For at least one week, the run was back in the University of Hawaii run-and-shoot offense.
The Rainbow Warriors rushed for season highs with 209 yards and four touchdowns last Saturday. The production went for naught, though, as UH fell 41-38 to Fresno State.
But the defensive coordinators of this season’s four remaining opponents — starting with Saturday’s home game against San Jose State — will surely take notice. And that could help the 5-4 Warriors as they strive for a finishing sprint to bowl eligibility.
UH needs vast improvement on defense, fewer penalties and dropped passes, and consistency at quarterback. But the rushing offense that was often lacking in the first eight games was efficient and effective as the Bulldogs defense focused on trying to stop UH’s four-wide passing game.
“We get four-or-five-man boxes, we’ve got to take advantage and be able to hit some nice runs,” offensive coordinator Brian Smith said.
And that’s what UH’s backs did against Fresno State. They also took care of the ball (no fumbles) and the passers (just one sack).
Fred Holly III was the leading ground-gainer with 84 yards on seven carries. He had one of the four TDs, as did fellow running back Miles Reed and quarterbacks Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro.
Reed, UH’s leading rusher for the season with 445 yards, carried 14 times for 75 yards.
“It just makes us a more dangerous team,” Holly said. “The receivers and quarterbacks can rely on the run game. It shows that we have backs that can execute at a high level.”
Of course, Holly credited the offensive line.
“They executed well up front,” he said. “They knew their assignments and we took advantage of us running the ball more.”
Passing remains the offense’s primary weapon, though. Even in this game, UH passed significantly more than it ran (51 to 31 plays). The running back is still a blocker on most plays.
“Part of the offense (the running backs) have to embrace is the physicality of protection and understanding that the better we are in protection and the better we are at passing, the thinner boxes we’ll get and the more opportunities they’ll get then to have good looks to run at and create big plays,” Smith said. “I think all of our guys have embraced that and they understand their role in the offense is protector first and foremost.”
The biggest question remains which quarterback they will be playing with most. As of Wednesday, head coach Nick Rolovich had yet to name a starter between McDonald and Cordeiro. Cordeiro came off the bench in the fourth quarter and led UH’s offense to a 14-point comeback, tying the game before Fresno State won it with a last-second field goal.
“The good thing with the two (quarterbacks is) they both roll (practice) reps so much that both the 1s and the 2s have a lot of experience working with both,” Smith said. “They’ve both played a lot in games, so I don’t think it’s a huge change for everyone around them. I think we pick up where we leave off regardless of who is in. It’s also a matter of executing the offense. If we’re not executing well it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback.”
Holly expressed confidence in both.
“The whole team is comfortable with both quarterbacks,” he said. “They’ll both be ready to play. They’re both leaders on this team and can get the offense together and rally the team. They both know how to win football games.”