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Hawai’i welcomes San Diego State to town for post-bye week football bash
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 11, 2023
HONOLULU — The bye week is over, it’s go-time once again for the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-4, 0-1 MWC) hosting conference-rival San Diego State University (2-4, 0-2 MWC) at 5 p.m. HT on Saturday in the friendly confines of Clarence T.C Ching Complex.
That’s a benefit for the ‘Bows, who have enjoyed both of their W’s this season in the friendly confines located on the Mānoa campus. While Timmy Chang’s squad has continuously struggled on the road under the former UH quarterback’s watch, Hawai’i has been a far tougher opponent when protecting the islands. They average 25 points per game while at home this season while giving up 24.6 points in those contests, compared to scoring just 19.3 points per game on the road and surrendering 44.7 points per game as visitors this season.
Stack that Hawai’i home comfort with San Diego State’s struggles on the road so far this year (two losses in two tries) and the ‘Bows “home-field advantage” could factor into the weekend’s result. That said, it’d be smart not to put too much stock into what happened so far this season in small sample sizes and before the bye week came for both squads to “self-scout” and make strides to be better. It would also be disingenuous to not mention that both programs had strong non-conference schedules and have each played Mountain West Conference contenders to begin the league slate.
With each side coming off of a lop-sided road loss to think about during the break, the opportunity to return to action is an eagerly awaited one. Hawai’i fell 44-20 at UNLV and lost the “Island Showdown” trophy in a physically taxing game last time out and SDSU fell 49-10 in Colorado to conference-leading Air Force before heading into the bye week. Aztecs’ head coach Brady Hoke talked about the spectrum of what the week off brings, saying how it can be good for correcting mistakes and advancing younger players in their development but acknowledging that it leaves the “bad taste in your mouth for another week” while talking to media early in the week.
Hoke and players alike talked a bit about the trip to Honolulu on Tuesday. When asked about playing in Hawai’i, Hoke said it’s “unique” and “different” while linebacker Cooper McDonald and running back Martin Blake said that their air is a bit different when you step onto the field in the islands.
As the Aztecs visit the ‘Bows off the bye week, both teams have eyes wide open ahead for a first conference win of the year.
Tale of the Tape — San Diego State’s Stronghold of Hawai’i-SDSU Series
This Saturday’s meeting will be the 38th edition of Hawai’i-San Diego State on the football field, with the Aztecs holding the all-time advantage with 24 wins (and two ties) in 37 previous tries. While the story of the matchups between the two programs began before becoming Mountain West foes, this will be the 12th consecutive season that they will face off. Hawai’i has struggled greatly in that time, losing nine of 11 games in that span, and falling in each of the last three meetings.
Despite the Aztecs’ ability to close games, by no means have the matchups been boring or uncompetitive. Of the last five UH-SDSU meetings, four of them have been decided by less than a score. San Diego State broke the hearts of the ‘Bows in 2022, converting a field goal with seven seconds remaining to take down Hawai’i, 16-14.
The coaches come in with different resumes, as Chang motors along in his second season leading his alma mater and home school and Hoke continues in his sixth season pacing the Aztecs’ sideline after nine seasons as the head guy elsewhere. Chang has seen his program experience growing pains in his first season and a half on the job, still searching for a road win here in Year 2 while seeing the Run-N-Shoot offensive scheme bloom into one of the most promising and productive offenses in college football once again. While the road has perplexed Chang’s team so far, Hawai’i sits above .500 at home with two wins in three tries in Mānoa in 2023.
Speaking of the road being a “house of horrors” no matter the place, San Diego State enters the weekend searching for their first road victory of the season as well. Coming in at 0-2 on the road, the Aztecs come to the islands in the middle of a three-game streak of road games with the bye week tossed in for good measure. Facing some early season adversity, Hoke said his team is focusing on how the situation at hand can help develop mental toughness while admitting that some of the early-season bumps and bruises have been “self-inflicted” and has come from “not finishing on things the way [the team] wants to finish.
The kickstart game after the break for the two programs could prove big for two teams with potential to compete with the middle of the pack in the Mountain West and ignite one of the offenses that have seen dampened production lately. San Diego State’s offense, averaging just 326.3 yards per game this season (112th out of 130 FBS teams), has scored ten or less points in half of the team’s games this season. Hawai’i has gotten off to a slow start in each game this season, getting out scored 130-50 in the first 30 minutes of games this year. Worse than that, the ‘Bows have averaged just 16.7 points a contest over the last three games.
Both teams need a win in conference play to jump out of the Mountain West cellar. Both teams need to get their offense going to compete in the meat of their schedules. Saturday is the chance the ‘Bows cannot let pass by as they rebuild into a highly-competitive Mountain West football program.
Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.)
SDSU’s head coach Brady Hoke sang the praises of the ‘Bows junior signal caller earlier in the week, going out of his way to say he’s “liked him for three years” and calling the Texan “a really good player” while discussing the UH offense. The Aztecs’ defense has also taken notice of the leap that Schager has taken in 2023, ranking in the top ten nationally for passing TDs, passes attempted and passes completed. He also ranks inside the top-20 for passing yards this season.
Aztecs’ linebacker Cooper McDonald mentioned that getting pressure on Schager would be a big key for visiting San Diego State.
Opponents are well-aware of Hawai’i’s propensity to “spread the offense out and let the rock fly,” as McDonald said Tuesday. 18 different players have recorded catches this season for the ‘Bows, but Kansas transfer wideout Steven McBride and redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock have combined for the lion’s share of targets and have totaled 68 receptions this year. Hoke called UH’s WR room “gifted” while talking about the challenges of stopping Hawai’i’s passing attack.
It’ll be important for Schager to continue building off a productive beginning of the season after the bye week. One way to do that would be to cut down on turnovers against a defensive unit that has struggled to take the ball away this year. He has nine turnovers to his name this season between his seven interceptions (T-3rd-most in the nation) and two lost fumbles but now comes off a bye week that should allow for a smoother Run-N-Shoot to operate in the second half of the schedule. Add in facing a defense that ranks 112th out of 130 teams in total yards allowed per game and sitting on a two-game drought without forcing a takeaway and Schager and the ‘Bows offense have a prime opportunity to springboard towards the first conference win of the season.
Tylan Hines – RB (Soph.)
Coming into the season, Hawai’i HC Timmy Chang mentioned Hines as a dark horse for Mountain West offensive player of the year honors after a loud end to the back’s true freshman campaign.
A stacked-up non-conference schedule, a new role and attempting to play through injuries has seen a slowed start for the playmaking running back to the 2023 season. That has been the case for the entire Hawai’i rushing attack, which ranks last in the FBS averaging 58.5 yards on the ground each contest. With a banged up offensive line ahead of him as well, Hines has not lived up to his billing in year two while dealing with multiple external factors.
With a bye week under his belt to heal up himself and the offensive line, Hines has another chance to get his sophomore season back on track. He came on during the second half of last season, so history is on his side as he takes on a SDSU defense that allows an average of 184.3 rushing yards a game. Hines has mustered just 93 rush yards across parts of four contests in ’23 and has yet to register a trip to the end zone so far. He’ll have a good chance this week against an Aztecs’ unit that has allowed opponents to reach pay dirt on the ground 12 times in six outings.
Matthew Shipley – K (Sr.)
The hero from three weeks ago, Shipley has remained a steady short-range weapon for the ‘Bows to use when drives stall inside the 30-yard line. This should come as no surprise to ‘Bows fans, who have watched the young man from Texas have a hold on the place kicker position at UH for the last four seasons. With his 8 points (2 FGs, 2 XPT) against UNLV, Shipley moved into fourth on the all-time points list at the University of Hawai’i with 256 and passing by Davone Bess’s 250 career points for the ‘Bows.
In his career, Shipley has been money from short range with 109 makes in 110 tries for PATs and is 30-of-32 over the past two years from 40 yards and in. He’s made around 84% of his kicks in total during that same period.
It’ll once again be vital for the kicker/punter to be on his game for Hawai’i, this time due to the prestige of his counterpart across the field. For San Diego State, Jack Browning is as highly-billed as special teams players come. The 5-foot-11 senior captain has a laundry list of honors to his credit, headlined by his selection as the 2022 Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year. Browning is also the only player in the nation to be named to both the Ray Guy Award watchlist (nation’s best punter) and Lou Groza Award watchlist (nation’s best kicker), direct competition for Shipley who is also on the Lou Groza Award watchlist.
Shipley will be vital for multiple reasons, starting with his consistency. While Browning has a cannon leg (the senior hit a career-long 61-yard field goal in SDSU’s loss at Air Force), he has also seen some struggles with accuracy this season making 8-of-12 field goal tries. Compare that to Shipley, who is a pretty 7-of-8 on FG attempts this season, and the kicking game quickly catches the eye.
Browning’s leg, however, allows San Diego State to try from a bit further out that other offenses when drives are stopped. If the NFL prospect can steal a few extra points for the visitors on Saturday, it’s important that Shipley continues to make what he’s allowed fans to come to expect as “gimme” kicks when called upon per usual.
Players to Watch – San Diego State Aztecs
Jalen Mayden – QB (Sr.)
Mayden’s story with the Aztecs hasn’t been one of the typical college starting quarterback, but it is one that holds Hawai’i close to the plot.
After transferring to SDSU from Mississippi State in December of 2021, the 6-foot-3 Mayden switched from signal caller to safety during the 2022 spring session and entered the fall third in the depth chart for the defense’s “Aztec” position.
Things remained status quo until Week 6 of the 2022 season rolled around and the former quarterback-turned-safety was asked to move back to his old position ahead of the Aztecs’ game against a Hawai’i team coming off a bye. With just five days of practice to prepare, Mayden led SDSU to a last-minute comeback win in front of over 33,000 fans at home to give the Aztecs their third win of the season.
This year, the left-handed QB (who is using his COVID-year of eligibility) has been the starter from the jump. Mayden is a true duel-threat quarterback who isn’t afraid to use his legs to escape trouble and make things happen for the SDSU offense. He’s racked up 1,064 passing yards with another 295 yards on the ground to go with eight total TDs (5 pass, 3 rush) in six starts this season.
He has also struggled to take care of the ball at times, tossing five interceptions in his six games of action. With a slight tendency for giveaways, it’s key for the ‘Bows to limit Mayden’s use of his legs to extend plays and force him to make a decision throwing the ball to heighten chances of creating extra possessions for the Hawai’i offense. It’s a category UH has struggled with defensively this season, creating just three takeaways in six games.
Mark Redman – TE (Sr.)
Where the quarterback is, the trusty “security-blanket” tight end follows.
That’s the case for the Aztecs’ offense anyway, as Redman has served as the go-to target for Mayden so far in 2023. The senior from California started the year with a bang, hauling in five catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio in Week 0 and has caught multiple balls in every game this season for SDSU.
That sounds like an issue for a Hawai’i defense that has seen issues against talented opposing tight ends. Stanford TE Benjamin Yurosek enjoyed a career-high day with 138 yards receiving against the ‘Bows in Week 1 on nine catches while scoring a touchdown in the Cardinal win against Hawai’i. The all-Pac-12 selection proved to be a game-wrecker versus the Rainbow Warriors and a nightmare to bring down all evening.
Redman presents a similar challenge for Hawai’i DC Jacob Yoro’s crew; the Washington transfer was a 2022 Mountain West 1st-team selection for the Aztecs. Last season, the ‘Bows were able to limit Redman’s impact to just one catch in 56 offensive snaps before the then-junior tight end saw a jump in production as the 2022 season progressed.
To come out with a victory on Saturday and hand Hoke his first loss against Hawai’i, the Rainbow Warriors need an effort that mirrors last season’s against Redman.
Noah Tumblin – CB (Sr.)
The opposite of Mayden, Tumblin was recruited to come to SDSU as a three-star duel-threat QB before making the switch to the defensive side of the ball. While making that transition, Tumblin would redshirt and then grind away on special teams to carve out a future role for the program.
By his sophomore year, he became a key bench piece for the secondary depth while remaining active among special teams before taking another step forward in 2022 for his junior season. He continued to work his way into a starting/prominent role as a third corner for the team this season. He’s totaled two picks in six games this season and continues to deny opposing offenses that test him with 10 passes defended this year.
Tumblin grades out as the best defender on the team this season with an 85.7 overall defensive grade and 88.7 grade in coverage from PFF. He has been targeted the second-most times of all defenders for the Aztecs (29 targets) while only allowing 17 receptions this season. With a nose for the ball and an ability to force turnovers, expect to see Tumblin involved in the action on Saturday with either McBride or Ashlock.
Watch-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i vs San Diego State
As both teams come off bye weeks, they enter a critical point of the season. Both teams talked about how the ability to achieve future goals (like bowl game eligibility) relies on them taking care of business now and starting to win games. Pitted against each other as near mirror images, here are a few more things to look out for before Hawai’i hosts San Diego State.
- Which offense can get back on track the quickest? Hawai’i is notorious for starting slowly this season (outscored 130-50 in the 1st half) but has recently seen a dip in scoring output. UH’s offense is averaging just 16.7 ppg over the past three outings and San Diego State has scored 10 points or less three times in the last four weeks and is averaging just 19.3 ppg this season. Can either side jump out to a hot start?
- Can Tylan Hines finally ignite the Hawai‘i rushing attack? The back has gotten time to finally get his legs under him after the bye week and has watched as the ‘Bows have struggled to the worst running game in America. Taking on an SDSU team that has faced tackling problems lately might be just what the football doctor ordered, but it’s on Hines and company to go out and make it happen.
- Streaks will end; the question is which ones? Hawai’i rides a two-game home win streak into Saturday’s matchup but have never beaten Hoke in three tries. SDSU is 0-2 on the road this season but won the last three meetings between programs. Oh yeah, Brayden Schager has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight games dating back to last season. Can he keep that up against a talented and aggressive Aztecs defense?
- Who used the bye week best? Both sides are coming off a much-needed break, as Hawai’i battles injuries and SDSU has faced a four-game losing skid. Both sides need to be better with their discipline and with limiting explosive plays from broken tackles. Who solves those problems first?
There are plenty of questions for each side to answer as the second half of the season kicks off and a hard battle awaits both sides on Saturday. For Timmy Chang’s team, they’ll need to limit an offense that is run-heavy but has great pass-catchers while trying to get the run game going themselves. For Hoke’s Aztecs, can they go on the road and get off the slide?
We’ll have to watch Saturday’s show to tell.
The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network with kickoff schedule for 5:00 p.m. HT on Saturday, October 14. The University of Hawai’i and the Letterwinners Club welcomes back former Rainbow Warriors’ safety and 5-year NFL veteran Blane Gaison for “Island Style Night,” where fans are urged to wear aloha attire and be there early as the first 3,000 fans receive ti leaves and 4,200 green rally towels will be handed out.
Gates will open at 3:00 p.m. for “Kickoff at the Les,” featuring local musician and entertainer Johnny Suite performing live for fans along with a live DJ, concessions, a Heineken Beer Garden and multiple other carnivalesque activities.
Parking will be open to the public one hour before gates open at 2:00 p.m.
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