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Hawaii Warriors visit the Aztecs this Friday

Aztecs hoping for a rebound performance with changes in coaching staff

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Michigan David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Timmy Chang and his Hawaii Warriors take on Brady Hokes Aztecs. Both squads are rebuilding early in the season attempting to right their teams.

The Hawaii Warriors bring their beleaguered team to Snapdragon against the Aztecs on Saturday to try and find some form and function to their football program. Coach Timmy Chang took over a program in complete disarray after the firing of Todd Graham. Many Hawaii players defected to greener pastures. Coach Chang, a former record-holding Warrior quarterback, lives and breathes Warriors football. He has strong community support. He has unbridled optimism and patience and is realistic that each game is a stepping stone. The Aztecs are also trying to find their way, after being humbled last weekend by Boise State. Both teams are looking for their first conference win. There seem to be more similarities between the teams than differences, as both of them find themselves in severe struggling mode. This is in stark contrast to preseason polls. Many picked the Aztecs to finish first or second in the division and perhaps playing for the conference championship. Hawaii was expected to be a cellar dweller for the year. They did not disappoint while the Aztecs have been a disappointment. Most of the focus for the Aztecs will be on the interaction between Horton and Lindley and how quickly they can gel the offense and a quarterback. The next question is who will be quarterback. Head coach Brady Hoke has said Braxton Burmeister is “day-to-day” and “making some progress.” Backup Kyle Crum is out with a broken collar bone. Recovery time is expected to be between 4-8 weeks. Freshman Liu Aumavae filled in last week and gained some experience and is currently listed as Burmeister's backup. The interesting development is the move by Jalen Mayden from safety back to quarterback, his original position. The 6’3”, 200 pound junior transferred from Mississippi State last season as a quarterback, but changed to safety, noting the depth of the Aztecs quarterbacks and his desire to help the team where it was most needed. Now the need is with a quarterback and Mayden was generous in his desire to change back. Mayden was a four-star recruit out of Sachse High School in Garland Texas. He played sparingly for the Bulldogs, appearing in three games in 2018. His athleticism may be on display as a quarterback since tendencies are for Burmeister to leave games after absorbing hits. The defense may be missing Mayden, since he has emerged as a strong force, backing up both Patrick McMorris and Kyron White. It will be interesting to see if he develops as a possible two-way player. Continued social media rumors are calling for recently departed Will Haskell to return. While he is still on campus, this would be a decision that coach Hoke would need to assess and acknowledge that things could and should have been handled differently.

San Diego State Aztecs (2-3) vs. Hawaii Warriors (1-4)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium, San Diego

Line: San Diego State -20 (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Over/Under 49.5 points. This will be an interesting line to look at if SDSU is forced to rely on its running game to an extreme level. A low-scoring game by the Aztecs would be as welcomed as a blowout.

Date/Time: Saturday, October 8th at 7:30 PM PST

TV: CBS Sports Network

History: This is the 37th meeting between the Aztecs and the Warriors. SDSU has a commanding 23-11-2 record, going 11-4 at home and winners of the last 9 out of 10 at home. The last meeting between the teams was in 2021 in Hawaii and resulted in a 17-10 Aztec win.

Unlocking the Keys to the Game

  1. Will the change in coaches lead to a change in offensive results? With the departure of Jeff Hecklinski and additions of Jeff Horton as offensive coordinator and Ryan Lindley as quarterbacks coach, will the Aztecs see any improvement with their offense? Much like what Boise State did last week with their changes, the Aztecs are hoping they will have dialed the right combination of coaches to improve this squad. The team will have one week to define the quarterback, allowing for enough reps for the backups to feel comfortable. If the Aztecs are able to establish a running game against a Hawaii defense that averages 260 yards rushing and ranked 130th, there may not be the need to mount much of a passing game. The Warriors seem to have some talent in the secondary as they have six interceptions so far this year. Hawaii may decide to fill the box with 7-8 defenders and rely on their corners to cover man to man. The game should be decided in the trenches as neither team has dynamic breakaway talent. A simple offensive scheme that incorporates power and sweeps should keep Hawaii guessing where to fill. The Aztecs would be content to run 70 times in the game and maybe throw 5 more. There is not an anticipated need to pass much. How their offense reacts to Hawaii’s defense will dictate their schemes.
  2. Will the Aztecs' defense rebound after their second-half collapse? Not only did the Aztec offense lay a complete egg, but the defense also appeared scrambled and over easy in the second half. What type of adjustments do the defense need to make after being physically tossed around during last weeks game? First, this game will be decided in the trenches. This cannot be repeated enough. In the trenches. The Aztecs allowed Boise State to establish a dominant running game. Hawaii is not on the same level. They have Dedrick Parsons as their key back with 67 carries for 281 yards, a 4.19 yard average, and six touchdowns. There is some support behind him with Nasjzaei Bryant-Lelei (36-172, 4.77 avg, 1 TD) and Tylan Hines (17-120, 7.05 avg, 1 TD). The focus is to play Aztec football which is stop the run with dominant line-play. The Aztecs are anchored on defense with Michael Shawcroft (35 tackles, 2 sacks), CJ Baskerville (31 tackles), and Garret Fountain (28 tackles, 2 sacks). Hawaii averages 17 points a game on offense showing they have not established strength or consistency, even against out-of-conference foes. Their red zone offense is a meager 13/17 or 76% scoring rate. Could the Warriors be putting in new wrinkles during their bye week? It seems they struggle to even manage the basic plays well. Turnovers plague them, losing 4 of 8 fumbles and having 6 interceptions. Can the Aztecs defense control the pace and tempo, avoid injuries and hold Hawaii to a minimum of long drives? The Warriors have a 31% 3rd down conversion rate. 70% of third downs result in a 4th down. Expect Hawaii to have several 4th down packages including perhaps a fake punt. Hawaii averages 70 plays a game. Anything below 60 will be a strong showing for the Aztecs. If things go to plan, the defense should be rested and the onus will be on the offense to control the game.
  3. Who to watch on Hawaii. Hawaii lacks star power, but have key players who can develop over time. It starts with sophomore QB Brayden Schager. He is 63/108 for 659 yards with 4 picks and 1 TD. Certainly nothing to brag about, but it does have to start somewhere. He seems capable if he can make the short throws and avoid excessive turnovers. The running backs discussed previously, have a mediocre 116 yard average per game. Hawaii is averaging 313 yards total offense a game. Against good teams they struggle to move the ball. Hawaii will probably need to air it out against the Aztecs. This will involve several receivers to have standout games. Leading the Warriors is Jonah Panoke with 15 catches for 172 yards, Caleb Phillips 11/168, James Phillips 17/148, Jalen Waithall 11/135 and 1 TD and Dior Scott, 17/129. Note there has only been one passing touchdown. The Warriors will radically need to change those statistics in order to be competitive. Placekicker Matthew Shipley is 6/7 field goals and a perfect 9/9 in PAT. Imagine if he were given more opportunities for extra points. On defense, Hawaii is led by linebacker Penei Pavihi with 27 tackles and 1 interception, defensive back Virdel Edwards II with 25 tackles and 2 interceptions, linebacker Isaiah Tufaga with 23 tackles and defensive back Noa Kanana with 17 tackles. Many of the tackling stats involve solo tackles indicating a deficiency in gang tackling. Since these players are all either linebackers or defensive backs, the majority of tackles are made once a player has passed the line of scrimmage. The Hawaii defensive line looks to be struggling to make big plays. It would be hard-pressed to imagine them being able to dominate against a much larger Aztec offensive line. One final note about Hawaii is their player roster. Much effort is taken to recruit from the Islands. In fact, they have 47 players who hail from Hawaii. In addition, they have added 6 from American Samoa and integrated 23 players from California and 12 from Texas. The appeal to move to Hawaii and play football might be an attraction for some, but continually losing might temper some opportunities. Find a way to win again and with Coach Chang’s enthusiasm and charisma, then they may be able to keep more of their local blue chip players.

Analysis/Prediction: My initial preseason pick of this game was an Aztec win, 48-28. Again, each week seems to bring its own set of surprises. I don’t think the Aztecs will score that many points, based on the theory they will try to run most plays. I could see the Aztecs controlling clock, plays, and the running game and settling for 28 points. Hawaii on the other side is so hot and cold, it could be the next stove/freezer combination. With mediocrity in both the running and passing game and continual evolution of improvement, I suspect the Warriors might put up 14 points. So a 28-14 Aztec win would be my best analysis. If one were to look at the stats of average points per game, Hawaii might lose 45-17, but the games against Vanderbilt and Michigan skewed the numbers dramatically. This is a must-win game for the Aztecs. Starting 0-2 in the conference would make claiming a conference title nearly impossible. Facing off on Friday is a key west matchup between upstarts UNLV and SJSU. The winner will have the early inside track to the division lead. The other key matchup on Saturday is Fresno traveling to Boise State. Will the Bulldogs be able to bounce back despite their injuries? Which Boise State team will emerge? Both of these games will be entertaining and the Aztecs will have an eye on the outcome, but first will need to keep their eye on the prize, a win against Hawaii Saturday night.