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What they say: Talking Hawai'i football with Ka Leo O Hawai'i

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Hawai'i quarterback Cole McDonald drops back to pass in the Rainbow Warriors' Week 1 matchup against Arizona.

Before Saturday’s game, we had the chance to ask some questions about Hawai'i football of Jonathan Chen, the Sports Editor at Ka Leo O Hawai'i. Here’s what he had to say:

After two wins over Pac-12 teams at home, Hawai'i has to go on the road for the first time this season. What's the feeling around the program and this matchup in Mānoa?

I think that anytime your program starts the season with back-to-back wins against Power 5 opponents, there’s going to be an understandable buzz around the team. Fans are certainly excited about the direction this team is headed in. After suffering through some tough years during the Norm Chow era, people are thrilled with the way Nick Rolovich has transformed the team. But at the same time, both the fans and those involved in the program are definitely approaching this upcoming game with cautious optimism. We’ve learned from past experience the bitter disappointment that can come with overhyping a team and essentially biting off more than we can chew. So there’s a sense among the fans of, “yes, we’re 2-0, but its only two games and we have 11 more to go.” While excitement over the great start to the season can get the better of some people, the attitude here in the islands is definitely to tap the brakes and focus on each opponent week-by-week.

How has Cole McDonald grown in the run-and-shoot offense? How has having so many upperclassmen for receivers helped him?

Cole McDonald has always possessed a big arm and fast legs. The team knew that when they recruited him. But as a redshirt freshman, with Dru Brown playing ahead of him, he only saw snaps in a sort of hybrid wildcat quarterback role. He saw some playing time in specially designed QB run schemes, but we never really had a chance to gauge his progress as a traditional quarterback. So when the run-and-shoot offense returned the next season, his development as a passer was a (welcomed) shock to Hawai’i fans. In some ways though, his emergence within the system was expected for many around the program. His physical tools were already apparent through limited game action and throughout practices. The run-and-shoot system, meanwhile, allowed him to expand on another of his strengths, which was the ability to improvise and a willingness to take risks. However, that willingness to take risks can sometimes become a detriment to the team, and that’s where the veteran upperclassmen receivers come in. Having the combined experience of receivers like Cedric Byrd II and JoJo Ward around him helps McDonald rein in and limit mistakes or bad decisions. Because it is a system of improvisation, the experience and know-how of those veteran receivers allows them to react to McDonald’s throws and adjust their routes to put themselves in position to make the big play.

UH pitched a shutout in the second half against Oregon State after allowing 28 points in the first half. What did the Rainbow Warriors change or start doing well after halftime?

It wasn’t so much a major adjustment made at halftime as it was simply coming out and returning to basics. Where the first half was sloppy defensively, the second half saw players cutting down on silly mistakes, swarming to the ball carrier, and getting better penetration from the defensive line. One of the biggest changes from first half to second was just getting key stops on timely downs, as Rolovich mentioned after the game. In the first half, Oregon State converted on 4 of 6 third down opportunities. Hawai’i was able to flip that scrip in the second half, holding the Beavers to just 1 of 9 on third down. That’s always been a big concern for this defense, limiting correctable mistakes. That’s why the defensive unit is often first out on the field before practice starts to work through formations and such. 

Ryan Meskell ended up being the hero last week, but is also 2-for-5 on the season. Is the UH coaching staff going to trust him much further out than the red zone, or do you expect the offense to stay out on the field a lot on fourth down?

This one is a bit tricky. Even disregarding the less than ideal performance from Meskell against Oregon State, Hawai’i, or more accurately Nick Rolovich, is a big proponent of taking risks. I think regardless of his condition, there’s certain situations where Rolovich would be more inclined to go for the fourth down conversion anyway. But at the same time, if the game is tied or close late, he’s not one to pass up  more-or-less guaranteed points over the opportunity for four more. The thing with Meskell is that he’s always been steady for the team. He finished second in the Mountain West Conference last season with an 83% field goal percentage and was named the MWC special teams player of the week against San Jose State. He has never possessed the biggest leg, but the coaching staff has shown a willingness to turn to him on field goals nearing the 50-yard range. Even after missing his first two field goals against the Beavers, the coaches still trusted him enough to send him out on a what would have been a career long 48-yard attempt. So ultimately, I think the situation of the game will dictate the decision to turn to Meskell.

Do you have a prediction?

I think that ultimately, the outcome of this matchup will boil down to the performance of the defense. As I alluded to earlier, the Oregon State game was a tale of two halves in terms of defense. Hawai’i’s performance against UW will largely hinge on which defense shows up in Seattle Saturday afternoon. If the defense repeats it’s first half performance from the OSU game, I can see this game being a bloodbath right from the start. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Jacob Eason is one of the more talented quarterbacks this Hawai’i has faced in a long time. However, if the defense can conjure it’s second half performance from a week ago, I think Hawai’i may shock some people and make it a closer game than anyone expected. So to split the difference, my prediction is: Huskies 35, ‘Bows 24.  

You can stay up-to-date on all things Hawai'i sports on Twitter at @KaLeoSports

Reach Managing Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum

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