UW rode a fast start and a dominant bounceback performance from its defense to top Hawaii 31-7 for its first win of the season. Playing in front of a crowd limited to 6,232 fans because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cowboys notched their ninth straight home win dating back to the 2018 season.
"Obviously they were the better team tonight," Hawaii coach Todd Graham said. "Not much else you can say."
Quarterback Levi Williams made his second career start in place of the injured Sean Chambers, but the Cowboys leaned heavily on their patented running game to rack up 393 yards...of offense. After being held to just 4 yards a carry in the Cowboys’ opening loss at Nevada last week, Xazavian Valladay gashed the UH defense for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Trey Smith carried 20 times for 89 yards and a pair of scores.
"It makes my life really easy," said Williams, who went just 9 of 18 passing for 112 yards. "We've got two really good, solid running backs back there, and they took the load today. Really impressed with our offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage. Obviously the passing game has to get better and needs to get better."
The Cowboys held the ball for more than 38 minutes of game time, but the offensive execution wasn’t always flawless, particularly in the red zone, in their first home game since beating Colorado State on Nov. 22, 2019. UW made seven trips there and had a missed field goal just before the half before Valladay fumbled inside UH’s 15-yard line with the Cowboys leading just 17-7 early in the fourth quarter.
But UW forced a punt, a theme throughout the night for a defense that held Hawaii to 233 yards and just 12 first downs a week after allowing 496 yards to the Wolf Pack. Nevada threw for 420 of those yards, but the Cowboys harassed Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who completed just 11 of his 26 attempts for 110 yards and was sacked five times.
Linebacker Charles Hicks also intercepted Cordeiro off a deflection early in the fourth quarter and returned it 47 yards to set up Valladay’s 6-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys some real breathing room at 24-7. Smith later added a 2-yard scoring run as UW ended the game on a 21-0 run.
"I think we challenged the receivers more. Last week, I thought we were a little bit passive," UW coach Craig Bohl said. "We adjusted some things, and we were able to eliminate some of their primary runs. And that allowed us to get into some different looks and pressure the quarterback."
Said defensive tackle Cole Godbout, "I just think we were hammering them up front, so they had to try to kind of do what they could."
UW set the tone by flipping the script on the way it started against Nevada, opening with a five-play, 62-yard scoring drive capped by Valladay’s 18-yard touchdown run. UW moved into Warriors territory on each of its first four drives, including a second possession that started at Hawaii’s 25 after Chad Muma recovered Cordeiro’s fumble.
The Cowboys contained the dual-threat quarterback and the rest of Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense for much of the half when they were on the field, holding the Warriors to 132 total yards in the first two quarters.
A potential three-score lead, though, turned into just a 10-7 halftime advantage for UW with a major momentum shift late in the second quarter. The Cowboys moved inside Hawaii’s 5 in the final 4 minutes but went backward from there following two runs and a sack.
John Hoyland missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, snapping a 5-for-5 start to his freshman season, and Hawaii put together a six-play, 80-yard response aided by a 47-yard pass from Cordeiro to Zion Bowens. Dae Dae Hunter scampered into the end zone from 4 yards out two plays later to get the Warriors within one score.
But UW pieced together its longest drive of the second half -- an 11-play, 75-yarder late in the third quarter -- to push the lead back to two scores on Smith’s 1-yard scoring plunge, swinging momentum back to the Cowboys’ side for good.
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