PROVO — BYU’s football team will try and rebound against Hawaii at home after two brutal losses to Utah and Boise State. On paper, Hawaii may present just what the doctor ordered considering its porous rush defense among many other factors.
But should fans expect a romp over the Rainbow Warriors come Friday night? We looked at the matchups and talked to the team to give our best preview into what should happen.
BYU rushing offense vs. Hawaii
The Cougars are still trying to find their groove on the ground four games into the season. Boise State again rendered their rush attack anemic, although it showed some strides from an awful outing against Utah.
To say that Hawaii can be had on the ground would be a gross understatement. Through four games, its given up an average of 160 yards on the ground, but yielded 355 rushing yards to Nevada last week.
It’s a defense that returns just two starters along its front seven, but its leading tackler is cornerback Mike Edwards. Having any defensive back as your leading tackler is rarely a good thing and often indicates opposing offenses making a lot of yards past the line of scrimmage.
The Rainbow Warriors present a 4-3 base defense that features defensive ends Paipai Falemalu (6-3, 245, senior) and Beau Yap (6-1, 260). Yap is tied for second on the team in total tackles.
Cougar question marks
Can the Cougars run the football against a team who appears to be poorly equipped to stop them? With their next four games — Utah State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech — lined up against stiff rushing defenses, the Cougar offensive line, particularly the interior, needs to develop a good rhythm and confidence going forward.
Another question mark surrounds who will be playing center this week. Blair Tushaus has struggled mightily with his blocking assignments, and senior Braden Hansen may be tried out there in an effort to provide better overall play.
“We need to execute better and we need to target better,” offensive lineman Braden Brown said. “We’re obviously not satisfied with how we’ve been playing, and we know that it all starts with us on the offensive line. We have some young guys who I think are improving, but we need to get it together quickly so we can run the ball better and get this offense going.”
The offensive line play has been the main thing holding the offense down this season and coaches know this. Look for offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to be patient with the running game against Hawaii, allowing his offensive linemen to develop greater continuity and confidence with how they operate as a unit.
BYU passing offense vs. Hawaii
As bad as the ground game was last week against Boise State, the passing attack was even worse. This was in large part due to Riley Nelson playing two and a half quarters at, what he said to reporters earlier this week, 65 percent due to an ailing back. The results he put forth were nothing short of horrific: 19 yards and three interceptions.
Freshman Taysom Hill will likely see most of the reps, if not start altogether this week — he did show strides last week as the game wore on.
Hawaii isn’t much better in defending the pass as it is against the run. It gives up 232 yards passing through three games this year with both Nevada and USC shutting it down and focusing on the run during the second half of play. It’s a defense that plays a lot of man-press coverage with cover one being its base coverage scheme. Hawaii returns its two starting cornerbacks from a year ago: Mike Edwards 5-10, 180, junior, and John Hardy Tuliau 5-11, 180, junior.
Cougar question marks
Should Taysom Hill start, he’ll be presented with a defense likely to stack the box in an effort to force him to beat them with his arm. Will Hill be able to mount a consistent passing attack certainly is in question.
Ball distribution has suffered over the past few weeks with playmakers such as Ross Apo seeing almost no attention from his quarterbacks. Will Hill, or even Riley Nelson, be able to use every option available to them on the passing tree could lead to much better success through the air.
“We just have to play our game and not worry about what they do,” receiver JD Falslev said. “We haven’t been good, but I think that if we just focus on being at our best and running good routes that we’ll find success no matter who is playing quarterback.”
The Cougar wideouts should be able to benefit from the man-press coverages Hawaii will run at them. Look for BYU to have plenty of opportunities down the field, but none of that will matter if the offensive line can’t buy Hill or Nelson time get them the football.
BYU rush defense vs. Hawaii
The Cougars have been downright stingy against the run so far this season. Teams have averaged just 68.8 yards against them with Boise State unable to do much of anything a week ago. They’ve been led in tackles by inside linebacker Brandon Ogletree, but it’s been an entire team effort in providing some of the best rush defense BYU fans have seen in Provo.
Hawaii rushes for 139.7 yards per game on the year and is led by freshman Will Gregory (6-0, 190) who averages 67.3 yards per game on an impressive 6.3 yards per carry average. Sophomore Joey Iosefa (6-0, 240) was the team’s leading rusher a year ago, but has battled through injury early in the year.
Gone is the traditional Hawaii spread offense with Norm Chow implementing his pro-style offense, which employs a lot of use of a tight end and fullback.
Cougar question marks
How will the team supplement for the loss of starting defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna? The senior was providing some very good play, but suffered a season-ending injury last week against Boise.
Breakout defensive player Ezekiel Ansah will replace him at the position, but depth will be a concern for the Cougar front for the rest of the season. Manumaleuna’s loss doesn’t hurt so much at defensive end as it does at nose tackle, where he was able to relieve starter Romney Fuga.
“They’re similar with their attack to what we saw from both Boise State and Utah, so we should be well-prepared,” cornerback Preston Hadley said. “It’s obviously nothing we’ve never seen before, but they’ll present a challenge and we need to be ready for anything because they have some good running backs that can beat you. We‘re focused on stopping the run and we will stop the run — we know that, so it‘s all about keeping them in third and long situations.”
Look for BYU to continue its dominance in defending against the run against Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors don’t look to present all that much, and the Cougars should easily hold them under 100 yards rushing on the game.
BYU passing defense vs. Hawaii
BYU has given up just 177.2 yards per game through the air and have been very successful in rushing the quarterback. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has been very creative and aggressive with his scheming so far this year and it’s paid off aplenty.
Duke transfer Sean Schroeder (6-3, 200, senior) starts for Hawaii and has provided mixed results so far this season. In three games, he’s thrown for 592 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s had to make do without star receiver Billy Ray Stutzman, who has battled through injuries, but looks to be healthy this week.
Hawaii’s leading receiver is Jeremiah Ostrowski (5-9, 175) who has 17 catches for 148 yards so far this season.
Hawaii is fronted by an offensive line that is extremely young, with three freshmen and two sophomores.
Cougar question marks
The focus this week has been on forcing more turnovers, so look for the Cougars to be even more aggressive with their coverages that may give way to more big-play opportunities for the Rainbow Warriors.
“Their quarterback likes to leave the pocket and buy time, so we need to make sure we don’t quit with our coverages,” Hadley said. “We need to clean up our coverages a bit and make sure we keep our assignments. We need to dictate what they do and keep them in tough situations.”
Hawaii will receive a big boost with the return of Stutzman, but don’t look for Hawaii to gash a very good BYU pass defense through the air. Look for Hawaii to approach 200 yards passing, but not for much more.
The Cougars will be eager to pounce on Hawaii following two brutal losses to both Utah and Boise State. Hawaii doesn’t present much on either side of the ball and typically don’t play well on the road, which points to a very comfortable Cougar victory.
Final Score: BYU 38, Hawaii 7