Hawaii eyeing another W as first road game looms

When Colorado and Hawaii last played in 2011, previous head coach Greg McMackin was at the start of his final season. The Rainbow Warriors controlled the game in that season opener, ultimately notching a 34-17 victory that would begin a 6-7 campaign. At the time, 6-7 felt like a disappointment with UH having been bowl eligible in four of the previous five seasons.

But things are different as Hawaii heads to Boulder to face the Buffaloes this weekend. The ‘Bows are coming off their first win of 2014 – a 27-24 topping of Northern Iowa – but it was just the fifth victory in the two-plus seasons since Norm Chow became the head coach. Now at 1-2 on the year, UH seems to be on the rise. They let the season opener against Washington slip through their grasp, so they really should be 2-1 at the moment. (I know – “you are what your record says you are” – but I still can’t figure out how they lost that game.)

The ground game should be the weapon of choice this week. Colorado (1-2) has had trouble stopping the run to this point, giving up a hair under 200 yards per game on the ground. Just last week, Arizona State diced them up for 223 yards rushing on 6.4 yards per carry. Local rival Colorado State ran wild for 266 yards on a 5.9 clip in the Buffaloes season-opening 34-17 loss.

Normally Joey Iosefa would be licking his chops for the chance to rack up a big day, but the Hawaii running back is still out with an ankle injury and shouldn’t be expected back for another two to four weeks, according to the original timetable. Taking over the bell cow duties last week was Steven Lakalaka, who finished with 32 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown. He should again see a heavy dose this week and shoulder much of the offensive responsibilities.

The UH passing game hasn’t been explosive yet and sophomore quarterback Ikaika Woolsey has been more of a game manager than a playmaker, but that has resulted in just one interception through the first three games. It will probably be more of the same this week against a Colorado team much more susceptible to the ground game than an air attack. Though backup Jeremy Higgins saw some action last week, Chow said that there is no quarterback controversy and that Woolsey is still his guy, per the Star-Advertiser earlier this week.

I wouldn’t be shocked to still see Higgins receive a couple series under center on Saturday. Woolsey has been steady and did have a pair of pass plays go for over 50 yards last week, but Coach Chow will certainly hope to get his downfield game going even more at some point this season. This may not be the week to open up the offense while going against Pac-12 athletes, but some time during conference play they’ll rely less heavily on the dink and dunk schemes.

Though Vegas has UH as a touchdown underdog, they at least head to the Mainland with a winner’s mentality. If they can manage the clock and run the ball as efficiently as previous Colorado opponents have, the ‘Bows should be in a position to steal this one late. Heading into the bye week 2-2 would be a huge achievement.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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