This one was over early.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to most that No. 18 Utah State had few problems clobbering a reeling Hawaii team 56-17 on Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
The Aggies blasted out to a 28-3 halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way. It’s hard to believe the Rainbow Warriors, with four losses in a row, still have a winning record (6-5). After next week’s bye, they have two chances left — at home against UNLV and on the road at San Diego State — to clinch a winning record and a Hawaii Bowl bid.
Meanwhile, Utah State won its eighth game in a row after a season-opening loss at Michigan State, and is a contender for the Group of Five conferences’ guaranteed slot in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
The Aggies balanced and efficient offense did as it pleased against an uninspired Hawaii defense. Utah State piled up 601 yards to 390 for UH in total offense. The Aggies ran all over the Warriors with 426 rushing yards.
On Utah State’s third touchdown, the left side of the Hawaii defense simply slowed up and stop pursuing Gerold Bright as he sprinted down the right sideline for an 18-yard score.
It’s possible that no one had an angle to make a play on Bright, and that it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d continued to run full-speed. But at best the defense was out of position and lost containment and the slowing up was a bad look especially so early in the game.
“I don’t think there’s a lack of effort,” head coach Nick Rolovich said. “Maybe a lack of focus sometimes and obviously a lack of execution.”
Later, in the third quarter, Darwin Thompson went 26 yards for a touchdown as seven tackles were missed by UH players. At least this time defenders were close enough to attempt to make a play.
There were times the Warriors looked like they thought they were playing in a touch game instead of tackle.
“It doesn’t feel good. We gotta get off blocks and make tackles,” Rolovich said. “We look bad. Maybe we need to buy them more tackling toys.”
He also had criticism for the offense.
“On the flip side … we haven’t been able to run the ball well and we can’t afford to drop balls and have Cole (McDonald) knocked down every time he goes back to pass.
“We’re not doing anything real well.”
How did this happen to a team that started out at 3-0 and 6-1?
First, the schedule was backloaded. Also, the team is very young and did not bounce back from the early losses very well. McDonald does not look fully recovered from injury. UH’s best defender, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, is still out with an injury. Depth is a big issue on defense, as is youth on both sides of the ball.
Defenses have been able to get to McDonald without blitzing, leaving more defenders in coverage, and defensive coordinators have benefited from seeing tape of UH’s new offensive schemes and players which was not available for UH’s early opponents.
This is a team that really needs the extra week it has to prepare for its next opponent, UNLV on Nov. 18 in the home finale.
“Things have to get fixed,” Rolovich said. “We’re looking at two opportunities to get to a bowl. It’s been a tough month.”