A look at how UH and San Jose State match up for football finale

Nov. 25—There was no fanfare for quarterback Brayden Schager's first UH start. Because of COVID-19-related attendance restrictions last year, Schager's father was forced to watch the game at a Waikiki hotel after traveling from Dallas.

There was no fanfare for quarterback Brayden Schager's first UH start. Because of COVID-19-related attendance restrictions last year, Schager's father was forced to watch the game at a Waikiki hotel after traveling from Dallas. Schager went 2-1 as a starter last year, and has been in the opening lineup seven times this year. Through practices, meetings and video sessions, Schager is trying to uphold the honor of being QB1. "There are a lot of great quarterbacks who have come through, " Schager said. "It's just extra motivation knowing I've got a long way to go to catch up to them. It's a cool thing to be part of that club, and know you're part of something special." Schager is grasping the blended offense, which features several run-and-shoot concepts. He is making smarter decisions (six picks in past nine games ), limiting negative yards (seven sacks in seven MWC games ), and running it back. After tight end Caleb Phillips dropped a third-down gimme against Utah State, Schager went back to him for a 31-yard TD on the next play. Schager and wideout Zion Bowens stay after practice to work on specific routes. The 55-yard collaboration was a product of those workouts.Each starting O-lineman received at least 90 % grades against UNLV last week. The rotation at left guard—Stephan Bernal-Wendt, Solo Vaipulu and Sergio Muasau—has not allowed a sack in 825 plays. The Warriors have expanded the playbook beyond the set of three receivers and a tight end. In one package, Phillips, tight end Kamuela Borden and receiver /tight end Jordan Murray are all in the lineup. "The more versatile, " said Murray, who has played slotback, tight end and wideout this season, "the more you can get on the field."

Assistant coach Chris Brown does not want his linebackers to hide their lion eyes. On game days, Brown will send a group text of a lion on the prowl for hyenas, hippos, warthogs. "Look at the way he closes on the prey, " Brown will text. "Look at the way he bites and holds on and makes the tackle. That's my mentality. I always tell my guys : 'You've got to be the apex predator. You've got to be the lion.'" Logan Taylor, the will linebacker, said Brown's GIFs serve as motivation for the group known as the "Lion's Den." Taylor, who is averaging 12.8 tackles in the past five games, described Brown, a former UH linebacker, as a "great motivator. He inspires us each and every day. He pumps us up. I can't even explain how much CB means to the Lion's Den. He brings the juice and fires us up." Brown, who holds the UH linebacker record in the bench press (500 pounds ) and squat (620 pounds ), used to inhale smelling salts as part of his pregame ritual as a player. Now Brown focuses on video clips to energize the linebacker room. "First of all, they think I'm crazy, which is awesome, " Brown said. "They also know I'm for real when I say, 'We're going to hunt today.'" Middle linebacker Penei Pavihi is the play-caller in the two-'backer system. Taylor, who credits Pavihi and the D-line for allowing him to swoop into gaps, does not have a slow button in practices "They can't calm me down, really, " Taylor said. "I go hard because I feel I need to prepare every day like it's game day."

Jordan Murray and Kamuela Borden have found roles on the kick-return unit. Last week, Murray successfully fielded two onside kicks. "The coaches always put us in the right position during the week, give us the reps, and then it's up to us to execute, " Murray said. Borden, who aligns as an end on the blocking tier in front of the returner, has mastered re-routing opposing gunners away from returners Tylan Hines, Jalen Perdue and Chuuky Hines. Because of his depth, Borden does not have to back-pedal, and instead "I can build up speed a little bit and get some licks in." Borden averages nearly a knockdown block per game.

Head coach Brent Brennan said there was some tinkering to incorporate quarterback Chevan Cordeiro's out-of-pocket effectiveness and strong right arm into the Spartans' four-wide offense. Cordeiro, who transferred from UH in December, went 170 passes and five full games before being intercepted for the first time this season. His TD-to-pick ratio is 18 to 3. Excluding drops and strategic ditching, Cordeiro's adjusted accuracy is 70.1 %, including 50 % on passes in flight for at least 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Cordeiro is averaging 5.9 yards per non-sack scramble or keeper while rushing for eight TDs. The Spartans have cobbled together an offensive line with two freshman tackles. Opponents have blitzed Cordeiro 117 times. Cordeiro has been sacked 39 times in 396 pass plays. To counter the pressure, Cordeiro has quickened his processing, often clocking under two seconds from snap to release. The running backs and in-motion receivers have tried to impede pocket crushers. Running backs coach Alonzo Carter, a former backup dancer for MC Hammer, has promoted the "U Can't Touch This " mantra for backfield blocking. "Coach Carter always says, 'no block, no rock.'" running back Kairee Robinson said. "I try to live by that. I've got to keep my dog Chevan off the ground." Tight end Sam Olson, who missed the past two games, is likely to return. Nevada transfer Elijah Cooks has 54 catches on a team-high 86 targets. Robinson, who has scored nine TDs, averages 5.2 yards on first-down rushes.

The Spartans have stability and oomph at the three levels. D-end Cade Hall, son of former NFL defensive lineman Rhett Hall, has perfected two moves : a bull rush and the hit-and-run of bashing the left tackle, disengaging and hunting the QB. Hall has 7.5 sacks and three hurries. Linebacker Kyle Harmon, who averages 8.8 tackles per game, prefers to work between the hashmarks. Tre Jenkins is the more active safety when the Spartans are in a two-deep zone. He has five breakups and two picks. Jenkins, who learned chess in the second grade and aspires to be a coder, makes the coverage calls. The Spartans' odd front evens out when linebacker Alii Matau aligns as a stand-up end. Viliami Fehoko—who is not related to Vili the Warrior—can play the 3 technique, end and, in a pinch, nose. Fehoko, who has a team-high eight sacks, puts in extra time with D-line coach Joe Seumalo, a former Warrior. "He taught me how to play on the offense's side of the ball, " Fehoko said. "If you do that, they shouldn't be able to do anything." Fehoko gained 60 pounds without losing much quickness during the pandemic's isolation. "I was able to eat all the Polynesian football for six months, and it all counted, " said Fehoko, who peaked at 285 pounds. Fehoko and friends from East Palo created backyard "gyms " to remain in shape. As restrictions on gatherings eased, they worked out at Richmond Field behind Saint Francis of Assisi Church. "We went out with cones and shoes, making something out of nothing, " Fehoko said, noting the five guys working out grew to 20. "It was almost like we had a clinic, " Fehoko said. "That really helped me out."

Two years ago, Taren Schive was the star of Chris Sailer's prestigious kicking camp, hitting 55-yard field goals off the ground and averaging 3.9-second hang time on his kickoffs. But Schive is experiencing inconsistency as successor to Matt Mercurio. Schive has hit 10 of 15 field goals, but four of the misses have been inside 40 yards. Of his 55 kickoffs, nine have been touchbacks and three sailed out of bounds, Opponents' average drive starts at the 30 following a kickoff.