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Football: Utah State mauls UH 56-17

HONOLULU – The Utah State football team ran early, ran wild and then ran away to Saturday’s 56-17 rout of Hawaii before 17,262 stunned-into-silence fans at Aloha Stadium on Saturday.

The running theme resulted in the Aggies’ justification of their No. 18 national ranking as they improved to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Mountain West Conference.

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“It’s not the losing, it’s the outcome,” UH slotback John Ursua said of the Rainbow Warriors’ fourth consecutive loss. “They’ve been like blowouts. We have to lock in and make sure we don’t show that again in front of our home crowd. Losing is one thing, but losing that way is a different thing. That’s one thing we don’t like.”

After opening the season at 6-1, the Warriors have relinquished 195 points in the ensuing four games. They will have a bye next week — their first weekend off after 11 consecutive games, including five on the road, in four time zones — to prepare for UNLV on the Nov. 17 senior night. At 6-5 overall and 3-3 in the MWC, the Warriors need to earn a seventh victory to clinch a winning 13-game regular season and claim the accompanying berth in the Dec. 22 Hawaii Bowl.

“Our goal to get bowl eligible is still there,” Ursua said. “We’ve got to take advantage of this bye week and make sure we do the right things to prepare for UNLV.”

The Aggies grounded any Warriors thoughts of celebrating on Saturday. The Aggies rolled up 426 rushing yards, an average of 7.9 yards per carry. The Aggies had eight “chunk” plays — 20 or more yards — with four rushes exceeding 40 yards. The 1-2 combo of Darwin Thompson (141 rushing yards) and Gerold Bright (121 yards) each punched in three touchdowns.

Even when the Warriors were in the prescribed position, the Aggies found the escape hatch. They repeatedly slipped would-be tackles in the backfield, then found space behind second- and third-level blocks.

“It was one of those things where it’s here, here, and then it’s a long night,” said Abraham Elimimian, who coaches the UH cornerbacks.

Linebacker Kana’i Picanco, one-third of the replacement cast for injured linebacker Jahlani Tavai, noted defensive coordinator Corey Batoon “makes it a point for us to work on our tackling. We didn’t tackle well. That’s all it is.”

Thompson’s 41 yards set up Jordan Love’s 16-yard pass to Ron’quavion Tarver to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish.

Making use of the Aggies’ hurry-up offense — they entered averaging a snap every 22 seconds — Thompson scooted 43 yards as a prelude to his 1-yard touchdown run. When Bright found the end zone on an 18-yard run, the Aggies were up 21-0 with only 10 minutes, 3 seconds siphoned from the clock.

“Once they get up, they’re a very good football team,” UH coach Nick Rolovich said of the Aggies. “They can score from anywhere.”

The Aggies attacked out of three- and four-side sets, moved tight end Dax Raymond from side to side, and even dusted off a jet sweep to confound the Warriors. And what did not appear to work for the Aggies did eventually result in success.

“We get possible tackles for loss that go for big gains,” Rolovich said.

For the second game in a row, UH summoned help from several first-year Warriors. “I thought there were some young guys who got in there and at least stuck their faces in there a little bit,” Rolovich said. “But there are reasons (the Aggies) are 8-1, and we have to continue to get better.”

Against the Aggies’ prolific offense — at one point, they had scored 56 points in 57 plays — the Warriors needed to set the tone early.

“We needed to come out of the gates offensively, and be clean, and we weren’t,” Rolovich said.

The Warriors won the pregame coin toss, and chose to open on offense. Their first play was Cole McDonald’s 42-yard completion to Marcus Armstrong-Brown on a go route along the left sideline. McDonald then hit slotback Cedric Byrd for 9 yards on a slant route to advance the ball to the USU 24. But a false start and three incompletions — the last two were drops — ended the possession. That series sent an unfortunate message for the Warriors. They would mishandle four catchable passes in the first quarter. They also would fail on four of six fourth-down plays.

The Warriors could not gain traction with their running game, averaging 2.2 yards per rush. Without a balanced attack and trailing by a sizable margin, the Aggies sniffed blood. The Aggies gave the green light to both rush ends and often increased the pressure with a middle blitzer. McDonald was sacked three times, but hit frequently. The up-front pressure and clingy coverages kept the Warriors from finding an offensive rhythm. Ursua caught only three of the 11 passes when he was the targeted receiver.

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“It was a night where it obviously did not go our way,” UH left guard J.R. Hensley said. “Utah State is a very good team. There were a lot of things we didn’t execute well tonight.”

Of the upcoming bye, Hensley said: “We can use a bye, obviously, but do I think guys are tired? Not necessarily. … Even if we’ve been beaten, even if we’re down a certain amount, we’re still trying to score. We still have guys on the field who’ll give everything they have to make stops, to try to make tackles, to try and score, to try and make catches. … We can’t sit here and dwell on (the losing streak). We need to figure out what’s going on, fix it and move on.”