Loss stymies UH’s unbeaten conference start

Well, on the one hand, it’s nice to actually feel a sense of disappointment when Hawaii loses.

That’s my glass half-full perspective after the Rainbow Warriors dropped a heartbreaking 41-38 loss to UNLV on Saturday at UH’s homecoming. We’re so conditioned to expect defeat that this feeling of being let down is an almost welcomed one. There’s reason to care again.

But while the hurt isn’t totally unpleasant, hurt still hurts. The opportunity to start conference play 3-0 was there for the taking — until it wasn’t. Hawaii played a solid game and gave the boisterous homecoming crowd plenty to cheer about throughout the night. But it was the game’s lone turnover that changed the tenor of the evening.

Dru Brown has performed better than anyone could have expected since he took over as starting quarterback. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing of which to be critical. While he’s been great about making accurate throws and hasn’t thrown an interception in any of his three starts, ball security has become a major issue.

The script was flipped when UNLV’s Tau Lotulelei stripped Brown late in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 38-38. The Rebels ran down most of the clock and converted the game-winning field goal to steal a victory in Aloha Stadium.

It was Brown’s fourth-consecutive game with a fumble. Sometimes fumbles are flukey, but four-straight games show that it’s at least something the redshirt sophomore needs to be more mindful about.

He has good athleticism and uses his legs effectively, so Brown can and should exit the pocket to make plays. But when he does so, he has to have better awareness of his surroundings and prioritize possession.

There’s no way to say what might have happened if Hawaii doesn’t fumble there. They may still have lost in regulation or overtime. But the ‘Bows certainly looked like a team poised to remain unbeaten in conference when they took a 38-31 lead with just over nine minutes remaining.

Things didn’t pan out, but an expectation of success is a step in the right direction. A year ago, it would have felt surprising to see UH hold onto a lead late in the fourth quarter of a conference game. The 2015 ‘Bows blew leads against both New Mexico and Nevada before the rest of the season spiraled out of control.

Though they’re just 3-4 on the season, things feel much different in 2016. It seemed like Hawaii should and would hold on for that win. I know that “you are what your record says you are,” but rising expectations are a good, if not completely fulfilling, byproduct of improvement.

Is Hawaii a good football team yet? The jury is still out. But they do a lot of things well and they have continued to get better as the season’s gone on.

The next improvement for the ‘Bows must be ball security, having fumbled 13 times (losing seven) on the season. Teams that maintain possession and don’t turn the ball over keep themselves in games. Brown doesn’t throw picks, or at least hasn’t shown a propensity for it yet. If he can designate a little more of his focus towards holding onto the football, Hawaii is going to find itself in just about every game it plays.

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

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