Any time a team scores 41 points at home and holds the opposing team to 18 points, it’s normal for players and coaches to get excited.
But the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team isn't celebrating their 2-0 record to start the season, even if it is the first time they’ve started the season 2-0 since 2009.
As the Warriors travel to Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl, outside distractions are being thrown out the window, as is the belief that UH are underdogs in this game.
“We didn’t sign up to play UCLA because it was impossible. Nothing is impossible,” said linebacker Jahlani Tavai. “We got to take it to them.”
In order for the Warriors to “take it to” UCLA, they must do two things: One, put pressure on Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen. And two, run the ball effectively and often.
Essentially, the Warriors have to do what Texas A&M did to UCLA during the first half of last week’s matchup between the Aggies and Bruins.
Texas A&M laid down the blueprint for beating UCLA. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t consistent enough with their offensive play calls and began to lose the battle of the line scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The 45-44 loss for the Aggies was as improbable as it gets.
Texas A&M's win probability was as high as 99.5% with 4:21 left in the game against UCLA. UCLA won 45-44— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2017
This Saturday, however, the Warriors aren’t planning on letting up.
“I know (UCLA) put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Tavai said. “We’re going to make sure we understand how they did that and understand what our weak points are so we can get to the quarterback. But other than that, I loved how aggressive the A&M defense was. But you can’t back off on a team like that.”
Backing off isn’t in the game plan for the Warriors defense against the Bruins. After surrendering 895 yards in the first two games of the season (482 yards last week against Western Carolina, 413 yards against Massachusetts), containing the opposing team's key players will be the recipe for success this Saturday.
And that all begins with putting Rosen under pressure.
“I think every quarterback is going to have a harder time completing balls if he’s on his back. But again, you’re giving up something to get to him,” said Warriors head coach Nick Rolovich. “Hopefully he doesn’t get the ball out quick.”
Against the Aggies, Rosen put up 491 passing yards and four touchdowns last Saturday, but the majority of his production came in the second half. Heading into halftime, the Bruins were on life support, trailing 38-10.
Josh Rosen threw for 292 yards and had all 4 of his TD in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/tDjuUXR1EO— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2017
With the amount of pressure the Aggies defense was putting on Rosen, it’s surprising he didn’t find himself in a hospital bed, either.
“I don’t think (Rosen) is as talented as he is tough,” Rolovich said. “He took some shots in the first half. And for him to stay with it and make throws and take them down and win that football game, there’s some internal toughness that that kid has.”
Rosen was dropped three times and lost two fumbles against the Aggies, but Rolovich went on to call Rosen’s ability under center “unbelievable,” highlighting the challenges his football team faces this weekend.
And when it comes to beating a good football team, it’s all about the simple things.
“We just got to play team defense,” Tavai said. “We can’t have any missed tackles, that was the thing that was biting us in the butt, especially with a mobile quarterback like last week.”
Tavai, who racked up 10 tackles against Western Carolina and recovered a fumble, will look to lead his defensive-front seven into battle at the line of scrimmage to collapse Rosen’s pocket.
Fred Ulu-Perry, an offensive lineman for UH who transferred from UCLA last season, said that he’s shared some tips to his teammates how to get past UCLA’s offensive line to throw off Rosen’s timing.
“If the D-linemen get home, he’ll get rattled up,” Ulu-Perry said.
In order to accomplish that feat, the Warriors will look to defensive coordinator Legi Suiaunoa to come up with the perfect defensive scheme.
“I try to take pride that on any given Saturday, our defense is better than the defense that we’re playing against,” Suiaunoa said. “For us, I always talk to our defense about good football teams take advantage of our mistakes. We’re playing a good football team on Saturday and I’m sure they’ll take advantages of our mistakes if they show up again Saturday afternoon.”
Suiaunoa watched UCLA take on Texas A&M and saw that no matter what the score was, UCLA stayed composed.
“I think that they did a phenomenal job believing in their process and what they’re trying to do and ultimately, they were able to pull out that game,” he said. “It’s good to finally watch an opponent and scout an opponent from this year, that’s always a positive. We try to just worry about us and what we do and what our defense is built to. Obviously, we watch some film and take some notes but ultimately, we want to be able to do what we do on defense and what our kids believe in. Hopefully that gives us the best chance on Saturday.”
If UH is able to slow down Rosen and the Bruins offense, that will be a victory in itself. However, they will still need to be able to put points on the board.
Enter running back Diocemy Saint Juste.
Saint Juste had another outstanding performance last weekend against Western Carolina, rushing for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Saint Juste did exit the game early after an impressive showing, and when asked on Tuesday how many yards he would’ve finished with Saturday if he was able to play all four quarters, Saint Juste said point-blank, “a lot more.”
The senior tailback will have no choice but to run a lot more on Saturday to keep UCLA’s offense on the sidelines. The aforementioned Aggies racked up 382 rushing yards on 63 attempts, good enough for a 6.1 yards per carry average. While rushing for 382 yards in one game as a team is impressive, the passing game was not.
Texas A&M didn’t have to pass the ball much, but when they did, it wasn’t pretty. With 89 total yards through the air, the Aggies weren’t able to mix up the run game and disguise running lanes as effectively as they would’ve likened to as the game went on.
Running the ball will be of the utmost importance on Saturday for Hawaii, but Rolovich said that creating balance through the air and on the ground is paramount.
"I'd like to put together both areas - where we can run the ball and throw the ball," said Rolovich. "We've kind of been one-dimensional the first two games. I'd like to be a little more balanced in terms of execution.”
The Warriors will look to execute on both sides of the ball this Saturday against the Bruins. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. HT. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
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