Mountain West football fans had been waiting for the matchup between the Hawaii Warriors and Boise State Broncos ever since both enjoyed great starts to their year with wins over Power 5 competition.
Through the first six weeks of the season, they were considered the favorites to reach the MWC championship game.
But instead of a great four-quarter game between Nick Rolovich’s Warriors and Bryan Harsin’s Broncos, the game was decided at halftime.
Boise State was the team that came out and played a clean game on their home turf and showed that it’s on a different level than Hawaii.
In this edition of the Mountain West Connection’s Film Study, we break down how and why the Broncos earned a decisive 59-37 win on Saturday night in Idaho.
Hawaii’s first-half mistakes
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is Hawaii’s first half. It was full of mistakes, which put the Warriors in a hole almost immediately and made it much easier for Boise State to get a lead and keep it.
We can start with the fumbles. The Warriors coughed the ball up three times in the first two quarters, and on all three the Broncos took advantage and scored touchdowns.
The first fumble is shown in the GIF below, which happens to come via my personal favorite nickel back in the country, Kekaula Kaniho.
Kaniho — who is from Kahuku, Hawaii — recognizes the quick throw to Cedric Byrd, beats the block of Jason-Matthew Sharsh, and strips Byrd. This is fantastic defense from the 5-10, 182-pound Kaniho:
As if the fumbles weren’t enough, Hawaii also committed nine penalties in the first half. Those penalties stopped any momentum the Warriors had offensively, which meant quarterback Cole McDonald never got comfortable and in a rhythm.
McDonald was 23 of 41 for 251 yards and three touchdowns without a pick, and rushed for 54 yards and one score, but he didn’t have the game he needed to have in order for Hawaii to get the upset win.
McDonald just looked off — look at this miss on what I assume is a zone read play where he’s reading the unblocked defender, No. 93 Chase Hatada. McDonald gives to Miles Reed when he probably should have kept. The result: a fouth-down stuff from Boise’s defense and a turnover on downs:
Another Warrior that had a bad game was wideout JoJo Ward — he didn’t catch a single pass. Credit the Boise corners for keeping him in check. To illustrate just how off Ward was on Saturday night, watch this drop after beating his man on a slant:
Boise State offense
Whether is was Hank Bachmeier, Chase Cord or Jaylon Henderson, it didn’t matter who was under center for the Broncos. All of them were able to lead an offense that racked up 518 total yards through a porous Hawaii defense that looked outmatched in the secondary against Boise’s skill players, especially wideout John Hightower and George Holani.
Hightower, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound receiver from Maryland, caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He was a problem for the Hawaii defense, which didn’t have a defensive back that could hang with him.
Here’s Hightower’s first touchdown catch, a 26-yarder from Bachmeier that was made possible by Kaniho’s strip. This is a simple go route, and Hightower absolutely burns Hawaii corner Cortez Davis before the safety, Khoury Bethley, can help:
Here’s Hightower’s second touchdown catch, a 42-yarder from Cord early in the third quarter that made the Broncos’ lead 38-14.
Hawaii’s defense does a nice job of not getting faked out by Boise’s receivers, who end up stacking each other to create confusion, but Hightower again burns his man with straight speed.
This time the victim is safety Kalen Hicks, who at 6-3, 215 pounds is a good tackler and in-the-box safety, but not so much a cover safety:
The GIF below is a receiver screen to Hightower for a first down. He obviously doesn’t score on this play, but he shows off his athleticism to give you an idea of what kind of athlete he is:
For all the hype it received, this game didn’t live up to it. Hawaii was outmatched talent-wise, and Boise once again showed it’s one of, if not the best, Group of 5 team in the country.
We have yet to see what the extent of Bachmeier’s injury is, but Boise should be in good hands at quarterback with Cord — he’s surrounded by some special athletes. It’ll be a tough final stretch for the Broncos, who have four road games in their next six, which includes a little trip to Logan, Utah on Nov. 23.
Before we close out this Film Study, I couldn’t help but put this in. Curtis Weaver channeling his inner Marshawn Lynch?: