It is homecoming week for the San Jose State Spartans (1-4, 0-1 Mountain West), who host the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-3, 1-0 MW) on Saturday afternoon. Coming back from a 1-4 hole during conference play to get the six wins for minimum bowl eligibility will be quite a challenge. San Jose State comes off a 48-41 loss to New Mexico, while Hawaii comes off a 38-17 win over Nevada, who is San Jose State’s next Mountain West opponent.
Site: CEFCU Stadium, Home of the Spartans (San Jose, Calif.; capacity 30,456)
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Pacific)
TV: Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telecom pay-per-view (Hawaii only)
Streaming video: None; the Mountain West Conference announced last month that Oceanic Cable suspended live video streaming of Hawaii football games; the Mountain West Network previously streamed select Hawaii football games for free outside Hawaii.
Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 910 KKSF (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 ESPN 1420 out of Honolulu on www.espn1420am.com or the TuneIn app.
Hawaii: An overview
In November 2015, Hawaii fired fourth-year head coach Norm Chow, a Hawaii native and career assistant whose first (and perhaps only) college head coaching tenure ended with a 10-36 record, including just four Mountain West wins. Offensive line coach Chris Naeole became interim head coach and went 1-3 to wrap up the season, after which Hawaii hired alumnus Nick Rolovich as the next head coach. A native of Daly City who went to Marin Catholic High School and the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), Rolovich was previously offensive coordinator at Nevada under Brian Polian and has also been an assistant at CCSF and Hawaii.
Hawaii appears much improved this year. After a 1-3 start that included blowout losses to power conference opponents Arizona, Cal, and Michigan and a 41-36 win at home over FCS opponent UT Martin, Hawaii opened Mountain West with a 38-17 win over Nevada that snapped a nine-game conference losing streak dating back to 2014. Replacing senior Ikaika Woolsey, sophomore quarterback Dru Brown made his starting debut completing 15 of 18 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Like his head coach, Brown also has Bay Area roots, as he graduated from Los Gatos High School and began his college football career on the junior-college level at the College of San Mateo. Brown appeared in the first three games of the year in a backup role.
Similar to Nevada, Hawaii runs a pistol offense. “It’s a good run option attack, and then there’s a nice play action pass game off of that,” explained San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher on his weekly radio show.
Senior Diocemy Saint Juste leads the Hawaii running backs with 464 yards and two touchdowns on 69 carries. Another senior, Steven Lakalaka, has 252 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 51 carries.
“Saint Juste is a powerful back, but he’s very quick and fast,” commented Caragher, also adding: “Lakalaka is a different type of back. He’s a downhill runner as well, but he does have big play ability.”
Hawaii also returns honorable mention all-MW left tackle Dejon Allen, a 6’3”, 290-lb. redshirt junior.
Hawaii had a 38-3 lead at one point in the fourth quarter. Caragher credited the Hawaii defense’s quarterback hurrying as a factor in that score.
“They did a lot of that by pressures on Nevada, by their twists up front, and mixing in the back end man and zone coverage,” said Caragher.
On defense, Hawaii has 11 turnovers to five takeaways (three interceptions and two fumble recoveries). Safety Trayvon Henderson and defensive end Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea both lead in sacks with two each.
Rolovich commented about San Jose State in his weekly television show that San Jose State’s offensive scheme can be challenging and praised the coaching staff for its experience and recruiting of talented players.
On Kenny Potter, Rolovich said, “He’s a better athlete than you think, and he seems to play very confident and understanding. There’s not a lot of indecision by him.”
“They seem to be able to recruit speed in athletes for a long time,” added Rolovich.
During the WAC era (1996 to 2012), San Jose State beat Hawaii just three times, at home in 1997 and 2011 and on the road in 2008. In those years, San Jose State hosted Hawaii only during odd-numbered years, all of which were losing seasons for San Jose State. In contrast, Hawaii had many winning seasons beginning in 1999, including a 12-1 season in 2007 in which Hawaii made the BCS-level Sugar Bowl following a perfect regular season. That year, Hawaii escaped for a 42-35 overtime win at San Jose State, who finished 5-7 that year. When San Jose State joined the MW in 2013, Hawaii home games switched to even years, the first of which was a 13-0 loss in 2014, but San Jose State did win at Hawaii in 2013 and 2015.
The Hawaii-San Jose State series also has ties to World War II, because this year is the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. San Jose State’s football team landed in Hawaii four days before the bombing, and the upcoming game against Hawaii scheduled for December 16 was cancelled. Several members of the football team joined the U.S. military or local police.
What’s in it for San Jose State?
Caragher announced on his weekly radio show that linebacker Frank Ginda, wide receiver Rahshead Johnson, and center Keoni Taylor are expected to return to the starting lineup. In the New Mexico game, Ginda played in a reserve role, and starting left guard Jeremiah Kolone moved to center. Redshirt freshman Dominic Fredrickson made his starting debut at left guard, because Taylor suffered an injury during practice.
Having sunk to a 1-4 hole, San Jose State needs to win both games in the coming two-game homestand to stay in the running for bowl eligibility. This is the worst five-game start in Caragher’s tenure at San Jose State. For a long time, many have questioned if Caragher was the right hire, and a loss would solidify their opinions. In his weekly “grading the game” column for the Mercury News, Jon Wilner wrote that athletic director Gene Bleymaier “will have to start asking tough questions of his program and head coach” should San Jose State lose. That statement is being nice to Bleymaier.
In his media appearances this week, Caragher has emphasized that his players never stopped competing in last week’s game despite a 41-20 hole, as the final score was 48-41 New Mexico. However, it is unclear if the players feel like this every week. There have been times where it appeared the team quit before the season was over, such as the shutout loss at home to Hawaii two years ago. As this is the fourth year in Caragher’s five-year contract, the results of Saturday’s game will play a huge role in Bleymaier’s decision on the football head coach position: either extend or fire Caragher. A lame duck year will adversely affect recruiting, because many recruits will not feel comfortable committing to a school that did not commit long-term to its coach.