The University of Hawaii played ugly early tonight, but turned on the juice in time to beat FCS opponent Duquesne 42-21 and improve to 4-1.
In 2007, when UH plastered FCS team Northern Colorado 63-6 to start the season, the Warriors led 42-0 at halftime, and Colt Brennan and some of the other starters came out for halftime in street clothes, their work for the night done.
Tonight, you wouldn’t have blamed coach Nick Rolovich if he had some of his starters do the same thing and take an early shower — but for the opposite reason … maybe backups would’ve performed better. Hawaii led 21-14 at the break, but only after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter against a team it was favored to beat by around 30 points.
(By the way, UH’s regular starters at slot receiver, John Ursua and Cedric Byrd, did not start the game, but entered early in the first quarter.)
With many from that 2007 team in attendance on homecoming night (being honored for their 12-1 season including a Sugar Bowl appearance and Circle of Honor induction), the current Rainbow Warriors came out flat and trailed early due largely to their own mistakes.
To put it simply, they started the game playing down to the team from the lower division.
The Rainbow Warriors appeared to take the Dukes lightly, and aided them with two turnovers and a misplay on a Duquesne kickoff that led to one of the scores.
Hawaii had come into the game with just two turnovers in four games. They doubled that number on their first two possessions.
But Rolovich looked at it from a positive perspective in his postgame press conference.
“To have three or four turnovers (technically, just two) and win by 21 shows some character. I know we have some disappointed guys who wanted to come in the game, but the main thing is we came out with the win,” Rolovich said. “I think it was good for them. It’s been pretty clean to start games (prior to tonight). To face adversity to start … you get to judge a bit of your team’s character. But that’s not how we planned … That’s probably credit to Duquesne.”
Rolovich complimented his team’s ability to “weather the storm.”
A lot of credit for that should go to UH’s defense, which allowed just 166 yards, and was successful on 10 of 14 third-down situations (10 of 15 including fourth down).
Zach Wilson‘s second interception of the season, early in the third quarter, was a big play.
“I think they found inspiration from the defense,” Rolovich said.
The ultimate difference was that UH has much more talent and depth than Duquesne; that is true in most matches between FBS and FCS teams. Hawaii — with nearly twice as many scholarship players — eventually wore down the visitors from Pennsylvania, on both sides of the ball.
Dayton Furuta and Fred Holly, a thunder and lightning combo at running back, complemented the passing game. After throwing the first interception of his career on the opening series, Cole McDonald settled down and threw five touchdown passes, including two to Ursua.
“Rolo talks about one snap and clear,” said McDonald, echoing a June Jones mantra. “Not every play’s gonna go your way. … The cornerback (Jonathan Istache) made a great play (on the interception). You just move on to the next play.
“We always love a struggle,” McDonald said. “It’s like life. Without resistance there is no strength. It’s great learning points for all of us.
“We’ve got to minimize mistakes we make and keep our defense off the field. Play for each other. A lot of times we shot ourselves in the foot, but it’s easy fixes.”
Furuta rushed for 114 yards on 12 carries. Holly added 30 yards and a TD. McDonald also displayed his ability to quickly chew up yardage with his long legs, carrying 12 times for 56 yards.
“It wasn’t a matter of being overconfident,” Furuta said of Hawaii’s sluggish start. “Duquesne took advantage of some mistakes. … We didn’t underestimate them and we were were ready to play.”
In the end, Hawaii’s talent won out; UH rolled up 518 yards of offense, nearly three times as much as Duquesne. But that first quarter was ugly, and UH won’t be able to afford starts like that against the rest of its schedule — against teams that have the same number of scholarship players, and play at the same FBS level.
“We understand we gotta play a lot better than this,” Rolovich said, adding that while it was rewarding to come out with a win, there’s plenty of work to do in preparation for Saturday’s conference game at San Jose State, noting that the Spartans had a bye this week.