Yes, a loss is a loss. But even after the frustrating 28-21 defeat at West Point, this is still the University of Hawaii football team’s best four-game start to a season in 16 years — with the notable exception of 2007. Other than that Sugar Bowl season, you have to go back to 2002 for the last time the Warriors started at 3-1 or better.
Like now, the Warriors had a third-year sophomore at quarterback. But Timmy Chang had a lot more experience in the run-and-shoot offense at that point than Cole McDonald does now.
UH began 2002 with a 61-36 win over an Eastern Illinois team quarterbacked by Tony Romo, lost 35-32 at BYU, and then won its first two WAC games, 31-6 at UTEP and 42-10 at home against SMU.
It ended up as a pretty good year for the Warriors. They went 10-4, including 7-1 in the WAC. The other three losses were at Boise State, to 14th-ranked Alabama and against Tulane in the first Hawaii Bowl.
Coupled with the 9-3 of 2001 (quarterbacked by current coach Nick Rolovich), it was the first time Hawaii put together consecutive winning seasons since Bob Wagner’s teams did three in a row from 1988 to 1990. This time, Hawaii would post winning records again in 2003 and 2004 — the most in a row since Dick Tomey’s squads from 1978 through 1982.
Sometimes it was quite the rollercoaster — like the blowout losses at Fresno and Boise in ’04 that put UH at 4-5 before it ran the table the final four games (with Chad Owens putting on the greatest punt-returning show, game-after-game, I’ve ever seen). When you take a step back and look at the entire picture, though, June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense found consistency with a quarterback, Chang, who sometimes seemed very inconsistent.
What we’ve learned since is that while the main key player in the run-and-shoot offense is, indeed, the quarterback, the QB relies on his receivers making the same read that he does — and that usually takes time to develop. On some of those passes where it looked like the only receiver in the area was a safety or other defender, and the ball went into his hands, the intended receiver (or, in some cases, Chang) made the wrong read.
The NCAA records Chang set for career passing yards and touchdowns have been eclipsed. But he still holds the FBS mark for most career interceptions with 80.
It’s important to note, however, that he threw 2,406 passes, which also still stands as the national career record. And, perhaps even more telling, Chang threw 200 consecutive passes without an interception — a streak that started in the last game of his junior year and ended four games into his senior season.
UH’s current starting quarterback, McDonald, has yet to throw an interception in 152 attempts to start his college career (he threw nine pickless passes as a backup last season).
McDonald’s the kind of player that values the letter W over any numbers next to his name. But even after Saturday’s missed opportunities on offense that contributed to UH’s loss, that zero under INT for McDonald is extremely impressive.
It’s quite conceivable that McDonald could break a record this Saturday against Duquesne that was set by Colt Brennan in 2006. During six games from Sept. 30 to Nov. 4, Brennan threw 182 passes in a row without any being caught by the guys in the other-colored jerseys.
There have been a few close calls — drops by defenders. But McDonald’s streak is still incredible, especially when you consider he isn’t always throwing “safe” passes (he can zip it into just the right spot to a receiver who looks like he is covered). Also, this group of starters has only been working together in the run-and-shoot since last spring. Chang and Brennan and their receivers had much more experience with the scheme than the current Hawaii offense does.