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College football: Warriors fizzle in explosive play production

Updated: 
September 27, 2017 - 12:05am

Some commentators would have you believe that the University of Hawaii football team outgaining the two teams it lost to amounts to a head-shaking anomaly.

In actuality, it provides Exhibit “A” insight into why the Rainbow Warriors lost these last two games in what has become a 2-2 start to this season.

Sure, the ‘Bows outgained UCLA (515-505) and Wyoming (450-269) in yardage, but the Bruins and Cowboys made significantly more of the big — or so-called “explosive” — plays on all fronts, committed fewer turnovers and, overall, incurred fewer penalties.

In its statistics, UH and many others classify plays of “20 yards or longer” on offense, defense and special teams as “explosive” because, as we have seen, they tend to blow open a game.

Over these last two games, a lot has been exploding around UH, which has made six “explosive” plays and given up 20.

In Saturday’s 28-21 overtime loss at Wyoming, four “explosive” plays either directly resulted in or set up all four touchdowns, including quarterback Josh Allen’s game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass to James Price on the first play of the overtime period.

Previously, Trey Woods’ 34-yard run gave the Cowboys’ their first touchdown, Tyler Hall’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown erased UH’s only lead, and Woods’ 59-yard run set up a third Wyoming score.

Wyoming missed an opportunity to cash in on another one, a 24-yard kickoff return by Rico Gafford, when a 47-yard field-goal attempt drifted wide right. UH also dodged bullets after Allen’s 22-yard run, two 20-plus yard kickoff returns and a 37-yard punt return.

While UH held Wyoming to a mere 296 yards total offense — the lowest total by an opponent since South Alabama in the 2012 finale — the statistical milestone meant little in the end since the Cowboys got enough big plays across the spectrum — offense and special teams in particular — to get their scoring done in 48 offensive plays compared to UH’s 78.

Give the Cowboys that many big-play opportunities, that kind of field position with a 2-0 turnover differential and double the penalties and there isn’t much need to string together long-march 13-play, six- and seven-minute drives. They are bound to cash in even with 30 fewer offensive plays, which the Cowboys did.

UH meanwhile, managed just two “explosive” plays against Wyoming, none in the first half in which three of five drives were hampered by penalties.

One big play, Dru Brown’s 50-yard pass to John Ursua, resulted in the fourth-quarter touchdown. The other, a 23-yard Brown-to-Dylan Collie pass in the third quarter, was squandered by a subsequent interception.

Against inferior teams (we’re talking the season’s first two opponents here, UMass and Western Carolina) the Rainbow Warriors gave up seven big plays in each game and got away with it by matching them with seven each of their own.

But against better quality opponents (UCLA and Wyoming) with speed and discipline, they couldn’t keep pace. Nor did the necessity of leaving three defensive line performers home due to what were described as rules violations help. And, it cost them.

So, here we are one third the way through the regular-season schedule and the hope is that the explosive lessons to date, especially those from a revealing Saturday night in Laramie, Wyo., have sunken in.

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