Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The Boise State Bronco Football Team Begins Mountain West Conference Play Against The Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors

Boise State returns home for a game with Hawai'i tonight. The Broncos defeated Virginia last weekend, but know they'll have to get a lot better to be the kind of team they want to be.

BOISE, Idaho--Boise State opens Mountain West Conference play tonight against Hawai'i in Albertsons Stadium in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

Bronco head coach Bryan Harsin is hoping his team will continue the momentum they began in the Virginia game, when the Broncos won 56-14:  "We expect a sellout crowd at Albertsons Stadium," Harsin said.  "We're looking forward to being back at home on the Blue."

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Bronco offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz gave his assessment of Boise State's performance against non-conference schools. "We played three really, really good opponents, played a solid I-AA team, I believe," Drinkwitz said.  "We hope it prepared us.  Now it's time to prove who we are against Hawai'i."

The Broncos came out of non-conference play with a 3-1 record.  For Boise State, though, winning their conference has always been job #1.  "That's our goal, winning the Mountain West Conference and a bowl game," said cornerback Jonathan Moxey.  "This is where we can make it happen as far as the conference goes.  This is the first game and this is where it starts."  "We're starting championship week now," linebacker Ben Weaver added.  "Going out and winning this game starts our quest towards the Mountain West Championship.  We've got to go out there and hopefully it's going to be a packed stadium.  We love playing at home.  What a better way to start than at home in our first conference game."

(Color scheme for tonight's game...)

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Hawai'i, 2-2 on the season, has already chalked up over 17,000 miles in travel to games with Ohio State and Wisconsin.  UH is the only program in Division I to play games in five separate time zones.  "For a play caller, it makes it difficult," Harsin (pictured above in BroncoCountry video) admitted about facing the Rainbow Warriors.  Against Ohio State and Wisconsin, he said, "They created some turnovers, they created problems, they created negative plays...they disrupted momentum.  They seemed to get both teams a little bit off their game until they settled down and just started doing their base stuff."  "We know what they're capable of doing," Harsin added.

This will be the 14th meeting between the two schools, with Boise State riding a four-game winning streak and holding a 10-3 advantage.  

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Harsin gave his expectations for the game:  "Offensively, (Hawai'i is a) heavy inside team and they like to throw it vertically.  Defensively--(they're) very multiple.  They bring pressure and they're physical--they give you a lot of different looks.  I think offense and defense, this will be the most difficult game because of the style and the players they have on the offensive side...and just defensively, we know the physicality of Hawai'i--they've always been physical.  Now you add this component of guys flying around and a lot of different looks."

Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports

The Rainbow Warriors are let by veteran coach Norm Chow, who is coaching for the 42nd consecutive year.  An assistant at both BYU and USC, Chow helped coach his teams to 22 conference championships, and counting stints at North Carolina State, UCLA and Utah, helped his teams to 29 bowl appearances, including one appearance each at the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl.  Chow is coaching his fourth season at Hawai'i.

Both of Chow's coordinators, Don Bailey (offense) and Tom Mason (defense), coached previously at Boise State on the staff of the late Pokey Allen.  Bailey played and coached under Pokey Allen at Portland State, joining the Broncos in 1993 as wide receivers coach.  Mason also joined Boise State on the initial Allen staff in 1993.  Both coaches were part of the staff that aided the Broncos to the NCAA DI-AA National Championship Game and runner-up bid.  Both coached with the program through the final Allen season, with Bailey moving on to Shepherd College (W.V.) and Mason going to Nevada after Allen's passing.

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Max Wittek (6-4, 240, Jr.) became the first Hawai'i quarterback in 30 years to throw for three touchdowns in his debut, tossing three against Colorado in a 28-20 Hawai'i victory.  Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said Wittek is the key to the UH attack.  

Wittek played at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California from 2007-2009, succeeding Matt Barkley as the starting quarterback.  Wittek completed 292-of-520 passes for 4,418 yards and 39 touchdowns and earned High School All-America honors from  UnderArmour, Super Prep and Prep Star.  Mater Dei is a powerhouse in high school football, having earned rankings of #1 in the nation in both 1994 and 1996.   Wittek was ranked as the third best pro-style quarterback recruit in his class by one recruiting site.  He committed to USC in April of 2010.

Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports

(Photo by Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)

At USC, Wittek won the backup job as a redshirt freshman in 2012 to none other than Barkley, his predecessor at Mater Dei.  When Barkley went down with an injury later in the year, Wittek made his first career start against #1 Notre Dame.  Wittek threw for 186 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions in a 22-13 loss.  With the victory, Notre Dame advanced to the 2013 Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.  After losing the starting job to current Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler the following season, Wittek decided to pursue a master's degree and play quarterback at Hawai'i.

Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports

Prior to this season, Wittek was named All-Mountain West by Phil Steele in his preseason magazine.  In four games this season, Wittek has completed 58-of-113 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns against four interceptions.

"Their strength is their quarterback," Boise State defensive quarterback Marcel Yates said.   "He can throw the ball down the field." 

Marco Garcia, USA Today Sports

Wittek's go-to receiver is junior Marcus Kemp (6-4, 200), who has enjoyed two 100-yard games already:  a 116-yard effort against Colorado and a 119-yard performance against UC Davis.  Kemp started 12 games last season and led UH receivers with 797 yards.  Kemp was named to the Watch List for the Biletnikoff Award this season--the Biletnikoff Award is given annually to the nation's top collegiate wide receiver.

Seniors Quinton Pedroz (15 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown) and Dylan Collie (eight catches for 103 yards) are the other wideouts, while Matuisela Unga (sophomore) will play tight end.  Collie, brother of BYU standout Austin Collie, committed to BYU and redshirted for the Cougars in 2012.  After returning from a church mission two years later, Dylan decided to transfer to Hawai'i.

Paul Harris (5-11, 190, Jr.) paces the Rainbow Warrior running backs with 283 yards this season.  A transfer from Ventura College, Harris sports a 6.0 yards-per-carry average and ran for a career-high 147 yards against UC Davis, including a school record 95-yarder.  

Senior Ben Clarke (6-3, 295) is a standout on the HW offensive line--Clarke has now made 41 consecutive starts and has earned All-Mountain West honorable mention all three years.  This year, Clarke was named to the preseason All-MW team and was named to the Watch List for the Rotary Lombardi Trophy.  

Clarke will be joined on the line by redshirt freshman center Asotui Eli (6-4, 295), guards Elijah Tupai (6-4, 300, So.) and Dejon Allen (6-3, 290, So.) and tackle R.J. Hollis (6-4, 295, Jr.).

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Yates told members of the local media what he expects from Hawai'i:  "To me, what I see, is a team that is well-coached.  Everyone wants to beat Boise State.  We need to be ready to play."

Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports

Defensively, Hawai'i will line up in a 3-4 with ends Luke Shawley (6-3, 250, Sr.) and Kennedy Tulimasealii (6-1, 285, Jr.) and nose tackle Penitito Faalologo (5-11, 300, So.).

Jerrol Garcia-Williams (6-2, 235, Jr.) leads the Rainbow Warrior linebackers; Garcia-Williams is second on the team with 33 tackles.  Senior Benetton Fonua (6-0, 235) will play next to him, while Lance Williams (6-0, 230, Sr.) and redshirt freshman Jahiani Tavai (6-4, 235) will start on the outside.

Sophomore Cornerback Nick Nelson (6-0, 200) has 22 tackles and 8 pass blocks (tied for 10th in the nation).  Senior Ne'Quan Phillips (5-9, 190) will play on the opposite side of Nelson, with Marrell Jackson (6-0, 200, Sr.) manning his post at free safety and Daniel Lewis (5-11, 180, So.) the strong safety.  

Hawai'i has turned back opponents on fourth down, stopping them 66.7% of the time, which ranks 22nd in the nation.  To convert, Boise State will need the push from the offensive line that they have yet to find this season.

(BroncoCountry video by Shelby Ransom)

Drinkwitz had high praise for the Hawai'i defense:  "They blitz the quarterback; that's what they really do well.  They're a very tough opponent."

Senior Mauro Bondi has connected on four-of-five field goal tries this season for the Rainbow Warriors.  Junior Rigoberto Sanchez will do the punting.  Nelson will be back on punt returns for Hawai'i, while Harris is the main kickoff returner.

The "Bronco Walk" begins about 5:45 p.m. when the Boise State team leaves the Student Union Building, then heads down University Drive to the east side of Albertsons Stadium.  Coach Harsin will select a few fans to conclude the Bronco Walk with the team.  Those fans will get to tour the football center, go to the locker room, and watch the same pre-game video shown to the team.  

Boise State and Hawai'i meet at 8:15 tonight in Albertsons Stadium in a game nationally televised by ESPN2.  

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