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Hawai’i welcomes Cordeiro, San Jose State to town for “Homecoming”
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 26, 2023
HONOLULU – Last week did not go according to plan for the Rainbow Warriors, with Hawai’i serving as a sacrificial lamb for New Mexico’s homecoming game that saw the Lobos break a 20-game home conference losing streak.
Hawai’i gave up over 400 total yards of offense for the fourth time this season, allowing over 200 yards through the air and on the ground while failing to win the turnover battle for the eighth consecutive contest. It continued a concerning trend of defensive struggles on the road for UH this season and was only magnified by the offense sputtering in the second half outside of a garbage-time final drive touchdown. Hawai’i starting QB Brayden Schager was credited with four turnovers (3 INT, 1 fumble) while trying to lead the comeback train, tossing three more TDs to give him an even 20 touchdown passes for the year.
After the initial shock of the 21-point loss for the ‘Bows, it was back to work at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex to solve the issues exposed deeper this past Saturday. With former starting quarterback, local boy, and preseason conference offensive player of the year selection in QB Chevan Cordeiro returning to town with his San Jose State squad, Hawai’i looks to copy the New Mexico homecoming game playbook and start quickly and stay strong throughout action on Saturday night.
The Spartans visit the islands on a two-game win streak, dominant road victories over the Lobos two weeks ago before a convincing win over the Utah State Aggies this past weekend. San Jose State’s performance in the series against Hawai’i has also been something of a hot streak with wins in the last three meetings, though the overall series is tied.
Tale of the Tape – Fight for the Dick Tomey Trophy
The two programs enter the weekend intertwined in multiple ways, perhaps none bigger than former legendary football coach Dick Tomey. The old ball coach spent 10 seasons manning the ship for the Rainbow Warriors’ football program from 1977-86, compiling a record of 63-46-3 and returned for one season in 2011 to play the role of special teams’ coordinator for one of the greatest coaching staffs in UH program history. He is a member of the school’s Sports Circle of Honor. Tomey spent five seasons coaching SJSU, including a 9-win season in 2006 for the Spartans.
In his honor, the programs began to play for the “Dick Tomey Trophy” after his passing in 2019. San Jose State has been in possession of the trophy since 2020 with three consecutive wins in the series and two in a row in Honolulu. The Spartans actually lead the series in the islands all-time, 15-13, while the ‘Bows hold the historical advantage in San José, 9-7-1. Overall, a perfectly even 22-22-1 since the first meeting in 1936 between the two schools.
The connections continue to the most critical position on the field, as the signal caller for SJSU has a history with UH as well. In fact, Cordeiro, the former Saint Louis School (HI) quarterback, is experiencing a homecoming of his own as the local boy that starred as the Rainbow Warriors’ QB in 23 games from 2018-21 comes back to the island as the “enemy” for the first time.
He will surely be welcomed home with open arms before and after the game despite leaving the program in a flurry with 18 other players as former UH HC Todd Graham faced misconduct and player mistreatment allegations, but the senior QB knows that fans may not be as friendly when the game clock rolls.
“I just hope there’s a lot of fans there. I don’t really know if they’re going to boo me or whatever,” Cordeiro said of his expectations of T.C. Ching earlier in the week. “At the end of the day I’m just going to block it out, be focused on my game and what I need to do.”
Between the painted lines, Hawai’i hopes to make it a long day for Cordeiro and their brothers from the 808 on the other sideline. UH captain Eliki Tanuvasa spoke about the pride the team continues to feel despite a tough slide of recent results, referencing “never quitting” being something instilled deep inside his soul while representing his home state.
Emotions promise to be high for both programs when the whistle blows for the opening kickoff this weekend and the winner will leave with bragging rights until next season along with the all-time series lead in hand.
Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.)
The junior continues to be the most important player in any given week for the Rainbow Warriors as the UH offensive player with the most on his plate. The job of starting quarterback for the University of Hawai’i is a prestigious one that comes with additional scrutiny and a constant magnifying glass upon each game’s performance.
Last week’s outing against New Mexico was a mixed bag of good and bad plays as the signal caller tried to help will the ‘Bows back into the game in the second half after falling behind by 21 points early on in the third quarter. There should be no questions about Schager’s toughness after last week’s physical beating from the UNM defense, absorbing big hit after big hit and delivering strong throws to give receivers a chance to make a play on.
He continues to put up big numbers; his 345 yards versus New Mexico was his third consecutive game with 300+ yards passing and his fifth overall this season, good for second-most in the country behind Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.’s six games of 300 or more air yards. In fact, Schager enters Week 9 of the college football season with the third-most passing yards among FBS QBs with a whopping 2,433 yards.
As mentioned at the start, he’s thrown 20 TDs so far this year, which is five more than he had coming into the year for his career-total (15 TDs in first two seasons with Hawai’i). The switch to the Run-N-Shoot has been beneficial for the kid from Texas despite his frame not being that of a typical quarterback playing in the in scheme.
He hasn’t come without his own warts, struggling with turnover problems that have been more prevalent over the past few games. While interceptions happen within the scheme due to the reliance on wide outs and quarterbacks being on the same page, it’s the recent slippery ball trend that is concerning for UH and Schager specifically. The ‘Bows have lost six fumbles in the last four games after not fumbling for the opening four games of the season, Schager losing three of them himself over that span.
For a Hawai’i defense that has struggled slowing down opponents after dealing with a variety of injuries, limiting the possession disadvantage the ‘Bows face with the nation’s 126th-ranked defense in takeaways. To come out of Saturday with UH’s 6th straight win on “Homecoming”, the Rainbow Warriors need Schager to continue his productive ways while limiting the giveaways better than he has over the past four contests.
Jalen Smith – LB (Soph.)
The linebacker transferred to UH a year ago after spending his freshman campaign at Bakersfield College, redshirting during the 2022 season before starting camp as a reserve linebacker this year.
While the Hawai’i coaches may not have foreseen Smith having to step into a much more prominent role this season with two veteran ‘backers manning the middle of the defense in front of him, an ACL tear to senior captain Logan Taylor early in the year changed the plans quickly.
Up stepped Smith, starting for the first time on the road against UNLV and immediately recording 10 total tackles for the ‘Bows before the bye week. He has been productive with 17 tackles in the two games since the bye, stepping into the void left by Taylor’s season-ending knee injury.
Going against a San Jose State offense that has produced over 250 yards rushing in back-to-back games and three times this season. Checking in outside the top 100 FBS programs, Hawai’i is allowing almost five yards per carry this season on defense. To build on losing in the trenches, the ‘Bows have struggled wrapping up and finishing tackles this season to allow opponents to break plays for longer gains.
Those tackling problems have been exemplified in the middle by linebackers and safeties (sensible, considering those positions are often involved in most plays). If Smith continues to produce at the level he has, the opportunities to be on the field will continue for the redshirt sophomore. His production can soar to greater heights if Smith is able to shore up the broken tackles and would go a long way in calming down a dynamic rushing attack that helps boost an already strong passing game buoyed by Cordeiro.
Daniel “Sauce” Williams – DL (Sr.)
As mentioned, the rushing attack of the Spartans has played a key role in the two-game win streak SJSU comes to Hawai’i riding. That’s bad news for a UH defense that has been gashed repeatedly by opponents on the ground in 2023, especially for the chances of a homecoming win for the Rainbow Warriors.
Enter Sauce Williams.
The big man in the middle of the defensive line might have had the defensive highlight of the season when he forced a fumble and rumbled down the field for a 40+ yard fumble return. He consistently grades out from PFF as one of the best run defenders on the roster and has become more consistent over the past four contests. An uptick in playing time for the bowling ball-like defensive tackle is due as he plays about 40% of the defensive snaps currently for the ‘Bows despite scoring as the highest-rated defensive player on the entire roster.
Williams experienced an increase in role after his heroic New Mexico State performance with more snaps against UNLV but has seen a steady decline down to just 20 defensive snaps last weekend. The ‘Bows coaching staff needs to rely on the big man on campus to help them shut down the strong Spartans’ rushing attack and turn the focus to the passing game.
Players to Watch – San Jose State Spartans
Chevan Cordeiro – QB (Sr.)
Hawai’i’s own, Cordeiro transferred to San Jose State ahead of the 2022 season and has enjoyed enormous success since. In his first season with the Spartans’ program, the quarterback threw for career highs in passing yards (3,251) and TDs (23) on the way to a 2022 Mountain West 2nd Team selection, rushing for nine more touchdowns on the ground to set a new program record at SJSU for good measure.
Expectations for his second season in the program have been high from the beginning of the 2023 slate after the Hawai’i-native was selected as the preseason Mountain West offensive player of the year. While he’s taken a slight step back from last season’s numbers so far with “just” 1,738 passing yards and 11 TDs with three picks through eight games so far, part of it can be attributed to SJSU’s productive running game allowing for Cordeiro to not have to put on a “Superman” cape for San Jose State this season.
As he returns to his home state to face many familiar faces on the other sideline that once were teammates, Cordeiro’s biggest weapon against UH’s defense will be his legs. He’s had five or more carries in seven of the eight games that he’s played in and more than 20 yards rushing in all but two games. Hawai’i has struggled against the run this season and mobile QBs have given more problems to the unit’s ability to get off the field on third down.
If Cordeiro goes nuts in his return to Hawai’i, it’ll be a long evening for Hawai’i fans. If he is mediocre or worse and the rushing attack takes a step back for the Spartans, Saturday becomes shaky for SJSU.
Kairee Robinson – RB (Sr.)
Continuing to beat the “run game will be important” drum, enter the Mountain West’s leader in yards per rush in Robinson with 6.1 yards an attempt. He’s been a top-20 running back in the nation on a per touch-basis with that average and the 5-foot-7 back ranks seventh in SJSU program history with 2,092 rushing yards in his career.
Short but strong, Robinson has dominated week in and week out for the Spartans with a career-high 11 rushing TDs, finding the end zone at least once in every game this season for SJSU. With three games of 100+ yards this season and two consecutive, Robinson will challenge to be the second running back to eclipse triple-digits in a single game against Hawai’i. He has started to produce in the passing game as well, serving as a security blanket for Cordeiro to check it down to and just watch work.
A turnaround on defense for the Rainbow Warriors includes a shift in results against the run, first and foremost. If Hawai’i wants to win on Saturday, keying in and shutting down Robinson should be near the top of the priority list.
Bryun Parham – LB (Jr.)
One of the most productive linebackers in the entire Mountain West, Parham has put excellent tape on film once again this season. Look no further than his October 7 performance against Boise State when the linebacker forced a fumble and recovered two more to go along with 12 tackles in the Spartans’ 35-27 road loss.
The junior promises to be involved all over the field, totaling the third-most tackles in the conference with 67 and ranking 43rd nationally for his production thus far. He also ranks fifth in the country with two fumble recoveries as he has consistently shown a nose for the ball. A surehanded tackler, Parham mans the middle for the SJSU defense and promises to be involved with anything happening in the middle of the field.
If Hawai’i continues to struggle running the ball, Parham’s life will be much easier. If the ‘Bows can finally figure out the ground game, that’s when Parham’s job becomes more difficult on a play-to-play basis.
What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i vs San Jose State
Homecoming brings special energy to the air in the week leading up to the football game. As Cordeiro leads the Spartans to Hawai’i, the ‘Bows look to pick up the pieces and solidify their foundation for next season with a strong win against San Jose State. As SJSU works towards a strong finish with a bowl game in sight, the Rainbow Warriors will be fighting for their bowl eligibility lives. Here’s more storylines and keys to look for and keep track of on Saturday night.
- Can Hawai’i limit the turnovers or force San Jose State into an uncharacteristic offensive performance? The ‘Bows takeaway struggles have been well documented but the Spartans have lost just six turnovers all year, good for 14th in the nation. Can UH force a weird day for San Jose?
- Who guards Steven McBride? The beauty of having multiple number one receivers like Hawai’i does in McBride and Pofele Ashlock is that teams must make decisions on who they are most worried about. If SJSU standout CB Jay’Vion Cole travels with McBride, look for an Ashlock breakout. If Ashlock is Cole’s assignment, who steps across the speedy senior wideout for the Rainbow Warriors for SJSU?
- Special teams could come into play more than usual on Saturday. San Jose State boasts the second-ranked specials unit in the nation, blocking two punts (one for a TD), have recovered three onside kicks and have a punt return TD so far in 2023. Can the ‘Bows limit the Spartans’ special teams unit?
- How important does San Jose State treat this game? The Spartans are flirting with bowl eligibility at a 3-5 record with four games to play. Three wins are needed to get SJSU into that pool of eligible teams and games against two of the current top three teams in the Mountain West after this week. The journey to a bowl game for San Jose State becomes that much murkier if the ‘Bows successfully play spoiler on Saturday.
Both sides look at Saturday’s contest as an important matchup from an end-of-season playoff stakes standpoint. Brayden Schager versus Chevan Cordeiro, one more time at the college level for an important homecoming contest for two programs.
The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV with kickoff scheduled for 6:00 p.m. HT on Saturday, October 28. Fans are encouraged to wear retro gear to the game, supporting all former Rainbow Warriors who represented the state and program in the past. The Letterwinners Club will welcome members of the 1973 Rainbow Warriors football team to celebrate their 50th anniversary of a 9-2 season under Dave Holmes that included an upset of Washington in the season opener.
UH football alums are welcomed to join the team for the pregame tunnel run at the Ewa Endzone during the pregame. Rainbow Wahine swim and dive will be recognized for their 2023 conference championship and the start of their 2023-24 campaign.
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.
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