Wes Nakama | UH’s Identity Crisis


HONOLULU — Past the halfway point of the University of Hawaii football season, the team has established a clear identity: The Rainbow Warriors play hard, show glimpses of being a good team for one quarter or even longer, will fight to the finish … but ultimately make too many crucial mistakes and give up too many big plays to come out with a victory.

Saturday’s 35-28 Homecoming loss to Colorado State was another prime example of the inconsistency that has plagued UH and been the main reason for an 0-7 start.

This team plays well in spurts, but playing well only in spurts is not good enough to win a Mountain West Conference football game. Inconsistency is not a formula for success.

There are several stats that jump out in explaining the latest defeat: Colorado State out-rushing Hawaii 231 yards to 32; the Rainbow Warriors converting only 2 of 17 third downs (compared to 7 of 18 for the Rams); 4 turnovers (CSU had 2).

Those alone show why UH did not win, but other key moments were just as symbolic:

In the first quarter, Hawaii’s Charles Clay strips the ball from Joe Hansley and recovers the fumble at the Rams’ 41-yard line, but three plays later, Sean Schroeder’s apparent 28-yard touchdown pass to Chris Gant is stolen by Deandre Elliott for an interception and touchback.

On the very next play, Donn Alexander breaks free for a 70-yard scamper that sets up Kapri Bibbs’ 5-yard TD run to put Colorado State ahead, 7-0.

Diocemy Saint Juste returns the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Rams’ 18, but two plays later, Schroeder fumbles the ball and Max Morgan returns it 73 yards for a touchdown.

Those plays alone represent a potential 28-point swing — the difference between being up 14-0 or down 14-0.

“You cannot play good teams and not take advantage of opportunities,” UH coach Norm Chow said, “because it will come back and haunt you.”

Later, in the second quarter, the Rainbow Warriors gained first-and-goal on the 10, only to botch the shotgun snap and lose 11 yards. They ended up settling for Tyler Hadden’s 39-yard field goal, but still trailed 28-17 instead of potentially 28-21.

There were other huge mistakes in the second half, such as Taylor Graham’s interception after Hawaii had gained first-and-10 on the CSU 41 following a 32-yard punt, and a shotgun snap hitting Gant while he was in motion on fourth-and-1.

But the one play that – more than any other – symbolized this loss and maybe also the past five, came at the end of the first half: The Rainbow Warriors, trailing 35-17, faced fourth-and-1 at their own 49 with the clock ticking after Schroeder’s 8-yard pass to Vasquez Haynes.

They let seven or eight seconds go by before finally calling timeout, only to send out the punt unit with 0:18 showing on the clock.

This was symbolic because it showed two things: A lack of confidence in the offense’s ability to gain even 1 yard on the ground; and a lack of confidence in the defense to keep the Rams from scoring in the final 18 seconds.

That moment — punting from midfield on fourth-and-1 while trailing 35-17 and only 18 seconds remaining in the half — exposed UH’s sense of vulnerability on both sides of the ball.

But more than the stats, more than the game’s defining moments, what Saturday’s loss showed (again) is that this team has yet to develop the consistent play necessary to win. The singular mistakes and lack of execution alone do not cost the Rainbow Warriors a victory, but when they are repeated over the course of a quarter or a half, the end result is a loss.

Do that every week, and you end up 0-7.

More than anything, this team needs to somehow break out of the nasty cycle of two great plays or series, followed by one or two horrible ones. It needs to establish a consistent rhythm and maintain it over the course of all four quarters.

It needs … a new identity.