The term “letdown game” is thrown around a lot, perhaps more frequently than it should be. But it has become a pretty reliable concept and there seemed to at least be the opportunity for one last week.
That turned out to be wishful thinking.
Any hope of a letdown performance on Saturday afternoon was quickly dissolved as UCLA came out firing most efficiently against Hawaii, picking up a 56-23 win in Pasadena, Calif. A week ago, the Bruins came back from a 44-10 deficit to defeat Texas A&M in one of the wildest comebacks in college football history.
That effort clearly didn’t diminish their mental or physical energy levels in any significant way, because they picked up right where they left off in dissecting the Hawaii defense in a flawless effort.
The stat sheet looks decent enough for UH, at least offensively. They put 23 points on the board, Dru Brown threw for 227 yards and a pair of scores, Diocemy Sainte Juste rushed for 154 yards and the team piled up 515 total yards of offense.
But this one was never really a contest, despite Hawaii having early opportunities. The ‘Bows gave up a 99-yard scoring drive, missed a field goal, failed on a fake punt attempt (on 4th and 22), had an interception returned for a touchdown and a failed on a fourth-down conversion attempt, all in the first half. They went to the locker room trailing 35-7 and never made much of a push in the second half — certainly nothing close to what UCLA did a week prior.
But there is still a lot to be optimistic about as Hawaii (2-1) gets a week off before beginning its Mountain West Conference slate. Head coach Nick Rolovich has the offense in a groove this early in the season. They’re moving the ball consistently and despite not finishing drives on Saturday, the ‘Bows are taking chances and trusting their talent.
Precision is the one thing Brown will need to improve moving forward. He’s just over 60 percent passing, but he has four interceptions through three games. Part of that is a byproduct of feeling more confident in the offense and the willingness to take riskier shots down the field. But it is something he and the receiving corps will need to clean up in conference matchups.
Speaking of the receivers, John Ursua has established himself as the weapon of choice for Brown. His breakout performance in the opener (12 catches, 272 yards) doesn’t seem all that flukey after he hauled in another 10 receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown against UCLA. There was the hope that Ursua would assume some of the role left by the departed Marcus Kemp, but this type of start has exceeded expectations.
Saint Juste has been fantastic and he continues to be one of the most unheralded runners in college football. His 434 rush yards have opened things up for Brown to see one-on-one matchups down the field. He’s the most important piece for an offense that is averaging 490 yards per game.
Defensively, there is a lot of work to be done. This was always going to be the question coming into 2017 and it has remained unanswered. The ‘Bows need to be much better up front because the secondary was getting exposed easily against UCLA. Everything in the passing game was coming much too easily.
There is a sense of imbalance because the offense is good enough to score points and maintain possession, but the defense isn’t good enough to overcome any offensive mistakes. Hopefully a good week of practice can bring a better equilibrium and the ‘Bows will be in sync when they take on Wyoming (Sept. 23) to begin conference play.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.