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Duck Hunting: ‘Bows hit the road for battle with 13th-ranked Oregon
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 16, 2023
HONOLULU – It wasn’t particularly pretty, but the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors came out of last Saturday with the team’s first victory of the 2023 season. Timmy Chang’s squad worked for the 31-20 win over a scrappy UAlbany Great Danes squad, holding the FCS squad to just three points in the second half after being tied at 17 coming out of halftime.
The ‘Bows tallied their first two defensive turnovers forced of the season, one in each half of play to swing the momentum in Hawai’i’s favor. Elijah Palmer, the true freshman DB from Bishop Gorman, drew first blood of the year for the ‘Bows turnover–hungry defensive unit. LB Noah Kema, who entered for senior LB Logan Taylor after the defensive captain went down with an ACL tear, had a big-time fumble recovery returned 41 yards to help Hawai’i seal the game.
In big moments, UH was able to overcome both adversity and errors to come away with a win. It was an important one for the ‘Bows to get too, as they now hit the road at 1-2 overall to play nationally-ranked Oregon in Week 3 of the college football season.
It’s been a great start to the year of the 13th-ranked Ducks, leading the nation in scoring with 59.5 ppg after their 81-point explosion against Portland State to begin the season was followed up with an exciting 38-30 comeback road victory over Texas Tech last week. It’s just a continuation of success at what has become a powerhouse of a program over the past few decades under different coaches.
The newest head man in charge of the Ducks’ program is Dan Lanning, who is in his second year at the post after totaling a 10-3 record in his debut season as the 35th head coach of Oregon Ducks’ football. He has come in and continued to roll as each coach in Eugene has this century and has had a nice start to the ‘23 season even with 63 new faces on the roster. The Oregon program currently holds the longest home winning streak in the nation against unranked opponents with 31 consecutive victories. To put into perspective, the Ducks have had seven different head coaches since the last home loss to an unranked opponent back on September 20, 2008 versus Boise State.
Standing in the way of the Ducks and their final season of Pac-12 play is just one more non-conference game hosting the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. The ‘Bows are looking to get to .500 for the first time this season and complete one of the bigger upsets in recent memory for the program. The ‘Bows haven’t beaten a top-15 ranked opponent since taking down Alabama in November of 2002 and have never beaten a top-15 ranked program on the road.
Tale of the Tape – Old Time Rivalry Renewed
Just the eighth meeting between the programs, there is a history between the rivalry of the 20th century. Much like two weeks ago versus Stanford, you’ll have to dust off the ol’ record books to find the last meeting between the programs. Coming back in September of 1994, the ‘Bows beat the Ducks in Honolulu, 36-16. Hawai’i has won the last three contests (‘88, ‘92, ‘94) between the programs after Oregon won the first four meetings (1921, ‘28, ‘29, ‘69).
Obviously, it’s been nearly 30 years since the last time the two teams squared off on the gridiron. Much has changed in that time, as Oregon has seen remarkable growth in continuous success in becoming a national powerhouse while Hawai’i has played the on-again-off-again national darlings of the late-night CFB slot.
Just because the dog in the fight got bigger doesn’t mean that the ‘Bows will be backing down. Head coach Timmy Chang shared that in his comments to the media earlier this week, talking about his message to the team of going to play good football and not backing down to anyone. It’s a tall order, but the ‘Bows are looking to fill it.
Players to Watch – Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors
Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.)
Maybe you’re tired of seeing his name on the list each week. Perhaps it’s obvious that the player that touches the ball the most of almost anyone on offense is someone you “should watch out for” in every game.
My counter is – okay, fair point.
An actual counterpoint – Schager has consistently been one of the most must-watch players to develop over the last year in the scheme. In his sophomore season, he won a starting QB job under a staff that did not recruit him and that could’ve gone to a veteran to get them over for a couple years. He threw for just under 2,350 yards and 13 touchdowns across 12 games for the ‘Bows in ‘22.
He has started this year with a bang, throwing for 10 touchdowns in just three games so far and checking in just below 1,000 yards through the air in that same span. At his current pace, Schager would finish the season with over 4,200 yards passing and 43 touchdowns, which would put him in the top-10 single-season record books at UH for both (43 TDs would be good enough for 2nd-most ever, behind Colt Brennan’s 58 TDs in 2006).
Now, the mistakes have been there as well for the junior from the Lone Star State. In the first three games, he had two multi-interception games en route to five total picks thrown in three games. If that pace continues, he would challenge his own head coach’s single-season record for interceptions (Chang had 22 INT in his ‘02 season).
Will he continue to put up the same numbers he did across the first three games? Time will tell, but there are things to see in the meantime. Can he cut out the negatives? He has set new career-highs in each game played this season but also has had turnovers and trouble getting the ball out at times to make his play look less shiny.
He has shouldered the critisism through a couple of years of figuring out if he was the next “guy” for Hawai’i. Now that he is, he’s showing off all the reasons why he won that spot. If he can cut down on turnovers, the narrative around him will shift towards the positive.
He has got a cannon of an arm. He has a good connection with his teammates. He takes accountability and wants to be better each game. Against #13 Oregon, he will get his best chance to show off to the bigger stage that he has arrived at last. The 13th-ranked Ducks team has an elite defensive unit that can cause turnovers as well. Test time.
Noah Kema – LB (Sr.)
One of the players expected to step in to fill the void left by senior defensive capitan LB Logan Taylor after he went down with an ACL tear, Kema came up with a fumble recovery in the ‘Bows win over the Great Danes just a week ago. The former JUCO star-turned-Rainbow Warrior made his mark on special teams last season but now steps into a bigger role (with the rest of the room) to make up for the intangibles and production Taylor brought.
Kema has manned a nationally-competitive defense before, back in his time at Snow College in Utah. The Badgers went to the NJCAA title game in spring of 2021 (playing what was the 2020 COVID-season), falling to #1 Hutchinson, 29-27. Kema recorded nine tackles in the national championship loss for Snow before transferring to Hawai’i.
With plenty of snaps, experience leading defenses and a tendency of flying all over the field, Kema gives UH defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro an athletic chess piece to use next to Isaiah Tufaga. He won’t be the only one to get those snaps and opportunities, but after coming up big against UAlbany he should be someone that gets a chance to take hold of that job in Taylor’s absence.
Against a strong offense in Oregon, it’ll also be important for the ‘Bows to wrap up and tackle. PFF had Kema with one missed tackle against UAlbany, something that the ‘Bows have struggled with from parts of games this season. Also expect to see some opportunities for another Bishop Gorman product in true-freshman LB Jamih Otis, who saw playing time last week against the Great Danes.
Virdel Edwards II – CB (Sr.)
It seems Cam Stone will be out again for the ‘Bows on Saturday, marking two straight weeks that UH will have to see the “next man up” again. Luckily, it is the ‘Bows deepest defensive position group, as we saw JoJo Forest step in without missing a beat last week against UAlbany.
It’s a tough ask this week against a talented Oregon offense with multiple options (much like the ‘Bows enjoy on their offensive attack), but one player sticks out among the rest in WR Troy Franklin. We’ll get to him more later, but the wideout has a touchdown catch in his last six games and will certainly be someone often mentioned Saturday night in Eugene.
That’s where the Rainbow Warriors de facto #1 corner comes in, as Edwards had himself a nice 2022 campaign and quietly has been productive through three games this season. Part of that is opportunity, as he has matched up with some offenses’ favorite targets. Nonetheless, he’s been a consistent finisher of tackles and provided a stop to get off the field on third down against Pac-12 member Stanford in Week 1.
If the ‘Bows hope to pull off one of the biggest upsets in program history, they’ll need Edwards to bring his hardhat and soft catching hands on Saturday to create some chaos against a steady Oregon defense.
Players to Watch – #13 Oregon Ducks
Bo Nix – QB (Sr.)
The most experienced quarterback in all of college football with 49 starts under center, Nix returned to Oregon for a fifth season of collegiate football. After an up-and-down career in the SEC at Auburn, Nix enjoyed a renaissance in 2022 at UO while showing off flashes of dynamic dual-threat quarterback play.
Before a late-season injury slowed the momentum, Nix was dicing up defenses in ways nobody else in the country could. He was the only player in the country last season to record at least 3,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards, 25 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs, putting up multiple scores in 11 of 13 games.
That dual-threat ability is something that the ‘Bows have struggled with in the past. In 2022, Mike Wright from Vanderbilt tore apart the Hawai’i defense on the ground and through the air in the first game of the Timmy Chang era. It will be important for UH to not only keep Nix behind the line of scrimmage with his legs, but also try to pressure him and record sacks.
It’s easier said than done, getting sacks against this Ducks’ offensive line. Despite having to replace four starters from last year’s unit, Oregon has given up just one sack and five total quarterback hurries in two games thus far. The ‘Bows struggled to get pressure against Stanford, not recording a sack during the contest, but were able to get Vanderbilt QB AJ Swann to the ground three times in Week 0.
It may not be feasible to get game-changing “sacks” with the mobility of Nix, but the Rainbow Warriors’ defense needs to limit his running room after he pulls the ball down.
Troy Franklin – WR (Jr.)
Previously mentioned, the junior wideout has caught a touchdown pass in six consecutive games while recording at least one reception in the last 19 games he has played in. A big-time key to their offense and a safety-valve for Nix to throw to, the 6-foot-3 target has been phenomenal the past two seasons after giving the world a sneak preview of what he could do his first year at college.
His sophomore season finished with him being selected as an all-Pac-12 second-team selection, catching 61 balls for a team-high 891 yards and nine TDs (which was tied for the most of all Pac-12 receivers) in 13 starts in 2022. He has continued with a hot start to 2023, going over 100 yards receiving in each of the Ducks’ first two games along with three TD catches so far.
He’s someone that the Ducks will look to get involved in both the short and deep game, as the junior from California has shown in two games this season. He had a long of 72 yards last week at Texas Tech on one catch, but also chipped in five more receptions outside of the one long play.
If the ‘Bows want to keep it close, they need to limit Franklin’s opportunities as much as possible and key in on him when Oregon crosses the 50 especially. Hawai’i has the talent on the outside to match up and compete, it’s up to the players to heed coach Chang’s advice and not back down to the challenge.
Jeffrey Bassa – ILB (Jr.)
Bassa came to Oregon as a defensive back before making the switch down into the box, where he has now stepped up into a vocal leadership role at inside linebacker. He’s the Ducks’ leading tackler among returners and had at least five tackles in each of the last four games of 2022.
He has stepped it up a notch in 2023, as evidenced by his monster performance in Oregon’s comeback road win over Texas Tech. The junior led the way with nine tackles (1 TFL) and put the dagger into the hearts of Texas Tech fans with a 45-yard pick-six with 35 seconds left to put the Ducks up by eight.
He recorded three picks over the previous two seasons and as a player who should be involved in a lot of the action for the Ducks’ defense tonight, look for him to try and take advantage of an aggressive gunslinger in Hawai’i’s Schager. It’ll be crucial for the ‘Bows QB not to stare down targets over the middle or the former DB-turned-LB for the Ducks will take advantage.
What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i @ #13 Oregon
Last second thoughts and keys to look for as Hawai’i tries to pull off the biggest upset of the Timmy Chang era so far.
- Turnovers will be key in this one. Oregon does an excellent job taking care of the football, much like the ‘Bows last opponent in UAlbany does. Hawai’i was able to create two defensive takeaways against the Great Danes, helping offset an up-and-down day from Schager. It’s key that the defense does that again while Schager plays closer to his Stanford game in terms of protecting the ball. It’ll be tough, as Oregon has posted a +5 in turnover margin to begin ‘23.
- With Cam Stone likely out again, it’s another week of a depleted room for the ‘Bows defense. Troy Franklin and a trio of transfer WRs for Oregon might be licking their chops to get after a less-proven group, but they should be careful what they wish for. Despite the loss of Stone, the talent in the room is still there to compete. Edwards II has the size to match Franklin and Elijah Palmer has continued to piece together great game after great game in his true freshman season.
- Oregon’s rushing attack features a three-headed monster, which spells trouble for the ‘Bows. In three games, Hawai’i has been so-so against the run, sandwiching a poor showing against Stanford with two solid showings in Week 0 and 2. The Rainbow Warriors have to try and take away something from this Oregon offense, and if the rushing attack is going for the Ducks, it’ll be a long night for the ‘Bows.
- Strength versus strength, Hawai’i’s receivers have been incredibly productive through three games but now go up against a stout Oregon passing defense. The ‘Bows offensive line will need to provide Schager with time, but it’ll be important for receivers and the QB to be on the same page against a defense hungry to create chaos.
Hawai’i is coming off their first win of the season, but there was a feeling of “we can do better” from players and coaches alike postgame. A wonderful time to fix a lot of the little issues that persisted through Week 2 is in a nationally-recognized matchup against a strong Oregon unit.
It’s a tall ask for an upset but keep an eye on how the ‘Bows fight in this one. Oregon just came off one scare last week and could see another if all things can click for Hawai’i. Little things and little wins against an opponent now can pay dividends in conference play.
You can watch the game on the Pac-12 Network, with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m. HT (5 p.m. PST) on Saturday.
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