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Opponent Preview: Hawaii

All the fun of playing Hawaii without all that crazy travel!!!

Coach Chang leading team onto field
Striding into Year 2
University of Hawai’i Football

The Opponent: Hawaii Warriors (Summer Preview | Game Notes | Depth Chart)

When: August 26, 2023, 6:30 PM CT on SEC Network

Where: FirstBank Stadium

Last year: 3-10 (2-6 MWC)

The last time we saw these guys: 63-10 win to start off the 2022 season strong

Series record: 1-0, Vanderbilt

Head Coach: Timmy Chang

Coach Chang is a former Rainbows quarterback, making him one of 18 FBS head coaches leading their alma mater alongside our own Clark Lea. Earlier this month, Hawai’i announced a return to the Run-and-Shoot style that helped Chang become the FBS record-holder for most career passing yards in 2004. It is fair to say that Coach Chang knows a thing or two about the Run-and-Shoot that made Hawai’i a winning program in the early 2000’s when he was still under center there.

Offense: nO-Line

Brayden Schager and Eliki Tanuvasa are the only two players we’ll see from the starting lineup we faced last year. Jonah Panoke, who you may remember for putting up 101 yards on 7 catches against us last year, will be starting this year. Those 101 yards were roughly a third of his season total, though, so I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance. Steven McBride, the Kansas transfer and apparent starter, has only recorded 21 receptions over 24 games in his three year-career thus far. The redshirted freshman, Pofele Ashlock, will need to be spectacular for this receiving corps to make an impact.

While Schager did heat up a little bit down the stretch last season, the team has so little continuity at offensive line that I would be doubtful either Schager or last year’s backup RB Tylan Hines will have much success. There just isn’t much experience on this offensive line or in the receiving corps, and where there is experience, at the risk of sounding a bit harsh, there hasn’t been much success. I would be surprised if this team scored more against us than they did last year, although, our defense could always Vandy things up a bit.

Defense: Stone Cold Transfers (or, Can’t Get Lower Than Rock Bottom)

Hawai’i’s defense allowed 34.7 points/game last year, good for 123rd of 131 teams (better than Vanderbilt buuuutttttt Hawai’i didn’t have to play Bama and Georgia, sooooo...) which is bad, but it pretty much means the defense can only get better, right? There were a handful of PAC-12 transfers, but the most prominent on the depth chart are Kuao Pelhopa from Washington, who will be starting at Nose Tackle, and Cam Stone from Wyoming, who will be a decent upgrade at CB. Pelhopa did not see the field much for the Huskies, but he is only a sophomore (whatever that means nowadays) and could have just gotten buried by better talent on the roster. Stone seems to have been more effective than JoJo Forest, who he is replacing, and Virdel Edwards II is one of four defensive starters from last year’s game who seems set to start this year’s game, so expect a little more resistance up top. Along the line, it is a little bit more difficult for me to piece things together, but I would expect more of the same as last year, maybe just a little stiffer after a year under what I can only assume is a much better coaching regime than the one that came before it.

Special Teams: Running a Tight Ship(ley)

Matthew Shipley is handling placekicking and is listed a as “OR” for punting duties. He averaged 41 yards on punts, went 27-of-28 on PATs, and is 16-of-21 last season. His career long field goal is 49 yards, but he can boot it 60+ when he’s punting. Cam Stone, a Wyoming transfer, will be taking over the returns. He is in no way spectacular, but he seemed to fare a little bit better against similar Mountain West competition the past few seasons than Hawai’i’s returners. I don’t think that means he is going to run back every kickoff for a touchdown, but he does have a 99-yard TD return on the books that I wanted to share because, hey, it’s pretty cool. With another year of training and experience for Shipley and what seems like an upgrade at returner with Cam Stone transferring in, maybe expect a little more from special teams this year.


Outlook: Not Much Gold at the End of This Rainbow

You can only get so much better, year-over-year. Hawai’i currently has recruiting classes ranked near the bottom of FBS this year and next year, and is stuck waiting until 2028 for the new Aloha Stadium to open up. Hawai’i is a program that looks a lot like Vanderbilt, in some ways, and much like us, last year, the team should be much better but will still have a long ways to go following Todd Graham’s resignation after a couple of bum years. They should still be able to find at least as many wins as last year, given their Mountain West schedule, but I wouldn’t expect more than four or maybe even five if the Run-and-Shoot comes together really well.

(P.S. I was late on this one since it’s my first go-around. Normally, expect these earlier on Tuesdays.)