Much of the optimism and excitement to start the season has dissipated by now, if not fully evaporated. There doesn’t seem to be much gas left in the tank for a Hawaii football team that is coasting on fumes to the finish line.
Saturday’s 38-0 loss at Utah State has been the low point for the Rainbow Warriors (3-8, 1-7 Mountain West), who lost the possibility for bowl eligibility last week and were just looking for some positives to finish off the year. They certainly didn’t find any of those in Logan, Utah, and they now have just one more game to temporarily right the ship, next week’s home finale against BYU.
But Saturday was more of the same as the defense was decimated on the ground for 311 rush yards. That ups the average to 203 rushing yards given up per game. It’s also the fourth time they’ve given up at least 250 on the ground. Utah State’s success wasn’t just about volume, either. They averaged 8.0 yards per carry on the day with LaJuan Hunt doing much of the damage with his 111 yards on 13 attempts.
The Aggies were able to control the line of scrimmage and just outworked Hawaii in the trenches. The ‘Bows certainly gave their own run game plenty of opportunities and Diocemy Saint Juste had another consistent effort with 28 carries for 122 yards. But the big plays just weren’t there on the ground or through the air. Long drives stalled without producing results and large chunks of yards were nowhere to be found.
The absence of John Ursua has remained a factor, but it’s certainly much more than that. Hawaii’s offense hasn’t been able to finish drives or put them in position to win games throughout conference play. In eight Mountain West games, they’ve been outscored 135-62 in the first half. Always having to fight back from deficits is a tall order for a team still finding its footing.
From a big-picture perspective, there are certainly positives. Dru Brown has been better at protecting the football in this, his second season as the starting quarterback. He has just four interceptions in conference play and his fumbling troubles of a year ago seem to have been corrected.
Saint Juste is piling up some huge numbers with 1,471 rush yards, including three 200-yard games. The senior has proven to be the work horse, a role in which he hasn’t always been afforded an opportunity.
But the defense has been unable to consistently get stops and the offense hasn’t been able to keep up with many big plays. It’s been disappointing, in that Hawaii seemed ready to be much more a part of the Mountain West conversation than they have become. There isn’t one thing to fix or one main problem to address. They just need to improve and progress in each phase of the game.
I thought Hawaii would be a bowl eligible team and win about seven games this season. That obviously hasn’t been the case, but they’re not as far away as Saturday’s score might indicate. There is plenty to be disappointed about for now, but their goals are still within a close proximity.
Rallying for the BYU game feels like a challenge at the moment, but it would at least bookend a forgettable 2017 with some building blocks for 2018.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.