For the first time since 2009, the Rainbow Warriors have started the season 2-0. Second-year head coach Nick Rolovich brings back a multi-faceted offense that includes a versatile aerial attack as well as an explosive running game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hawai’i loses a lot of depth from last year’s squad but will rely on the play calling of new defensive coordinator Legi Suiaunoa. While the Bruins might be the heavy favorites heading into Saturday’s matchup – boasting a spread of 24 – UCLA will still be going up against a team looking to maintain an undefeated record.
This game will be a great platform to see how the Bruins will respond just six days after pulling off the second-largest comeback in NCAA history. Here’s a breakdown of Hawaii’s offensive and defensive schemes heading into Saturday’s matchup at the Rose Bowl.
Base formation: Spread/Multiple
Run/Pass Ratio: 52/48
Strengths: High-octane offense that puts up points in bunches
Weaknesses: Consistency through four quarters
X Factor: Running back Diocemy Saint Juste
The first thing everyone thinks of when Hawai’i football is mentioned is points. Their offense is averaging 478 yards per game coming into Saturday’s matchup and has scored 79 points in two games. While they did play an FCS team in Western Carolina last week, Hawaii saw big production despite resting several key players on offense.
Dylan Collie stepped up at receiver, grabbing seven balls for 104 yards and a score. However, Collie filled the void for arguably Hawaii’s most impactful playmaker – wide receiver John Ursua. In their season opener against UMass, Ursua hauled in 12 catches for 272 yards – fourth best in program history.
Ursua rested last week due to a foot injury. It’s still unclear whether or not he’ll suit up against the Bruins, but he would be a key piece of a receiving corps slated to go up against one of the best secondaries in the Pac-12. Check out Ursua turn a quick slant into a 85-yard touchdown with his deceptive speed. Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple said Ursua “looked like Jerry Rice out there.”
At quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors is Dru Brown. The junior signal caller has shown he definitely needs to learn to control his presence in the pocket – having already thrown three interceptions – but the San Mateo, California, product has the ability to stretch the field with his feet.
UCLA’s defense has had trouble with mobile quarterbacks in the past, most recently struggling to contain Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who pulled off a few scramble plays in last Sunday’s game, rushing for 54 yards. Brown isn’t nearly the athlete or speedster Mond is, or really even comparable to the various other dual threats UCLA constantly faces in the Pac-12, but he’s a gamer.
Watch him break San Jose State’s defense for a 62-yard run last year on a designed quarterback draw.
Despite Brown’s impact on the offense, the real spark plug for the Rainbow Warriors is running back Diocemy Saint Juste. Last year, Brown ran for over 1000 yards, and he has already amassed 280 yards rushing in his first two games.
He’s also the first back in Hawai’i’s program history to rush for 200 yards twice in a career – most recently against Western Carolina last week, running for 202 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Saint Juste has illusive speed and is surprisingly hard to bring down at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds.
Saint Juste also averaged an impressive 6.1 yards per carry last season and was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list this summer – given to college football’s best running back at the conclusion of the season. Look at him butcher Western Carolina’s backfield last week on a big run.
In that clip, there’s also see great blocking up front from the offensive line as well as the receivers. Hawai’i’s offense brings back eight starters and features a veteran offensive line led by former UCLA Bruin and four-star recruit Fred Ulu-Perry Jr.
The Bruins gave up an astounding 382 yards rushing against the Aggies in their opener. They’ll need to be more disciplined against the Rainbow Warriors, or Saint Juste could put triple digit yardage.
Base Formation: 4-3
Blitz Tendency: Medium
Strengths: Veteran linebacking core
Weaknesses: Inexperienced defensive backs
X Factor: Jahlani Tavai
This is where the Bruins have to take advantage of the Rainbow Warriors. This is a team that gave up 51 points to Cal in its opener last year and then a monstrous 63 the next week. That might’ve been last season, and sure Cal and Michigan are both power-conference schools – but let’s not forget this is a defense currently in the rebuilding process.
New defensive coordinator Suiaunoa hasn’t gotten off to the best start, with the defense giving up 35 points in their opener against Massachusetts and allowing close to 500 yards to FCS team Western Carolina last week. The unit lost both its starting corners from last year and now features a transfer in safety/corner Manu Hudson-Rasmussen, alongside cornerback Rojesterman Ferris.
Expect the Bruin receiving corps to take advantage of such inexperience. While the Rainbow Warriors do bring back both starting safeties from last year in Daniel Lewis, Jr. and Trayvon Henderson, it’ll still be an uphill battle for their secondary. UCLA’s Josh Rosen divvied up his 491 yards last week amongst six different receivers, with three going for over 100 yards.
The biggest strength of this defense lies within the linebacking core. Hawaii returns all three starters at the position. Malachi Mageo and Russell Williams Jr. take the outside SAM and WILL spots respectively, with Jahlani Tavai resuming his duties at the MIKE spot.
At the middle linebacker spot Tavai – the unquestioned leader of the defense – led his team in tackles last season boasting 129 alongside 19.5 tackles for loss. He’s already picked up where he left off this season, again leading their team in tackles through two games with 23, with two sacks and two tackles for loss.
Tavai also made the 2017 Chuck Bednarik Award watch list – given to the nation’s best defensive player at the end of the year. Watch him blow up Massachusetts quarterback Andrew Ford in the clip below.
Expect this group to try and continue to slow down UCLA’s already stagnant run game. The trio of linebackers are also making a sort of homecoming, as they all originally come from Southern California.
While it’s often hard to make an impact on special teams, Hawai’i did so last week against Western Carolina. The unit blocked three field goals, two coming from defensive lineman Meffy Koloamatangi, who also notched in two sacks in the contest.
However, the Bruins should fare well in Saturday’s matchup as long as they prepare correctly. There are too many athletes on UCLA’s side for Hawai’i to keep up with. Rolovich’s team might have its spurts of offense here and there, but overall it should be a relatively easy day for Jim Mora’s bunch.