By Bobby Curran.
Finally, the conference season gets underway, and it does so with a bang, as Hawaii hosts defending MWC champion San Jose State.
The Spartans are vastly improved over the teams that fifth-year head coach Brent Brennan fielded just a couple of years ago. As a 1998 Hawaii grad assistant, Brennan was elevated to an assistant coach of receivers after a coach departed – the only grad assistant in UH history to be so elevated mid season. The Spartans are a team that throws, and throws, and the throws some more. They currently rank seventh nationally in passing offense, averaging 359 yards per game. Four receivers average more than 20 yards per reception on multiple catches per game.
Led by QB Nick Starkel, the Spartans are fearless at driving the ball downfield. His completion percentage is ordinary at a hair under 55%, but there isn’t a lot of dinking and dunking. This is a vertical attack of major proportions. Seven receivers have four or more catches in two games. And also scary, RB Tyler Evans adds 75 ypg on the ground at 5.5 ypc. Slowing the Spartans down will be a huge challenge for the UH defense, who will play the first half without Darius Muasau.
Defensively, they have at least one outstanding player at each level. On the line it’s all-conference DT Cade Hall, who has 14 career sacks and 25 career TFL. Kyle Harmonis is a monster at LB, and FS Jay Lenard is as good as there is in the league.
Bottom line: UH has its work cut out. They need to get out to a fast start which they proved they can do against Portland State. They need to get Chevan Cordeiro into a rhythm passing game, and in the second half against Oregon State, they found new ways to get the ball in Calvin Turner’s hands. Because opponents are doubling him or putting a spy on him, conventional hand-offs or conventional routes have been largely ineffective. The emerging receiver this year has to be Nick Mardner, who is a long 6’6 and can really run. He is looking like a serious pro prospect, and UH needs to target him frequently. Dae Dae Hunter is a threat to run or catch, and it’s definitely time for OC Bo Graham to continue the creativity he showed last week. The offensive line is improving and needs to be at their best if UH is to have a chance to win this week.
The defense is a bigger concern. They continue to struggle with alignment and assignment, and there needs to be improvement on the pass rush. It would help if the injured Jonah Laulu can come back. If UH can stay in the game until halftime, they’ll get Darius Muasau back, and that will be huge. The secondary will be looking at the best passing attack they’ve seen yet, and they have to avoid lapses, and also have to tackle well. This could be an incredible watch, but it looks like fans will still not be allowed. Go Bows!
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