Fresh off of an exciting season-opening victory over Arizona, the University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warrior football team (1-0) will get a week-long break, before welcoming their second consecutive Pac-12 foe, the Oregon State Beavers, to Aloha Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 7.
The Beavers and the ‘Bows have quite an interesting recent connection. Following the 2017 season, Oregon State successfully poached two important members of Hawai‘i’s coaching staff.
Former UH defensive coordinator Legi Suiaunoa and receivers coach Kefense Hynson both left the ‘Bows program to join Oregon State’s coaching staff, and Saturday marks their first return to Aloha Stadium on the opposing sideline.
Suiaunoa joined Hawai‘i in 2016 as a defensive line coach after five seasons serving the same position at the University of Montana. After an excellent season for the defensive line, Suiaunoa was promoted to the defensive coordinator position for the 2017 season. While in Montana, Suiaunoa served on the staff with Hynson for three seasons. Under Hynson, who was an excellent recruiter, the receiving corps was transformed into one of the team’s top units, led by 1,000 receiver Marcus Kemp. Kemp earned all-Mountain West honorable mention honors under Hynson.
The week 3 tilt will also see the return of former Hawai‘i special teams coach Jake Cookus, who last coached for Hawai‘i in 2015. Led by Cookus and former punter Rigoberto Sanchez, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts, the UH special teams unit ranked sixth nationally in net punting yards. For his efforts, Sanchez was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List that season.
Despite not facing each other in 2018, there was some controversy between the two teams that season. During the ‘Bows’ spring camp, recruiting packets from Oregon State were sent to several unnamed Hawai‘i athletes. The packages included invitations to the Beavers’ spring game, and were sent directly to the University of Hawai‘i.
“My apologies for our players not being able to attend your Spring game,” Nick Rolovich tweeted. “Ours was the same day, bad timing. Quick question, in the 203 years of coaching, none of you realized you couldn't actively recruit another school's players? Sent to campus? #leakydam #sloppybeavers””
According to the NCAA transfer rules, "An athletics staff member or other representative of the institution's athletics interests shall not make contact with the student-athlete of another NCAA or NAIA four-year collegiate institution, directly or indirectly, without first obtaining the written permission of the first institution's athletics director…” Following Rolovich’s tweet, Oregon State was assessed an NCAA secondary violation, akin to a “slap on the wrist”, which barred the Beavers from recruiting the players in question in the event of a transfer.
Back to matters of this season. Oregon State returns four all-conference honorable mention players in running back Jemar Jefferson, Isaiah Hodgins, Trevon Bradford, and special teamer Andre Bodden, as well as oft-injured sixth-year senior quarterback Jake Luton. In eight healthy games and 5 starts, Luton finished with a 62.5 percent completion percentage for 1,660 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Beavers finished the 2018 season with a 2-10 record in head coach Jonathan Smith’s first season, but early news out of Corvallis is encouraging for Smith’s second year. OSU added a former NFL player and assistant coach in Blue Adams as the new secondaries coach. Adams is expected to help bolster recruiting efforts for the Beavers.
Hawai‘i, meanwhile, is coming off of an up-and-down offensive performance against Arizona. A once clear-cut quarterback situation has been muddied by a sloppy performance.
Despite the early offensive fireworks (378 yards 4 touchdowns), incumbent starter Cole McDonald tossed 4 interceptions against a resurgent Arizona defense. With the game tied late in the third quarter, McDonald was pulled in favor of redshirt-freshman Chevan Cordeiro. With the game on the line, Cordeiro led the team on back-to-back scoring drives to clinch the game. Cordeiro finished with 58 yards passing and 1 touchdown.
The running backs also appeared to have trouble hanging on to the ball. In limited action, running backs Dayton Furuta and Fred Holly III each lost the football after what appeared to be long first down runs, although Furuta also found his way into the end zone for his third career rushing touchdown.
One clear bright spot for the offense was receiver Cedric Byrd II. In an eye-popping performance, Byrd finished with 224 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns.
His 224 yards marked the first time a UH receiver had gone over the 200-yard mark since current Seattle Seahawks receiver John Ursua in 2017, while his 4 touchdowns matched a single-game record set by former ‘Bows receivers Chad Owens, Ryan Grice-Mullen, Jason Rivers, and Chris Grant. Another bright spot was the defensive unit.
A unit that struggled in 2018, the defense held Arizona to either a turnover or punt on 7 of 15 Wildcat possessions. Defensive backs Kai Kaneshiro and Ikem Okeke each netted their first career interceptions, while defensive lineman Manly Williams showed great effort on a chase down tackle of former Heisman candidate Khalil Tate on a potential game winning run. Following the game, defensive coordinator Corey Batoon was awarded the game ball by head coach Nick Rolovich.
Prior to the Arizona game, it was announced that linebacker Penei Pavihi would miss the 2019 season with a right knee injury. Pavihi was set for a big role in the defense. Linebackers Solomon Matautia, Jeremiah Pritchard, and Paul Scott are among those expected to help fill the void left by Pavihi. Center Kohl Levao also missed Saturday’s game for an undisclosed reason. It is unclear whether he will be back in time for the Oregon State game. In the meantime, Taaga Tuulima filled in for Levao and the offensive line didn’t miss a beat, coughing up just one sack against the Wildcats.
The ‘Bows take on Oregon State at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m.