Homecoming for the San Diego State Aztecs last weekend could not have been less welcoming.
Coming off a 27-3 loss at the hands of Fresno State at home, the Aztecs come to Hawaii to face-off against the Rainbow Warriors, who are expecting a tough, physical 60 minutes at Aloha Stadium.
“We can’t expect them (San Diego State) to come in any different than the 55-0 beating we got last year. We need to remember that,” said Warrior head coach Nick Rolovich earlier this week after practice. “And we need to play as hard as we can and just see what happens.”
San Diego State blew Hawaii out of the water last season in a dominant 55-0 victory, but the Warriors are coming off a bye week that Rolovich felt came at the perfect time to prepare for their stiffest competition of the season thus far.
“I know it came at a good time for us,” Rolovich said of the bye week. “Makes you really kind of appreciate the byes, and this year we had two. It was a good rest for the guys, good rest for the coaches and I think we got a good plan moving forward.”
A big part of Rolovich’s gameplan against the Aztecs has nothing to do with the opposition, however, as most of the Warriors’ problems begin and end with penalties and self-inflicted mistakes.
“With a team like this, we don’t want to get third and long,” he said. “The second half of last year’s game, we got a lot of third and longs and that’s what they kind of love … I think we need to stay ahead of the chains … we need to be productive on first downs.”
Through seven games, the Warriors have committed 63 penalties for 564 yards -- an average of nine penalties for 80.5 yards per game.
“It’s all on the players, it’s all on us just to come to the game and show up and perform to the highest level,” said Warriors linebacker Jahlani Tavai.
For Tavai and the rest of the Warriors defense, they’ll have their hands full trying to prevent running back Rashaad Penny from running all over Hawaii’s defensive front-seven like he did a year ago.
In 2016, Penny had his way against the Warriors, rushing for 108 yards on eight carries all while playing second-string to then-starter Donnel Pumphrey.
This season, Penny has 1,115 rushing yards on 179 carries -- an average of 6.2 yards per carry -- and 10 touchdowns.
Tavai said that the team has been looking at tape from the San Diego State vs. Fresno State game from last week to figure out how they prevented Penny from running rampant.
“They just played very aggressive and they made sure that they secured their tackles,” Tavai said of Fresno State’s performance against the Aztecs. “That’s something that we struggle with a little during the season but we gotta make sure that we really wrap up Penny because he’s a great back. San Diego State is a great team so we got to make sure that we capitalize on their mistakes and don’t allow them to see ours, if we ever have mistakes.”
Something out of the Warriors control, however, is the absence of star wideout John Ursua, who is out for the season with an ACL injury. The Warriors offense will lean on running back Diocemy Saint Juste, along with the rest of its receivers to fill the void on offense.
“I don’t think it’s going to change like play calling or anything, or schematically,” said Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown. “John’s obviously a special guy, similar to Diocemy (Saint Juste); you just give him the ball in space and he can make plays ... We have guys like Keelan (Ewaliko). Keelan almost broke like a 60-yard touchdown, we got Marcus (Armstrong-Brown) who’s making plays, we got Dylan (Collie) who’s always making plays, so I think maybe you won’t see as much like explosive, just catch-and-run plays, but I think our guys will be able to step up because we have plenty of playmakers.”
The Warriors will host the Aztecs tomorrow night at Aloha Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5:15 p.m and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
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