“We did a poor job getting the guys ready. We absolutely played the worst we played the entire season,” stated first-year Hawaii head coach Todd Graham on their 35-24 loss to San Jose State at Aloha Stadium. “We had a giant step forward beating Nevada last week and now a giant step backward today.”
But the Spartan run game plan had a large part to do with Graham’s woes, as Spartan running back Tyler Nevens made clear with 152 yards rushing on 16 attempts and two rushing touchdowns – highlighted by a 72-yard TD gallop in the first quarter.
“We knew this was going to be the ultimate challenge for us,” said Nevens. “If we were going to establish our run game, it had to be this week. It was more important than the other previous four games in terms of running the ball.”
Hawaii successfully stopped previously undefeated Nevada’s top-ranked passing game with variations of up to eight people into coverage. It was a recipe San Jose State expected and the Spartans weren’t shy announcing they were going to run.
“The coaches put a great game plan together and our O-line was fantastic,” said San Jose head coach Brent Brennan. “I think we still need to be a little bit better on third downs, but yes, we were going to run the ball. That was the game plan.”
The Spartans had 288 yards rushing and 468 yards of total offense.
Sophomore back Kairee Robinson’s 111 yards on 17 attempts and a rushing TD was the first time since 2015 two San Jose running backs in the same game broke the 100-yard mark.
The game in four macadamia nutshells
First quarter: The Spartans blasted out with over 100 yards rushing and a 21-0 lead.
Second quarter: Hawaii found an offensive rhythm with quick passes and scored 10 points.
Third quarter: A quarter with only two very long drives by each Hawaii and San Jose State where the Spartans made their biggest statement drive of the year.
Fourth quarter: The Spartans finished the game in every way to take the Dick Tomey Legacy Trophy and the relief that Brennan finally overcame the rival ‘Bows in convincing fashion.
“In that third quarter drive, we looked each other in the eyes and I say ‘This. Is. The. Drive,’ stated Spartan QB Nick Starkel. “I looked at our O-line and our receivers and I said, ‘This is the one right now.’ They (Hawaii) had their momentum on their last scoring drive, but we’re going to crush it. Let’s get it done and we knew exactly what we were going to do.”
This particular San Jose State third quarter drive was the dagger and a statement of the last few frustrating weeks of not playing games they knew were in their grasp – a pounding drive of seven-and-a-half minutes with 18 plays, 70 yards and two 4th and 1’s that led to pay dirt with a Robinson 2-yard TD plunge.
Starkel managed and led the game well with an effective 167 yards passing (11-23, 2 TD passes and 1 INT).
Hey, what about the defense, braddah?
DC Derrick Odum is known for his 3-4 defense. It’s not what most weekenders might think it is. It’s for being as creative with disguises and schemes, as OC Kevin McGiven has in his offensive toolset.
It’s known for seeing a 300 lb. linemen chase down nimble quarterbacks sideline-to-side line or sniffing out screens. Or for placing five down linemen. Or placing 2-deep but it’s not.
Linebacker Kyle Harmon led the way with 11 tackles, safety Tre Webb had seven tackles and an assortment of others in the secondary had five tackles each. And a highly active DL Junior Fehoko had a sack in his fifth straight game.
Odum’s defense held Hawaii to a scattered 101 rushing yards and their impressive dual-threat QB Chevan Cordiero to 238 yards passing (28-42, 3 TDs - 2 passing & 1 rushing, 1 INT); mostly via quick screens and intermediate passes.
The Spartans take off immediately to Las Vegas to prepare for their last regular season game against Nevada with all fingers crossed it will be played and an undefeated season comes to fruition - and a championship game is at hand.