PROVO — In the days after BYU beat Hawaii 30-20 in the season finale last November in Honolulu, coach Kalani Sitake let go legendary quarterback Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator at the end of a 4-9 campaign.
Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich, meanwhile, decided to make a major change in his program — which finished 3-9 a year ago — after that game as well by returning to the run-and-shoot offense, the scheme that he played in when he was a prolific Warrior quarterback.
In 2001, Rolovich led Hawaii to a memorable 72-45 victory at Aloha Stadium over the Cougars, who were ranked No. 8 and 12-0 at the time. Rolovich threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns and the Warriors finished that season with a 9-3 mark.
The key to making the run-and-shoot work is the right quarterback — and Rolovich found his man in Cole McDonald, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore from La Mirada, California.
This season, McDonald is No. 2 in the nation in passing, having thrown for 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns, despite missing last week’s 17-13 home win over Wyoming due to an injury.
Freshman Chevan Cordeiro completed 19 of 29 passes for 148 and two touchdowns, including a game-winning, 38-yarder with 1:26 remaining against the Cowboys.
But McDonald is expected to start when Hawaii (6-1) visits BYU Saturday (8:15 p.m., MDT, ESPN2).
“I’m back,” he told reporters Tuesday after practice. “It feels good. It’s nice to be out with the boys and throwing again.”
"He looked fine. He went through the whole practice,” Rolovich said. “With a week off, I think he's got some things to clean up, but you know, he looked like he was ready to go.”
And McDonald is motivated. Hawaii is 0-9 all-time against BYU in Provo and he’s looking to lead the first Warrior team to knock off the Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"I feel like myself and for the guys, we want to be part of that legacy. To Hawaii and to everyone out here, it means something special, and if we can give that to the state and to the people, that would mean the world to us, just coming back with that win," McDonald said. "We're going to go out there and execute our assignments and play great football and come back with that win, so it's going to mean a lot to us."
If that weren’t enough motivation, the Warriors will become bowl-eligible with a victory Saturday.
Hawaii is averaging 468 yards of offense and 38.4 points per game.
BYU wide receiver Dylan Collie, who spent the past three seasons with Hawaii before transferring, isn’t surprised by how explosive the Warriors are this season.
“Really, it starts with the coaching. (Quarterbacks coach Craig) Stutzmann and coach Rolo are guys who understand that offense they’re running in a very distinct way,” Collie said. “To be able to give Cole the freedom of reads and the ability to make plays on his feet, he’s very diverse and an athletic kid. He’s been a part of that offense now for three years. He’s really getting his chance to shine. They’ve put that trust in him and so when you have that, he’s done really well with it, obviously.”
This Hawaii team is not the same team that BYU played a year ago, thanks to McDonald.
“Rolo’s a really good coach. He’s a great offensive mind. They’re really similar. They just have a big-time playmaker at quarterback that can sling the ball around. He’s a great coach. He knows how to find mismatches all over the field,” Sitake said. “They spread it out and he’s one of the guys that knows how to get points on the board. Another big challenge for us. We’re expecting their best shot. We’re expecting to see their starting quarterback.”
Certainly, the Warriors pose a challenge to the Cougar defense, which has struggled the past two weeks.
“They’re a pretty high-powered offense,” said defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “They run a lot of quick throws so we have to be ready for that.”
Wide receiver John Ursua has caught 55 passes for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kaufusi called Ursua a “dangerous” playmaker.
“They’re a lot different team (compared to last year),” Kaufusi said. “They’re coming out and trying to ball. Last year, I don’t know what it was, but maybe they were a little bit down on themselves. It’s fun to see them come out and play harder because that makes it a better opponent.”
BYU safeties coach Preston Hadley is impressed with Hawaii’s offense.
“They execute really well. Their receivers are in sync with their quarterback. They do a good job. They have three receivers with over 30 catches,” he said. “We’ve got our hands full but I think our guys are up for it. We’ve challenged the guys. We haven’t played well the last two weeks. It’s a great opportunity with a good offense coming into our stadium for the corners, safeties and the whole defense.”
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Cougars on the air
at BYU (3-3)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM