Last week I wrote something along the lines of “I think (Ikaika Woolsey) has played well enough and seemed comfortable enough to hold onto that job, giving Hawaii its best chance to win games.”
Yeah, so Nick Rolovich didn’t exactly agree with me. For Hawaii’s sake, it seems like a good thing he didn’t.
The Rainbow Warriors started their conference slate with an impressive 38-17 victory over Nevada, thanks to a very efficient day from new starting quarterback Dru Brown. The junior college transfer finished 15 of 18 passing for 222 yards and a pair of scores after wrestling the job from Woolsey.
It was a completely dominant performance by UH, maybe its best effort since a 48-10 home win over UNLV in 2012. The ‘Bows took control early and didn’t let up until the game was out of reach, holding a 38-3 lead after three quarters.
The improvement under Brown is a great sign with a full Mountain West slate lined up. He did lean heavily on Marcus Kemp, which was to be expected. But Brown still spread the ball around well and his two scores went to Metuisela ‘Unga. It will be a very nice complement to the offense if the big man can remain involved. He has just three catches through five games, but all three have been touchdown grabs.
The switch under center gives some insight into Coach Rolovich’s mindset. He certainly feels secure enough to make a major decision if it’s warranted. I thought Woolsey would get at least one conference game to maintain his starting position, but Rolovich wanted to go with the younger Brown and build him from the ground up. He gave him some early reps against the power conference opponents, but Brown is now a starter in the Mountain West. He certainly proved to be capable.
It’s the first signal that this is now Coach Rolovich’s team. He’s leaning heavily on some of the veteran talent like Kemp, Diocemy Saint Juste and Paul Harris, but Brown creates some separation from the Norm Chow era. It’s the first major decision and change he’s made in terms of on-field personnel and it certainly worked brilliantly.
Brown didn’t just show good decision making, he showed a willingness to trust his receivers. He gave multiple targets opportunities to make plays when the coverage looked favorable. More often than not, they rewarded his optimism.
As impressive as it was, Coach Rolovich seemed to realize it’s only a first step.
“I hope we enjoy it tonight,” he said during the postgame press conference. “But if we just want to sit back and think we’ve arrived, we’re wrong. This isn’t our goal, this is part of our goal.”
We don’t have to look all that far back to understand how right he is. Hawaii won its conference opener in 2014 and there was a fair amount of “first place in the division!” chatter to be had. UH went on to lose its next four games.
This team doesn’t have the winning pedigree to take anything for granted. That showed just a bit with how it played the final 10 minutes on Saturday. But learning how to win starts with learning what winning feels like. They know that now.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.