Rainbow Warriors’ result in Boulder feels incomplete

Walking into their first road game of the season, the University of Hawaii had begun to develop an identity. They may have come in with just one victory – a 27-24 topping of Northern Iowa last week – but they had been otherwise competitive and have shown some maturation for this early in the season. Yet, Saturday’s result was less than fulfilling. The ‘Bows fell 21-12 to a Colorado team that was far from dominant. The game was there for the taking but it was simply a lack of execution that limited UH’s success.

The defense did a great job in the second half and had a strong overall game, keeping Hawaii (1-3) in the mix. What will be talked about in the coming days is the quarterback position and who has the trust of coach Norm Chow. Heading into the game, Chow had given a vote of confidence to starter Ikaika Woolsey. Yes, the dreaded vote of confidence. It seems the worst thing for a quarterback or a coach on any level is to have their boss state publicly how confident they are in their performance. After a mostly ineffective first half, Woolsey was pulled for backup Jeremy Higgins at the start of the third quarter.

The switch seemed to give the ‘Bows an immediate shot in the arm. Trailing 21-6, Higgins lofted a 32-yard pass to Marcus Kemp down the left sideline on his first play. Kemp made a great diving catch to move quickly into Colorado territory. The two hooked up again to get to the Buffaloes’ 21, but the drive stalled there and UH had to settle for a field goal.

That was a common theme on the day. Hawaii had entered the red zone twice in the first half but came away with just three points each time. Conversely, Colorado (2-2) had gotten inside the 20 twice in the first half and found the end zone each time.

Missed opportunities continued the rest of the game. After connecting on his first two passes for 41 yards, Higgins managed to complete only two of his next 15 throws. The ground game was picking up solid chunks and was likely the preferred game plan coming in, but the early deficit took some of that away. While there has been outside criticism in the past couple seasons about the offense’s play calling, that was not an issue Saturday. The team seemed to be trying all the right things and at most of the right times, but it was execution that was lacking. Higgins showed some of the characteristics that have made him a quality backup, but a backup, nonetheless.

Accuracy, arm strength, decision making – they were all at a level below what they needed to be for a win. He has good touch on his throws, but not the power to fire the ball into an open receiver’s target. He has good pocket awareness, but he couldn’t use his feet to create a positive if a play broke down.

After a few series, it seemed that though UH had climbed to just nine points down, the deficit still felt much steeper.

Running back Steven Lakalaka showed some more great vision and lateral movement in his performance, again stepping in for the injured Joey Iosefa. He topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight week, averaging 6.5 yards per carry on the way to a 123-yard day. Punter Scott Harding also had another outstanding day and is always a fun adventure when he steps on the field.

Despite giving up over 400 total yards, the defense played well. The first Colorado touchdown was just a jump ball that receiver Nelson Spruce went up and plucked for a 71-yard score to give the Buffaloes a 7-3 first quarter lead. Spruce was the Buffs’ offense, finishing with 13 catches for 172 yards with the one touchdown.

He was the one weapon UH couldn’t contain, which overshadowed the way they stuffed a Colorado run game that was held to just 118 yards and 3.3 yards per carry.

As a whole, the ‘Bows really did play well in all three phases of the game. They looked prepared and they looked more composed. They just couldn’t complete a pass. Woolsey, Higgins and Taylor Graham, who came on late after Higgins injured his throwing hand, combined to complete just 17 of their 46 pass attempts for 155 yards.

Good things have been evident each game, but teams are going to start daring UH to beat them through the air. So far, that hasn’t been a winning formula.

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

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