Explosive Hawaii offense presents tough test for CSU defense in MW opener

Justin Michael

Colorado State football (2-2) opens Mountain West play with a pair of road games, starting with the University of Hawaii (2-2) on Saturday. After using last week’s bye to recover and prepare for what head coach Mike Bobo is referring to as the second season, the Rams will be tested with a deceptively tough road game at Aloha Stadium. 

DENVER-Junior Linebacker Josh Watson (55) stares down the CU offense on Sept. 1.
DENVER-Junior Linebacker Josh Watson (55) stares down the CU offense on Sept. 1. (Collegian)

CSU has won six consecutive games in the series and nine of the last 10 games against the  Rainbow Warriors, but as many schools have found out over the years, playing on the island is no easy task.

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In 2015, the University of Colorado opened the season with a road loss at Hawaii. Last season five of the six regular season games in Aloha Stadium were decided by one score.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup, Bobo is emphasizing that this is an opponent the Rams cannot take lightly, especially given the unique travel conditions. The team will spend roughly eight hours on an airplane, combined with a nearly two-hour layover in San Francisco, Calif.

In preparation for the game, Bobo has talked to a variety of coaches to gain advice on how the Rams should handle team activities both before and after the contest with the Rainbow Warriors. While the uncommon kickoff time of 10 p.m. MT presents a challenge to manage fatigue, Bobo emphasized Tuesday that the team needs to focus on football and not put too much weight into the situation.

More than the kickoff or awkward travel schedule, Bobo is more concerned with slowing down a strong Hawaii offensive unit.

“They’re very versatile. You can see they try to be balanced,” Bobo said. “I think the percentages show that they are a little more favored in the run game, but they will threaten you down field in the passing game.”

Leading the way for the Hawaii offense is sophomore wide receiver John Ursua, who is currently leading the nation with an average of 151 receiving yards per game. Ursua is also second in the nation with a season average of ten receptions per game.

After playing in all 14 games as a freshman, Ursua kicked off the 2017 season with an impressive 12-catch, 272-yard performance against the University of Massachusetts on Aug. 26. Since that point, Ursua has consistently been quarterback Dru Brown’s No. 1 target through the air.

On the ground, the Rams will try to contain sophomore running back Dioceme Saint Juste, who has rushed for 100 yards three times this season. In the Warriors’ most recent loss at Wyoming, Juste carried the ball 26 times for 120 yards.

The combination of the Warriors’ potent passing attack and consistent ground game also opens up the opportunity for play-action scenarios, something Hawaii has done well through the first month and Bobo noted could be a big factor Saturday.

The biggest key defensively, though, is to limit the big play. The Warriors have an extremely explosive offense, currently tied for a nation-best seven plays of 50+ yards this season.

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While the CSU defense has generally played well this season, big plays have definitely been the Rams’ achilles heel. In the most recent loss to Alabama on Sept. 16, the Rams gave up touchdowns of 27, 52 and 78 yards in the first half alone. With conference play on the horizon and a MW Championship in their sites, limiting explosive plays is certainly a goal for the CSU defense.

“That has been a problem for us during the first four games,” Bobo said. “I’ve talked at length about how hard we’ve played and we’ve stayed together, handled adversity. But we cannot give up explosive plays, especially explosive plays for touchdowns… You want to make offenses work for it. We want to make them continue to hand it off to No. 22 and try to grind it out.”

The Rams’ defense will look to help grind out a third victory of the season on Saturday, Sept. 30. The contest with Hawaii is scheduled for 10 p.m. MT.

Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at jmichael@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.