Aztecs find ways to win exciting game against Hawaii. New players step up as well as the return of Mekhi Shaw.
The trip to Hawaii was anything but a vacation for the Aztecs. The season was on the line as well as questions to the teams identity and coaching staff. In front of a small, partisan crowd of 10,039 fans, the Aztecs showed they belong at least in the bowl picture. The Aztecs (3-4, 1-2 MWC) held on with a strong and consistent performance against the much improved Hawaii Warriors (2-5, 0-2 MWC). New players emerged as well as several players we haven’t heard much from. Wide receiver Mekhi Shaw returned from injury and caught 6 balls for 126 yards and a score and running back Cam Davis carried 10 times for 53 yards. Redshirt freshman Lucky Sutton scored twice and cornerback Deshawn McCuin had a 70-yard pick-six. Quarterback Jalen Mayden was his consistent self, rushing for 53 yards and was 18/24 passing for 221 yards with a score and an interception.
A fast start helps the Aztecs sprint to a 17-0 lead over Hawaii.
The Aztecs started quickly, holding Hawaii to a three and out on their first series. It included two tipped passes. When Hawaii went to punt, it was blocked, setting up the Aztecs at the Warriors 13 yardline. The defense held and the Aztecs had to settle for a Jake Browning 22 yard field goal. Hawaii had back-to-back three-and outs to follow this and the Aztecs struck paydirt on a 6 play, 43 yard drive, capped off by a 1 yard run by Lucky Sutton. Early in the second period, corner Deshawn McCuin stepped in front of a sideline pass and returned it untouched 70 yards to put the Aztecs up 17-0. At this point, it seems they were in command of the game. Hawaii responded with two touchdowns before halftime, both passes from Schager to Pofele Ashlock and Alex Perry. Halftime was a 17-14 Aztec advantage. The teams traded field goals in the third period and it wasn’t until the last play that lightning in a bottle happened. Schager hit Nick Cenacle on a 52 yard pass putting Hawaii up 24-20. The Aztecs would struggle with big plays against the Hawaii offense. The Aztecs countered with their own big play on a 69-yard pass to Mekhi Shaw. His presence was welcome as he had 6 receptions for 126 yards and the score. A fumble on the ensuing drive by Ashlock resulted in an Aztec TD run by Lucky Sutton and the Aztecs were ahead 34-24. Two minutes later the Warriors were in the endzone on a 3-play, 75-yard drive, highlighted by Steven McBride's 65-yard catch. The Aztecs would close out their scoring on a Jaylon Armstead 1-yard run and Hawaii would finish their scoring with a Matthew Shipley 47-yard field goal. All in all, an exciting game with the desired end result. Of concern was the big play and the ease Hawaii was able to pass the ball.
Hawaii’s Run and Shoot offense generated 427 yards passing
The Warriors are quickly mastering the Run and Shoot with a fairly impressive aerial display. Quarterback Brayden Schager was 29/47 passing with three TD’s and the one costly pick. What makes Hawaii so dangerous is its plethora of exciting and athletic receivers. Chief among these were Steven McBride (5 catches, 157 yards), Nick Cenacle (3 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD), Pofele Ashlock (8 catches, 68 yards, 1 TD) and Jonah Panoke (4 catches, 54 yards). One notes that the average reception yardage are extremely high. McBride had a long of 65 yards. Cenacle a long of 52. Hawaii is a big play team and had its share of thrills. When one lives by the big play, mistakes are bound to happen. Hawaii lost three fumbles in addition to the one pick six. Schager is a perfect compliment to Coach Timmy Chang’s offensive vision. He’s got size, toughness and a good command of the offense. He is only a junior, so Mountain West teams can expect to see him for at least another year.
The Aztecs covered the 6-point spread and the over was covered, 75 points to 72.5. Oddsmakers picked this game correctly to be an offensive showdown. A small crowd showed up to watch the game, raising some concern about Hawaii football this season. They have improved dramatically over last season and fans should come out to support their efforts. The Aztecs look to prepare for their contest next Saturday at home against Nevada. The Wolfpack are 0-6 on the year, and many argue, might be the worst team in the FBS this year. They are coming off a 45-27 loss to rival UNLV. The Aztecs do not play the Rebels this year, surprising considering their relatively close geographic proximity. The Aztecs have a bye week after Nevada to prepare for another home game against Utah State. Following that are away games against upset-minded Colorado State, a resurgent San Jose State, and an ever-dangerous Fresno State team to end the season. The Aztecs find themselves in the 7th slot in the conference, having won their first MWC game. Their schedule bodes well and a bowl possibility becomes a bit stronger. Interestingly, the Aztecs usual running back tandem of Jaylon Armstead and Kenan Christon only amounted to 9 carries for 15 yards. We might be seeing a resurgence with Cam Davis and Lucky Sutton. Also surprising is freshman phenom Baylin Brooks only managed one catch and heavily used tight end Mark Redman only accounted for three catches. Finally, Coach Hoke is probably pleased with the steps taken but knows that he cannot rest on his laurels. He is happy to be back in San Diego after the business trip to Hawaii. There is still much work to be done to appease many of the Aztec boo-birds. The offense showed up quite well. The defense had some good plays but still is a victim of the long pass. Jalen Mayden is a good field general but did have a fumble, which is of continued concern. Against Nevada, expect the Aztecs to throttle the Wolfpack on both sides of the ball. The Wolfpack are being scored against with more than a two-one margin. The Aztecs would do well to have this game a coming-out experience back at SnapDragon Stadium.