Alright. So. Remember all that stuff I wrote last week about the UH quarterback position being unsettled and nobody yet taking control of that starting spot?
That’s no longer a thing, because Cole McDonald took full control from the very first series during the University of Hawaii’s opener on Saturday, leading the ‘Bows to a 43-34 road win over Colorado State.
To say this performance was unexpected would be an understatement. I’m sure head coach Nick Rolovich will remark about how they’ve had confidence in McDonald’s abilities all along and some talking heads will probably give reasons why this doesn’t come completely out of the blue. Don’t believe any of it.
McDonald was ranked 134th in the country among quarterback recruits coming out of high school in 2016. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s nowhere near the elite rankings. He didn’t have a scholarship offer from any other program. For McDonald to step in as a sophomore making his first career start and perform how he did Saturday was one of the biggest shocks — of the pleasant variety — this program has experienced in quite some time.
In all, McDonald finished with a stat line of 26 of 37 passing for 418 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed 13 times for 96 yards and another two touchdowns.
It was an absolutely complete and well-rounded performance. He showed every piece of his game — over 500 total yards and five touchdowns — and didn’t seem at all intimidated. His teammates rallied around him and stepped up to make big plays when given the chance. The run and shoot is alive and well, once again.
While John Ursua provided many a smile in his return, going for 123 yards and two touchdowns, it was actually junior receiver Cedric Byrd who appeared to be McDonald’s favorite target. The diminutive Byrd, who goes just 5-foot-9, found openings in the Rams’ secondary all day. He wound up with 11 catches for 181 yards and a score.
Flying to the Mainland as a 14-point underdog, Hawaii would have had every excuse to perform at an underwhelming level this week. They were distracted by the potential weather creeping towards the islands, which thankfully did far less damage than it could have. They were heading into what feels like a defining season for their head coach. They were being led by a quarterback who threw nine passes last season.
But the ‘Bows appeared to be a team that had full faith in its staff, its system and its personnel. On its very first series, Hawaii marched deep into Colorado State territory and elected to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 4-yard line. Ursua used his quickness with a double move at the goal line and McDonald hit him on the comeback to complete the drive.
The decision to go for it on that play and the execution to make sure it paid off really set the tone for the rest of the game. After Colorado State tied things up with a long touchdown drive of its own, Hawaii rattled off 30 straight points to take a 37-7 lead late in the third quarter. The Rams got themselves back in the game, cutting the deficit to just six points with under five minutes to play, but they were unable to further the comeback beyond that.
This win doesn’t provide any real forecast for how the rest of the season will play out. Good teams don’t look ahead, taking each week as individual one-game seasons. But it does at least solidify the uncertainty that hovered above the program. McDonald has a strong hold on the starting job for now and the team can move forward with that comforting knowledge.
So get your farm and fast food puns ready because they’ll probably be necessary for the long haul.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.