With bowl eligibility on the line, the San Jose State Spartans (4-6, 3-3 MWC) travel over the Pacific this Saturday to face the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-9, 0-7 MWC). San Jose State needs to win both the next two games to be considered for a bowl invitation. The team already missed two opportunities earlier in the month to get at or near the six wins required for bowl eligibility, with a 17-16 loss to BYU on Nov. 6 and 37-34 overtime loss to Nevada on Nov. 14. Meanwhile, Hawaii is seeking their first MWC win of the year.
Site: Aloha Stadium (Honolulu, Hawaii; capacity 50,000)
Time: 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii)
TV: Oceanic Time Warner Cable pay-per-view (exclusively in Hawaii)
Streaming video: www.livestream.com/mwn (outside Hawaii only)
Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto).
Streaming audio: KLIV streams at www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams at www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. For the Hawaii radio broadcast, listen to KKEA Honolulu on www.espn1420am.com or TuneIn.
Hawaii: An overview
Hawaii began the season with a 28-20 win in Honolulu over Pac-12 visitors Colorado. However, the season would unravel after what appeared to be a sign of hope for a team that has struggled to find wins in recent years. Hawaii’s other win was on September 19 against FCS opponent UC Davis, 47-27. But the team would suffer shutout losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Boise State and leads that faded against New Mexico and Nevada. Finally, a 58-7 loss at home on October 31 was too much for the athletic director, who eventually fired head coach Norm Chow the day after.
Offensive line coach Chris Naeole, an NFL first-round offensive line draft pick, was eventually promoted to interim head coach, as Hawaii continues a national search for a long-term head coach. Under Naeole, Hawaii so far is 0-2, having lost to UNLV (41-21) and Fresno State (42-14).
Max Wittek, a four-star recruit out of high school who transferred from USC, failed to live up to the hype in the islands. With a season-ending injury, he bows out of his final college season completing just 47.2% of his passes for seven touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Backup Ikaika Woolsey, who led Hawaii’s 13-0 shutout of San Jose State in 2014, has not fared much better, completing 48.1% of passes for two touchdowns and five interceptions. Several other starters are out for the season with injuries: safety Trayvon Henderson, long snapper Brian Hittner, and wide receiver/kick returner Quinton Pedroza. Another starter, defensive end Luke Shawley, left the team for personal reasons.
San Jose State coach Ron Caragher, however, is not overlooking Hawaii’s defense.
“They play zone coverage. They mix up their front seven [with] three down [or] four down [linemen] in certain situations, particularly pass rush situations,” said Caragher on the Spartan Sports Report.
Yet Hawaii’s run defense has given up 30 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards on the season. While Hawaii ranks at or near the bottom of the MW in most defensive aspects, Hawaii’s pass defense ranks sixth of 12 teams. This ranking, of course, should also be taken with the consideration that teams pass the ball less when they can exploit poor rush defenses.
Hawaii also has an overall turnover margin of -21, with 11 lost fumbles to opponents’ seven and 20 interceptions thrown while making just three takeaways on opposing quarterbacks.
“It’s so important to be able to force the quarterback to make decisions earlier than allowing him to be in his comfort zone, and putting pressure on him is very important,” commented Caragher regarding Hawaii and turnovers. Pass rush should be another area the Spartans should exploit, as Hawaii has given up 29 sacks on the year while making just 17.
What’s in this for San Jose State?
Dating back to 1936, the San Jose State-Hawaii series is tied at 18-18-1. Infamously, the 1941 game was cancelled after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Some members of the San Jose State football team stepped up for their country and served with the Honolulu police or U.S. military.
Most recently, Hawaii beat San Jose State 13-0 on November 15, 2014 in San Jose. This was part of a six-game losing streak that marked the second half of the Spartans’ 3-9 record that year. Amazingly, San Jose State produced 462 yards on offense with five trips to the red zone and zero punts. Yet thanks to two missed field goals and three turnovers, these statistics were less than compelling.
The facts of this season show a vastly improved team. Red zone efficiency has risen from 67% in 2014 to 88% in 2015. The turnover margin has gone from -12 to -5. Points per game from 19.3 to 27.1. Rush defense has allowed just 207.4 yards per game now as opposed to 239.4 last year.
For the team to show that they are not the same team that basically quit last year, the team needs to maintain poise and play smart. As Caragher maintained in his weekly Spartan Sports Report conversation, SJSU has generally been able to score on early drives, with the Nevada game being a glaring exception.If San Jose State turns in a repeat of the 2014 shutout or last week’s choke job (San Jose State had a 31-24 lead late before giving up a game-tying drive), the calls for a new head coach will resurface loudly once again, just like after this week last year.