Musings from Manoa: Iosefa arrest shouldn’t shake UH’s focus

HONOLULU — The gods of timing have not always acted favorably upon University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow since he took over the program in December 2011.

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HONOLULU — The gods of timing have not always acted favorably upon University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow since he took over the program in December 2011.

The latest twist of bad fortune, senior co-captain and starting running back Joey Iosefa’s arrest early Sunday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence, is only the latest in a seemingly endless string of unexpected obstacles that have turned Chow’s tenure into anything but a smooth ride.

It started during his first spring practice, when then-sophomore quarterback Cayman Shutter was arrested for DUI, and then two more players (Alema Tachibana and Alex Dunnachie) were pulled over for DUI over the summer.

Certainly not the way Chow envisioned entering his first fall camp.

Last year’s camp began with another distraction, when offensive coordinator Aaron Price was dismissed (with pay) before the first practice even started. And on the season’s final day — with UH 0-11 but entering a winnable “Senior Night” home game against Army — reserve running back Willis Wilson drowned at Sandy Beach on Oahu at age 21.

The Rainbow Warriors won that night, 49-42, but no doubt carried heavy hearts before, during and after.

UH then had a relatively quiet offseason and entered this past summer’s camp with optimism, but suffered another huge blow in the first week when true freshman receiver Devan Stubblefield — a projected starter — tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, forcing him to redshirt. Stubblefield was expected to be a primary deep threat and his presence was supposed to soften the blow of losing two top receivers (Billy Ray Stutzmann and Chris Gant) to graduation, another (Keith Kirkwood) to a transfer to Temple and a fourth (Vasquez Haynes) to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Things did not get better for the offense after Iosefa went down with a fractured right ankle near the end of Week 2, against Oregon State.

Steven Lakalaka (and Diocemy Saint Juste) did an admirable job in Iosefa’s place, but it took until the second half last Saturday before quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and receivers Quinton Pedroza and Marcus Kemp finally had breakout performances to complete the offensive package.

And then, of course, there was Chow’s wife, Diane, suffering a brain aneurysm the day before the Oct. 4 game at Rice.

But Chow and the Rainbow Warriors took the blows, steadfastly pushing forward through it all, and for a few hours after last Saturday’s crucial 38-28 thrilling comeback victory over Wyoming, everything seemed right again in the UH football world: Hawaii is 1-0 in Mountain West Conference play, first place in the West Division. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the skies were blue …

And then, boom — another sudden setback. Iosefa had hoped to return to game action soon, if not this week at San Diego State, then maybe for the Oct. 25 Homecoming Game vs. Nevada.

Now, based on the precedents set by how UH handled the DUI arrests of Shutter, Tachibana and Dunnachie, it is expected Iosefa will be held out for at least the next three games (vs. San Diego State, Nevada and then Utah State on Nov. 1).

In other words, the celebration period for Saturday night’s victory officially ended on Sunday. Just when things were finally starting to look up for Chow and the program — yet another twist of fate in the wrong direction.

But if the saying, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” is true, then Chow and his team are tough as nails and will treat this setback as just another bitter pill to swallow. They will get a straw, suck it up, and move on.

Such a situation — unfortunately — has become almost routine for them by now. And it does seem to have made them stronger.

The difference this time is that with or without Iosefa, the Rainbow Warriors have enough other players on offense who have shown they can collectively carry the load. Saint Juste may have been the most pleasant surprise, taking over as primary ball carrier and finishing with 135 yards on 17 carries, much of that after Lakalaka left the game for good with concussion-like symptoms.

Pedroza lost a fumble and had a mistimed route or two, but otherwise had a breakout game with seven catches for a career-high 118 yards and two touchdowns. Marcus Kemp, the other starting wide receiver, had an impressive 43-yard catch-and-run TD to give UH the lead for good at 31-28 early in the fourth quarter, by far his biggest play of the year.

Freshman wideout Keelan Ewaliko scored his first touchdown of the season, on a signature 11-yard reverse.

And most importantly, Woolsey finally found his accuracy and amazingly completed eight of nine attempts (88.9 percent) for a whopping 173 yards (21.6 yards per completion) and two TDs. He entered the game with 79 completions in 173 attempts (45.7 percent) for only three touchdowns in five starts.

Woolsey and Tyler Graham (who started the game but left at halftime with a fractured foot) were sacked only once all night, and the offense finished with a balanced attack of 281 yards passing and 232 yards rushing (513 total). Not to mention the 38 points, another season high.

Keep in mind: All of this was done with Iosefa on the sidelines.

So, the hope generated by Saturday’s performance should not be diminished by Iosefa’s arrest, as disheartening as it might be. The Rainbow Warriors are still 1-0 in the Mountain West, still in first place in the West Division, and still mathematically can get to the required seven wins necessary for a Hawaii Bowl invitation.

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And, last Saturday, they proved they can beat a Mountain West opponent without Iosefa.

Now they just need to prove they can do it on the road.

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