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UCLA Football vs. Hawai’i Offensive Preview: Hawaii Finally Returns a Quarterback

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For the first time since 2011, the Rainbow Warriors have a returning quarterback and stability on offense.

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Hawaii at Middle Tennessee Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

I literally can’t stop thinking about last Sunday. It was the most gut wrenching football I have ever watched, and I think I was clinically dead by the end of the game. We were so riled up that my brother in law’s smartwatch thought he was at the gym. He literally burned 200 calories during one of the fourth quarter drives. It was epic, historic, and one for the ages, and I’m proud to say my crew stuck it out until the end.

And now the Rainbow Warriors are coming to town. In a mid-afternoon game that won’t be quite as scorching as last week, the Bruins need to show that they can maintain their level of play from week to week. Some of us have been fans long enough to know that this game is not a gimme. While we can play amazingly against a ranked team, it is characteristic that they will play a mid-major team the following week and struggle.

The Hawaii football program has definitely seen its extremes. Under June Jones, they went to a Sugar Bowl. Under Norm Chow, they won ten games over four seasons. Now, one of June Jones’s former quarterbacks, Head Coach Nick Rolovich, is at the helm. He actually put together seven wins during a tough 2016 season, and managed to take Hawaii to its first bowl win since 2006. The team is now 2-0 as they head to Pasadena.

Offensive coordinator Brian Smith offers that while they need to improve over last year’s quality of play on third downs, they performed pretty well in the red zone but are looking to make progress. Most of the offense is returning, which is key for the Rainbow Warriors to find success this season.

Quarterback

One of the plagues of Hawaii’s previous seasons was instability at the quarterback position. They are finally able to rely on experienced Junior Dru Brown, who racked up 2800 yards and 23 touchdowns in the 2016 season. He transferred to Hawaii last year, and has given the program a cornerstone on which to build the rest of the offense. He is the first returning quarterback since 2011, and according to passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann, "It's a world of difference. With Dru coming back, the whole offense is a lot more comfortable out there. We're able to do more and get through the installs quicker. We have a leader out there and it's been great for the other guys." Completing 62.4% of his passes in 2016, Brown is the second most-efficient passer returning to the Mountain West in 2017, and has the third-most passing scores in the league. In an epic win to earn bowl eligibility, Brown passed for five touchdowns and 311 yards and threw four more touchdowns on 274 yards in the Hawai'i Bowl, as the Warriors beat Middle Tennessee, 52-35. Last weekend against University of Massachusetts, he tossed a late game touchdown with 48 seconds remaining to get the win.

Running Backs

Diocemy Saint Juste had 1,006-yard campaign in 2016, in which he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. This year, in two games he has put up 280 yards in the first two games. He is definitely their go-to guy at this position, but we will also see Ryan Tuiasoa, as he saw action in both of Hawaii’s previous games this season. Hawaii has had to replace Steven Lakalaka that averaged only 30 yards per game but punched in 13 touchdowns over the 2016 season.

Wide Receivers

Replacing Marcus Kemp is the biggest issue for this offense. He had 1100 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, and was the most dominant player on the field. H back John Ursua had 12 receptions for 272 yards in their first game against UMass, and Dylan Collie also racked up 117 yards and nine catches. Dru Brown spread his tosses over seven different receivers so far, averaging 14.7 yards per catch.

Offensive Line

The Rainbow Warriors lost both right tackle RJ Hollis and guard/center Leo Koloamatangi, both in the starting role over the past two seasons. Offensive line returners are led by preseason All-Mountain West senior tackle Dejon Allen, who started the last 38 consecutive games, moving from guard to left tackle last season. He led an offensive line unit that laid the foundation for 2,293 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing, while Hawaii only allowed 1.71 sack per game, rising to rank 41st nationally. John Wa’a, a captain, will be at left guard. Asotui Eli made the transition from guard to center this season, and will most likely be starting there this weekend. You might remember Fred Ulu-Perry, who redshirted at Hawaii last season after transferring from UCLA. He is extremely versatile and can actually play all five positions on the line. Last weekend, right guard Chris Posa was ejected in the first half for throwing a punch against UMass, and there’s been no word from the team as far as any further discipline action. While this unit has experience, I have no doubt that the UCLA defense will be able to see success this weekend.

Go Bruins!