Hawaii cornerback Cameron Lockridge hears them during road games
“Having fans (behind) our backs and talking the whole time, it does kind of take a toll,” he said.
Coach Todd Graham can see them in his sleep.
“Everyday I wake up, I hope they are going to announce they are going to allow fans at our games,” he said.
No luck yet, not even for homecoming, but this much is a clear: If a ranked team falls in an empty stadium on an island, everyone else in the Mountain West will take notice.
The Rainbow Warriors search for their first win against a ranked opponent in 11 years at 5 p.m. Saturday when they take on No. 18 Fresno State at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex in Honolulu in front of a nationwide audience (CBSSN).
“It would be big deal, the main thing is we want to be playing in the conference championship game, and to do that, we have to go win,” Graham said.
The Bulldogs (4-1, 1-0 Mountain West) have won their last three games, including a last-second win at UCLA, and are coming off a comeback 38-30 victory over UNLV. Their lone defeat was a seven-point loss at Oregon, which is now ranked third. The Rainbow Warriors (2-3, 0-1) are coming off of a 41-21 win at New Mexico State that ended a two-game losing streak and was its first against an FBS foe.
“We know we have to put together our best game this weekend,” Graham said. “We’re not going to face a better running back and we’re not going to face a better receiving corp in this conference.”
And few players in the country are playing as well as senior quarterback Jake Haener.
In just 11 career games, the Washington transfer has logged eight 300-yard passing games, including four this season. In the 40-37 win over UCLA, Haener threw for 455 yards and two touchdowns on 39-of-53 passing. Last week, he went 30 of 42 for 378 yards and five scores against UNLV, his third straight game with at least 300 yards through the air.
“His preparation and what he puts into it is a big reason for his success, not just the talent and the group around him,” Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer told the Associated Press. “So as long as he does that and keeps staying the course with his preparation, the sky is the limit for him.”
Haener is the FBS leader in passing yards (1,842) and ranks third in passing yards per game (368.4). He has completed 136 of 186 passes (73.1%), the seventh-best mark nationally. Hawaii QB Chevan Cordeiro ranks No. 4 nationally in passing yards with 1,410.
Because of a state mandate and COVID-19 concerns, Hawaii remains the only one of 130 FBS programs not allowing fans in the stands.
“We’ve got to play off of our own energy,” Lockridge said. “Just have to bring energy from the locker room to the field.”
The junior from Tampa, Florida, provided instant energy last week, tallying an interception, seven tackles and recovering a deflected backward pass that he returned for a touchdown to earn Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week. Often defending the wide side of the field, Lockridge has allowed only one touchdown in 29 passes thrown to receivers he was guarding. He also has missed just one tackle in five games.
“Just getting to really smash somebody every play, and just being violent, ” Lockridge told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Cropper will provide a challenge for Lockridge and his teammates. The junior is coming off his second 100-yard receiving game in as many weeks. After collecting 14 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown against UCLA, Cropper made 10 catches for 108 yards and four scores versus UNLV.
The Bulldogs also could hold an advantage upfront defensively.
Fresno ranks second in the FBS in total tackles for loss (41). The Bulldogs have registered eight or more tackles for loss in four of their five games this season. Hawaii is tied for 99th in tackles for loss allowed. Its opponents have posted 35 tackles for loss this season, an average of seven per game, including 17 sacks.
“They do a lot of good things defensively, and we’re going to try and figure out a game plan to exploit whatever weaknesses there have,” said Hawaii playmaker extraordinaire Calvin Turner Jr.
The senior from Savannah, Georgia, has lined up at slot receiver, running back, quarterback and returner on kickoffs and punts. In Hawaii’s second game of the season, Turner got the ball, headed right, made a U-turn, and then outraced Portland State defenders on the left side for a 34-yard touchdown. Last week, Turner ran to his left, turned, and sped around the right side for a 14-yard score.
Both change-of-direction runs were selected to ESPN SportsCenter’s top-10 plays of the days.
“It’s crazy,” Turner. “The first time it was insane to see myself (on SportsCenter ). And now, to do it twice in one season, it’s a dream come true just to be on ESPN.”
Turner and Hawaii will get more national exposure Saturday night. Graham just wishes fans could be in attendance.
“Homecoming means a lot, but it’s like you don’t get to experience homecoming because you don’t get to see anybody,” he said. “It’s really something I’m hoping we have some progress on. Very detrimental to our program, our fan base, our players and our players’ families. We want to be safe and do it right, but I think we can do that. Be safe and have fans here.”
FACTS & FIGURES
Fresno State has won eight of its past 10 meetings against Hawaii and leads the series in Honolulu 15-14 and 29-23-1 overall . … Hawaii beat Fresno State 34-19 the last time the teams met, in the opener to the 2020 season, which was also its first game under Graham. The Rainbow Warriors racked up 552 total yards in the win, including 323 rushing. … Hawaii is 10-46 all-time against nationally ranked teams, including a 9-26 mark at home. A win would be its best against a ranked foe since beating No. 17 Boise State in 2007. The Warriors have lost their past 13 games against ranked teams. The last win was against No. 19 Nevada (27-21), Oct. 16, 2010 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
The Associated Press and Tribune News Service contributed to this report.