After a poor showing last week against Air Force, the Hawaii Warriors went through a busy week. Their head coach was fired and was replaced by offensive line coach Chris Naeole. In five short days he met with the team, changed the team captains, named a new starting quarterback and reformatted practice. You could say that things were not business as usual for the Rainbow Warriors.
With so much going on, it might be easy to forget that this team sits at 2-7; which effectively eliminates them from bowl eligibility. I guess you could say that this season is over. I mean the goals set by Norm Chow and the team at the beginning of the season have gone by the wayside.
No division title.
No conference championship.
No bowl game.
While this initial assessment might be right, you'd be missing one thing. This team still has each other. As cheesy as that sounds you can ask almost any team sport athlete and they will tell you that they play for the guys on their team. While the first goals to be set each season may have to deal with wins and loses, the underlying one is about the people you play with.
It is a forgone conclusion that through the blood and sweat shed on the practice field a strong bond is formed. While the players might not say it, they know it.
It is in times of true adversity where these bonds are tested. Last week we saw the bonds put under stress. It was the first time I heard people talking about the team like they quit. Win or loss, the Norm Chow era always sported teams that gave it their all; that was never a problem.
If this team wants to turn things around for themselves, they must come together again and come out with the intensity they did on opening night. No matter who they play or what the game plan is, it will not work unless they do those two things.
Things will be a little different for this team but like Chris Naoele said, these games are winnable.
Here are two things the 'Bows can combine with their teamwork and camaraderie foundation to win in Sin City:
1. Keep things on the ground: The last time Ikaika Woolsey was the starting quarterback for Hawaii, he led a valiant effort against New Mexico. The game ultimately ended in a loss but he broke the scoreless streak on road games and led the team to score first for the first time since week one. The offensive game plan for the day was to run. In fact they ran the ball 67% of the time and that led to a season high in offensive yards (against FBS teams). Four out of the five drives that ended in a scoring chance (touchdown or field goal try) were sustained on the ground. If the team wants to flip the script on last week's 178 yard offensive result, it will be important to establish the ground game.
2. Stop the run: I know I sound like a broken record but it is no surprise that the weakness for Hawaii is stopping the run. After giving up 496 yards on the ground to Air Force, UH has solidified itself as one of the worst run defenses in the nation (ranked 121).
The defensive line is banged up and Kennedy Tulimasealii is the only remaining starter from opening night left. Nick Nelson and company continue to anchor the secondary that ranks 19th in the nation against the pass. With that in mind I think defensive coordinator Tom Mason can afford to sell out against the run. Especially with UNLV sporting a heavy run offense, grinding defenses with runs 60% of the time. I am not exactly sure what more can be done with the limited depth up front but let's hope coach Mason figured something out.
Bottom Line: All reports say that the team has responded well to the changes made this week. Things clearly were not working they way they were setup before and it can't hurt to change. I will be looking forward to an emotionally charged game that will award the team with their first win in seven weeks. I believe the addition of Ikaika Woolsey will relieve pressure for the offensive line to block and help the run game as well. In the end I see a 27-21 victory for the 'Bows.