Fresh start is a good one as UH shows progress in opener

Overreaction can be a very dangerous force. It’s usually hard to determine when we’re overreacting or when our senses are acting rationally. Actually, there are some who would say that there is no such thing as “overreaction” because any reaction we have is simply that — our reaction.

Too much? Yeah, too much.

So since we just finished up Week 1 of the college football season and I don’t want to talk about overreactions, let’s just say that a lot of us can fall victim to reading too much into these initial results. Northwestern (probably) isn’t that good and Penn State (hopefully) isn’t that bad, but since the NCAA season is so short and every week so important, there are real takeaways after even just one game.

With its win over Colorado, the University of Hawaii showed that it is ready to compete in 2015. The Buffaloes certainly aren’t some juggernaut, having gone winless last season in Pac-12 play. But Hawaii showed plenty of reason for optimism and was improved in deficient areas from a season ago.

Starting with quarterback Max Wittek, the ‘Bows appear to have a capable signal caller who remains calm and poised under duress. Wittek made some mistakes but showed flashes of ability, as well as the demeanor of a quarterback who wants the responsibility of leading his teammates. When things weren’t going perfectly, he didn’t shy from the pressure. At the college level, there are times when you see quarterbacks and then you see athletes playing the quarterback position. Wittek is a quarterback.

His two main targets were familiar. Wide receivers Quinton Pedroza and Marcus Kemp picked up where they each left off last season and made most of the big plays in the passing game for UH. The duo accounted for 11 of Wittek’s 19 completions and 157 of the 202 passing yards.

But one of the nice surprises from Thursday night was running back Paul Harris. The junior made his UH debut and ran with elusiveness and determination. He was a great complement to junior Steven Lakalaka as the team looks to replace the departed Joey Iosefa. It was also a huge boost without Diocemy Saint Juste available.

The offensive line did a decent job and created some space for the backs and some time for Wittek, though Colorado was able to close those gaps and get some more pressure as the game wore on.

But defensively is where Hawaii may have made its biggest strides. The ‘Bows came out with different looks, confusing the Buffaloes and getting to quarterback Sefo Liufau. Defensive coordinator Tom Mason got off to a great start in his first game at UH. He dialed up some creative blitzes and changed up the scheme to make things tough on Liufau, who finished just 23 of 40 for 158 yards and an interception on the night.

When Colorado adjusted and started using the ground game was when they began to have some more success. As a team, the Buffaloes ran for 215 yards and both of their touchdowns. But both the front four and the secondary seemed to be working together nicely against the pass, which has been an area of weakness. They gave up 246 pass yards per game last season, but lowered that to just 158 against Colorado.

Other than Pedroza having difficulty multiple times handling punts, the special teams were above average. Rigoberto Sanchez handled the kicking and punting duties, making both of his field goal attempts and forcing Colorado into tough field position most of the game. He has big shoes to fill without Scott Harding on the roster, but he acclimated himself very well on opening night.

It wasn’t the prettiest game to watch, but Hawaii is off to a 1-0 start and has now won three of its past four games dating back to last year. The pieces are there for UH to be competitive and if they can limit defensive mistakes, they could be realistically eyeing the upper half of the MWC West division.

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

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