Hawaii has put the football in the air this season, probably a bit too much given its lack of success there. The Rainbow Warriors have completed only 48.5 percent of their passes, are averaging only 5.8 yards per pass play and have thrown 17 interceptions – ranking last, next to last and last in the Mountain West.
But that started to change when coach Norm Chow was fired Nov. 1 and replaced on an interim basis by offensive-line coach Chris Naeole, a former NFL lineman.
Naeole has made several changes already, swapping out his team captains and inserting junior Ikaika Woolsey at quarterback to add a run-pass dimension to the offense that it lacked when senior Max Wittek was flinging footballs around the field.
In a loss last week at UNLV, the Rainbow Warriors (2-8, 0-6 Mountain West) rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns. Fresno State (2-7, 1-5) is expecting to see a similar plan of attack Saturday when two two-win teams go at it.
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“You look at last week and they were much more balanced, much more run-centered, and I thought No. 29 (Paul Harris) ran the ball hard,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said.
290.4 Average yards per game for Hawaii (96.6 run, 193.8 pass)
“When you have a change at the top or change the coordinator, styles change and I think with Woolsey they want to do that, establish the run so that he can use his ability to run as well as play-action pass you. The other game that Woolsey started and played was the New Mexico game and it looked similar to what we saw against UNLV last week.”
Those two games, UNLV and New Mexico, account for 411 of the 966 rushing yards the Rainbow Warriors have produced in 10 games (42.5 percent).
So for the Bulldogs, a question arises: Can their offense help slow down an opposing run game?
The Fresno State defense has over the past two games and several times this season spent too much time on the field, particularly in the second half, wearing down a thin unit.
25:02 Fresno State’s average time of possession per game
In a loss to Nevada last week, the Bulldogs’ offense ran only four plays for eight yards in the third quarter; the time of possession deficit 13:20 to 1:40. In a loss at Air Force two weeks ago, the offense ran nine plays and generated just five yards in the third quarter; the time of possession deficit in that quarter 11:56 to 3:04.
In games this season against FBS teams, Fresno State has held possession for only 37.3 percent of the second half, which is the second lowest in the nation.
A few first downs – whether the Bulldogs start redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson or sophomore Zack Greenlee at quarterback – obviously would help, and Hawaii has not put up much resistance this season.
Fresno State’s starting quarterback against Hawaii – Kilton Anderson or Zack Greenlee – will be a game-time decision, coach Tim DeRuyter said earlier this week.
“It takes a toll when you don’t have great depth, and that’s one thing we don’t have,” DeRuyter said. “We knew that going in. We had some younger guys and then we had some injuries, so they’re playing extra snaps. It all weighs on you. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality.
“We have to do a better job in all phases being consistent. When you do that, you get off the field on defense and the offense sustains drives. When you’re going three-and-out and you can’t get off the field on third down, it leads to those kind of time discrepancies.”
But the focus on defending the run could pay off against the Rainbow Warriors.
“I feel like as the weeks go on we’re getting more fundamentally sound in our run-stopping defense,” defensive end Todd Hunt said. “This week, practice has been even better. We’re putting way more emphasis on the run. I mean, they’re going to try to kill us with the run.”
They’re going to try to kill us with the run.
Bulldogs end Todd Hunt on Hawaii
The Bulldogs held Nevada to just 25 rushing yards in the first half before it got away from them after halftime when they were on the field for 12- and 13-play drives, and the confidence level is there.
“Look at it over the last few games, take Air Force out of it, but the UNLV game, the last game against Reno, the first half against Utah State, any damage that was done was really self-inflicted,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “Forget stopping the run or the pass. It was consistency in the third and fourth quarter that really hit us in all those games, even UNLV.
“Our confidence isn’t shaken because of that, it’s more inconsistency whether we’ve put a kid in a bad spot that can’t make the play, whether we put the guy in the wrong spot or whether he has played the wrong thing or hasn’t played it well. Those three things are the deal and that’s been the frustration. I think we’re a confident group still. It sounds crazy, but our guys are still having fun playing ball. If there was a lack of attitude or confidence you’d see a group that wouldn’t have come out last week and fired. That’s not an issue. We have a good group of older guys mixed with young guys and they’re going to continue to fight their butts off. We just have to get them to play well.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Up next for the ’Dogs
FRESNO STATE VS. HAWAII
- Saturday: 8 p.m. at Aloha Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-7, 1-5 MW; Rainbow Warriors 2-8, 0-6
- TV: KSEE (24.1)
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Bulldogs lead 25-21-1