HONOLULU — Hawai‘i head football coach Todd Graham is adamantly repetitious about one message during every single post-game press conference with his team, and the premise of the message is for his team to get off to a fast start.
For the third game in the previous four weeks, the Rainbow Warriors have failed to stick to Graham’s game plan, and the result was a 35-17 loss to San Jose State Saturday afternoon at Aloha Stadium.
The Spartans (5-0) ended the first quarter with a 21-0 lead over the befuddled Rainbow Warriors, who didn’t recover until the second quarter.
With 11:43 left in the opening quarter, Spartans’ quarterback Nick Starkel connected with wide receiver Isaiah Holiness to give San Jose an early 7-0 lead.
On the Spartans’ next possession, running back Tyler Nevin’s 72-yard touchdown run with 9:36 left in the first quarter increased San Jose’s lead to 14-0.
Then again with 6:24 left in the first quarter, Nevins scored on a 10-yard touchdown run that gave SJSU a 21-0 lead in a game they were quickly turning into a one-sided blowout.
Nevins finished with 152 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, and his teammate Kairee Robinson added 111 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Mounting a comeback
Down by three touchdowns, the lifeless Rainbow Warriors’ offense began to establish a rhythm early in the second quarter.
Hawai‘i kicker Matthew Shipley started off the Warriors’ scoring by hitting a 25-yard field goal to make the score 21-3 with 9:21 left in the first half.
With 3:12 left in the half, Hawai‘i quarterback Chevan Cordeiro connected with running back Dae Dae Hunter, who scored on a 10-yard reception out of the backfield.
Hunter’s touchdown narrowed the deficit to 21-10 headed into halftime.
Cordeiro would march his team down the length of the field again on a 12-play, 74-yard drive that took 5:07, and ended when he connected with receiver Rico Bussey on an 11-yard touchdown pass.
The Spartans reestablished momentum with a time-consuming drive that would culminate in a touchdown.
The 18-play, 70-yard touchdown march took 7:31 to complete and ended in a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Robinson with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
More importantly, during the drive, the Rainbow Warriors’ exhausted all of their second-half timeouts, giving them no timeouts to work with heading into the fourth quarter.
With 12:03 left to go in the game, Spartans’ quarterback Nick Starkel connected with receiver Tre Walker to give San Jose a 35-17 lead.
The Rainbow Warriors answered when Cordeiro scored on a 4-yard run with 2:24 left in the game.
With all of the UH timeouts exhausted, all the Spartans had to do was run out the clock to give San Jose its fifth consecutive victory of the season.
Bussey’s breakout performance
Throughout the game, Hawai‘i struggled to generate a consistent offense in spite of amassing 339 yards of total offense.
Rico Bussey had a breakout game with 69 receiving yards and a touchdown, and Calvin Turner finished the game with 119 all-purpose yards.
Staying in Las Vegas
Because of the COVID-19 situation exploding on the mainland, the Spartans will play the remainder of their games in Las Vegas because they won’t be required to quarantine in Nevada.
The Rainbow Warriors-Spartans game was originally scheduled to be played in San Jose but was moved to Hawai‘’i at the last minute because of the COVID-19 situation in California.
During the week, Hawai‘i had a player test positive for COVID-19, but that didn’t impact the start time for Saturday’s game.