Southwest Airlines commercials are well known for depicting people who have suffered unfortunate/uncomfortable/awkward situations, then ending with the tagline “Wanna Get Away.”
Getting away may be the best thing this week for the San Diego State football team after two straight home losses that have short-circuited the team’s aspirations for a Mountain West championship and a major bowl berth. The Aztecs (6-2, 2-2 MW) have their longest road trip (ocean trip?) of the season when they travel to Hawaii (3-4, 1-3) for Saturday night’s game.
SDSU, which leads the all-time series 20-9-2, has won five straight games against the Rainbow Warriors, including last year’s 55-0 victory at Qualcomm Stadium.
“That was not indicative of how good that Hawaii team was,” SDSU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “They will have that 55-0 reminder all week from their coaches. They’ve probably been hearing it for two weeks. … They’ll be fresh. They’re coming off a bye week. All those little nicks and bruises that mount up when you’re playing games, they get a little time to heal. They’ll be a team that has a new lease on life.”
This is the Aztecs’ first trip to Aloha Stadium since beating Cincinnati 42-7 in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl.
The early line has SDSU as a 9 1/2-point favorite.
About the Rainbow Warriors
Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich took over a program last season that had not won more than six games or been to a bowl game in five years. Rolovich guided the Rainbow Warriors to seven victories — including a Hawaii Bowl win over Middle Tennessee — and raised hopes that the program was on the upswing.
Hawaii’s progress has not been extended this season. The Rainbow Warriors opened the season with wins over UMass and Western Carolina, then lost four in a row — to UCLA, Wyoming, Colorado State and Nevada — when the competition improved. Hawaii beat San Jose State 37-26 on Oct. 14, then had last week off in preparation for SDSU.
Hawaii has been balanced on offense — producing 480 yards a game (261 passing/219 rushing) thanks to the abilities of junior quarterback Dru Brown and senior running back Diocemy Saint Juste.
Brown has enough mobility in the pocket to make forward defenders wary and a strong enough arm to keep defensive backs on their toes. The Aztecs had success against Brown last season, collecting three interceptions — with Malik Smith and Damontae Kazee each returning one for a touchdown.
Brown has completed 149-of-234 passes this season for 1,816 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He is now missing his primary target, however. Sophomore wide receiver John Ursua was far and away the team leader in catches (47) and yards (667) with five touchdowns before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the win over San Jose State.
Saint Juste has carried 183 times for 1,094 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage total ranks fifth in the NCAA, two spots behind SDSU’s Rashaad Penny (1,115 yards).
“The offensive line is doing a great job blocking for him, and he’s a pretty good player,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said.
Hawaii’s offense is producing 28.9 points a game, which ranks among the upper half of the nation’s 129 FBS teams. It hasn’t been enough, though, because the defense has been giving up 35.6 points a game, which ranks 109th in the nation.
Some of that is skewed after allowing 56 points to UCLA and 51 points to Colorado State, but the Rainbow Warriors allowed 26 points to a San Jose State team that failed to score that many against anyone else this season but Cal Poly (in a 34-13 win).
Junior linebacker Jahlani Tavai has been all over the field for the Rainbow Warriors. He leads the team in tackles (61), is second in sacks (3 1/2) and also has an interception and fumble recovery.
Senior defensive lineman Meffy Koloamatangi has been the most disruptive force up front, leading the team with four sacks.
“They are big, strong and physical,” Long said. “I’m sure they will move a lot more against us, then they have against (other opponents) in the past because that has been very successful against us the past couple of weeks, with the front moving and slanting and twisting and all that stuff.
“People copy people when it’s successful, so we’re going to have to physically be able to block them and react to their stunts.”
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