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. 

‘Bows looking to “bring back Aloha Stadium feeling” ahead of home-opener

‘Bows looking to “bring back Aloha Stadium feeling” ahead of home-opener

‘Bows looking to “bring back Aloha Stadium feeling” ahead of home-opener 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED AUG 30, 2023

HONOLULU — The Run-N-Shoot is back, baby. 

Week 0 for the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors showed many things as year two of the Timmy Chang era got underway, but none were more prevalent than the effectiveness of the famous University of Hawai’i football offensive scheme. 

The best example of that? 

‘Bows junior QB Brayden Schager enjoyed a dynamic 2023 debut against Vanderbilt, throwing for career-best 351 yards to go along with three touchdowns (matching his performance against someone in ’22). Entering his first season without a quarterback competition at the start of it, the signal-caller looked in command of the offense as he tore up a Vanderbilt secondary that continues to look for answers after a tough showing last season.

The emergence of redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock — who earned Mountain West Freshman of the Week honors for going for 7-127-1 on Saturday against the Commodores — coupled with new senior WR Steven McBride, who came to the program this offseason after being underused in the Kansas offense, gave a pair of go-to targets for the Hawai’i gunslinger to almost lead the ‘Bows to an SEC Week 0 road upset. 

Instead, UH enters Week 1 at 0-1 as they prepare to take on a rebuilding Stanford program under new leadership in former Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor. The 2019 Eddie Robinson Award winner, also known as the Coach of the Year award for the FCS, takes over for a Cardinal program coming off a 3-9 season while also losing starting QB Tanner McKee to the NFL Draft.

Luckily for Cardinal fans, Taylor has experienced nothing but success as a head coach. In three seasons for Sacramento State Hornets, the offensive guru went 30-8, winning three straight Big Sky conference titles during his time for the FCS program. He also piloted Sacramento State to being one of the nation’s best offenses, finishing his three-year stop with averages of over 430 yards per game to go along with 43 points each night during a 12-1 finale season at the school.

Taylor has seen the game at all levels, playing quarterback for Cal Berkeley from 1986-89 before being drafted by the New York Jets in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft. While his pro journey wasn’t long (he was released by the Jets following the 1991 season and signed by the Miami Dolphins in 1993 before ending his professional career), he has enjoyed plenty of success as a coach.

Heading into Week 1 of the college football season, the ‘Bows are looking to get back to the .500 mark for the first time since October of 2021 following a victory over New Mexico State. Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into the names, numbers and matchups to keep an eye out for ahead of this Friday’s Hawai’i home-opener.  


 

History Lesson – Hawai’i versus Stanford (and the Pac-12, kind of) 

With just three total meetings before 2023, it’s tough to say there is any type of rivalry between the ‘Bows and Cardinal. In fact, with the last meeting coming over 50 years ago (they last played on Dec. 2, 1972), many fans in attendance Friday won’t have any memory of the last time Hawai’i and Stanford matched up on the gridiron. For Rainbow Warrior fans, creating new memories would be a good thing, seeing as Stanford leads the all-time series, 3-0.

While the history between Stanford and Hawai’i may not have an update to it in this century until now, recent results for the ‘Bows against Pac-12 compared with all other Power 5 conferences has been an area of success. Of UH’s last 12 wins over Power 5 programs, eight of them have been against the Pac-12.

In fact, Hawai’i’s last Power 5 win came in the 2019 season when the ‘Bows took down a pair of Pac-12 members in Arizona and Oregon State. Both of those wins came at home in the old Aloha Stadium, which has since been shut down and seen UH football games be moved to the Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. Last season, it was a much smaller venue than FBS teams typically have in terms of fan capacity (9,000 total fans could be accommodated).

After an offseason facelift and re-work, T.C. Ching Complex will be able to welcome 15,000 fans with open arms this season for Hawai’i home games. With the extra seating available, the ‘Bows are hoping to see 15,000 fans in white for a home-opening “White-Out” game against Stanford. 

With more space, ‘Bows players and coaches alike hope to get it feeling like the old days at Aloha Stadium, both on and off the field.

“It’s time,” ‘Bows WR Pofele Ashlock said Monday night. “I feel like this year is going to be a way better representation of how Hawai’i football is supposed to be played, so I definitely expect a whole bunch of footballs in the air and a whole bunch of touchdowns scored.”

“Something similar back to the Aloha Stadium-type of vibes,” Ashlock continued and smiled. 


 

Players to Watch Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

What will the Texas gunslinger do for his next act?

The FBS leader in passing yards after Week 0, Schager diced up the Vandy secondary to the tune of a new-career high 351 yards through the air as he showed off his new collection of weapons thriving in their new roles in the Run-N-Shoot offense. He spread the ball around well, targeting (and throwing completions to) eight different players in the 35-28 loss to the Commodores. 

While he did have a career-best day (27 completions set new mark for single-game for Schager), the junior signal-caller also tossed a pair of costly interceptions in the one-possession loss. In fairness, the first interception was an impressive play by Vanderbilt CB De’Rickey Wright on an attempted throwaway by the QB that floated in play too long and the second came during a point that he had to try and make something happen with time running out. He also only accounted for one true “turnover-worthy” play, according to PFF. 

(PFF defines “Big Time Throws” as following – “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window”)

Looking back, Schager tossed 10 interceptions in 12 games last season and had 17 total “turnover-worthy” plays (via PFF). That put him tied for 26th-most turnover-worthy plays among FBS quarterbacks in 2022 and 2nd-most among QBs in the Mountain West. He did record 19 “Big-Time Throws” in his 12 games (10 starts) as well, good enough for a spot among the top-40 QBs in the FBS and tied with the 2023 NFL Draft’s #4 overall pick, Anthony Richardson.

To this point, Schager has been a sliding scale of excitement and head-scratching plays. If he can continue his mastery of the scheme while taking care of the football in 2023, he’s primed for a big year. He will get another good opportunity to show off his growth in Week 1 against a younger Stanford squad that is still figuring out who they are. 

Alex Perry – WR (RS-Fr.) 

The 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman quietly had a nice performance in the team’s season opener, totaling four catches for 51 yards against the Commodores. Just his second career game for the ‘Bows, the former 5A-Florida High School Basketball Player of the Year showed off some intriguing traits and presented another option for the offense to go to all around the field.

A former three-star recruit, he came into camp 20 lbs. heavier than last season, another testament to ‘Bows head strength and conditioning coach Kody Cooke’s offseason training program for the team. With added muscle, the lanky Perry still moves well and showed signs of ability for yards after the catch.

After Pofele Ashlock and Steven McBride combined for over 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Week 0, teams won’t be surprised by the dynamic wide receiver duo anymore. Luckily for the ‘Bows, the wide receiver room is far deeper than two names. Perry was the first one to show signs of chemistry with Schager in-game, but flew under-the-radar enough that he could sneak his way into being this week’s 100-yard receiver in this offense. 

Virdel Edwards II – CB (Sr.) 

The 6-foot-2 defensive back was the team-leader in interceptions last season, totaling three picks in 13 games (11 starts) in ‘22. He also finished second on the ‘Bows with five passes broken up in ‘22 for a secondary that got reinforcements this offseason in the form of preseason All-Mountain West selection Cam Stone, who came over from conference-rival Wyoming.

Edwards was tested in Week 0, as Vanderbilt threw at him eight times and completed four passes successfully against his coverage. One of those four completions was a touchdown to All-SEC selection WR Will Sheppard, a 6-foot-2 monster in his own right.

Things don’t get easier this week for the ‘Bows as they get to face another big-bodied wideout in 6-foot-5 senior John Humphreys. If the ‘Bows can shut down the Cardinal running game, this will be one of the next most-important matchups. 


 

Players to Watch – Stanford Cardinal 

E.J. Smith – RB (Sr.) 

Expected to be one of the two featured backs for Stanford this season, Smith is coming off injury that forced him to miss the final 10 games of the 2022 season. In his two games of action, he totaled 206 yards across 30 carries and three scores. He was also good for eight catches for 63 yards and another TD before he went down for the season.

The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith, he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Texas. Ranked as high as 48th by ESPN in the class of 2019, he appeared in just 10 total games across his first two seasons at Stanford. Getting a few more opportunities as a sophomore, Smith flashed before looking primed for a breakout in his junior season. 

Stanford HC Troy Taylor ran an offense that saw a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022 at Sacramento State, running the ball over 100 times more than they threw it. For a back who is looking to make up for lost time and doesn’t have much run on the metaphorical tires yet, Smith looks ready to finally take that step into being a premier back. It helps that he should also have a solid running mate to give him a spell when he needs as he comes back from the injury. 

For the ‘Bows, the defense had an impressive showing against Vanderbilt (minus Patrick Smith’s 21-yard TD rush in the opening quarter), allowing under two yards per carry over 26 attempts. That’s a good thing, considering it was one of the weaknesses of the ‘Bows defense last season. Among the 131 FBS programs, Hawai’i ranked 124th with a 56.2 PFF grade against the run. 

Taylor won’t hesitate to run the ball and test and see if that Week 0 performance was the new ‘Bows standard or just a fluke. 

Casey Filkins – RB (Sr.) 

Taking over in the backfield after Smith went down, Filkins had an admirable season before an injury sidelined him as well. The 5-foot-11 tailback rushed for just under 500 yards across five starts (7 total games) and found his way into the endzone four times.

He also was a factor in the passing game, coming out of the backfield to record 17 catches for 205 yards and another touchdown. At 206 pounds, the senior is also someone who could see blocking assignments on passing downs for the Cardinal. His strength, coupled with versatility, will help him get on the field often for a young team.

He’ll likely fall behind Smith in terms of touches, but Taylor’s offense has been friendly for dual-threat QBs in the past and Filkins’ blocking ability will be leaned on. He posted a pass-blocking grade above 70.0 on PFF in four of his seven appearances for the Cardinal in ‘22. 

John Humphreys – WR (Sr.) 

As previously mentioned, Humphreys stands at 6-foot-5 and 200 lbs. and in five starts had nearly 350 yards receiving last year. Taking a step up in role, he should be one of the main targets for *whoever* Stanford plays at quarterback.

While Sacramento State’s receiving attack was led by a tight end in 2022, it’s fair to think Humphreys could fill a similar role and in turn see production like Pierre Williams had for the Hornets last season. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Williams finished second on the team with 723 yards and nine touchdown catches for the FCS program. 

Humphreys is about 20 pounds lighter than Williams but makes up for it with his height. He’ll give Taylor a reliable big target to provide his signal-caller with, as the senior had just two drops while being targeted 47 times last season. 


 

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

Before we head out, here are some keys to keep an eye on throughout the night as Hawai’i opens the newly renovated Ching Complex and hosts one of the few remaining teams in the Pac-12.

  • As floated before, run defense wasn’t the strength of Hawai’i a season ago. The ‘Bows passed their first test with redemption against the run during round two with Vandy but will face a more experienced backfield in Week 1. That doesn’t mean Coach Taylor won’t be aggressive too, as he slid into his answer about the aggression UH showed in Week 0 on 4th down and the impact it has on a game plan.
  • Can Hawai’i continue to have the same type of offensive success with similar efficiency in their second game of the year? The opener had a little bit of everything through the air, from “Schager Bombs” to the all-important underneath completions to move the chains. UH’s offense created plenty of opportunities and made a bunch of plays last week and even left some points out there with a couple redzone possessions coming up empty. Cleaning up some procedure penalties along with better efficiency on 3rd down could see the aerial attack become even more deadly in the encore. 
  • Will the UH run game re-appear this week? The offseason was filled with excitement for the second season of RB Tylan Hines, who enjoyed an All-Mountain West honorable mention to cap off the true freshman’s year. Week 0 saw Hines be mostly a non-factor, totaling less than 20 all-purpose yards in 10 total touches. That cannot continue going forward, as the offense will need Hines to build off the end of last season to balance an attack that has multiple weapons in the air. It also likely will not continue, as Chang expressed supreme confidence in the sophomore throughout camp and mentioned expecting him to get a lot of touches this season. Sophomore RB Landon Sims led the way in Week 0 with 38 yards on the ground for the ‘Bows, but it was a tough day on the ground for the Hawai’i offense. They mustered only 1.6 yards per carry, not able to truly play complementary offensive football despite their success in the opener.  
  • Who wins the turnover battle this week? Hawai’i had opportunities to flip possessions but saw interceptions bounce off the hands of ‘Bows defenders multiple times throughout the night. By comparison, Vandy was able to create a pair of turnovers to save both a touchdown and the game. UH was able to win on many of the margins in their first game but learned that turnovers can flip a script quickly in football. 

Hawai’i has a prime opportunity to reach the .500 mark for the first time in two years, taking on a rebuilding Stanford program in their first appearance under a new coaching staff. It’s a situation the ‘Bows are all too familiar with after experiencing it in 2022, but some of the talent on the Stanford roster has a chance to produce at high-levels quickly and Taylor comes in with a winning pedigree.

The ‘Bows are in no position to take opponents lightly and Chang has heaped praise on Stanford’s new head coach for his ability to put together winning teams everywhere he goes. That said, if the UH defense from the second half against Vanderbilt puts together a full game at home, the Cardinal might be one of the teams on the Rainbow Warriors’ schedule “on alert” everyone heard about. 

You can watch the game on CBS Sports Network with kickoff scheduled for 5:00 p.m. HT on Friday, September 1. The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa will welcome back the legendary Satale family for “Family Reunion Weekend” while being honored on the field during the first quarter. Gates for “Kickoff at the Les” will open at 3 p.m. with live music and a DJ, concessions, beer garden, Keiki Zone and much more, but parking passes for lower campus must be purchased in advance for the game. 

Hawai’i much improved but still falls, 3 takeaways from ‘Bows loss at Vanderbilt

Hawai’i much improved but still falls, 3 takeaways from ‘Bows loss at Vanderbilt

Aug 26, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Hawaii Warriors head coach Timmy Chang yells to his players during the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Hawai’i much improved but still falls, 3 takeaways from ‘Bows loss at Vanderbilt

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED AUG 28, 2023

After falling by seven on Saturday in Nashville, Hawai’i has started three seasons in a row with a loss. For the first time in years, however, there is an overwhelming feeling of positivity in the islands regarding the beloved Rainbow Warriors football team.

That’s enough, you’re here for some ‘Bows takeaways so without further ado…

Here are three ‘Bows takeaways from the season-opening 35-28 loss to Vanderbilt to match the vibes heading into home-opener week versus Stanford. 

1 Hawai’i’s 2022 end-of-season offensive jump was a preview, not a fluke. 

The Rainbow Warriors had a dreadful start to the 2022 college football season, posting just 10 points in the season-opener and flipping between quarterbacks as the staff evaluated what they had at the position (and elsewhere). 

Eventually, Brayden Schager (more on him later) won the starting job and the staff began to implement pieces of the Run-N-Shoot into their scheme. Results immediately followed, as the ‘Bows upped the scoring by four points a game and put up three 30-point performances in the final seven games. Still, questions remained for a Hawai’i program that lost three starters along the offensive line and the team’s top producing receiver (Zion Bowens) and running back (Dedrick Parsons).

Those questions were mostly answered Saturday, and a good part of it has to do with the return to the roots of what made Hawai’i the spectacle of the nation’s late-night game slot. The debut of Timmy Chang’s rendition of the full Run-N-Shoot resulted in the ‘Bows out-gaining the Commodores’ offense by nearly 100 yards and no shortage of weapons at the offense’s disposal. 

At the top of those weapons was redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock, who reeled in seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in his first appearance in a ‘Bows uniform. Those numbers were good enough to earn the Texas-native Mountain West Freshman of the Week honors. 

He wasn’t the only receiver to pop for Hawai’i on Saturday, as senior Steven McBride chipped in seven receptions of his own for 98 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs after his offseason transfer from Kansas to UH. Alex Perry, the ‘Bows 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman receiver, enjoyed a nice 2023 debut with four catches for 51 yards against the Commodores.

The most exciting part of Saturday’s offensive performance for Rainbow Warrior fans? There is still another level that the offense can get to.

It was not close to a perfect offensive night, as sophomore tailback Tylan Hines got off to a slow start for the season with just 15 yards on nine carries. UH’s rushing attack was led by sophomore Landon Sims, who finished with 38 yards over nine carries, ripping off a long run of 22 yards. Hawai’i was also without the services of Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei, the senior bruiser running back who has been out with an injury. The talent is in the room, though it did not pop off the screen in game one. 

2 – Hawai’i has their quarterback, and he’s taking the leap under one of the greatest to do it for the program. 

Brayden Schager came to UH in the summer of 2021 under a different coaching staff and fighting for a chance to be the ‘Bows QB1 of the future. After a mass exodus from the program at the conclusion of that season and a coaching change, Schager found himself back at square one going into his sophomore year of college.

Once again, he was in the center of a quarterback competition while learning a new scheme on a roster that was not yet situated. As the 2022 season continued, Hawai’i’s coaching staff saw an improved Schager as the signal caller settled into the pseudo-Run-N-Shoot scheme that was pieced together midseason. With the positive offensive results, a full out commitment to the RNS was made by the ‘Bows.

Schager ran with it, working in the offseason with former UH quarterbacks coach and guru of the Run-N-Shoot Dan Morrison to improve the rising junior’s understanding of his reads and how to best utilize his abilities. The gunslinger also has benefitted with head coach and former UH record-setting quarterback Timmy Chang working closer to the quarterbacks this season and taking over play caller duties.

If there was anyone for ‘Bows fans to pick to show a young QB how to run this offense to the best potential, Chang would’ve been at the top of the list. During his famed time under center for the Rainbows, Chang finished with over 17,000 yards passing and 117 touchdown passes while leading his home state to the national spotlight. He is still the program’s all-time leader in passing yards, though the late Colt Brennan broke Chang’s TD pass record by tossing 131 of his own. 

While it might be a little late for Schager to reach those career numbers, he certainly jump started his way up the record books with his performance against the Commodores. He set a new career-high, tearing up the Vanderbilt secondary for 351 yards through the air and three touchdown passes. With his first touchdown pass of the night the junior extended a streak of throwing a TD to 10 straight games, dating back to last season. 

There will still be growing pains this year, as evidenced by a pair of back-breaking interceptions against Vandy during an otherwise-spectacular performance for the junior. While the timing of the picks was poor, Schager was surgical otherwise while showing off a cannon-right arm that uncorked a few ‘Schager Bombs’ while igniting the ‘Bows offense.

For the first time in his UH football career, Brayden Schager is feeling some stability under his feet. If his first performance of 2023 is any indication of his trajectory, this rocket ship has just started to take off. 

3 – The Rainbow Warriors front seven did not get enough buzz during training camp. 

 

How about some love for the boys up front? All of training camp, reports have been discussing the Hawai’i secondary being the strength of the defensive unit. On Saturday, the defensive line and linebackers played with an extra fire that hadn’t been talked about.

Vanderbilt is a program that has a desire to establish the run, play clean football and have had solid offensive line play since Clark Lea took over three years ago. It was an identity that the Commodores committed to and thrived with last season while doubling their win total from year one. After Patrick Smith ripped off a 21-yard touchdown run to open the scoring, Vandy’s rushing attack went quiet. 

Part of it can be attributed to the addition of DL John Tuitupou to the line before the game. The All-Mountain West honorable mention had run with the first-team defense throughout camp but didn’t get official word he won his appeal for an extra season of eligibility until just before the ‘Bows suited up for Week 0. With attention focused on him, others along the line consistently pressured Vanderbilt QB AJ Swann on passing downs and effectively shut down the run. Hawai’i held Vandy’s ground attack to an average of under two yards per rush across 26 carries on the night.

Not only was the line getting consistent penetration, but senior linebacker Isaiah Tufaga was also a menace defensively for the ‘Bows. The O’ahu native missed the final six games of 2022 with an injury but came back with a vengeance in the ’23 season-opener, leading the defense with eight total tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss in his return to action.

After an offseason and training camp of talking about the ‘Bows secondary, the rest of the unit looks determined to not be forgotten in the 2023 season.