College football has not been the same during the global pandemic of 2020. The Hawaii-San Jose State game was yet another example among many examples this season. This game was scheduled to take place in San Jose, but restrictions brought forth by Santa Clara County left the Spartans scrambling for a home to play this weekend. A suitable home venue was not found in time, and as a result the Spartans were forced to defer to Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium.
That could have easily been a killer for the Spartans. Many teams with aspirations of greatness have had their balloon popped at Aloha Stadium, even as recently as last weekend.
Not this time.
Hawaii football under Todd Graham and slow starts have become synonymous. That continued against the Spartans, but this time Hawaii paid dearly for the ugly trend. San Jose State opened the contest with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Nick Starkel, but the real plot twist was the heavy emphasis on the running game. Prior to the game, the Spartans didn’t have a single running back over 118 yards on the season. This was a pass heavy offense.
Hawaii would go three-and-out, and then the Spartans answered with a 72-yard touchdown run by running back Tyler Nevens. Nevens only had 118 yards on 23 carries coming into the game! On the following Hawaii drive, the Warriors again went three-and-out again. In recent games, the Hawaii defense bailed out the inept offense going through first half struggles. Not this game. Third offensive drive for the Spartans, more gashing Hawaii’s defense on the ground. The Spartan offense scored yet another touchdown and just like that, it was 21-0. For a Hawaii offense that prefers to run the ball and control the clock, the odds were looking long.
If Graham’s version of the Warriors have shown anything, it’s that this team doesn’t quit. After several series resulting in punts, Hawaii would tack on 10 points before halftime, capped off by a touchdown from running back Dae Dae Hunter. This half did not end without frustration, however. Hawaii would somehow retain the ball and sneak into Spartan territory with a chance to close the deficit even further, but quarterback Chevan Cordeiro would throw an interception in the end zone on a play where it appeared the quarterback and receiver weren’t on the same page. Spartans led 21-10 at the break. It could have been better, it absolutely could have been worse too.
Hawaii started the second half with the ball and immediately came out throwing. This ultimately led to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Cordeiro to wide receiver Rico Bussey. A penalty on the two-point try forced Hawaii to kick the extra point. Still, at 21-17 Spartans, the comeback was on.
The Spartans are undefeated with aspirations of a conference championship. Great teams slam the door shut. Hawaii’s defense had secured momentum, forcing San Jose State’s offense into a 3rd-and-20 from the SJSU 20. Instead of forcing a three-and-out, Starkel found star wide receiver Bailey Gaither for a 19-yard gain, which would set up a gutsy 4th-and-1 call. SJSU’s Nevens would convert.
Really, that was the sequence of the game. Hawaii seemingly had gained momentum and stormed back, but those back-to-back plays were the backbone of an 18-play, 70-yard scoring drive that killed 7:31 of game time. The Spartans would lead 28-17 with 2:17 remaining the third quarter, and that drive essentially decided the game.
The Spartans would score another touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Cordeiro would add another for Hawaii, but the damage had been done. San Jose State won 35-24, securing the Dick Tomey Legacy Trophy for the first time.
Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true: Hawaii was toast after that first quarter. The offense and defense performed decently from quarters 2-4, but overcoming a 21-0 deficit is a lot to ask of any team.
San Jose State’s dream season continues. They might be ranked come Sunday morning.
NEXT UP: Hawaii closes the season with one more game, this one against UNLV at Aloha Stadium. I think. Keep in mind, The UNLV-Boise State game was canceled due to COVID-19, and details were scarce beyond that. Stay tuned for updates this week.