Hawaii is the early-season surprise team of the Western Athletic Conference, but let's not get too excited.
The team that was a preseason pick to finish 8th in the conference has played just two games and still has a lot of questions to answer.The reason for the excitement, of course, is that the Rainbow Warriors' two victories occurred on Mainland turf - traditionally their Kryptonite - against Oregon of the Pac-10 (24-21) and Air Force (6-3). The last time Hawaii won its first two away games, it finished 9-3.
But with 7 offensive starters returning from a weak offense and only four defensive starters returning, the Rainbows weren't supposed to make even this much noise.
In both games so far, Hawaii has displayed a stingy defense and just enough offense to win. Against BYU on Saturday at Aloha Stadium, the 'Bows' offense and defense figure to face their toughest test yet.
The big question mark still is the passing attack, which has averaged just 89 yards per game. Before the season began, Hawaii coach Bob Wagner said, "Hopefully, the quarterbacks will be better, which is a critical position."
So far, as quarterbacks, they've been good running backs. Starter Ivin Jasper (6.1 yards per carry) has played just one game because of an ankle injury, completing 3 of 10 passes with one interception and one touchdown. Last year's starter, Michael Carter (5.0 ypc), has been converted to a slotback, which makes sense, considering that he was last in the league in pass efficiency last season but fourth in rushing yards per game.
Rodney Glover is the best-passing quarterback on the Rainbow squad, but he's listed as third-string. In a relief stint against Air Force, he completed 11 of 22. But he doesn't run like Jasper or Carter.
When the 'Bow QBs do complete passes, Darrick Branch is their favorite target. He's caught five passes in two games, averaging 20 yards per catch.
Hawaii's offensive strength is its running game, led by halfback Travis Sims' 122.5 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry, but the Rainbows are still last in the league in total offense.
They lead the league in total defense, giving up just 367 yards per game, but that's still giving up more than they get (333.5).
Wagner is cautiously optimistic about the defense's good early results. "We'll know Saturday whether we're playing Hawaii defense or not," he said.
The top tacklers on the 'Bow defense are senior safety Bryan Addison (8.5 per game) and senior noseguard Maa Tanuvasa (8.0).
One thing an opponent doesn't want to do against Hawaii is get into a field-goal kicking duel. Jason Elam, who is also a strong punter, needs just five more points for the WAC career scoring record.
RAINBOW NOTES: Glover is the nephew of actor Danny Glover . . . 8 of Hawaii's 18 sellouts since 1975 have been BYU games.