Warriors need to shore up special teams

Hawai‘i played well against one of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference, and arguably one of the best football programs in the country — Boise State.

Too bad collegiate football coaches are paid to win and not for noble efforts.

There are two areas the Rainbow Warriors must improve on if they are going to have a chance against an undefeated Nevada program Saturday.

Since game one and play one of the season opener against Fresno State, the Rainbow Warriors’ special teams have faltered.

During the first two kickoff-return attempts of the season, the Warriors fumbled, and one of those fumbles resulted in a turnover that gave the Bulldogs’ an early 7-0 advantage.

The struggles on special teams were additionally exposed last week when Hawai‘i surrendered 193 yards to Broncos’ punt return and kickoff specialist Avery Williams.

You have to cut the Rainbow Warriors’ some slack with the knowledge that Williams is a special player, and he may carve himself a niche playing on Sundays with his ability to return kickoffs and punts.

Williams was named the MWC Special Teams Player of the Week twice this year, and UH coach Todd Graham knew going into the game they should not kick the ball to No. 26. But the Warriors’ didn’t stick to the game plan.

The result of not listening was constantly playing the defending conference champions on a short field.

“The kickoff return was the difference in the game,” Graham said in a post-game Zoom interview. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t get it done tonight.”

The other reason the Rainbow Warriors continue to struggle is yet another slow start.

Hawai‘i was able to reverse a 20-0 deficit to win 39-33 against the lowly New Mexico Lobos, but trailing by 23 against the defending conference champs is not a formula for winning football games.

Graham has emphasized during every pregame press conference the importance of his Rainbow Warriors getting off to faster starts.

Better performance on special teams and a faster start might be the Rainbow Warriors’ formula for success.

If kicker Matthew Shipley takes the illegal procedure penalty rather than kicking off to Williams, the 99-yard touchdown doesn’t happen, and it forces Boise State to figure out another way to win the game.

The Rainbow Warriors simply let Williams, a player who may become one of the elite kick returners in the NFL some day, get too many opportunities to beat them single-handedly.

Williams’ combined 193 yards on both kickoff and punt returns with one 99-yard touchdown jaunt are the only statistics you need to look at to thoroughly understand his impact on the game.

“Their special teams executed better than ours,” Graham simply stated in the post-game press conference. “We played good enough to win the game offensively, but defensively, the difference was special teams.”

Some would argue that Williams had help in his performance, and he can thank the Hawai‘i special teams, who need to improve in order to be successful in their upcoming games against Nevada and San Jose State.


Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.


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