HAWAII VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Clarence T.C. Ching Complex)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3rd at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)
Television: Spectrum Sports PPV
Streaming: The Team1Sports app is the route for mainlanders once again. I’m assuming nothing has changed since last year. I’ll update this come the next home game if that isn’t the case.
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: For the second consecutive week, Hawaii takes on an opponent it has never played before in football. No return trip, as far as we know this is a one-off contest.
Three things to look for:
1. Soul searching for the defense
I’ve been watching Hawaii football for much of my life. The worst defenses I’ve ever seen from the Rainbow Warriors: the 1996 defense conceded 45+ points on four different occasions, including a 66-0 loss to Wyoming. The 2004 defense gets a shoutout too for giving up 69 points to Boise State, and then 70 points to Fresno State two weeks later.
There is plenty of season left for Hawaii in the 2022 campaign but conceding 63 points to a Vanderbilt team that 1) didn’t score more than 30 points in a game last season and 2) hadn’t scored 63 points since 1969...is definitely up there as one of the most embarrassing performances I can recall. 35 third quarter points. 35!! Vanderbilt had four different players with gains of 34 yards or more.
I won’t pull punches: the defense looked slow and out-of-position. The Commodores adjusted at halftime, and the coaching staff and player personnel for Hawaii had no answer whatsoever. I was hugely disappointed in the linebacker group; they were exposed despite being one of the few position groups the Warriors have proven experience.
This was an all-time bad performance for the Hawaii defense. All eyes will be on this unit Saturday in the hopes that the Vanderbilt performance was an aberration, and not a horrifying sign of things to come.
2. Finding the right combination on offense
While there were very few positives to take from the defense, the offense wasn’t thriving by any means, but there were flashes of upside. Both Brayden Schager and Joey Yellen saw action Saturday. In my opinion only, I thought Yellen threw a stronger ball, but both quarterbacks had up-and-down performances.
Running back Dedrick Parson led the team with 82 rushing yards, but his two fumbles led to Commodore touchdowns. That simply cannot happen from a team captain. He will continue to be relied upon, but those fumbles have to stop promptly.
Freshman running backs Jordan Johnson and Tylan Hines both saw playing time, with Johnson impressing. Freshman wide receiver Jalen Walthall provided a fast, big-bodied wide receiver that this offense might desperately need. No offense to Phillips and Bowens, but Hawaii looked small out there. I suspect Walthall will emerge as a focus for the offense eventually.
Hawaii lost a plethora of talent this past off-season. Forming a depth chart with game action as evidence was difficult, almost impossible. Now Timmy Chang and Ian Shoemaker have tape on who was and wasn’t making plays. They’ll be hoping to find the right combination Saturday against a WKU defense that is no pushover.
3. Can UH bounce back against Western Kentucky?
Needless to say, after being thrashed by Vanderbilt, Hawaii cannot underestimate any opponent this season, not even FCS foe Duquesne. This week, Western Kentucky makes the long trip to Oahu. The Hilltoppers were absolutely terrifying on offense in 2021, averaging 536 yards per game and 44.2 points per game. Holy redacted cuss word. Good news: Offensive coordinator Zach Kittley is gone, although his right-hand man Ben Arbuckle takes over, and superstar quarterback Bailey Zappe now plays for the New England Patriots. Thank God, after the way Hawaii’s defense played last week, Zappe and co. might’ve scored 100 points on Saturday.
This year, the Hilltoppers only have 4 returning starters on offense, but do sport one of the most experienced and talented defenses in C-USA. In their opener against FCS foe Austin Peay, frankly the Hilltoppers underwhelmed, forcing less than 400 total yards of offense and scoring only 31 offensive points. WKU has a higher standard than that. The defense mostly did well, holding the Governors to 327 total yards, but 27 points might be a bit more than this defense preferred to concede.
The running game struggled for WKU, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, which will be welcome news for a Hawaii defense that conceded 404 rushing yards to Vanderbilt. However, beware of wide receiver Daewood Davis. He is the star of the offense. Quarterback Austin Reed will be targeting the 6’2” 195 lbs wideout.
Thankfully, Hawaii will be spared of facing the vaunted 2021 Hilltopper offense, but after Saturday’s shocking debacle against Vanderbilt, UH is in no position to feel comfortable.
The spread for this game is understandably well in Western Kentucky’s favor at -16. Many Hawaii fans felt the Warriors were being disrespected by the +9.5 Vanderbilt spread, and in reality, fans wish it had been that close.
There’s no questioning that last Saturday’s loss to Vandy was one of the most shocking results in Hawaii football history. The Warriors were completely ravaged by the traditionally poor Commodores. The coaching staff and players will be itching to redeem themselves Saturday after the embarrassment. It’ll be interesting to see who is given the nod at quarterback, and if the overall starting lineup receives a shakeup. Surely UH cannot just run it back, right?
I’m holding out hope the 2022 season doesn’t descend into a Von Appen-like disaster, but I think it’s fair to say the Warriors are in prove it mode after such a shocking letdown. Many fans will point to the 1999 season-opening loss to USC, in which the June Jones-led team lost 62-7 to the Trojans in his debut at Aloha Stadium. There is precedent that things can turn around despite a very bad start. I think we’ll see improvement Saturday, but to be honest I think Hawaii has genuine talent level issues this fall that were on display against Vandy and expecting Timmy Chang and his inexperienced staff to cure all is unfair. Root hard for the home team, be prepared to have to be patient. Give me Warriors 24, Hilltoppers 35.