UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen said that "things looked bleak; real bleak," in the Bruins' season opener against Texas A&M.
After weathering the storm of a 44-10 deficit, UCLA escaped with the second-biggest comeback in college football history. Following the five-touchdown deluge in the Rose Bowl comes a rainbow – the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, to be specific.
Hawaii visits UCLA for just the third matchup all-time between the two programs, and the first since the 1939 Pineapple Bowl. Bruins head coach Jim Mora joked, "I'm old," when discussing the number of games in which he's been involved following the Week 1 thriller, but he was born 22 years after the last pairing of these programs.
The Rainbow Warriors come in 2-0 with their own come-from-behind win, rallying in Week 0 to beat Massachusetts on the road. They returned home from the longest domestic trip in college football history to rout FCS member Western Carolina in Week 1.
Hawaii at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Establishing the run
UCLA finished 127th out of 128 FBS teams in rushing yards last season. The 2017 season opener didn't quite deviate from that unfortunate trend for the Bruins, which totaled just 63 yards as a team on 25 carries against Texas A&M, but there was a glimmer of hope in the second half.
Junior Soso Jamabo handled the lion's share of rushing after halftime, replacing starter Bola Olorunfunmi. Jamabo rushed seven times for 46 yards, more than double Olorunfunmi's 3.1 average on 10 carries.
The starting job in Week 2 will be of interest. So, too, will be Hawaii's preparedness to stop the rush. Despite a much-improved 2016, which culminated with a surprise bowl game win, the Rainbow Warriors struggled mightily against the run. Their 234.2 yards allowed per game ranked No. 113 in FBS.
Hawaii's improved in the small sample size of two games this season, limiting UMass and Western Carolina to 3.7 yards per carry. Still, UCLA should be better equipped to attack the Rainbow Warriors on the ground. If not, it may be indicative of a much larger problem.
2. Stopping the run
While UCLA struggled to get its own rushing attack mounted against Texas A&M, the visiting Aggies ran wild to the tune of 382 yards. Much of the damage was done in the first half, when the Bruins operated exclusively out of a nickel defense. The move to a 4-3 base in the second half helped the rush defense bow up and keep Texas A&M out of the end zone.
Hawaii employs its own multifaceted rushing attack with backs Diocemy Saint Juste, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2016 with 280 yards to start ‘17; and Ryan Tuiasoa, who has three touchdowns on the young campaign. Quarterback Dru Brown also can run if the situation arises, last year going for 306 yards.
3. Rosen on the rise?
Perhaps more than at any time in his college career, in leading UCLA's comeback past Texas A&M, Josh Rosen demonstrated the qualities that have made him a prospective first-round NFL draft pick. He was confident in the pocket, spread the ball among a variety of receivers, hitting both short routes and the deep ball as situations dictated.
Should he continue on the trajectory of that second half – a half in which Rosen compiled all four of his touchdown passes and most of his 491 yards – he could push himself into the forefront of this year's Heisman Trophy conversation.
Hawaii's pass defense has not been particularly stingy in two outings. The Rainbow Warriors gave up 298 yards, 8.8 per attempt, against UMass in Week 0. That's relevant to Rosen's outlook, as the Minutemen frequently targeted tight end Adam Breneman.
Rosen's favorite target in Week 1 was tight end Caleb Wilson, who went off for 203 yards.
Nick Rolovich has done a tremendous job in his short time as head coach at Hawaii, taking over a program that lingered in the cellar of the Mountain West for almost a half-decade preceding him and leading it to a bowl game in his debut campaign.
The long-term outlook for the program is positive under his guidance. This year's team in particular has the pieces necessary to challenge San Diego State for the West Division title, and the Rainbow Warriors should pull off a major upset this season. Just don't expect it to be this week.
While the UCLA team that showed up (or didn't show up, depending on your definition) in the first half Sunday may have lost to Hawaii, the second-half Bruins looked like world beaters. Consistently establishing and stopping the run are big-picture concerns, but shouldn't slow UCLA in this one.