By Bobby Curran.
First games are notoriously unpredictable, and this Week Zero game is no exception. What should mitigate the uncertainty is the huge number of returning starters, inflated because of the extra year granted due to the pandemic. UCLA returns 20 starters and Hawaii brings back 18.
The Bruins were 3-4 last year in an abbreviated Pac-12 only schedule. Their optimism stems from the fact that the four losses were by a combined 15 points, and their offensive talent is off the chart. Led by junio QB Dorian Thompson- Robinson (henceforth DTR), a highly recruited dual-threat type who has improved each season. In five starts last year (he missed two games due to COVID) he threw for 1,120 yards at a 65% clip and ran for another 306 yards.
All five offensive lineman are back, and the skill players are impressive. Receivers Kyle Phillips, Cam Brown and Chase Cota are all high end, and TE Greg Dulcich is a handful at a position that historically gives UH fits. Hawaii head coach Todd Graham says flatly, “This is the best offense we’ll see all year.”
Defensively, the Bruins have talent, but need better execution as they surrendered 38 or more points in four of their seven games. The pass rush is expected to be a strength; last year, they led the conference in sacks and tackles for loss, but still gave up 410 ypg and 30.7 ppg.
As for Hawaii, the Rainbow Warriors Hawaii finally had a full off-season with a spring practice, complete strength and conditioning and position-based offseason training programs. In the fall camp, they are playing so much faster that they are almost unrecognizable. Chevan Cordeiro seems completely comfortable in the offense now, and aims for consistency that was somewhat elusive in his first year in the new offense. His running back pool with Dae Dae Hunter, James Phillips and Howard transfer Dedrick Parson have been impressive in camp.
Receivers Jared Smart, Nick Mardner, JC transfer Tru Edwards and Aaron Cephus have all had outstanding moments in fall camp. And this doesn’t even include hybrid RBs/ WRs Calvin Turner (UH’s best player), Dior Scott and I should actually include James Phillips here. The TE position looks strong where a talented duo has transferred in with Caleb Phillips from Stanford and Solo Turner from Baylor.
UH’s offensive line returns five players with previous starting experience with Kohl Levao back after an injury year and Micah Vanterpool who will start at OG. I expect this offense to score a lot of points.
Defensively, UH addressed a couple of need areas in recruiting. One issue last year was depth on the defensive line which was constantly in three-man fronts due to a lack of numbers, which also affected the ability to pressure QBs. A couple of high potential pass rushers have signed on including Oklahoma transfer Zacchaeus McKinney and and JC transfer O’tay Baker. They’ll join returnees Blessman Taala, Justus Tavai, Pita Tonga, D’juan Matthews, Jonah La‘ulu, John Tuipotou and Derek Smith. This should allow for a very decent rotation. The LB corps took a hit when Jeremiah Pritchard was injured in a car accident and is doubtful for this season, but Darius Muasau, Penei Pavihi, and Isaac Tufaga are back, and Joshua Bertholotte and Riley Wilson will be in the mix.
UH’s other need was in the secondary where stopping the run was a huge issue. Returnees are cover corner Cortez Davis, Cameron Lockridge, Eugene Ford, Khoury Bethley, Kai Kaneshiro and hybrid S/LB Quentin Frazier. New additions include big hitting Iowa State transfer Arnold Azunna and Georgia transfer Hugh Nelson.
It would be human nature if UCLA is looking ahead to LSU’s visit to the Rose Bowl the following week. According to betting site Oddsharks the Bruins are a 17-point favorite. If UH stays within striking distance late in the third quarter, the fast-paced attack and excellent conditioning could pay dividends for the Rainbow Warriors. Go Bows!
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