Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State

Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State

Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State


HONOLULU — The ‘Bows were back with a vigor this past weekend, coming from behind and scoring 17 unanswered 2nd-half points (capped with Matthew Shipley’s 24-yard game-winning FG as time expired) to pick up their second win of the 2023 season. 

It’s tough to overstate the importance of the victory for the Rainbow Warriors, who begin Mountain West Conference play this upcoming Saturday on the road versus a strong UNLV Rebels unit with three wins in four outings so far this season. Hawai’i struggled to win close games during the ’22 season but have started to buck that trend to turn the close losses into wins this year. 

Before diving deep into the Rainbow Warriors’ upcoming visit to the “Ninth Island” for a clash against the Rebels, let’s take a look back at the exciting 20-17 win over New Mexico State one last time. Just like the ‘Bows this past weekend, I’m back with vigor as well.


To make up for the lack of takeaways after the Oregon loss (my apologies, I was traveling for a family situation), here are FIVE (5) takeaways from Hawai’i’s comeback victory to close non-conference play.

1. The Hawai’i special teams unit is piecing it together at the perfect time. 

It was not the prettiest start to the season for UH associate head coach Thomas Sheffield’s football baby – the Rainbow Warriors’ special teams – when giving up a kick-return touchdown against Vanderbilt in Week 0. 

Having a 0-yard punt in two straight weeks drove some fans wild as a young unit tried to find the discipline on kick coverages and protections. Not-so-pleasant conditions made sure to compound issues for the group. 

Just a few short weeks later, the argument is that specials won a game for the ‘Bows. On an on-and-off rainy night in Mānoa, Hawai’i converted on two field goal tries and recovered an onside kick right after scoring to open the second half, all giving huge boosts to morale among players and fans alike. 

Moreover, the coverage game on kicks has improved. The Aggies didn’t muster a single punt return yard and only had one kickoff return go for 25 yards. It was a far cry from the season-opening loss at Vanderbilt when the ‘Bows gave up the TD. 

That’s a big development for Hawai’i, a team that has openly talked about how they need to improve in all facets of the game if they want to achieve their goals for the year. A great step towards that is a consistently good special teams unit, which this group is turning into quickly. 

2. Matthew Shipley is a short-range weapon for the ‘Bows.

Despite missing from 51 yards out on Saturday, ‘Bows kicker Matthew Shipley was a hero. Continuing his college career-long trend, the senior from Texas was money from inside 30 yards for the 24th time in 24 career tries as he put an exclamation point on the UH comeback from 24 yards out. 

Shipley was 2-for-3 on the day kicking overall and did a nice job working double-duty as the ‘Bows place kicker and punter. His punts did not get returned for any yards and he didn’t have a touchback as the punter all night. 

As much as head coach Timmy Chang and staff likes to be aggressive, especially in the red zone on fourth down, Shipley provides a sturdy option to tack on three points any time a drive stall deep in opposing territory. That’ll be a key tool to have as Hawai’i heads into the conference slate. 

3. The running attack has multiple options in the absence of Tylan Hines and they’re doing a great job. 

For the third straight game, sophomore tailback Jordan Johnson led the Rainbow Warriors’ running attack. After setting new career-highs in his season-debut against UAlbany, Johnson continues to add a spark in the backfield that has underperformed after being a strength of UH’s just a season ago. 

That unit was led by Dedrick Parsons, who graduated last spring, and Hines at mostly-full health. This season, Hines has been dealing with a step up from bumps and bruises since Week 0 and hadn’t fully recovered his burst so far. Senior RB Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei is still in the process of ramping himself up after a training camp injury sidelined him for the first couple weeks of games, though it is easy to see the bruiser starting to get his legs back under him. 

In the meantime, it’s been Johnson and fellow sophomore RB Landon Sims taking the lion’s share of the rushing attempts. In three games, the duo has combined for 225 yards on the ground while Johnson has averaged 6.6 yards every carry to lead all Hawai’i rushers. 

With Hines still an unknown with an injury, the Rainbow Warriors’ runners are ready to step up in his absence. That’s a good thing for a team that excels passing the ball and has displayed a mightily improved defense as they head into battles against familiar conference foes. If Hawai’i wants to close out close games, a reliable running attack is a must. It’s starting to feel like that’s what the ‘Bows have again. 

4. Koali Nishigaya’s breakout season is just getting started.

The 2020 Saint Louis ATH walked onto UH’s football team, just hoping to work for a shot at making the roster before focusing on more. This past summer, his work had culminated in a scholarship offer to him from his hometown school while they switched fully to his high school offensive scheme. Everything began to line up for the 5-foot-7 slot receiver and he has seen extended action this season despite not being listed among the top six receivers on the depth chart. 

With four more catches Saturday night, Nishigaya is now over 125 yards receiving this season and caught his second career touchdown against the Aggies. While Pofele Ashlock and Steven McBride are the flashy names through five games for Hawai’i, the smaller Nishigaya has emerged as a dependable 3rd down target for Brayden Schager and has helped the offense become more efficient moving the chains. 

In the biggest moments of the game, Nishigaya was on the field getting opportunities to make plays to help his team. It was what he came to UH for in the first place, to compete and help the ‘Bows win. As Hawai’i heads into conference play, Nishigaya adds another trick up Timmy’s sleeve. 

5. The defense needs to wrap up and tackle better if they want to get to bowl game eligibility. 

Okay, I was positive Paul for the first four takeaways but anyone who watched the game knows there were some issues for Hawai’i despite coming away with a W. Don’t worry, it won’t be harping on negatives but merely an observation from Saturday (and the games prior, really). 

Injuries have gashed the ‘Bows through the non-conference schedule, seeing star cornerback Cam Stone miss two games after suffering an injury late against Stanford and losing last season’s leading tackler in LB Logan Taylor to a torn left ACL. The injury to Taylor was a gut-punch to a ‘Bows defense that looked to the senior as their spiritual and vocal leader in the middle of the defense. This past weekend saw CB Virdel Edwards II miss his first contest as a Rainbow Warrior and fellow defensive back Jojo Forest left late against UAlbany with an injury. 

The ‘Bows have also dealt with ejections and suspensions from targeting penalties, forcing Meki Pei and Isaiah Tufaga each to miss two halves of action. Overall, plenty of UH players have heard their number called to play snaps for numerous reasons in 2023. 

It happened before injuries, but missed tackles and an inability to wrap up has allowed opposing offenses to run wild against Hawai’i after initial contact. With an elite secondary that continues to get better with every game, teams will look to exploit the run against the ‘Bows to open up the attack in the air. 

It’s not like UH has struggled getting penetration or a hit behind the line of scrimmage this season but backs shedding ‘Bows defenders has extended drives and added extra points against the Rainbow Warriors that could’ve been prevented. 

Luckily for Hawai’i fans, they can look to the penalty issue that plagued the ‘Bows to begin the year for hope that the staff can quickly correct the team’s deficiencies. After multiple weeks of over 100 free yards in penalties given up to opponents, Hawai’i was flagged just four times for 25 yards on Saturday against the Aggies. This comes on the heels of just five penalties for 27 yards against Oregon despite a frustrating loss, showing multiple steps from the team the visited Vanderbilt to open the year. With the improvement on specials and in penalties, the little things don’t go unnoticed by this staff. It’s on the players to put this next step to use on the field. 

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17


HONOLULU – An on-and-off rainy night in Manoa saw soaked ‘Bows fans go home happy after senior kicker Matthew Shipley drilled a 24-yard field goal as time expired to complete Hawai’i’s second-half comeback win over New Mexico State, 20-17. 

The vibes in the Hawai’i locker room postgame were high after avenging what coaches and players alike called an “embarrassing” loss last season on the road at NMSU, elated from a multi-score second half comeback to close out the non-conference schedule. 

It didn’t seem to be trending that way early, as the Aggies (2-3) jumped ahead with RB Monte Watkins’ 39-yard TD catch – a screen that forced three missed Hawai’i tackles – for an early 7-0 1st quarter lead. NMSU chipped on three more just a few minutes into the 2nd quarter on a 35-yard field goal from Ethan Albertson to cap off a 14-play, 54-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes. 

Hawai’i looked sluggish up to that point, running five plays before punting on the ensuing possession. The ‘Bows needed a shot in the arm, some kind of boost, “Jordan’s Secret Stuff” even. 

What they got was the Sauce. 

New Mexico State drove the field after the UH punt, ripping off two straight runs of bouncing off tacklers for extra yards to get the ball to the Hawai’i 20-yard line before ‘Bows DL Daniel “Sauce” Williams ripped loose a Star Thomas rushing attempt and returned it 41 yards to set up the Rainbow Warriors’ first score of the night. 

While momentum started shifting, Hawai’i couldn’t quite get six on the gifted extra possession from Williams. The ‘Bows settled from 35 yards out and allowed Shipley to do the rest, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 10-3 with 5:27 left in the half. 

The visitors from the mainland refused to let go of their grasp of the game so easily, answering Hawai’i’s first score of the night with an 8-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that saw NMSU QB Diego Pavia hit Star Thomas for a 21-yard TD and a two-touchdown lead for the C-USA representatives. 

Hawai’i had a chance to add another field goal with six seconds left, a try from 51 yards out, but the career-long try was wide for Shipley and the ‘Bows entered the locker room down two scores and mustering less than 100 yards of total offense in 30 minutes of play. 

The halftime speech must have been as electrifying as Williams’ fumble recovery and return because a different Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors team hit the field for the second half. New Mexico State dominated the first half, winning the possession-time battle while being 5-of-7 on 3rd down conversions. The Aggies also had seven more 1st downs in the opening half of play. 

The Hawai’i offense immediately looked to have re-found a rhythm, driving 75 yards in eight plays on the opening possession of the second half. ‘Bows QB Brayden Schager got his first career rushing touchdown to finish the drive, running it in from four yards out to make it a one-score game, 17-10. 

Looking to capitalize on the momentum swing out of the break, the ‘Bows special teams unit pulled off a surprise onside kick and recovered it to give the home squad a chance to tie it quickly. An overturned Steven McBride catch followed by a nine-yard loss on a sack killed the drive quickly for Hawai’i, though. 

New Mexico State tried to answer back with a haymaker of their own, a 42-yard completion down the sideline to WR Jordin Parker to set themselves up deep in Rainbow Warrior territory, but the ‘Bows defense held strong. The Aggies settled for a 43-yard try that went wide-left, keeping it a one-score game with 6:00 left in the 3rd quarter. 

Once again, the Run-N-Shoot was running and shooting down the field with a mix of rushes by RB Landon Sims and Jordan Johnson between dimes by Schager to different receivers. The ‘Bows worked their way down inside the New Mexico State 10-yard line before the Aggies’ defense forced a Schager fumble and recovered it to end the UH threat just before the end of the third quarter. 

Luckily for the ‘Bows, NMSU ended up pinned inside their own 10-yard line for the next offensive drive and allowed Hawai’i to pin the ears back and force a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. 

With a second chance to tie it, Hawai’i capitalized. Schager led an 11-play, 43-yard scoring drive, tossing a 3-yard TD to WR Koali Nishigaya to knot the game at 17 with 7:19 left in regulation. Dating back to last season, it’s the 14th straight game the junior QB has thrown a touchdown pass for the ‘Bows. 

Looking to drain the clock with an all-conference kicker in their back pocket, New Mexico State turned back to the running game that had treated them well in the past two matchups with Hawai’i. After some initial success, the drive stalled near midfield as the ‘Bows forced a punt and gave the offense a chance to win the game with three minutes left in regulation. 

Starting inside their own 30, Hawai’i quickly worked its way into Aggies’ territory with completions of 13 and 22 yards to Johnson and WR Pofele Ashlock. Facing a big third-and-9 at the NMSU 36, Schager delivered a strike to McBride for a 12-yard gain to move the chains and run the clock under 60 seconds. 

A pass interference penalty drawn by Ashlock in the endzone on the next play set up first-and-goal for the ‘Bows, who ran the clock all the way down to two seconds before taking a timeout and setting up a chip shot 24-yard field goal attempt for Shipley to win it. The kicker from Liberty Hill, Texas calmly stepped to his spot and nailed the kick to send everyone home happy and give Hawai’i a lift heading into Mountain West play after a 20-17 win. 

New Mexico State QB Diego Pavia finished 9-of-15 with 155 yards passing and two touchdowns and led the Aggies’ rushing attack with 97 yards on the ground. Junior RB Star Thomas led NMSU receivers with four catches and a touchdown, while Jordin Parker had the most receiving yards for the visitors (42). 

Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager finished with 245 yards and two total TDs (1 pass, 1 rush) on 26-of-38 passing and did not throw an interception (though he did lose his first fumble of the year) in the ‘Bows comeback win. He looked much more decisive with the ball in the second half as he led the charge back. Sophomore RB Jordan Johnson led the rushing attack with 44 yards on nine carries while chipping in an extra 35 yards receiving. 

Freshman WR Pofele Ashlock led the way again for the ‘Bows with seven catches for 77 yards, though the Aggies’ defense was able to keep the talented pass catcher out of the end zone. Senior WR Steven McBride had 47 yards on four catches, while WR Jalen Walthall helped move the chains with his six catches for 32 yards. 

‘Bows kicker Matthew Shipley said that the missed field goal try from 51 yards before the end of the first half was already out of his mind and not impacting his mental approach before lining up to win it for the ‘Bows. It was the first game-winning kick as time expired for UH since 2001 (via Christian Shimabuku – KHON2).

Hawai’i hits the road next week to open Mountain West Conference play, heading to the “Ninth Island” for a matchup with UNLV. The Rebels (3-1) visited (and held off) UTEP this past weekend, 45-28, and enter the matchup with the ‘Bows on a two-game win streak. The game kicks off at 10 a.m. HT on the Mountain West Network. UNLV opens as 11-point favorites at home against UH. 

After a roller coaster ride of a non-conference slate, the ‘Bows have made it to conference play with two wins and a reinvigorated hope towards the rebuild of the #BRADDAHHOOD at UH. A gritty victory to keep the Aggies winless in Honolulu was a great step forward for the young ‘Bows. Up next, a step up in testing against the Rebels. 

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies

Hawaii’s Brayden Schager, left, passes against Oregon during the first half in Eugene, Ore. Sept. 16, 2023. Credit/© Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard/USA TODAY NETWORK

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies


HONOLULU – There was no stuttering from the ‘Bows following their Tuesday morning practice regarding the mindset going into Saturday’s matchup versus New Mexico State (2-2). The Aggies, a team that Hawai’i (1-3) has historically had the number of before falling 45-26 in Las Cruces during the ‘22 season, have been on the mind of UH since then due to the embarrassment they felt. 

It’s been a feeling that’s been multiplied in the past few days as well, after a 55-10 shellacking against at-the-time #13 Oregon left the ‘Bows humbled as they put the metaphorical axe back to the grindstone. (Oregon moved up to #10 in the nation in the most recent CFB rankings) 

Hawai’i enters the weekend with an opportunity to pick up some positive momentum ahead of Mountain West conference play, taking on a quality New Mexico State team in the 12th meeting all-time between the two programs, and a chance to wash away the sour taste left by a pair of games on the minds of the ‘Bows. 

“These are must-wins for us,” Hawai’i head coach Timmy Chang said of the schedule before his team’s Week 6 bye. “We have to play better; we’ve got to execute. [NM State] is a good team, [Aggies head coach Jerry Kill] got those guys going early on in his first year there [in 2022]. That’s a good 2-2 team that going to come in and challenge us and we’ve got to answer the call.”   

Kill (who has a track record of turning programs around for the better) has been great for the Aggies, going 7-6 in his first season at the helm for New Mexico State. Prior to his arrival, the Aggies had never beaten the ‘Bows in 10 tries while giving up over 40 points in eight of the contests. In his first try versus the Rainbow Warriors, Kill’s unit held UH to just 26 points while running all over the defense. 

The visitors out of Conference USA come to Honolulu after an exciting 27-17 win over in-state rival New Mexico and looking to reach above .500 during the regular season for the first time since 2014. While the Aggies have twice finished the season at 7-6 since then, both of those seasons finished 6-6 ahead of Bowl season and never would reach a winning mark during the 12-game slates. 

With high stakes for both sides looking to build strong programs in the G5 world of FBS college football, Hawai’i will look to the past for help while New Mexico State hopes to keep the recent times rolling under head coach Kill with the program’s first ever win in Honolulu. 


Tale of the Tape – ‘Bows beat Aggies again & again, until they don’t 

As alluded to, before 2022 it was the Rainbow Warriors’ dream to see the Aggies on the schedule during the fall. For 10 straight games, the ‘Bows would defeat New Mexico State behind a potent offense like it was their job. When the whistle blows Saturday, Timmy Chang and company hope to bring shades of those games back to fans in attendance now. 

For Jerry Kill’s Aggies, they’ll look to continue business as usual after the only meeting between the programs with the current head coaches went the way of the Conference USA members. While it was just one matchup, it’s a game that has even QB1 for the ‘Bows still thinking about how they needed to be better. 

“I left out of there really embarrassed,” Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager recalled of the 2022 matchup. “I thought it was all around just a bad game, we didn’t play well on any phase of the ball.” 

The Aggies ran for 357 yards and five touchdowns, gashing the Hawai’i rushing defense repeatedly last year. That has been a common trend for the matchups, as NMSU has averaged 245 yards rushing across the last three meetings between teams. The Aggies also scored on a TD on 5-of-6 first half drives, compared to a measly 10 points from UH in the first 30 minutes of play. 

“We definitely still have that sour taste in our mouth from last year,” Schager added. “I think that’s something everybody remembers this week – just how bad that game was.” 



Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

I don’t care.  

You are going to listen to my reasoning why he’s on the list again and you will LIKE IT. 

Jokes aside, this week pits a pair of offenses off to an electric start in 2023 with a duo of QBs that rank inside the nation’s top 15 of passing yards and passing touchdowns. Of the two, Hawai’i’s Schager ranks higher with the third-most yards through the air in the nation with 1,103 yards while coming in at number four of all QBs with 11 passing TDs. 

We’ve seen the good – like leading the nation in passing yards for a few weeks to start the season while continuing his streak of games with at least 1 passing TD – the bad (tossing a pair of back-breaking picks against Vanderbilt), and the ugly at times this season from the junior signal-caller. 

Despite struggling against Oregon last week, Schager bounced back late with a touchdown to redshirt freshman Alex Perry to close the game on the right foot. It was important for the quarterback to do after going against (arguably) the best defense the ‘Bows will face all season. According to PFF, Schager had 4 turnover-worthy plays and was held without a big-time throw for the first time all season. 

Against the Aggies, it’ll be important for the gunslinger from Texas to get back to his production levels over the first three games of 2023. That means completing the easy ones underneath – sure – but also means the offense needs a healthy dosage of “Schager Bombs” to succeed. 

He’ll also need to take care of the football. He has thrown an interception in three of Hawai’i’s four games so far and is third nationally with six picks tossed this year. That’s part of what happens when you throw it as much as the Rainbow Warriors do. This season, Schager has thrown 34 more times than the next closest QB (Sheduer Sanders, 137) and saw three INTs in the same game – the ‘Bows 31-20 win against UAlbany. He has shown stretches of taking excellent care of the ball. 

In what is expected to be another pass-happy game with the Aggies’ aerial attack coming into town, Schager will get yet another chance to put up some eye-popping numbers this weekend. For the ‘Bows to win however, he’ll need to keep those notable statistics on the positive side of the books. He’s got a decent chance, too. The Aggies have yet to intercept a pass through four games. 

Pofele Ashlock – WR (R-Fr.) 

After two extremely productive games to begin his college career saw him get over the 100-yard receiving mark twice to go along with three trips to the endzone, Ashlock has seen a dip in production over the past couple of weeks. 

Against UAlbany, the 6-foot-1 wideout caught four passes for 74 yards and was held out of the endzone for the first time in his college career. Facing national-powerhouse Oregon presented different issues, as the redshirt freshman was able to catch eight balls but was held to his lowest yards output of the year with just 47 yards. 

He’s shown an ability to get open against even the top corners he has faced this season and should have another high-volume day of targets on Saturday. His speed and fluidity on the field has been a weapon through four games and a return to the endzone would boost the ‘Bows offense again. NMSU’s defense has given up five passing touchdowns in four games. 

He should have time to work deep as well while the UH offensive line protects against an Aggies’ unit that has mustered less sacks than games played in 2023 (three sacks, four games). Put together those factors and “Schager Bombs” – on the rocks to Pofele Ashlock – could be flying all over Manoa once again this weekend. 

Peter Manuma – S (Soph.) 

An All-Mountain West honorable mention in his true freshman season, Manuma has had an interesting start to his second college campaign. While productive with the second-most tackles for the defense this season, Manuma has yet to create a turnover for the ‘Bows. That was something he excelled at in his debut year with his hometown school, totaling two forced fumbles and two interceptions over 13 games.  

On top of that, Manuma has struggled with some untimely penalties that extended opponent drives through the first few weeks of 2023 to the point where he felt the need to address it himself following the UAlbany game. 

Under coach Kill, the Aggies have enjoyed a successful passing attack with dynamic plays of their own. While they are no “Schager Bombs”, New Mexico State has averaged almost 18 yards per completion this season, good for sixth-best nationally. Additionally, NMSU has complied a total of 11 plays through the air of 25+ yards, showing a propensity for the big shot at any time. 

All that to say, Manuma should get a chance to make some plays this coming weekend versus a team that likes to air it out nearly as much as the ‘Bows do. For the Rainbow Warriors to get back to winning ways against their CUSA foe, Manuma being impactful against the Aggies’ passing game is paramount. 


Players to Watch – New Mexico State Aggies 

Diego Pavia – QB (Jr.) 

In his first year under center for the Aggies, Pavia showed off an ability to do a little bit of everything in Kill and crew’s offense. The transfer from New Mexico Military Institute (who quarterbacked the Broncos to a 2021 NJCAA National Championship) led the Aggies in passing yards (1,450) and finished second in rushing yards (508) while contributing 21 total touchdowns (13 pass, 8 rush) to a 7-6 season and bowl win in 2022. 

He’s started his second year with home-state NMSU strong, tossing eight TDs and four INTs in four games so far and is among the top 15 in passing yards with 918 yards. His legs have continued to pose an issue for opposing defenses, averaging about five yards per carry and racking up almost 200 additional yards on the ground for the Aggies. 

His four interceptions are interesting, after he threw just six picks across 12 games last season. Part of that is an added aggression in the offense this year. Pavia has nearly doubled his yards per game passing from last season while taking some deep shots to a talented cast of skill position players. 

It will be vital for the ‘Bows to contain Pavia’s ability to run around and make something happen on a broken play. Should they be able to keep things in front of themselves defensively, Hawai’i could challenge an otherwise aggressive aerial attack. 

Jonathan Brady – WR (Soph.) 

The Aggies’ version of Ashlock, Brady is one of 20 receivers across the nation in Division I football to compile a pair of 100+ yard receiving games already. Those two performances have come in the past three weeks, sandwiching a –7 yard outing between 102 and 109-yard games.  

Brady lines up mostly inside the numbers in the slot, meaning he could see former high school teammate Elijah Palmer across from him. The pair helped national powerhouse Bishop Gorman to the Nevada state championship in 2021 when Brady was a senior and Palmer was a junior. That is a good thing, as the ‘Bows could use any advantage to stopping the Aggies’ offensive weapon they can get. 

While he can burn you with his speed (his longest reception this season was 80 yards), he is someone who gets a lot of touches. He will get a few carries to run the ball from time to time but is equally dangerous returning the ball as he is lining up at wideout. Expect to see him try to use his speed in the kick return game to try and win the hidden yards for the Aggies. 

He’s also matched his TD output from last season already with three scores in four games. In his true freshman season, the Bishop Gorman-product totaled three TDs in 13 games (9 starts) for New Mexico State. Pavia will look to the 5-foot-11 shifty receiver early and often – he leads the team with 16 targets and 10 receptions – when he is in trouble because of what the pass-catcher can do with the ball. Of his 252 receiving yards this season, 146 have come after the catch. 

It’ll be important for the ‘Bows to slow down the speedster if they want to get back to their winning ways against NMSU. 

Star Thomas – RB (Jr.) 

While much of the conversation in this piece has been regarding the passing attack expected to be on display Saturday in Honolulu, it would be foolish not to mention the Aggies’ leading rusher in Star Thomas after NMSU made it look more like Ruidoso Downs Racetrack than a football game in 2022. 

The Aggies rushed for over 300 yards against Hawai’i last season and had five rushing TDs to boot. Thomas chipped in 144 of those yards and a score himself and has started off his junior season strong by averaging about six yards per carry to the tune of 195 yards rushing and three scores. 

Part of that is due to the offensive line put together for the team, seeing four returners from last season build from where they left off. So far in 2023, the Aggies’ O-line has ranked among the top-10 units nationally by allowing just three tackles for a loss or less each time out. Physical and athletic, the UH defensive line will have their hands full. 

If the ‘Bows want to avoid a repeat of last year and not allow the Aggies to get their first win ever in Honolulu, they will need to key in on shutting down the rushing attack and allow the corners to create turnovers when NMSU becomes too aggressive. If New Mexico State gets the ground game going, it will be a long, frustrating night for the ‘Bows. 


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

Two teams enter this matchup with a similar thought in mind: 

“This one is winnable.” 

After a loaded non-conference schedule for the ‘Bows included three Power 5 opponents, a Group of 5 opponent does not look as daunting on paper. With that said, Hawai’i enters the game below .500 against a team that is starving to get into the positive when it comes to record. It will be no easy feat for either side, meaning little things will decide the outcomes and big moments late – per usual. 

Some keys and quick notes before the ‘Bows host the Aggies to close out the non-conference schedule. 

  • It’s a family reunion! Hawai’i OL/RB Solo Vaipulu and brother A.J., who plays OL for New Mexico State, will get a chance to suit up against each other (kind of). Solo has transitioned from a key cog along the ‘Bows O-line to being a versatile chess piece for Chang to use on offense as an extra blocker or receiver. His brother, A.J., has been a strong piece for that good unit the Aggies have, though the younger Vaipulu has been penalized three times this season. 
  • Going against a team from a similar conference size, can the ‘Bows get their own ground game going? We’ve seen how dangerous Schager can be when he’s in rhythm, slinging it around to the numerous offensive weapons Hawai’i has. Tylan Hines has been banged up to begin the year and has faced some massive defensive lines that clogged up holes quickly. Will an increased bill of health for the backfield help launch the Rainbow Warriors towards the over once again? 
  • Speaking of health, can Hawai’i be semi-whole again? Season-ending injuries aside, UH has dealt with a bevy of injuries to key players for every phase of football. Top CB Cam Stone has missed the last two games and is still working his way back. Hines didn’t play last week versus Oregon. Various others have also managed pain with soft-tissue tweaks in practice. How healthy can Hawai’i get before the weekend? 
  • Win the turnover battle, win the game. This one will likely be high scoring and fun with plenty of splash plays for both sides. Can Hawai’i copy the gameplan from the UAlbany win and create some defensive turnovers while improving the overall turnover margin? Schager will need to take care of the ball and continue the Aggies’ wait for their first pick of 2023. 

After a somewhat shocking loss last season and a tough outing last week, Saturday against New Mexico State can’t come soon enough for the University of Hawai’i football team. For the Aggies, it is a chance for Kill and Co. to show off that this isn’t your grandpappy’s New Mexico State football team. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports with kickoff scheduled for 6:05 p.m. HT on Saturday, September 23. The University of Hawai’i at Manoa welcomes back father and son Tom (UH ‘80) and Tuma Tuinei (UH ‘18) to campus for a chance to visit with fans and will honor the duo between the first & second quarter. The Rainbow Wahine basketball team will be honored during the opening quarter for their back-to-back Big West championships and release the 2023-24 schedule. At halftime, NFL Flag Football Hawai’i will hold a five-minute scrimmage between two teams. The Rainbow Wahine tennis team will be honored during the third quarter for their regular-season and tournament titles from last year. 

Gates will open at 3 p.m. for “Kickoff at the Les”, featuring free ice cream in honor of National Ice Cream Cone Day with music from The Vitals. There will also be concessions available for fans, along with an upgraded Keiki Zone for Youth Night and Heineken Beer Garden among other things. 

Reminder that parking passes for lower campus must be purchased in advance for the game.