Wyoming is coming off their bye week and return to conference play this Saturday when they travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, to face the Rainbow Warriors. Saturday's game is scheduled to kick off at 10:00 PM, Mountain Time (6:00 PM, Hawaii Time). The game will be televised in Wyoming through ROOT SPORTS.
Wyoming enters the contest at 3-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play. Hawaii enters the game at 1-4 overall and a 0-0 conference record. The teams have met 21 times for the Paniolo Trophy, with Wyoming leading the series 13–8. Last season the Cowboys defeated Hawaii in a thriller 59-56. The assumption is this year that the game will be much lower in score.
This will be a homecoming for two current members of the Wyoming football team. Redshirt freshman strong safety Tim Kamana hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, where he played at Punahou High School. Junior defensive end Siaosi Hala'api'api also is a native of Honolulu, and played his prep football at Kaimuki High.
Here are the three keys for Wyoming to come out on top against Hawaii.
1) Keep Hawaii's offense on the skids
Hawaii runningback Steven Lakalaka has been a solid replacement for the original starter in injured Joey Iosefa but he hasn't been enough so far to off-set the Rainbow Warriors lack of passing attack. Hawaii's offense is dead last in offensive efficiency.
The main issue has been the quarterback position. Ikaika Woolsey has not been able to show any consistency, completing just 45% of his passes this year. It will be interesting to see if it will be Woolsey at quarterback or if it will be Taylor Graham who will get the nod in the ballgame?
The Cowboys have a talented and experienced defensive front four but so far on the season haven't gotten a lot of sacks. The Wyoming defense will need to pin their ears back and get after whomever may be the Rainbow Warrior quarterback. One would expect Hawaii to put the ball up in the air quite often, a trademark of a Norm Chow ran offense. So far this season that hasn't meant a lot of good for Hawaii offensively and the Cowboys hope that is a trend that continues this Saturday.
Outside of the two ballgames against top 10 opponents in Oregon and Michigan State, the Cowboys defense has done a admiral job against Montana, Air Force and Florida Atlantic. It will be key for the Cowboy defense to force turnovers and possibly get a score or two defensively as the offense has only been averaging 16.4 points per game.
2) Wyoming needs to continue to run the ball effectively
So far the running back duo of Shaun Wick and D.J. May has been very effective for the Cowboys regardless of the level of competition. Wick has 489 yards rushing on 71 carries (6.9 avg.) and 3 touchdowns so far on the season. Three of those games has him going over 100-yards. May on the other-hand has 261 yards rushing on 55 carries (4.7 avg.) and 2 touchdowns. He has also been quite the target out of the backfield in the passing game with 7 catches for 127 yards receiving (18.1 avg) and another touchdown.
It will be vital for the Cowboys rushing attack to keep humming along as one of the strengths of the Hawaii team is their rush defense. The Rainbow Warriors are limiting rushing attacks to around 3.3 yard per carry.
The key to the Wyoming offense is to have third and short situations to keep defenses guessing and to take pressure off of quarterback Colby Kirkegaard.
3) Protect quarterback Colby Kirkegaard
One issue the Cowboys has faced this season so far is protecting quarterback Colby Kirkegaard. The Wyoming offensive line is still making the transition from a spread to Bohl’s pro-style offense. The transition has gone well, for the most part, in the run game, but there is still work to be done with pass protection. The Cowboys have allowed 39 tackles for loss, 7.8 per game. That is tied for 117th out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. They also have given up 22 quarterback sacks. Only Wake Forest (23) and SMU (30) have allowed more.
The offensive line will be without starting left tackle Connor Rains as he had a appendectomy (second of the season for the offensive line) and Austin Traphagen will be starting in the place of him. As a whole the offensive tackles will have their hands full with Hawaii's 6'2", 260-pound defensive end Beau Yap.
If the Cowboy's offensive line can protect Kirkegaard, that should open up the Cowboys big play ability. Coming into the season one of Wyoming's main strengths was their receiving corp. The group as a whole has still been quite solid but it can only do so much if Kirkegaard isn't able to get them the ball due to break downs in protection. Seniors Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne and sophomore Tanner Gentry have combined for 51 catches for 704 yards and two touchdowns. Those catches make up 63 percent of the team’s production; the yardage is 70 percent.
If the Cowboys capitalize on those three keys...
I would expect the Cowboys to come out on top with a score of 24-14 if the offense can move the ball effectively, protect Kirkegaard and the defense can continue to keep the Hawaii offense on the ropes. I expect this to be a low scoring game and would be quite surprised if either of these teams put up big point totals.
This is a huge game for Wyoming if they want to be become bowl eligible down the line and for Hawaii this is a must win if they want to turn their season around. They came into the season expecting a possible bowl game but now just trying to stay out of the cellar of the Mountain West Conference. Historically Craig Bohl coached teams have been quite effective coming off a bye week.