Another week, another mobile quarterback for Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos to worry about.
Over the past three games, the Broncos have faced dual-threat signal callers in BYU’s Taysom Hill, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and San Jose State’s Kenny Potter. The challenge won’t be any easier Saturday (5 p.m., CBSSN) when Boise State faces Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown and a resurgent Rainbow Warriors program under first-year head coach Nick Rolovich.
“(Brown is) similar to what we have seen,” Avalos said. “It’s not only, ‘Can you get to the quarterback?’ But, ‘When you get there, can you get him on the ground?’ So those are the difficulties that you face. Those are the fun things that you get to handle on the defensive side of the ball.”
The sophomore did not begin the season as the starter, as redshirt senior Ikaika Woolsey got the initial nod. Woolsey completed just 48.9 percent of his passes, and when Brown was inserted into the starting lineup Oct. 1 against Nevada, Hawaii’s offense found its groove.
In six games under Brown, Hawaii is averaging 27.5 points per game compared to 25.8 under Woolsey. Without last weekend’s 55-0 shutout loss on the road against San Diego State’s defense, the offense is averaging 33 points per game. Hawaii is 3-3 when Brown starts compared to 1-3 record with Woolsey, the win being a five-point victory over FCS Tennessee-Martin.
Brown isn’t necessarily a run-first quarterback. But when needed, he can tuck it and run and avoid sacks, much like Hill, Allen and Potter.
“He’s got some moxie. He really does,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I think sometimes you’re just looking for a spark as you try to figure it out. New system, too. Who can run it? Who’s kind of got that moxie a little bit? And I think he’s got it.”
Woolsey did have to face a tremendous Michigan defense and started on the road at Arizona and in Australia against Cal. But Hawaii’s new-found offensive success with Brown as quarterback is hard to ignore. The College of San Mateo transfer has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,551 with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also added 196 yards and three scores on the ground.
More so than numbers, however, is a quarterback Harsin believes shows the quintessential grit to win over his teammates in addition to winning games.
“They’ve played some really good teams. They’ve played some really good defenses. I think he’s a tough kid,” Harsin said. “He’s played tough in games where he’s taken shots and he gets up. From your quarterback, those are some of the things you want to see. And I think he’s shown that.”
Hawaii at a glance
The Rainbow Warriors have surprised the Mountain West under first-year coach Nick Rolovich, surging to a 4-6 record after winning three games last season. The former Hawaii quarterback and Nevada offensive coordinator has brought a spark to a team desperately in need of one.
Hawaii averaged 17.6 points per game in 2015 under coach Norm Chow. Under Rolovich, the Rainbow Warriors are averaging 26.8 points. The offense has found life under junior college transfer Dru Brown, who has thrown nine touchdowns against six interceptions. Perhaps more than that, however, is the fact that Rolovich has helped rekindle interest in the fanbase. From Twitter interactions with fans to Pokemon Go! hunts at Aloha Stadium, Rolovich has quickly become one of the more entertaining coaches in the Mountain West. His team plays with an excitement and toughness that was absent in recent years.
“The mentality in which they’re playing with is good,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “They’re doing a good job with the culture of that team and building it the way they want it.”
The Rainbow Warriors have played a brutal schedule, including games against Michigan, Cal and Arizona. Their defense has paid the price, as Hawaii surrenders 38.2 points per game, which ranks No. 119 out of 128 FBS teams. That number drops to 30.8 points per game in Mountain West play.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: THE OFFENSIVE LINE
They’re big and they play with a nasty streak. Hawaii’s starting five average a whopping 305 pounds. That has helped pave the way for a rush attack averaging 163.7 yards per game on 4.7 yards per carry. The line holds its own in pass protection as well, allowing 17 sacks in 10 games. Boise State’s defensive front averages 259.8 pounds.
“Their run game, they’re physical up front. Their O-line is big, as they usually have. And it always starts with that. We have to do a better job up front than we have with our front seven,’’ Avalos said.
No. 22 Boise State at Hawaii
- When: 5 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Aloha Stadium (50,000, synthetic turf), Honolulu
- TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Adam Archuleta, Cassie McKinney)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 8-1, 4-1 Mountain West; Hawaii 4-6, 3-3
- Series: Boise State leads 11-3 (won last season 55-0 in Boise)
- Vegas line: Boise State by 17 1/2
- Kickoff weather: Mid 80s, light winds