After winning the off-season and bringing electricity into a sputtering fan base, Nick Rolovich made his head-coaching debut with a 20-point loss in Sydney.
The University of Hawaii football team fell to California 51-31 at ANZ Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park. The game was televised on ESPN.
After closing the first quarter 17-14, the Golden Bears dominated the rest of the game.
Davis Webb threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score in a sensational debut for California. Khalfani Muhammad had 94 yards rushing and one touchdown, and Chad Hansen had 14 receptions for 160 yards and two scores.
Hawaii fumbled on a kickoff following Matt Anderson’s second field goal for Cal, and Webb’s 34-yard pass to wide Hansen on the next play gave Cal a 27-14 lead.
Webb got into the act himself, rushing three yards off-tackle for another Cal touchdown and a 34-14 halftime lead. Webb was 38 for 54 and 441 yards total passing with no interceptions.
Hawaii was led by wide receiver Marcus Kemp with four receptions for 73 yards and one TD. Ikaika Woolsey was 17 for 34 and 234 yards passing with one TD and one interception.
Three UH players, including one starter, were absent from the field. The university confirms starting safety Daniel Lewis Jr., linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams, and tight-end Tui Unga were pulled for disciplinary reasons.
No details yet as to what prompted the action.
Up next, the ‘Bows face Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sept. 3. Kick-off is at 6 a.m. HST and will be televised on ESPN.
Earlier Friday (Saturday in Australia), Hawaii players sped through early-morning drills with traditional island music emanating from a single speaker in one of the end zones.
Across town, California held a final, closed workout except for the curious eyes of a half-dozen or so Sydney police officers wondering what all the fuss was about.
The rain that played havoc with training schedules earlier this week was gone, giving way to a sunny, cool morning at Olympic Park where Hawaii held their final session in the shadow of the stadium that was the centerpiece of the 2000 Olympics.
Ten-yard lines were laid down in chalk on the training field at the University of New South Wales just before the Cal players and team officials arrived in four buses from their downtown hotel.
The sunny weather on the last weekend of winter in the southern hemisphere was expected to hold for Saturday’s midday start local time, allowing the game to be televised live in prime time on Friday evening in the U.S. – and Friday afternoon in Hawaii.
Here are some other things to know about the season-opener:
WHY AUSTRALIA?: Officially known as the College Football Sydney Cup, the game was brought to Sydney by tourism officials anxious to again showcase the city and its regional attractions. Football officials hope it’ll help create an interest in gridiron, but it’s a crowded market. Officially there are four main varieties of “football” in Australia – Australian Rules, rugby league, rugby union and soccer. Australians love the NFL – at least on television – but whether American football live will ever catch on remains to be seen. Organizers two weeks ago said they were expecting a crowd in excess of 65,000, but on Friday an event official said only 45,000 had been sold. Last Saturday at the same stadium, traditional rugby rivals Australia and New Zealand attracted a crowd of 65,328. It’s the first college football game played in Sydney, but an NFL preseason game in 1999 between Denver and San Diego – the Broncos won 20-17 – had 73,000 in the stands.
THE COACHES: Sonny Dykes is the man from Cal. The Pac-12 team’s eight wins last year in the third season with Dykes as head coach was the school’s most victories since 2009. It capped the season with a win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, its first postseason victory since 2008 in its first bowl appearance since 2011. Former Rainbow Warriors quarterback Nick Rolovich is the new head coach for Hawaii and will try to improve on the team’s 3-10 record from last season, including 0-8 in its Mountain West conference. Told on Friday that betting agencies were making Cal a 20-point favorite, Rolovich quipped: “It’s a funny-shaped ball, it can bounce different ways.”
HELMET TRIBUTE: On Saturday and all season , Hawaii players will wear the initials “KMT” on the back of their helmets to honor U.S. Representative (Kyle) Mark Takai, a Hawaii congressman and former all-American swimmer from the university who died in July of pancreatic cancer at the age of 49. “There was maybe no one more who was a supporter of the athletic department,” Rolovich said Friday. “We asked the family it if was OK, and they felt it would be a nice tribute.”
THE QUARTERBACKS: Cal’s starter Davis Webb has big shoes to fill, replacing Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams. A graduate transfer from Texas Tech, Webb played in 23 games with 14 starts over three seasons and had career totals of 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns for TTU. “His work ethic has been unparalleled,” Dykes said after selecting Webb as the starter on the fourth day of training camp. Webb returns the favor: This “is what a championship culture looks like, and that is what coach Dykes is developing here.” California-born Ikaika Woolsey beat out three other Hawaii quarterbacks. Now in his senior year, he has had 19 starts for the Rainbow Warriors.
CALIFORNIA: Webb’s strong debut reinforced the faith coach Sonny Dykes showed in him from the outset. Webb played in 23 games with 14 starts over three seasons at Texas Tech and had career totals of 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns.
HAWAII: The Rainbows Warriors need to avoid Pac-12 opponents to open their season. It’s the seventh straight year that Hawaii, part of the Mountain West conference, has opened against a Pac-12 team, and Hawaii is 2-5 in that span. Told the Golden Bears were 20-point favorites coming into the match, new coach Nick Rolovich said: “It’s a funny-shaped ball, it can bounce different ways.” Not Hawaii’s way on Saturday.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
Several Australians have played college football for Hawai’i:
>>>Defensive tackle Colin Scotts (1983-85) was the first Australian to receive an American football scholarship and first Australian drafted in the National Football League (St. Louis Cardinals, 3rd Round).
>>>Former Australian Rules Football player Scott Harding (2011-14) was one of the most versatile players in all of college football, serving as the team’s starting punter, punt returner and receiver. He earned 2nd All-America honors as a punter by the FWAA in 2014.
>>>UH also boasts another pair of standout Aussie punters in Mat McBriar (2000-02) and Alex Dunnachie (2009-12). McBriar enjoyed a successful 11-year career in the NFL with two Pro Bowl appearances as a Dallas Cowboy. Dunnachie was an honorable mention All-American in 2012.
>>>Other Aussie lettermen include a trio of offensive linemen in Paul Manera (1989-91), Adrian Thomas (2007-10) and Blake Muir (2012).
Defensive lineman Paul Sironen spent at year UH (1983) but did not letter.
Nick Rolovich is one 18 head coaches in the FBS who’ve returned to lead their alma mater. Joined by Brian Smith (offensive coordinator/RB), Craig Stuzmann (QB) and Abe Elimimian (secondary), UH boasts four former players on its full-time coaching staff Only three other schools — BYU (9), Air Force (7), and Boise State (5) — have more alumni on their staff. What’s more, all four were teammates on the 2001 squad that finished the season 9-3. Rolovich (QB), Smith (C), and Stutzmann (WR) were senior starters on offense, while Elimimian was a redshirt freshman who started six games at cornerback.
UH will make the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this year under new defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa. Of course “new” is a relative term for Lempa who is in his second stint as defensive coordinator for the Rainbow Warriors. His first run from 2000-02 was hugely successful with an aggressive style that created havoc for opponents. The 2001 squad won nine games and led the nation with 21 fumble recoveries (in addition to 14 interceptions). The 2002 team, which won 10 games, posted 25 turnovers and set a school record for defensive scoring (32), including four pick-sixes.