BOISE, Idaho >> It was not the blue turf nor the record-setting attendance nor even 14th-ranked Boise State’s mastery of mystery.
On reflection of Saturday’s 59-37 football loss, Hawaii’s undoing was found in the mirror.
The first half told the whole story for the Rainbow Warriors, who lost three fumbles, were flagged nine times for 73 yards, and dropped three passes before the homecoming halftime show. And despite after-the-drama production, the Warriors learned the basic rule of the chase: It is difficult to catch up with a self-inflicted foot wound.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” quarterback Cole McDonald said. “No way around it. You can’t blame it on the refs, the cold, the blue turf. In reality, we were moving the ball. They couldn’t stop us. We stopped ourselves with the fumbles.”
The Warriors had used the extra time from last week’s bye to prepare for Broncos’ offensive cocktail of pre-snap motions, shifts and double shifts. But the Warriors’ best defensive fight could not overcome a short field. In building a 31-7 halftime lead, the Broncos averaged 36 yards on their five scoring drives.
“Awful field position,” UH coach Nick Rolovich said of the defense’s dilemma. “We gave (the Broncos) some really short fields, and they took advantage of it. Our defense didn’t play as bad as the score in the first half. I thought they were put in some tough spots, and they battled.”
Two of the Warriors’ most sure-handed receivers — right slotback Cedric Byrd and left wideout Jared Smart — were stripped of the football following catches. On a controversial call, McDonald also was ruled to have fumbled while attempting a pass. All three turnovers were parlayed into BSU touchdowns.
“Oh, no, nope,” McDonald said when asked if he thought he fumbled.
On first-and-10 from the UH 20, McDonald had rolled to his right when he was grabbed by stud linebacker Curtis Weaver at the 12. McDonald managed to launch the football forward. Safety Kekoa Nawahine recovered the ball at the 23, then was body-slammed to the turf by right tackle Gene Pryor. After a review, the replay official ruled it a lost fumble and not an incomplete pass.
“I didn’t think it was a fumble,” McDonald said. “The replays showed it wasn’t a fumble, but the people upstairs said it was. … We have to play through, regardless. I mean, that shouldn’t be the case. It shouldn’t come down to the refs making that decision and me fumbling the ball, if that was the case.”
The Warriors also suffered an early setback when middle linebacker Jeremiah Pritchard was called for targeting after tackling running back George Holani on the third play of the Broncos’ second possession.
“That’s a very unusual targeting call in that part of play,” Rolovich said. “It’s usually a DB and receiver. It’s usually in more space. It’s not necessarily at the line of scrimmage on a run play like that. We’ve got to see it on film.”
The Warriors also were penalized twice for false starts, including when right wideout JoJo Ward stepped into his route too early. The Broncos have induced 38 false-starts in six games.
“The penalties, obviously, weren’t good,” Rolovich said. “The turnovers weren’t good. … But that’s a great Boise team. You can’t do those type of things and expect to win against Boise, especially up here.”
The Warriors are 0-7 in what is now known as Albertsons Stadium. A record crowd of 36,902 saw the Broncos improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West in their quest for a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl.
The Broncos showed their depth and creativity even after starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier left in the first half with an injury. The Broncos found success with three quarterbacks — five, when counting receivers Khalil Shakir and John Hightower.
Shakir opened the scoring when he took a direct snap as the wildcat and ran 5 yards for a touchdown. Hightower, moonlighting as an option quarterback, raced around right end and pitched to a teammate. The play was nullified because the toss went forward after he crossed the line of scrimmage, but it showcased Hightower’s versatility. Hightower caught seven passes for 141 yards, including a 42-yarder on a go route to initiate the second-half scoring. Hightower also used his speed (4.4 seconds over 40 yards) on a jet sweep.
After two weeks of studying videos of Hightower, Rolovich acknowledged, “he’s better in person. He’s an impressive athlete with really good speed. He ran some balls down. They did a nice job putting him in positions to get open as far as leverage and things.”
UH defensive coordinator Corey Batoon said: “They did a nice job of getting the ball to their playmakers. We’ve got to make some more plays in space. We have to finish. And we’ve done that. We’ve had guys do that. We definitely didn’t tonight. That was disappointing.”
As for the defending of short fields in the first half, Batoon said: “Our job on defense, I don’t care where they get the ball, is to get stops. Things didn’t go right for us early in the game. We have to create our momentum, especially on the road.”
The Broncos amassed 518 yards and converted half their 14 third-down plays.
The Warriors were five of 12 on third down, and failed to convert on their first two fourth-down plays.
“It’s an aggressive game against a good football team, especially when we’re down,” Rolovich said of the fourth-down decisions. “We didn’t convert either one of them. We had to come to play to win. There’s no use coming up here and hanging out. We wanted to win the football game.”