‘Bows beat Great Danes: Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s Week 2 win over UAlbany

‘Bows beat Great Danes: Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s Week 2 win over UAlbany

‘Bows beat Great Danes: Three Takeaways from Hawai’i’s Week 2 win over UAlbany

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 11, 2023

HONOLULU – On the board. 

Timmy Chang’s Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors picked up their first win of the 2023 season on Saturday, taking down the UAlbany Great Danes, 31-20. 

It was an up-and-down game; one might even call it a “dog fight” for most of the contest for the level of physicality and competition on display. 

(It’s me, I would call it a dog fight) 

After a hard-fought, roller-coaster ride of a contest for the ‘Bows, here are three takeaways from the first win of the season and heading into a tough Week 3 road contest against #13 Oregon.  


 

1. The ‘Bows are banged-up, and they may have to face their best competition of the season without some of their defensive stars

It was a nightmare second half for Hawai’i defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro, but not at all because of the on-field product of his defense. The ‘Bows totaled four sacks for a loss of 43 yards, including two on the Great Danes’ final drive, and tallied the first two forced turnovers of the season with true freshman Elijah Palmer’s first career INT and LB Noah Kema’s 41-yard fumble return that helped Hawai’i seal the game. 

In all, the ‘Bows defense gave up just 13 total points (UAlbany’s Larry Walker Jr. intercepted Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown) in the win against the Great Danes. So why was it a nightmare second half? 

Four different injuries to every level of the Rainbow Warriors’ defense blanketed the final 30 minutes of the night. In all, DL Fo’i Sila, DT John Tuitupou, DB JoJo Forest and LB Logan Taylor were all forced to leave the contest with varying degrees of injuries. Forest started in place of the injured Cam Stone, who suffered a knee injury late against Stanford in Week 1, and performed admirably in his absence while on the field. 

The two worst-looking injuries were to Sila and Taylor. Sila, the defensive lineman, had to be carted off the field and left with a towel covering his face while exiting on the back of the cart. Taylor, the “spiritual leader” of the ‘Bows, went down holding his left knee after a non-contact injury and was quickly spotted on crutches over on the sideline afterwards.

Tuitupou’s injury is an interesting case as well, as the senior DT currently has the longest streak of consecutive games started of any current UH football player after making his 16th straight start on Saturday. Hawai’i head coach Timmy Chang was unable to give any updates regarding the statuses of the players after the game. 

As they head to Eugene, Oregon to take on the 13th-ranked Ducks, the ‘Bows will almost certainly be without a few defensive starters while dealing with nagging injuries everywhere else. 

2. The rushing attack might just end up alright, but health will be vital going forward

Continuing our trend of medical talk, Chang revealed postgame that star sophomore running back Tylan Hines has been dealing with a nagging injury, calling the back “banged up” in his availability after the game. That would make some more sense to All-Mountain West honorable mention’s slow start to his second year, who came into the contests with just 28 total rushing yards over 14 carries. 

Hines, injured and all, rushed for a season-high 30 yards on just four carries before the coaches leaned on the fresher legs of sophomore Jordan Johnson and senior Nasjzae Bryant-Lelei for the remainder of the night. 

Johnson enjoyed a career-best showing, going for 76 yards over 11 carries to lead the ‘Bows on the night. Coming into the game, Johnson had totaled just 69 yards on 12 carries in 5 appearances last season before more than doubling his career output. 

Bryant-Lelei, who had suffered an injury early on during training camp that had sidelined him up until this past week’s practices, returned with the same bruising style fans have known to love from him. The senior running back had 35 yards rushing in eight total touches on the night, a nice workload as “Mojo” (as he is known by the team) works to get his mojo back. 

Last season, it felt as though the identity of UH offensively was built on the rushing attack. While that has clearly changed this season (Brayden Schager has totaled 972 yards and 10 TD passes in three games), it will be important that the running attack continues to see success similar to what it saw Saturday night against UAlbany. It was the first time this season that the ‘Bows have eclipsed over 100 total yards rushing, though there has not been a UH running back to record a score yet this season. 

For the triple-digit production to continue and the scoring stat to change, it is vital that health begins to wrap the metaphorical arms around the ‘Bows RB room. 

3. It may not have looked like it, but these ‘Bows are learning to win tough

Okay, maybe you read this takeaway and roll your eyes. Perhaps you believe the same thing, that this team that overwent a massive overhaul of personnel just two offseasons ago with both players and coaches, the one that went 3-10 last season, needs to learn how to win the close games and Saturday was a step towards that.  

Taking a closer look, the ‘Bows lost four conference games by one score in 2022, two of which were at home. It’s a little bit of coach-speak, but in those games, the little things matter way more than the name suggests. In three of those games, Hawai’i did not force a defensive turnover and lost the turnover battle. 

While the ‘Bows did not win the turnover battle Saturday night, they did force the first two turnovers of the season for a UAlbany squad that has been particularly good at taking care of the ball for the past two years. Palmer’s INT of Great Danes’ QB Reese Poffenbarger was just the fifth total interception the 2023 Walter Payton Award preseason watchlist member’s UAlbany career. 

Hawai’i also lost the total offense battle in three of those four one-score losses from ‘22, even twice finishing with less rushing yards than their opponents despite a strong offensive line and a running identity. This season, back in the Run-N-Shoot that Hawai’i is known for, they have fared far better offensively and finally out-rushed their opponents in their Week 2 victory. 

It seems like small things, but winning the rushing game and overall offensive attack while being aided by some defensive turnovers quickly add up to victories. Pulling out a game that was tied at halftime is a tough feat, no matter the opponent. Next up, they need to clean up the penalties and turnovers, especially against a nationally-ranked opponent hosting them next week. 

It’s why they play the games instead of simulating through paper and names, though. When competitors get on the field, it is about the little things. Those who learn to win those areas learn to win games. Saturday was the ‘Bows first step in showing they can do that. 

Both fresh and familiar faces help ‘Bows pick up season’s first win against UAlbany

Both fresh and familiar faces help ‘Bows pick up season’s first win against UAlbany

Both fresh and familiar faces help ‘Bows pick up season’s first win against UAlbany 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 10, 2023

HONOLULU – It took a little longer than expected but with the help of both new names and the usual suspects, the University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (1-2) picked up the team’s first win of the season Saturday night with a 31-20 victory over visiting UAlbany. 

The Great Danes (1-2) out of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) entered the contest fresh off an upset bid that came up just short in Week 1 on the road against FBS Marshall and a hunger to finish the job against their second FBS opponent in as many weeks. 

It was the Rainbow Warriors striking first, though, blocking a punt on the opening Great Danes possession after forcing a three-and-out to set the offense up deep in Albany territory. A drop and two short runs followed, resulting in UH having to settle for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. 

After the teams traded a pair of fruitless drives, UAlbany jumped ahead for the first time on the legs of sophomore QB Reese Poffenbarger, taking a QB read option 41 yards to the house for the game’s first touchdown. The 2022 CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year had a 54-yard touchdown run in last week’s loss to the Thundering Herd for UAlbany. 

Hawai’i looked to answer back quickly, as junior QB Brayden Schager found WR Pofele Ashlock for a catch-and-run that went for 53 yards and set the ‘Bows up at the Albany 17-yard line. It was just the start of volatile night for the QB though, as Schager tossed his first interception of the night three plays later, trying to get the ball to Solo Vaipulu on a screen pass that Great Danes’ LB Dylan Kelly tipped and came down with for the pick. 

The Rainbow Warriors answered back with an interception of their own on the ensuing possession, as true-freshman DB Elijah Palmer came up with his first career pick on a deep shot by Poffenbarger. It marked the ‘Bows first defensive turnover forced in the 2023 campaign and shifted the momentum back to the host Hawai’i.

They built on that momentum with a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped off by the return of senior WR Jonah Panoke to the field with a 4-yard TD catch. A fun way to celebrate, it was the birthday boy’s first touchdown catch of the season and second of his career that put the ‘Bows up, 10-7, with nine seconds left in the opening quarter. 

UAlbany showed off the defense a bit in the second quarter, as Larry Walker Jr read the eyes of Schager perfectly and returned the Hawai’i quarterback’s second INT of the night to the house for six and the lead, 14-10, with 11:20 left in the first half. 

The ‘Bows answered back in the best way that they know how: Schager to Steven McBride for a score. Driving 62 yards across seven plays in less than three minutes, Hawai’i re-took the lead after the two connected for the third consecutive game for a touchdown – this time a 30-yard catch McBride was able to haul in for a 17-14 UH advantage with just over three minutes left in the half. 

Hawai’i looked like they had gotten to halftime with the lead, but a personal foul called against Peter Manuma helped extend the half and put the Great Danes into field goal range. UAlbany kicker John Opalko stepped up and drilled one from 46 yards out to send the teams into the halftime break, tied at 17. 

The ‘Bows re-took the lead on their second possession of the second half, continuing the trend of Chang being ultra-aggressive on fourth down so far this season with a 4th-and-6 ‘Schager Bomb’ down the right sideline to sophomore WR Jalen Walthall. The wideout hauled in the deep shot with one hand – while being interfered with – to catapult Hawai’i to a lead with 6:10 left in the third quarter that they would not relinquish. 

It wasn’t due to a lack of effort from UAlbany, as Great Danes’ DB Aamir Hall intercepted Schager at the ‘Bows own 21-yard line and Opalko drove home a 32-yard FG to make it a four-point game with just over 18 minutes left to play. 

Three straight turnovers-on-downs (Hawai’i-UAlbany-Hawai’i) began the final quarter of play, ending up with a possession for the Great Danes starting in ‘Bows territory. UAlbany drove the ball down to the Hawai’i 17-yard line before a holding penalty backed up the visitors and a fumble picked up by ‘Bows LB Noah Kema flipped the momentum back in favor of the hosts. 

Schager promptly provided the knockout blow, finding McBride in the endzone for the second time of the night to go up, 31-20, with 3:20 remaining for UAlbany to work with. On an up-and-down night for the junior from Dallas, Texas, the gunslinger finished on a high-note with a new career-high four TD passes to put the game away. 

UAlbany QB Reese Poffenbarger finished with 93 passing yards, going 10-of-31 passing on the night with one total touchdown and one interception. The pick thrown by Poffenbarger was the first turnover of the season for the Great Danes. Linebacker Dylan Kelly had a game-high 13 total tackles (11 solo) and an interception in the loss. 

The Great Danes head to Baltimore next week, taking on Morgan State in hopes to get back on track after a pair of losses where their upset try came up short. 

In an overall up and down night for Schager, the junior QB finished 23-of-40 for 266 yards and a career-best four TD passes to go along with three interceptions. McBride continued his early season golden touch, hauling in seven passes for 72 yards and a pair of scores. The Kansas transfer has scored at least once in every game this season for the ‘Bows. 

Pofele Ashlock paced the receiver room with a game-high 74 yards receiving on just four catches. It was the first time this season that Ashlock had not scored a touchdown and eclipsed 100 yards in a game. Senior WR Jonah Panoke celebrated both his return to the field and birthday with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. 

Hawai’i also got the running attack going, led by sophomore Jordan Johnson’s career-high 76 yards on 11 carries while Nasjzae Bryant-Lelei ran for 35 yards over eight carries in his return from an injury suffered in training camp. A banged-up Tylan Hines also rushed for 30 yards on just four carries for the Rainbow Warriors. 

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the ‘Bows, seeing multiple players exit with injuries throughout the second half of play. The defense was massacred by the injuries; among those who left hurt were DL Fo’i Sila, DB JoJo Forest, DT John Tuitupou and LB Logan Taylor. 

Forest had started in relief of injured CB Cam Stone, who left against Stanford with a knee injury, and played well throughout the night with four tackles and three passes broken up before exiting. Sila was carted off the field in clear anguish, while Tuitupou suffered a lower-leg injury that he was able to walk off on his own. Taylor, the ‘Bows defensive captain and “spiritual leader”, went down with a non-contact left knee injury that will likely hold him out going forward. 

Hawai’i heads to the continent next Saturday to take on #13 Oregon, who had to hold off an upset bid this past weekend while visiting Texas Tech. The game will kick off at 2:00 p.m. HT and the TV feed will be broadcast on the PAC-12 Network. 

A win is a win, even if it was ugly at times. For a team like the Rainbow Warriors, it’s no time to be picky about the “how” – they’re finally learning to win the little moments late. Now it’s time to clean up everything else.