UH faces further challenges with Iosefa’s 3-game suspension

In a week when the team should be both relishing its first Mountain West win of the season and focusing on its Saturday road date with San Diego State, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were dealt an unexpected blow with running back Joey Iosefa’s three-game suspension after an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. Iosefa was stripped of his co-captaincy and will not be eligible to return to action until the team faces Colorado State on Nov. 8.

Without getting into the implications of his actual transgression, from a football aspect, this is a tough blow to Hawaii (2-4, 1-0 MWC). Iosefa came on at the end of 2013, starting the final four games and gaining 586 yards on 124 carries (4.7 yards per carry) with five touchdowns in those appearances. While Iosefa had already been out the past month with a broken ankle, his return was anticipated as the stabilizing force for Hawaii’s offense. Now that return is postponed for the time being.

The offense showed some explosiveness in its 38-28 comeback win on Saturday against Wyoming, though fans didn’t have much reason for optimism at halftime. After quarterback Taylor Graham unburied himself from the depths of Coach Chow’s depth chart, he showed why he was originally an Ohio State recruit to begin with. Graham got off to a shaky start but stood in and put his strong arm on display in an impressive second quarter, ending the half with 108 pass yards and a touchdown strike.

But his snake bitten career added another chapter when Graham broke his foot on the final play of the half. The offense was turned back over to Ikaika Woolsey, the team’s starter for the first five games of the year. Woolsey led the ‘Bows back from a 21-10 halftime deficit and was 8 for 9 for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Quinton Pedroza finally found paydirt and hauled in seven passes for 118 yards and two scores. Running back Steven Lakalaka, who had been filling in admirably for Iosefa the past four games, also left the game with a head injury toward the end of the third quarter.

With Lakalaka’s status still uncertain, the Iosefa suspension is that much more magnified. But in his absence, we’d get to see a heavy dose of Diocemy Saint Juste, who showed flashes of stardom against Wyoming. Saint Juste finished the night with a whopping 135 yards on 17 carries, scorching the Cowboy defense for double-digits seemingly every time he got the ball. Despite that success, the sophomore had only 13 carries in the first five games of the season. He had double-digit carries just once as a freshman, so he’s never had to sustain a heavy workload. The Iosefa absence could make that a necessity.

There’s been a lot on Coach Chow’s plate of late. While he said it wasn’t about him, the win over Wyoming seemed to be a turning point, a redemptive victory. A team having to strip one of its captains of his leadership title won’t help their forward momentum, but Iosefa has said all the right things. Hopefully, UH found enough of what it has been looking for on Saturday to continue trending upward despite the setback.

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

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