Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hawaii at New Mexico Preview

The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-4, 0-2) play at New Mexico (3-3, 1-1) for a Mountain West matchup on Saturday.

Rainbow Warrior football fans have become accustomed to losing seasons in the recent years after enjoying enormous success during the June Jones era. Norm Chow’s 2015 squad is running out of time if they hope to buck the trend of being a mediocre, below sub .500 Division 1 football team.  In order for Hawaii to avoid a fifth consecutive losing season, they must win 5 of the last 7 contests.

After a disappointing 28-14 Homecoming loss to San Diego State last weekend, the Rainbow Warriors (2-4 overall, 0-2 MW) can earn a much needed victory at New Mexico (3-3 overall, 1-1 MW) this Saturday.

Everyone on Chow’s squad knows the importance of Saturday’s away match up in Albuquerque, especially defensive coordinator Tom Mason.

“We need to get a win. No question about it,” Mason said. “A win would solve a lot of what’s going on.”

A common cliché in sports is that winning solves everything, however a victory over Head Coach Bob Davie’s Lobos certainly won’t come easy. Last Saturday the Rainbow Warrior’s defense were abused by the Aztec’s running game, surrendering two early touchdowns in the first quarter to standout running back Donnel Pumphrey, one score coming off of a UH fumble.

If Hawaii loses the turnover battle come Saturday, chances of earning their first conference victory will diminish tremendously. Especially when they are up against New Mexico’s sometimes-tricky triple option attack, which has given opposing defenses fits thus far in 2015. UH can’t afford to give up early momentum to the Lobos as well.  

“That is a very unique offense. They do a good job with it,” Chow said. “These guys run everything. It will be a huge challenge for us.”

Thus far, the Lobos are ranked an impressive 11th nationally in rushing yards per game. Mason’s run defense will have to be stout in their gap assignments if they want to slow down New Mexico’s triple option attack.

Hawaii’s defense has been exceptional on the road, but its offensive unit has been the team’s Achilles’ heel. First year offensive coordinator Don Bailey was brought into to revamp the Hawaii offense, but so far there have been no fireworks on this side of the ball. Although Hawaii has traveled more than any other school to face superior opponents in Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State away from Aloha Stadium, Bailey refuses to use that as an excuse.

“We have to prove we can play on the road, away from home,” Bailey said. “Whatever travel we have is just our travel. It doesn’t matter. We have to go in there, focus and have production on every play.”

Engineering Hawaii’s offense thus far is senior quarterback Max Wittek, a USC transfer who has performed under expectations thus far. Wittek is completing his passes at a 44.9 percent clip, going 79-176 with 975 yards and five touchdowns this season against 8 interceptions. He has thrown at 2 least ints in every game but two thus far.

To his credit, Wittek has been banged up in recent games. He wears a left knee brace, but a recent injury to his right leg appears to be a chronic ailment.

“The braced knee is not a problem. It’s the other knee that’s the problem,” Chow said. “It’s just an on-going thing.”

Fighting through injuries and playing through pain is often asked of high level football players day in and day out. Coach Chow quickly shot down the idea of any QB controversy brewing in Manoa.

Chow believes if the Rainbow Warrior’s offense wish to improve, the unit must excel in two facets, one being able to rush the ball, and two is staying on the field. Wittek and company will be able to sustain longer drives and capitalize on scoring opportunities with the aid of a solid rushing attack. The entire offensive line, along with running backs Paul Harris, Melvin Davis, and Steven Lakalaka must increase their productivity in order for the offense to be successful.

Currently the Rainbow Warriors rank last in rushing yards per game in the Mountain West with 87.2 yards, nearly 30 yards back of the second worst team Fresno State. Hawaii’s offense also ranks last nationally in time of possession. The time of possession statistic may be overlooked if Hawaii’s offense was explosive and scoring on quick drives similar to Baylor’s attack or the Mariota fueled Oregon Ducks’ offense of the past, but that is simply not the case.

“We need to run the ball better. We need to block better and block downfield better,” Chow said. “We are going to try to keep running the football. We know we are not doing it how we should and have to be better.”

If linebacker Julian Gener can build off of his career high 19-tackle performance a week ago, and Don Bailey’s offense can establish a running game, giving Wittek a manageable task to string together positive plays, the Rainbow Warriors will have a fair shot at spoiling New Mexico’s homecoming party and earning their first Mountain West victory.

Kickoff is set at 5 PM MST at Branch Field at University Stadium in Albuquerque, NM.

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