Vasko, Coastal Carolina defeat San Jose State in 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl

Vasko, Coastal Carolina defeat San Jose State in 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl

Vasko, Coastal Carolina defeat San Jose State in 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 23, 2023

HONOLULU — The Sun Belt has never lost in the Hawaii Bowl. 

1-0, baby. 

Behind the right arm and two legs of redshirt freshman Ethan Vasko, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers downed San Jose State University Spartans in Chevan Cordeiro’s final game in Hawai’i, 24-14, to win the 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl presented by the Hawaiian Islands in the lowest combined scoring finish in the bowl game’s history. 

Vasko was thrusted into the starting role a few weeks ago after Coastal’s usual QB1 Greyson McCall went down with a concussion and eventually announced his transfer to NC State for next season. McCall was still in attendance for the Hawaii Bowl and dressed in street clothes on the sideline with his Chanticleer teammates. 

San Jose State won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half, kicking off to the Chanticleers to get play started — CCU’s Ja’Vin Simpkins darting out to the 33-yard line to provide quality starting field position. The Chants picked up a pair of firsts before SJSU’s defense stopped CCU on fourth-and-one inside Spartans’ territory, forcing a turnover on downs. 

The Spartans’ first possession wasn’t much better, only moving the chains once before being forced to punt it back the Coastal. 

Coastal Carolina’s second drive proved far better than the first, going 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown as Vasko connected with TE Matt Alaimo for the two-yard score and the game’s first points. The ensuing PAT sailed through the uprights as the Chanticleers took a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the first quarter. 

CCU coupled a quick defensive stop with the score, stopping Cordeiro and the Spartans on third-and-one at the SJSU 42 to get the ball back with 1:09 remaining in the opening frame. The Chants quickly jumped into Spartans’ territory as the quarter ended but were stopped early in the second quarter after moving inside the San Jose State 40-yard line. 

Following a punt that pinned the team at its own 3-yard line, SJSU would move into Chants’ territory for the first time all evening as Cordeiro showed off the arm and legs, but CCU’s defense held strong on fourth-and-five at its own 43 and forced a turnover on downs of their own with 5:20 remaining in the half. 

Coastal would move the ball down the field to the SJSU 30 before a pair of penalties killed the drive, setting up a fourth down and 30 yards to go at the Chants’ 45. CCU punter Evan Crenshaw continued an impressive punting performance, pinning the Spartans at their own 3 with under a minute left in the half and forcing SJSU to run out the rest of the first half clock and head into the locker room with CCU leading, 7-0. 

The first 30 minutes marked a historic performance for the two defenses, combining for the lowest scoring half of the 20 Hawaii Bowl games that have been played. 

When play resumed, the teams traded three-and-outs to open the third quarter before Cordeiro and the Spartans’ offense found some footing, picking up a pair of big gains to push back into Chanticleers’ territory. The Saint Louis (HI) alum and former University of Hawai’i quarterback showed off the wheels to continue the drive, scrambling for a 28-yard pickup on third-and-11 to give the Spartans their first “Goal-to-Go” chance of the night. 

The opportunity was short-lived, though. SJSU RB and 1,000-yard rusher Kairee Robinson saw the ball get popped out on first-and-goal, fumbling for just the third time all season for a Spartans’ turnover inside the red zone. 

Coastal Carolina capitalized, going 87 yards across 11 plays (plus an unnecessary roughness penalty on SJSU) to double the lead, 14-0, as Vasko connected with his other tight end Kendall Karr at the front-right pylon with 3:19 left in the third quarter. 

It looked to go from bad to worse for San Jose State 32 seconds later when Robinson lost his fourth fumble of the season, once again on the Chants’ side of the field. This time, the SJSU defense would be able to limit the damage as CCU kicker Kade Hensley knocked home a 49-yard field goal try just 47 seconds into the fourth quarter that made it a 17-0 lead for Coastal Carolina. The make from 49 yards was tied for the second-longest make in Hawaii Bowl history behind San Diego State’s Jack Browning’s 52-yarder in 2022 and with Middle Tennessee’s Zeke Rankin’s 49-yarder in the same game. 

Suddenly, Cordeiro and the Spartans’ offense flipped the switch. 

SJSU marched down the field in less than two minutes for a touchdown as Cordeiro escaped trouble and somehow connected with tight end Sam Olsen for a 35-yard score on fourth-and-nine to provide San Jose State a lifeline, 17-7. 

The defense for SJSU followed suit, forcing a punt just 84 seconds after the team’s score to get the ball back to their 1st Team All-Mountain West quarterback. Cordeiro piloted another quick scoring drive for San Jose State as the Spartans continued to balance the running and passing attacks to go 61 yards in two minutes and 22 seconds for another touchdown, this time on a 12-yard rush from Quali Conley, making it a 17-14 game with 8:30 left in regulation. 

Despite the mounting pressure, Coastal’s redshirt freshman remained calm and the Chanticleers reverted to their earlier form to engineer a 10-play, 75-yard drive to all but end the Spartans’ hopes of a fairytale ending for Cordeiro. After running nearly six minutes of clock, Vasko found senior wideout Sam Pinckney in the back-right corner of the endzone for a #SCTop10-level one-handed catch for the score and putting the game out of reach, 24-14. 

SJSU had one last-ditch effort, setting up a 32-yard field goal with just over a minute left and looking to cut it back to a one-possession game with two timeouts remaining but the kick sailed wide-right, allowing Coastal to kneel out the remainder of the clock to win the 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl, 24-14. 

Cordeiro finished his final college game 16-for-30 passing the ball for 215 yards and a touchdown with dozens of friends and family members in attendance for his final return to Hawai’i on the gridiron. He also rushed for 59 yards across seven carries as San Jose State saw its six-game winning streak come to an end. 

It wasn’t all bad for the Spartans, who had as much of a rollercoaster ride season as anyone in the FBS on their way to clinching a share of the Mountain West regular season title and turning in back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92. While Brent Brennan fell to 0-3 in bowl games in his time with SJSU, he is the only San Jose State football head coach to make three separate bowl appearances with the program. 

Coastal Carolina’s Ethan Vasko was named the Hugh Yoshida Most Valuable Player recipient for his career-high three TD passes, contributing 249 total yards from scrimmage (199 pass, 50 rush) in the Chanticleers’ second-ever bowl win. CCU is now 2-2 all-time in bowl games and finishes their fourth consecutive season of eight or more wins. 

Chants’ wide receiver Sam Pinckney eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season during the game, becoming just the third player in program history to reach the milestone as he finished the night with eight catches for 123 yards and his spectacular TD grab to seal the win. 

CCU head coach Tim Beck also became just the second Chants’ HC to win a postseason game in his first season despite facing a multitude of challenges in his inaugural year at the helm. The Chants started three different quarterbacks this season and won five of their final seven games despite the QB carousel spinning. 

Mountain West squads are now 4-6 all-time in the Hawaii Bowl, whereas this was the Sun Belt’s first appearance in the event. Saturday’s matchup also marked the first meeting in football between Coastal Carolina and San Jose State University. 

Hawai’i football hits new low, suffers first shutout loss at home in 25 years

Hawai’i football hits new low, suffers first shutout loss at home in 25 years

Hawai’i football hits new low, suffers first shutout loss at home in 25 years

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 29, 2023

HONOLULU — It was a homecoming game to remember for some players connected with the University of Hawai’i football program as San Jose State visited Mānoa for the first time in two years. 

The problem? Those players suit up for the San Jose State Spartans now. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-7, 0-4 MWC) fell to the San Jose State Spartans (4-5, 3-2 MWC) Saturday night, 35-0, as UH lost on homecoming night for the first time since 2016. SJSU has now won four consecutive meetings between the programs, the longest winning streak for the Spartans in the series. 

Coming off one of the biggest gut-punch losses of the season, Hawai’i returned home to welcome a red-hot San Jose State team led by former UH starting QB Chevan Cordeiro to T.C. Ching Complex for homecoming. The Spartans entered the weekend on a two-game winning streak after consecutive 20+ point victories over New Mexico and Utah State and a chance to go over .500 in conference play for the first time this season. 

The visitors stunned everyone in attendance by deferring possession to the 2nd half before recovering the opening kickoff inside of the Hawai’i 10 with a perfectly executed kick long that took a Spartans’ bounce to avoid a touchback. Worse for UH, star CB Cam Stone left immediately for the locker room with an injury and did not return. 

The much-maligned Hawai’i defense was rapidly put in a tough position after just three seconds elapsed from the game clock, but the ‘Bows stepped up to stop SJSU three straight times to force a field goal try that went wide-right to keep the game scoreless. 

The ‘Bows offense went on to pick up two consecutive 1st downs, matching the season-long total of 1st downs picked up on opening drives, before punting the ball away and pinning San Jose State deep in their own territory. It looked like Hawai’i’s defense again stepped up to force a three-and-out, but a personal foul penalty awarded SJSU a free first down. 

The penalty sparked the Spartans’ offense, marching down the field on a 12-play, 93-yard scoring drive capped by RB Quali Conley’s five-yard TD rush for the game’s first points, midway through the 1st quarter. 

UH QB Brayden Schager and company looked to answer back with points of their own, quickly moving into SJSU territory with a 21-yard reception by redshirt freshman Alex Perry to set up the ‘Bows at the SJSU 44. That was the furthest they’d get, gaining -1 yards over the next three plays before punting the ball away. Once again, Hawai’i punter Matthew Shipley boomed a kick inside the Spartans’ 15 to put the SJSU offense in an unfavorable spot with 2:11 left in the opening frame. 

The short-game attack and running backs for San Jose State moved the visitors out of the back of their own side of the field before UH LB Isaiah Tufaga punched the ball free from Conley after the back gained 32 yards and CB Virdel Edwards II recovered it right before the end of the quarter for the Hawai’i defense’s fifth takeaway of the season (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions). It was Edwards’ first career fumble recovery. 

The ‘Bows couldn’t capitalize on the rare takeaway, gaining just one first down on a Solo Vaipulu 14-yard rumble to end the 1st quarter before a holding penalty set the offense back with a 1st-and-20 at midfield. The next three plays resulted in just eight yards as Hawai’i punted, dropping a punt inside the opponent’s 15-yard line for the third time. 

SJSU’s offense married the run and passing game perfectly on the next drive, going 86 yards over 13 plays (7 rush, 6 pass) and using an 8-yard Nick Nash TD catch to go up 14-0 with just over five minutes left in the first half. 

Hawai’i’s offense failed to pick up a first down after facing a 1st-and-5, thanks to an incompletion, sack for seven-yard loss and completion behind the sticks on third down, punting for the fourth time in the first half. 

The balanced offense of the Spartans continued to roll on the next drive to take a 21-0 lead just before the halftime break, going 70 yards in nine plays as RB Kairee Robinson found pay dirt for the 12th time this season and continuing his streak of at least one TD in every game this season for SJSU. 

Despite the slow starts previously this year, Saturday’s contest was the first time Hawai’i had been shut out in the first half of a game all season. The ‘Bows had just 94 yards in the first half compared to the Spartans’ 280 total yards of offense as the visitors took a three-score lead into the locker rooms. 

Hawai’i forced San Jose State to punt for the first time all evening on the opening possession of the 2nd half but matched with a three-and-out of their own immediately after. SJSU’s Robinson started up the scoring again quickly after the UH punt, taking the first offensive snap 52 yards to the house in 11 seconds to push the Spartans’ lead to 28-0 just three minutes into the 3rd quarter. 

The ‘Bows saw two unusual contributors to the running game pick up first downs on the drive after, as Schager scrambled his way past the line-to-gain on 3rd-and-6 before Shipley took a fake punt 17 yards on 4th-and-14 to take Hawai’i into opposing territory for the third time all night. The promising drive ended two plays later when Schager was intercepted in the end zone on a miscommunication with receivers. Spartans’ corner Jay’vion Cole returned the pick out near midfield. 

It looked like SJSU would continue to put points on the board with the takeaway after an impressive escape and throw-on-the-run by Cordeiro on 4th-and-10 to pick up the 1st down, connecting with Nash inside the red zone again after narrowly avoiding the ‘Bows pass rush.

The Spartans went for the kill shot on the drive, going for it on 4th-and-1 and getting stuffed behind the line to turn the ball over on downs with 3:43 left in the 3rd quarter. 

Hawai’i’s offensive line struggles, which have been on display all season between pass protection and run blocking issues, reared their ugly head once again. Schager was flagged for intentional grounding trying to get the ball away while being hit before getting sacked on the very next play on 3rd-and-17 to push the game into the 4th quarter. 

The teams traded punts to begin the final 15 minutes of play, each picking up one first down before stalling in their own territory. SJSU marched 60 yards down the field in six plays, seeing Cordeiro throw his second TD pass of the night to make it 35-0 with 6:45 remaining to play. 

‘Bows backup QB Jake Farrell took his first snap for UH to begin the next drive as Schager watched the remainder of the game from the bench and took a step back after a tough day. 

“Our quarterback is Brayden Schager,” Hawai’i HC Timmy Chang said of the benching after the game. “I wanted Brayden to take a back step… [end-of-game benching] was done with me, done with other quarterbacks… sometimes it’s just seeing it from another point of view, a different perspective.” 

Farrell was able to help the offense pick up a pair of first downs but would be intercepted on a 4th-and-6 play with under three minutes left. San Jose State would run out the remainder of the clock, retaining possession of the Dick Tomey trophy for the fourth consecutive year. 

Cordeiro turned in an impressive performance in his return home in his new digs, going 16-for-26 passing for 251 yards and two TDs and no turnovers. SJSU’s Robinson became the second UH opponent to rush for over 100 yards this season, running all over the ‘Bows for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The Spartans ran for 217 yards in total, the third straight game over 200 yards on the ground for SJSU and fourth total this year. 

Schager finished 17-for-29 passing for 132 yards and an interception. It’s the first time in 18 contests that the junior failed to throw a TD pass, breaking the fourth-longest streak in the nation. Shipley finished as Hawai’i’s leading rusher with his single rush for 17 yards, as Landon Sims finished with four rushes for 15 yards. Shipley also punted the ball seven times and pinned San Jose inside the 20-yard line three times throughout the night. 

The futile offensive performance marks the first time the ‘Bows have been shutout at home in the 21st century, last being blanked on the islands back in 1998 against SMU. It’s also the first time Hawai’i has been shut out in general since the team’s 38-0 loss at Utah State in 2017.

The ‘Bows have hit rock bottom two weeks in a row and now will hit the road again to take on a red-hot Nevada Wolfpack team, winners of two straight after beating New Mexico, 34-24, this past Saturday. A program looking for answers of any kind on the road will return to the stomping ground that Chang and staff inhabited just two seasons ago, hoping to turn their fortunes around. Nevada opens as four-point home favorites against Hawai’i. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. HT and will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV. 

Cordeiro, San Jose State stay hot with third straight win in Hawai’i

Cordeiro, San Jose State stay hot with third straight win in Hawai’i

Cordeiro, San Jose State stay hot with third straight win in Hawai’i

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 28, 2023

HONOLULU — The University of Hawai’i welcomed San Jose State into Clarence T.C. Ching Complex for the program’s “Homecoming” contest, falling to the Spartans, 35-0. Former UH starting QB-turned-San Jose State-QB1 Chevan Cordeiro returned home and put on a show for local fans, helping lead his efficient offense up and down the field for the third week in a row.

Below, you can find quick hitters of the action from Hawai’i’s home loss to San Jose State, 35-0.

1ST HALF:

  • SJSU wins toss and defers, only to recover the opening kick inside the Hawai’i 10. CB Cam Stone was immediately taken to the Hawai’i locker room after being injured on the kickoff.
  • Hawai’i takes first timeout at 14:09 mark in 1st quarter ahead of big 3rd & goal play. Cordeiro’s throw carries out of the end zone, Spartans settle for a field goal try that goes wide-right as SJSU comes up empty on first possession.
  • Hawai’i picks up two 1st downs on their first offensive drive, matching the season-long total on opening drive 1st downs for the ‘Bows, before stalling out near midfield. Matthew Shipley’s punt pins SJSU at their own 7-yard line.
  • ‘Bows defense forces a three-and-out, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty awards a free 1st down for the Spartans and extends the drive.
  • The extended drive turns into the game’s first points after Kairee Robinson and the rest of the SJSU backfield churned the offense’s way down the field for a touchdown. Quali Conley capped the drive with a 5-yard TD run to make it 7-0 with 4:07 left in the 1st quarter.
  • Hawai’i forced to punt again but Isaiah Tufaga punches the ball away from Conley and the ‘Bows fall on the fumble right before the end of the 1st quarter of play.
  • The Rainbow Warriors are set back by a holding penalty, punt again from midfield and fail to capitalize on the turnover with any points.
  • San Jose State works down the field, picking up multiple key 1st downs on 3rd-and-longs throughout the drive, scoring on an 8-yard TD pass from Cordeiro to Nick Nash to make it 14-0 with 5:16 left in 2nd quarter.
  • Hawai’i’s offense fails to respond again, punting for the fourth time in the 1st half.
  • San Jose State continues converting on 3rd down-and-long, eventually punching in another TD right before the half with Robinson to take a 21-0 lead into the locker rooms. Robinson’s touchdown run was his 12th of the season and continued his streak of at least one TD run in every game for SJSU this year.
  • For the first time all season, Hawai’i was held scoreless in the opening half.

2ND HALF:

  • Hawai’i, able to get a stop for the first time since the game’s first possession, fails to capitalize with points as Schager is sacked for the second time to force a punt.
  • Robinson takes it 52 yards to the house for his 2nd TD, breaking the longest running play of the year against the Hawai’i defense to make it 28-0 just three minutes into the second half.
  • The ‘Bows extend their next drive using a fake punt as Shipley dashed 17 yards for a first down and a personal foul on SJSU set Hawai’i up deep into Spartans’ territory. The drive ended a few plays later after Schager was intercepted in the end zone on a miscommunication with receivers.
  • The Spartans’ offense continues to roll and converts a 4th-and-10 in Hawai’i territory. Faced with a 4th-and-1 from the Hawai’i 6, SJSU goes for it only to be stuffed and stopped to produce no points.
  • Hawai’i and San Jose State trade punts.
  • A net 19-yard Hawai’i punt sets up the Spartans with good field position and SJSU drives the field to make it 35-0 with 6:45 remaining, as Nash brings in the 24-yard pass from Cordeiro for his 2nd TD catch of the game.
  • Hawai’i backup QB Jake Farrell enters the game for Hawai’i with six and a half minutes remaining, trailing by 35.
  • Farrell is picked off on 4th-and-6 and San Jose State kneels out the remainder of the clock for their 3rd straight win of the season.

Hawai’i drops to 2-7 and 0-4 in the Mountain West, falling on homecoming for the first time since 2016 against UNLV. The Rainbow Warriors hit the road next week, taking on one of the hottest teams in the conference in the Nevada Wolfpack. The Wolfpack, winners of two straight after dropping the first six games of the year, host the ‘Bows after a 34-24 home victory over New Mexico.

Hawai’i’s offensive output was more than doubled by San Jose State, 468 yards to 198 yards, as the ‘Bows struggled to get going on offense and get off the field on third down on defense. With the loss, Hawai’i can no longer finish above .500 this season.

Hawai’i welcomes Cordeiro, San Jose State to town for “Homecoming”

Hawai’i welcomes Cordeiro, San Jose State to town for “Homecoming”

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.