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September 5, 2013

First Look: Hawai'i

Taylor Graham isn't your typical Hawaii quarterback.

Son of former NFL signal caller Kent Graham and a transfer from Ohio State, Graham took a long and winding road to Honolulu, finally convincing Rainbow Warriors head coach Norm Chow that he was the best choice at quarterback following a three-way position battle with transfers Sean Schroeder (Duke) and Jeremy Higgins (Utah State) throughout spring practice and most of preseason camp.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Graham ended three years of inactivity (redshirted in 2010; appeared briefly in one game in 2011; sat out 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules) when he made his first career start in Hawaii's season-opening 30-13 loss to Southern Cal, completing 16-of-41 passes for 208 yards and one touchdown with four costly interceptions that led to 20 Trojan points.

However, 60 of those passing yards (28.9 percent of his total) came on a long touchdown pass to freshman Keith Kirkwood in the final minute of the game when the outcome had already been decided.

Graham's 16 completions were spread out among 10 different receivers. Slot receiver Donnie King, Jr., led all Hawaii receivers with three catches for 30 yards, while Kirkwood totaled 84 receiving yards on two catches.

Graham, who prior to last weekend had not started a game since his senior year at Wheaton (Ill.) High School in 2009, was hurt by a lack of support from the UH running game. Hawaii mustered just 23 net yards on 31 carries - a lowly average of 0.7 yards per carry that forced Graham into dodging Trojan pass rushers all afternoon en route to being sacked seven times.

Fourteen of Hawaii's 16 possessions covered 27 yards or less, and just two burned more than three minutes off the clock. Nonetheless, the Rainbow Warriors led, 5-3, until Southern Cal tallied 17 straight points in the final 4:18 of the second quarter for a 20-5 halftime lead.

Seven of those 17 points scored on a Pick-6 by the Trojans defense.

Graham, whose father Kent played 11 seasons in the NFL and was a starting quarterback for the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, is the latest Hawaii quarterback to follow in the hallowed footsteps of Colt Brennan, who led the Rainbow Warriors to a magical 12-1 record in 2007 and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl opposite Georgia.

Hawaii's inability to consistently move the football on offense against Southern Cal wasted an outstanding effort by the Rainbow Warriors defense. The Trojans compiled just 159 yards of offense in the first half, yet led by 15 points (20-5) because of glaring errors by the Hawaii offense.

Even though his unit played well, Hawaii defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer realizes his players will have their hands full with an Oregon State offense led by quarterback Sean Mannion (86 percent completion rate in Week 1) that generated 527 yards of total offense in a loss to Eastern Washington.

"They barely made any mistakes," Kaumeyer said earlier this week. "Whenever you're throwing the ball 80 percent, that's tough. They do a lot of things that will test our eye discipline. They run a lot of screens and delays. Whenever you're in a zone, they'll delay a running back or tight end and hit them on a six-yard route and that turns into 10. They move the ball extremely well. Unfortunately for them, they scored 46 and lost. Not much is going to change with their offense."

Regardless of last week's porous display by the Oregon State defense, Graham anticipates another demanding test on Saturday for a Hawaii offense seeking to generate yards and score points. However, he acknowledged seeing the '49' next to Eastern Washington in the box score offers hope, and the potential of a better outing.

"They're aggressive and flying around," Graham said. "Their D-Line stands out. They have some big guys with motors. It will be a challenge, just like every week. But we look forward to it. We've seen what other teams have done against them and what they had success doing. Eastern Washington runs a different style offense than we do, so it won't necessarily be the same plays. But we see the opportunity is there. But a quality team like Oregon State will be tough to beat and difficult to score on."

In the past six seasons Hawaii has failed to come close to the zenith of 2007, compiling a record of 32-35 under Greg McMackin (2008-11) and Chow, currently 3-10 in his first head coaching gig since taking the reins beginning in 2012, with just one winning season (10-4 in 2010) on the books.

Under Chow, Hawaii switched from the fast-paced run-and-shoot offense (remember Timmy Chang?) to the more conventional pro-set style preferred by Chow, who has a reputation as one of the top offensive minds in the country after 40 years in coaching.

However, the transition has been challenging on both sides of the ball. Six of Chow's 10 defeats have been by 35 points or more, and he has yet to win a road game. Hawaii carries a seven-game road losing streak overall into Saturday's 5 p.m. PT contest, and the Rainbow Warriors have lost their last five non-conference road games.

Hawaii, opening a season with a pair of Pac-12 opponents for the second time in three seasons, last prevailed in a non-conference road game in 2010 when they beat Army at West Point.

Chow has coached in many games at Reser Stadium, so he is very familiar with Mike Riley and the obstacles his team must overcome on Saturday, especially now with Oregon State coming off the shocking 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington.

"They're veteran guys, they're very well coached," Chow said. "They probably have one of the best and classiest college coaches in America. I'm a big fan of Mike Riley and the rest of the coaching staff. You know they're a wounded animal. I don't think they expected to lose that game last week, so when you have a wounded animal on your hands, you either have to try to kill it or it's going to come back roaring. We're hoping to come out and play good, hard-nosed football."

Since 2003, when Hawaii began regularly scheduling non-conference road games, the Rainbow Warriors are 1-9 on the home fields of BCS opponents. Their only road win over a BCS foe came at Washington State.

Oregon State has won the last two meetings in the series (2006 in Honolulu and 2008 in Corvallis) and is set to travel to the Hawaiian Islands in 2014 for the back half of the home-and-home series.

"As always, it's not about them, it's about us," Chow said. "That loss probably irritated the heck out of them. They'll probably be rearing to go. But we don't worry about that. Our team takes care of its own business. I've been up there many, many times. Corvallis is a tough place to play, but we don't care what the venue is."


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