico HC Danny Gonzales mentioned earlier in the week. 
  • Who wins the turnover battle? Hawai’i hasn’t been able to produce takeaways at the level the defense was expected to this year, losing the turnover battle in five of seven games so far and tying in the other two contests. Going against a Lobos program that hasn’t produced a takeaway in four weeks and has given the ball away four times in that same span, can Hawai’i win both the turnover competition and a road game for the first time this year? 
  • Discipline matters! The ‘Bows were flagged a season-low two times for just 11 yards in their loss to SDSU but have seen plenty of laundry on the field because of them this season before the bye week. Did they fix that? UNM has been the 2nd-most penalized team per game in the nation, averaging 9.8 flags per contest. In a battle between even opponents, who gives away less free yardage? 
  • Will somebody play hero? Each week it feels that the ‘Bows are crushed by one player on the opposing team in particular while also having a true no-doubt-about-it standout themselves. Which one of those “stars of the game” will emerge this week and how much can one player have on the final result of a football game? 

Hawai’i enters must-win territory once again to keep postseason hopes alive and New Mexico finds itself in a similar situation. History won’t play much of a role in this edition of the series after the four-year hiatus between meetings but a chance to be written into the history of the matchup is there for the taking. 

Saturday will be the time to show for the ‘Bows and Lobos. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV with kickoff scheduled for noon HT on Saturday, October 21.