Commentary: Hawaii game was crucial for USU 2 years ago, and it's crucial now

By Sam McConkie

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 28 2013 4:15 p.m. MDT

Utah State guard Funaki Asisi (76), Havea Lasike (57) and Al Lapuaho (77) along with the rest of the Utah State football team celebrate their 35-31 win of Hawaii with their fans at the end of a NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Eugene Tanner, AP

Enlarge photo»

Ask any hardcore Utah State fan about when they feel the football program turned the corner. Besides the hire of Gary Andersen, many of them will probably pinpoint it to one game. It wasn't the victory over BYU in 2010 and, believe it or not, it wasn't the near upset of then-defending national champion Auburn in 2011.

It was Hawaii in 2011. The game effectively served as a tale of two teams: The first half showcased a team that didn't know how to win, but the second half showed a team that didn't know how to lose.

The Aggies beat the Warriors 35-31 in a wild comeback, clinching their first victory in Honolulu since 1966. Since that game on that cold November night, the Aggies have won 20 of their last 27 contests. And the Warriors? They are 4-20 since that game.

Going into this year's game against Hawaii, one may be tempted to think it will be a walk in the park for the Aggies. After all, the Warriors are currently 0-7 on the season and their defense has been porous at best, allowing 35 points and 476 yards per game. It's hard to win football games with stats like that.

Those defensive numbers are bad, but Hawaii's offense has been steadily improving. Earlier in the season, it gave a ranked Fresno State team a big scare with a furious scoring rally behind quarterback Sean Schroeder.

Though Hawaii didn't win, it still came within five points of pulling off an upset of a potential BCS buster. As such, it clearly has the moxie and tools to at least keep up with good competition, unlike earlier in the season.

Heading into Romney Stadium on Nov. 2, Hawaii brings a few weapons on both sides of the ball.

A bit of a quarterback battle has developed between Taylor Graham and Duke transfer Sean Schroeder. Graham started the season, but he sustained an injury to his non-throwing shoulder after the first three games. Schroeder took over the job and the Warriors have since seen noticeable improvement on offense. Schroeder will likely receive the start on Saturday.

Hawaii's receiving core has proven to be its best asset thus far. Chris Gant leads the receivers with 30 receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns. Behind him is Scott Harding with 33 receptions for 361 yards and no touchdowns. The pair has kept Hawaii in several games this season, so this should be the case on Saturday afternoon.

On the defensive side of the ball, Hawaii boasts many returning starters from last year's team, such as linebackers Art Laurel and Brenden Daley along with cornerback Dee Maggitt. Though Hawaii's defensive line hasn't been great, its linebackers have been adequate and the secondary has been playing well. The man-to-man coverage the Warriors play could present some issues for the Aggies.

But what about the home team?

The Aggies have found their offensive footing under true freshman quarterback Darrell Garretson. Against the Lobos, he completed 15 of his 23 passes and tossed a couple of touchdowns with zero turnovers. Plus, his scrambling capability has been decent, suggesting he can become a legitimate dual-threat. If the Warriors don't account for this, Garretson's read-option plays could become a nightmare for them.

Coupled with Garretson's passing attack, Joey DeMartino has helped vigorously in the rushing game. He tore the Lobos apart on the ground with more than 140 yards rushing, and he has had several other big runs this year as well. The bye week will have given him extra healing time for his foot, too. If Hawaii doesn't bow up, he is more than capable of breaking through the line for some big gains.

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