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Rainbow Warriors roll in Hawaii Bowl win over Middle Tennessee

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Being home for the holidays sounded pretty good for Hawaii, as few things could compare to having a bowl game win as a nice present under the tree.

The Rainbow Warriors continued their hot play down the stretch and used a couple of Middle Tennessee turnovers to capture a 52-35 Hawaii Bowl win in a wild one on Saturday night.

After the Blue Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 lead just a few minutes into the first quarter, the home team decided to wake up and join the postseason party, turning three first half takeaways into three touchdowns and come roaring into the lead. Quarterback Dru Brown threw for 274 yards and four scores on the night overall (and added another rushing) as the offense threw a little bit of everything at their opponents to keep them on their heels.

Warriors running back Diocemy Saint Juste also had one of his best outings in a Hawaii uniform, rushing for 170 yards on 25 carries and helping power the team over the 500 yards of total offense mark.

As good as the offense was though, it was the defense for the home team that really helped them regain momentum with a fumble recovery in the red zone and a pair of interceptions in the first half, one of which was returned for a 68-yard pick six.

Despite those issues holding onto the ball, MTSU was still able to move down the field fairly effectively. Quarterback Brent Stockstill returned to action for the first time in nearly two months since breaking his collar bone and would have had a pretty nice game if it weren’t for those turnovers, throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Richie James was the target of most of his passes (nine catches for 175 yards, two scores) while I’Tavius Mathers was contained fairly well with just 57 yards on the ground.

But none of that trio could get the Blue Raiders over the hump after a big early hole. Although they threatened down the stretch, ultimately Hawaii had an answer at every turn to capture the program’s first bowl victory in a decade, dating back to a blowout win of Arizona State on this same date and game back in 2006.

That puts the Warriors back at .500 for the season and caps off an impressive turnaround for first-year head coach Nick Rolovich after the team had just seven wins the past two seasons combined coming into 2016.

Turnovers help Rainbow Warriors take halftime lead in the Hawaii Bowl

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In the first few minutes of the Hawaii Bowl, Middle Tennessee was off to a dream start after spending their postseason vacation on the islands. Then the team got into the Christmas spirit and decided to start gifting their opponents points and turnovers.

As a result, Hawaii turned three turnovers into three scores and managed to storm back from an early deficit to take a 35-21 lead into halftime of their hometown bowl game.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill returned to action for the first time since early November when he suffered a broken collarbone, but had an up-and-down first two quarters. He finished with 255 yards and two touchdown passes when all was said and done but was also responsible for two interceptions and a fumble as he looked a tad rusty when the game speed started to pick up.

That first fumble set the Rainbow Warriors up in the red zone and signal-caller Dru Brown capitalized on it by needing just one play to find the end zone. Stockstill was intercepted the next drive and it didn’t take long before Steven Lakalaka punched it in to take advantage of another short field. Diocemy Saint Juste powered the next scoring drive that resulted in an touchdown and then the defense got on the board with a 68 yard pick-six to completely flip the momentum to the home team.

MTSU did get something going just before halftime but it’s pretty clear they’ll need to take care of the ball better if they want to dig themselves out of this deficit and head home from the islands with a victory. Given the fight that Hawaii showed in storming back however, it’s pretty clear there should be some late night fun set for the second half in Saturday’s only bowl game.

Late pick-six gives unbeaten Iowa first-half lead on Nebraska

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With No. 4 Iowa’s unbeaten regular season and, potentially, a playoff berth on the line, Nebraska is doing its damnedest to ruin their rival’s postseason plans.

Thanks in very large part to a second-quarter defensive play, the favored Hawkeyes have taken a 14-10 lead on the Cornhuskers into halftime on a windswept day in Lincoln.  An interception from Tommy Armstrong Jr., his second of the contest, was returned four yards by Parker Hesse for a touchdown with 6:38 left in the second quarter and is the difference in the game.

A Drew Burns 39-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half sliced the Cornhuskers’ deficit to its current four points.

The Hawkeyes’ defense, stout all season long, was what’s everyone has come to expect, limiting the Cornhuskers to just 109 first-half yards before NU’s last drive netted 59 and led to the three-pointer.  NU’s defense was very much the equal to its counterpart’s stoutness, holding the Hawkeyes to 112 yards.  In fact, the two offenses combined to average just 5.4 yards per play, a number aided greatly by that last ‘Husker drive.

Armstrong now has 14 interceptions on the season; only three FBS quarterbacks have thrown more — Virginia’s Matt Johns, Maryland’s Caleb Rowe and Hawaii’s Max Wittek, all of whom have tossed 15 with one game each left to play.  Eight of Armstrong’s interceptions have come in the last three-and-a-half games.

Nebraska won the pregame coin toss and will get the ball on offense to open the second half.

Buckeyes’ defense props up mostly lethargic offense in shutout win over Hawaii

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As good as Ohio State looked in Week 1, they were 180 degrees from that in Week 2.  And the “days between games” excuse can only go so far, especially at home against a team that has lost 14 of its last 20 games.

Thanks in large part to a suffocating defensive effort from the Silver Bullets, top-ranked Ohio State was able to go home with a more-impressive-than-it-looked 38-0 win over Hawaii.  The win marked the defending national champion’s 15th straight, the longest such streak in the country.

If the Buckeyes are once again a unanimous pick for top spot in the Associated Press poll — and that may depend on how the Oregon-Michigan State game plays out tonight — a large percentage of the credit should go to the defensive side of the ball.

One week after dropping Colorado 28-20 on the strength of Max Wittek‘s three touchdown passes, UH could manage just 165 yards and no points against the talented, swarming OSU defense.  The Rainbow Warriors couldn’t crack the century mark in either rushing or passing yards, managing 80 in the former and 85 in the latter.

The Buckeyes’ defense punctuated its dominance with a fourth-quarter touchdown, a 14-yard Vonn Bell fumble return that essentially put the game out of reach, as if there was any doubt leading up to the return.

One of the few positives offensively was Ezekiel Elliott, who extended his streak of 100-plus yard rushing games (a workman-like 101 on 27 carries) to seven straight and scored three of the Buckeyes’ five touchdowns on the ground.  The offense as a whole totaled 356 yards, it’s lowest output since the loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 of last season.

Where the most angst may come for Urban Meyer and staff, and where his focus will likely be with a full week of practice, is the passing game.  The old adage of “if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any” was true for at least a week as Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett combined for 20-of-35 passing for 181 yards, no interceptions but no touchdowns.

Neither quarterback could seem to find a rhythm, and it might be time for Meyer & Company to pick one signal-calling horse, saddle him up and ride him for the rest of the season.  Both appear to be playing tentative, afraid to make a mistake that could either drop them down the depth chart or prevent them from moving up.  Certainly Meyer has experience in successfully using a two-quarterback system; Chris LeakTim Tebow at Florida, however, was another animal entirely as each had specific roles and knew them entering each and every game.

Other than Jones is the starter, neither seems certain what his role is or should be.  The good news for this situation if you’re Meyer is the Buckeyes likely won’t be tested until at least a Nov. 7 game at home against Minnesota, so there’s plenty of time to sort it out.  Still, the sooner the most important position on the field is settled, the better off the team as a whole will be — especially one with back-to-back title aspirations.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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