Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – The University of Hawai’i football program, in conjunction with the Mountain West Conference, revealed the 2024 football season schedule for the Rainbow Warriors Thursday morning that features 12 regular season games, three bye weeks, the new Pac-12/Mountain West crossover game and much more. 

In 2023, UH played a 13-game schedule and finished 5-8 overall, just missing out on bowl game eligibility in year two under Timmy Chang. The ‘Bows will play a completely different slate of non-conference opponents while only seeing four repeats from the Mountain West schedule this year as the conference works with the overall realignment in college football that impacted the remaining Pac-12 teams.

Below is a quick week-by-week breakdown of the 2024 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors’ football opponents with dates and game locations included. 

WEEK 0 – vs Delaware State (August 24) 

Last season record: 1-10 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 1st Meeting 

Hailing out of the FCS, the Hornets finished last in the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) in 2023 after posting just one win and losing all five conference contests. It’ll be Year 2 of the Lee Hull rebuild of the Delaware State program as the former CFL wideout and Patriots’ training camp invitee looks to incorporate 13 new signees, six high school prospects and seven college transfers. 

The first-time opponent of Hawai’i returns most of last year’s extremely-youthful roster while adding key pieces like UNLV transfer WR Jordan Jakes and former 5-star QB recruit D’Wan Mathis – the later of whom previously spent time with Georgia backing up Stetson Bennett before transferring to Temple in 2021. 

WEEK 1 – vs UCLA (August 31) 

Last season record: 8-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 4-0 

The ‘Bows will look for their 1st win in program history over the Bruins as UCLA visits UH for the first time since 1939 for the Poi Bowl at Honolulu Stadium. Hawai’i and UCLA have played twice since the turn of the century, both in Pasadena and both 3+ TD wins for the Bruins. 

UH will serve as first-time head coach and former UCLA All-American DeShaun Foster’s first game as HC for the Bruins. The former NFL standout spent the past seven seasons as the RBs coach for his alma mater, was promoted to associate HC ahead of the 2023 campaign and took the full-time gig after Chip Kelly’s February departure. Under Foster’s tutelage, UCLA has led the Pac-12 for two straight years but lost leading rusher Carson Steele to the NFL draft. The Bruins will still have RB T.J. Harden, who completed his sophomore season right behind Steele with 827 yards and 8 rushing TDs. 

WEEK 2 – BYE (September 7) 

WEEK 3 – at Sam Houston State (September 14) 

Last season record: 3-9 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 1st Meeting 

The second of two first-time opponents for UH, the Bearkats will be participating in their second FBS season and first that it is eligible for the postseason. Sam Houston began to figure things out to end last season, winning three of the final four games in 2023 as they competed as members of Conference USA. 

Hawai’i serves as the home-opener for the Bearkats as Sam Houston hits the road for the opening two games of their slate. Sam Houston received six CUSA player honors, placing three players on the all-freshman team while also returning DB Da’Marcus Crosby – one of the program’s two 1st-team all-conference defenders from last year. 

WEEK 4 – vs Northern Iowa (September 21)

Last season record: 6-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 0-1 

The 2nd FCS opponent on UH’s 2024 schedule, the Panthers worked through a difficult slate last year to finish above .500 with two wins over ranked FCS opponents and five total ranked opponents. Northern Iowa will see Dylan Raiola and Nebraska in Lincoln before traveling to Honolulu to take on the Rainbow Warriors for the second time ever. 

UNI is led by longtime head coach Mark Farley, who ranks second amongst active coaches in FCS wins with 180 and has guided the Panthers to winning seasons in 19 of the 23 years he has been head coach, developing 40 NFL players in that time. He is *almost* as legendary as the great Stan Sheriff, who spent 23 years as UNI’s head coach for football before becoming the school’s athletic director for another 13 calendar changes. Sheriff is in both UNI and UH Hall of Fames, serving as Hawai’i’s athletic director for 10 years as well before his passing.  

*Note: If Hawai’i wins versus both Delaware State and Northern Iowa, only one of the victories will be counted towards bowl eligibility requirements. * 

WEEK 5 – BYE (September 28) 

WEEK 6 – at San Diego State (October 5) 

Last season record: 4-8 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 22-9-2 

Some déja vu here for Hawai’i, who has dropped the last four meetings against SDSU with the most recent matchup ending in a 41-34 home loss for the ‘Bows while coming off of a bye week back in October of 2023. The ‘Bows have historically struggled in San Diego, sitting at 3-11 all-time while visiting the Aztecs, but will look for some revenge as they get a do-over of sorts from last season against a rebuilding San Diego State program under new head coach Sean Lewis. 

It’ll be the UH defense, newly under the watch of longtime coaching veteran Dennis Thurman, who will especially circle this one. The ‘Bows allowed 21 points in the 4th quarter of that 2023 loss to the Aztecs and hope to begin the Mountain West portion of the schedule with a resounding response one year later while changing the series’ historical narrative. 

WEEK 7 – vs Boise State (October 12) 

Last season record: 8-6 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 15-3 

The 2023 season was a strange one for Boise State, but one that ended in a record fifth overall Mountain West title and the conference-best fourth championship game behind over 300 rushing yards. The Broncos did it under the leadership of then-interim head coach Spencer Danielson, who won the final three games of the year (including the MW title game against UNLV) before being elevated to the full-time head coaching position. 

Boise State will be boosted by On3’s highest-rated Mountain West recruiting class since 2002 with 28 total players being added to the defending conference champions. The most notable is former 5-star recruit and USC transfer QB Malachi Nelson, the 13th-rated high school recruit in the class of 2023. The 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman will likely compete for the starting job for the Broncos after previous starting QB Taylen Green transferred to Arkansas this offseason. 

WEEK 8 – at Washington State (October 19) 

Last season record: 5-7 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 2-3 

Taking the place of Hawai’i visiting Air Force, the ‘Bows will head to Pullman instead as part of the Pac 12/Mountain West alliance (agreement? partnership?) that sees all MW teams playing one of Oregon State or Washington State during the conference schedule. The programs haven’t met in 15 years – the last matchup was September 12, 2009 – but both sides have something to prove after five-win seasons. 

It’ll be a matchup of young, third-year head coaches as WSU head coach Jake Dickert and UH head coach Timmy Chang face off. Hawai’i has struggled on the road over the past two seasons and Dickert sits a game under .500 after his couple years as Pullman’s main man. The Cougs have a couple Hawai’i connections on the roster in DBs Kapena Gushiken and Tanner Moku. Gushiken is a KS-Maui graduate and transferred into WSU after two seasons at Saddleback College while Moku is a KS-Kapālama alum who is the younger brother of former UH offensive lineman Kaiwi Chung (‘18). 

WEEK 9 – vs Nevada (October 26) 

Last season record: 2-10 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 12-13 

Another team with a change in the lead chair, Nevada hired Jeff Choate as the 28th head coach in program history back on December 4, 2023, replacing Ken Wilson after serving as the co-defensive coordinator at Texas for the past three seasons. The Wolfpack won’t be Choate’s first head coaching job at the college level, though. The longtime football coach spent four years as the head man at FCS Montana State, leading the Bobcats to back-to-back playoff appearances in his final two seasons. 

This matchup is always fun for multiple reasons, perhaps none bigger than the connections between the two programs. Defensive tackle Dion Washington made the flip in the transfer portal from the Wolfpack to the ‘Bows this past offseason while Hawai’i’s head coach Timmy Chang spent a few seasons with Nevada before taking over his alma mater’s football program. Nevada also started redshirt freshman QB A.J. Bianco for eight games last season as the former Saint Louis standout battled for the position all year.

WEEK 10 – at Fresno State (November 2) 

Last season record: 9-4 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 25-20-1 

The Bulldogs looked like the Mountain West favorite through the non-conference schedule in 2023 with a perfect 4-0 start and winning four of their first five conference games – and then the wheels fell off. Fresno State lost the final three regular season games, crushing conference hopes, before salvaging the end of the year with a win in the Isleta New Mexico Bowl over NMSU, 37-10. 

Hawai’i didn’t play the Bulldogs in 2023, last meeting in Fresno in 2022 – Chang’s first season. This could be a particularly good measuring stick game to show how far Hawai’i has come in a couple seasons against one of the conference’s typical powers. The matchup also pits the Mountain West’s top two passing touchdown leaders against each other in Hawai’i senior Brayden Schager (26 TDs in ‘23) and Fresno State junior Mikey Keene (24 TDs in ‘23). Preemptively take the over in this one. 

WEEK 11 – vs UNLV (November 9) 

Last season record: 9-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 14-19 

One of the four rivalry trophy games, it’s the “Island Showdown” Trophy on the line. The Rebels took the rivalry trophy back last season with a 44-20 win over Hawai’i as UNLV turned into the “Runnin’ Rebels” with 307 yards on the ground while the ‘Bows went 1-of-11 on 3rd down. 

It’ll be a much different UNLV squad coming to the islands after redshirt freshman QB Jayden Maiava transferred to USC this offseason and former starter Doug Brumfield retired from football. That doesn’t mean the Rebels will be in trouble in year two under 2023 Mountain West Coach of the Year Barry Odom, who recruited and gained the commitment of Holy Cross graduate transfer QB Matt Sluka – an FCS standout that totaled 29 total TDs, over 1,200 yards rushing and more than 1,700 yards through the air in his senior season. The 6-foot-3 dual-threat quarterback should be an excellent fit in Brennan Marion’s “Go-Go Offense” that saw great success last season. 

WEEK 12 – at Utah State (November 16) 

Last season record: 6-7 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 12-5 

The fifth and final of Hawai’i’s opponents that made a bowl game in 2023, the Aggies have won seven consecutive matchups with the Rainbow Warriors and the last three in Logan, Utah. In fact, Hawai’i is just 2-6 on the road against USU since 1957.  As the ‘Bows look to switch back to an FBS contender again, this can be a statement of sorts on the road. 

Utah State finished just a game ahead of the Rainbow Warriors in 2023 and could be one of the key swing games for Hawai’i’s bowl hopes in Chang’s third year. There will be some NFL-level receiving talent on display in this one as Utah State’s All-Mountain West 1st-Team receiver Jalen Royals and Hawai’i’s 2nd-Team All-Mountain West receiver Steven McBride both returned to their respective programs. That doesn’t even mention UH’s Freshman All-America selection Pofele Ashlock, who led the team with 83 receptions last season while hauling in nine scores, tied with McBride for tops on the team. 

WEEK 13 – BYE (November 23) 

WEEK 14 – vs New Mexico (November 30) 

Last season record: 4-8 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 11-16 

The loss at New Mexico last season ended up being a crushing blow to the bowl chances of Hawai’i as the Lobos were one of three teams to finish below the ‘Bows in the final conference standings. There’s a chance that this season’s bowl hopes will rest on this final regular season game and the Rainbow Warriors don’t want to repeat history. 

New Mexico will be the fifth team with a new head coach that Hawai’i faces in 2024 as Bronco Mendenhall takes over the program in his return to the Mountain West. The 57-year-old was BYU’s head coach for 11 seasons, beginning in 2005. He compiled double-digit wins in five of those seasons with the first one coming in year two. Mendenhall was also 2-0 in his time at BYU against Hawai’i with a win at home and at Aloha Stadium. The ‘Bows will have to expel former demons all the way through the end of the year for bowl opportunities. 

Hawai’i Football Spring Practice Schedule

Hawai’i Football Spring Practice Schedule

Hawai’i Football Spring Ball 2024

PUBLISHED JAN 29, 2024

All practices are open to the public; however, picture taking and video recording is not allowed.

Mon, Jan 29 7-9 a.m.
Tues, Jan 30 7-9 a.m.
Thurs, Feb 1 7-9 a.m.
Fri, Feb 2 7-9 a.m.

Mon, Feb 5 7-9 a.m.
Tues, Feb 6 7-9 a.m.
Thurs, Feb 8 7-9 a.m.
Fri, Feb 9 7-9 a.m.

Tues, Feb 13 7-9 a.m.
Thurs, Feb 15 7-9 a.m.
Fri, Feb 16 7-9 a.m.

Tues, Feb 20 7-9 a.m.
Thurs, Feb 22 7-9 a.m.

Spring Game TBD

Schedule is subject to change without notice.

 

 

‘Bows head to “9th Island” for crucial conference showdown with UNLV

‘Bows head to “9th Island” for crucial conference showdown with UNLV

‘Bows head to “9th Island” for crucial conference showdown with UNLV

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 28, 2023

HONOLULU – Everything else was just a warm-up. The real season starts now. 

“It’s a different mindset, the conference,” Hawai’i football head coach Timmy Chang told the media earlier in the week. “All these games are really important now.” 

Obviously, the non-conference schedule games count similarly in terms of overall record, but the energy, preparation and stakes added from entering the conference portion of the schedule are just bigger. 

Add in a battle for the “Island Showdown Trophy” – in the possession of the visitors coming to the “9th Island” – and the game being played at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL, and you’ve got an excellent closing act to the month of September for Mountain West foes UNLV and Hawai’i. 

The ‘Bows went through a challenging preliminary battle in the final week of non-conference play, an appetizer game against New Mexico State that turned into a full-course meal as Hawai’i completed a second-half double-digit comeback to take down the Aggies for win number two of 2023. 

Rainbow Warriors’ QB Brayden Schager did have a fumble against NMSU but did an excellent job in decision-making otherwise, not throwing an interception in the entire game for just the second time this year. The UH running game has continued to heat up as the weeks progress, even without star back Tylan Hines able to go at full strength and various other injuries plaguing the room. 

Those two things are bonuses to the real strength of the ‘Bows offense this season: the receiver room. 

Led by a senior and redshirt freshman, Hawai’i has two “go-to” pass catchers in Steven McBride and Pofele Ashlock with a combined eight TDs. Add in the emergence of former walk-on Koali Nishigaya in the slot and the continued development of 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Alex Perry and you’ve got a room that UNLV head coach Barry Odom referred to as “explosive, great receivers” on Monday. 

While the offense will need to be working from the first whistle on Saturday against a high-scoring Rebels team, the onus is on the Hawai’i defense to answer the call. A unit that centers a mindset around “The Lion’s Den” and being aggressive, the ‘Bows will need to be on their A-game against a UNLV offense that averages 34 points per contest and has put up 40+ on all opponents other than #2 Michigan. 

That dynamic Rebels’ offense is led by a familiar face for Hawai’i football fans. Former UH wide receivers’ coach Brennan Marion, now the OC for UNLV, has helped the Rebels develop a balanced attack between the air and ground on their way to wins in three of their first four outings. Last week against UTEP, UNLV turned into the Runnin’ Rebels with over 300 yards on the ground to complement three defensive takeaways and a blocked punt in the 45-28 win. 

Both coming off wins, both programs look to open up Mountain West Conference play with a bang.  


 

Tale of the Tape – Battle for the Island Showdown Trophy 

The ‘Bows are currently in possession of the Island Showdown Trophy, an actual physical representation of the bragging rights that each program so eagerly desires each year that came into existence just in 2017. The rivalry between the Rainbow Warriors and the Rebels dates back decades though, as UH is one of the two oldest reoccurring opponents of UNLV football history. 

This season will be the 33rd installment of the football feud between UH and UNLV and the 15th consecutive season that the two will meet. The first matchup came all the way back in 1969, just the second season of Rebels’ football, with a ‘Bows victory, 57-19. 

The series remains in favor of the Rainbow Warriors all-time (19-13, UH leads) with the help of wins in four of the last five meetings, including last season’s win in Mānoa, 31-25. Fans are almost guaranteed a high-scoring game to watch for as well if history holds true for the newest rendition of the rivalry. Just three times has one of the teams been held to one or less scores and both squads have holds on to some notable national slots in statistics for 2023. 

It’s another “Island Showdown” but at the “9th Island” this time, where UNLV leads 10-6 for the series and has won six of the last seven Las Vegas meetings. Hawai’i has struggled on the road under head coach Timmy Chang as well, not yet winning a road game during his tenure. 

Speaking of firsts of the Chang administration, it’s another opportunity for Hawai’i to reach the .500 mark for the first time under the former UH QB’s two-season watch. It’s part of the reason the former gunslinger-turned-head coach referred to the game as a “must-win” for the second week in a row. Chang and staff continue to show a commitment to changing the narrative and vibe around a Hawai’i program that once captivated the nation annually. A win against a high-quality UNLV team to open conference play and kick down the metaphorical “.500”-door would be an excellent statement way to say “Hawai’i football is back” to the rest of the Mountain West Conference. 


 

Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

Here we go again. 

Okay, this is the last week I’ll make the joke that I always have Schager in the players to watch. He deserves it and I mean that in the best possible way. 

The gunslinger from Dallas has taken plenty of heat from the outside at times for his decision making and shortcomings as he has continued developing as a collegiate athlete. Despite the outside noise, Schager continued to put his head down and work on the way to winning the starting QB job for the ‘Bows and doubled-down on that commitment to being the next quarterback to benefit from the Hawai’i program by doing an entire offseason deep-dive into the Run-N-Shoot offense in preparation for the 2023 season. 

It has paid off in production numbers through the first third of the season, tossing 11 TDs (and rushing for his 1st career TD last week) while checking in at fourth nationally with 1,348 yards passing through Week 4. He has thrown a touchdown in 14 consecutive games, dating back to last season, and extended that streak when the ‘Bows needed him most last week when he found Nishigaya on a crossing route to tie the game up. 

Most of all, he didn’t compound errors when issues arose. Down two scores in the first half, Schager came out firing to open the second half of play and bring the Rainbow Warriors within seven points of New Mexico State and didn’t allow a back-breaking fumble on a deep offensive drive haunt him any longer than his brief stay on the sideline. No interceptions for just the second game this year. 

He has done a respectable job spreading the ball around to the aforementioned playmakers in Hawai’i’s system and caught the eye of UNLV’s Odom. The head man for the Rebels made it a point to say how they have got their “work cut out for [them]” if they want to snatch back the Showdown trophy.  

It’s certainly a unit with the ability TO snatch it back as well. UNLV forced three turnovers in last week’s win and has forced nine turnovers in four games. Part of that is due to the pass rush that has racked up nine sacks and 33 QB hurries (via PFF) in their games so far, something Hawai’i has been hit-or-miss with in their outings so far.  

It’ll be vital for Schager to be quick with his reads to get the ball out against a solid Rebels’ pass rush, sure. It will be more vital for the QB to take care of the football on the road, especially if this one turns out to be a shootout of two dynamic offenses. 

Pofele Ashlock – WR (RS-Fr.) 

I know he was here last week. I didn’t have a choice but to put him here again. 

Ashlock opened his college career this year with back-to-back Mountain West Freshman of the Week selections and has led Hawai’i in receiving yards for all five games. He has been a consistent chain-mover AND big-play threat each snap he takes for the ‘Bows and has clearly received more attention from opposing defensive coaches and players than a usual freshman would. 

While he isn’t the only Freshman of the Week honoree playing in this one (more on that later), he is UH’s trump card for a lot of situations. His ability to get open against both man and zone coverage is a weapon for the Hawai’i offense and his yards-after-catch (YAC) talent has pushed him towards early stardom. With 439 yards, Ashlock leads UH and is second among all MWC players in receiving yards. Of those 439 yards, 149 have come after the catch for Ashlock. 

While he has seen a scoring hiatus the past few weeks, Ashlock remains as productive as can be and continues to open up opportunities for Schager to distribute elsewhere. With that said, it does feel like the young wideout is due for a big score – a Schager Bomb anyone? – and could help the ‘Bows in a big way this weekend versus a semi-banged-up UNLV secondary. 

Daniel “Sauce” Williams – DL (Sr.) 

The big fella’ “Sauce” himself, Williams had the best defensive grade among all defensive players in the country for Week 4 (via PFF) while turning in an electrifying performance charged up by his 41-yard fumble recovery after ripping the ball loose to stonewall a driving New Mexico State offense. 

While it’s the snatch-and-dash that will get Williams the attention, it would be a disservice to the senior to not mention the rest of his impact on the ‘Bows critical comeback win.  

In just 19 total snaps, the JUCO transfer had the forced fumble and recovery and was a demon against the run. While he totaled just one tackle, Williams continuously ate up space and created penetration to slow down the Aggies’ running attack. While being a great run-stopping asset for UH defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro, “Sauce” decided to make his presence known in the passing game as well with a QB hurry and a positive pass-rush grade from PFF. 

It will be the run-game stopping mastery that Hawai’i should be interested in seeing even more of this week. As mentioned before, the Rebels totaled over 300 yards on the ground in their victory over UTEP in Week 4 and enter Saturday averaging 190.8 yards per game. 

The ‘Bows atoned for a previous season’s demons in their comeback win against the Aggies last week, giving up less than 100 yards on the ground after getting gashed for over 350 yards and five TDs on the ground in 2022. Hawai’i teams of the past, the ones who struggled, allow for those trends to continue. Saturday is the first conference chance to prove that the new era of the #BRADDAHHOOD is here and that begins with taking away the comfort of the Rebels’ run game. 

To do that, look for the “Sauce” on the defensive line to grade out highly again in more action if the ‘Bows want to win in Las Vegas for just the second time in the last eight tries. 


 

Players to Watch – UNLV Rebels

Jayden MaiavaQB (RS-Fr.) 

The name might bring you pause, even sound familiar. 

That would be for good reason when it comes to Maiava. The former Kaimuki QB came to UNLV after completing his senior season at Liberty High School in Nevada as the highest-rated HS quarterback prospect Rebels’ recruiting history and redshirted the 2022 season before finally seeing the field for action this season. 

Now, full disclosure. Maiava might not start on Saturday, as Rebels’ QB1 Doug Brumfield left UNLV’s game two weeks ago with an injury but has been a limited participant in practices leading up to the weekend matchup against the University of Hawai’i. Should he be able to go, this whole section might be old news for Maiava, and we’ll file the information away for at least a year. 

The argument can be made that Maiava has proven himself more-than-capable in the absence of Brumfield, coming into the Vanderbilt game during the 1st quarter and throwing for 190 or more yards in both of his longer appearances of the season over the past two weeks. The Rebels have won both of those outings and could easily look to the redshirt freshman one last time as their starter gets healthy. 

The experience has been a solid one for the young signal caller and UNLV alike. The redshirt freshman led the Rebels to the program’s first victory over an SEC opponent in the Week 3 40-37 home win over Vanderbilt and followed with a strong road outing and win at UTEP, 45-28. 

If Brumfield is unable to go once again, expect to see Maiava under center for the ‘Bows opponents. If that’s the case, Hawai’i needs to keep explosives limited to a minimum while spying the athletic quarterback. Despite being evaluated as a pocket-passer coming out of high school, the 6-foot-4 Maiava has shown extra juice in the legs to extends plays and drives as he progresses. 

Jai’den “Jet” Thomas – RB (Fr.) 

The reigning Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Week, Thomas had over 100 yards on the ground and FOUR rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory at UTEP on just 13 carries. Known as “Jet” by coaches, players and media alike, the true freshman has burst onto the college scene in his first four games.  

Thomas has yet to eclipse 40 total carries and has never had more than 15 total touches in a game through the four weeks of college football the Rebels have played so far. Despite the limited chances as he earns his way onto the field for Odom and staff, Thomas has racked up over 200 yards rushing and seven TDS in his playtime thus far. 

Some might point to last week’s game as the breakout for “Jet”, making reference to doubling his season’s output in just one game. Don’t be shocked if the 5-foot-9, 180-pound back sees another uptick in touches this week after his first 100-yard game as a college student-athlete. Coach Odom was complimentary of the back’s pass-blocking ability and mentioned how it is crucial for running backs in his scheme to be strong pass-blockers along with talented runners. 

If Thomas does see more snaps and plays his way, it’ll be key for the ‘Bows to limit his production. This season has trended towards if Thomas scores, UNLV wins (his only time out of the end zone for a full game was the 35-7 loss to #2 Michigan). He won’t be the only runner to worry about out of the UNLV backfield, as senior speedster Courtney Reese is back for his senior season and graduate transfer from PITT RB Vincent Davis Jr joins the fray. 

Hawai’i has been able to hold some stronger rushing attacks at bay this season while struggling against others. Saturday’s contest will rely greatly on the ‘Bows ability to stop both the old and young legs in the UNLV backfield. If Thomas scores, it’s not over. If Thomas runs wild, it’ll be a long trip home from the “9th Island” for UH fans. 

Jalen Dixon – DE (Sr.) 

Dixon was a player who got decent buzz heading into the season as he won the top spot on the depth chart among defensive ends and is someone who the coaching staff has been able to lean on in their first year overseeing the program. 

The junior edge rusher totaled three sacks last season and was a constant presence in the backfield, racking up 6.5 tackles for loss in 2022. He had been quiet to begin the 2023 slate but showed out last weekend versus UTEP with his first sack of the year and a pair of TFLs in the Rebels’ 45-28 road win. 

Against a team that likes to pass as much as the Rainbow Warriors do, Dixon will get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer. If Hawai’i can limit him (and others along the line) throughout the day on Saturday, Schager should have enough time to distribute the ball around and score consistently. 

The problem arises if Dixon can get free. If Schager is forced out of the pocket or on the run, the ‘Bows offense becomes a bit less dynamic and a bit more survival-mode. Star edge rushers have gone quiet only to show out again against Hawai’i already this season (looking at you, UAlbany), so look for Dixon to try and add his name to that list. Look for Hawai’i to make sure this is the only time you hear his name. 


 

What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i @ UNLV 

What more fun can regular season football be than a conference opener in a place meaningful for both sides in competition for a trophy? The stakes are there for the Saturday morning matchup for the ‘Bows in the second consecutive “must-win” week of 2023, but here are a few more notes and keys to keep an eye out for this weekend. 

  • This one could be impacted by penalties a lot. It was an issue that Timmy Chang and staff verbally vowed to fix after the first three games of the season after multiple 100+ free-yard offerings to opponents. UNLV’s Barry Odom mentioned penalty woes this week in his press availability and how it will affect them against better programs and in closer games. Hawai’i has averaged 65 penalty yards per game while UNLV has given away 60 free yards on average per contest. This could be a battle of who shoots themselves in the foot less. 
  • UNLV is an elite team at forcing turnovers with nine in just four games (6 INT, 3 FF) but is also susceptible to the big play. Among UNLV defenders who have allowed multiple receptions, six have given up 14 or more yards PER reception this season. That’s good news for lovers of the Schager Bomb. Hawai’i just has to avoid handing UNLV the big play turnovers. 
  • Can Hawai’i finally get the “road win” weight off their back? Since Chang took over, the ‘Bows have yet to win a game on the road and have yet to sit at .500 at any point of the season. Saturday brings a chance for both feats to occur at the same time and would be a different outcome from the expected “norm” between the schools. The home team has won 12 of the last 14 meetings in the series. 
  • Can the ‘Bows blow the lid off early? UH has struggled at the start of games, being outscored 110-47 in the first half this season. Thankfully for Hawai’i, the team thrived in the fourth quarter, winning the final 15 minutes in four of five games this season and outscoring opponents by nearly six points in the last quarter of action each week. To win against UNLV, Hawai’i will need both the defense AND offense ready to go from the first whistle and kickoff. 

Timmy Chang called last week against NMSU critical and a “must-win” ahead of the contest and his team responded with a gritty, last-second win to close out the non-conference schedule. He doubled down and made it seem like this week is even more important than last (to be fair, it is) in his comments to the media this week. 

Will his team respond again and keep the “Island Showdown” trophy with the ‘Bows on the trip back from the “9th Island” or will UNLV have their revenge after UH shocked them late last year? 

Saturday kicks off the “real season” to give us the answer. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports – with kickoff scheduled for 10:07 a.m. HT on Saturday, September 30. 

“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

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 20, 2023

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.