Upon a first glance of Hawaii's 2014 schedule, you could have made the argument that Hawaii would only win one conference game this season. That game would've been against the UNLV Rebels.
The 'Bows and Rebs have traded games over the past few seasons, with UNLV taking the most recent installment in dramatic fashion in a 39-37 thriller in Vegas, keeping the Warriors winless near the final weeks of 2013. On the other side, the win over Hawaii pushed UNLV to a bowl for the first time since 2000, and potentially saved Bobby Hauck's job at the end of the year.
Now in 2014, neither team is making a last-minute bowl push, but the head coach on each sideline is trying to scrape up a few more wins to end the year in hopes of turning down the heat on their jobs. Coach Hauck is 15-47 in his fifth year at UNLV, while Norm Chow is just 7-28 in his three seasons in Honolulu.
Hawaii gets UNLV at home on Senior night at Aloha Stadium, in a game Chow desperately needs to win if he hopes to keep his job for 2015. Three keys to a Warriors victory over the Rebels:
SCORE EARLY, SCORE OFTEN
Hawaii's struggles start with how bad their offense has been.
The 'Bows rank in the bottom ten in points per game, averaging just 19.5 PPG this year. On the other side of the ball, the Rebs have one of the worse defenses in FBS, allowing 513.0 yards per game and 37.6 PPG this year. UNLV has also allowed over 30 points in nine of their 11 games this year. So what happens when you match up one of the worst FBS Offenses vs. one of the worst FBS Defenses? Chaos, mostly. UH has shown they can score when the offense hits a rhythm of any sorts, like the Wyoming game, when the 'Bows racked up 500 yards and 38 points to beat Wyoming back in October.
If Hawaii wants to beat UNLV, they need to be able to move the ball against the Rebels and avoid falling behind on the scoreboard. UH cannot afford giving up a quick lead to UNLV, otherwise it'll be a long day for the 'Bows offense.
KEEP DEVONTE BOYD FROM GETTING OPEN
The best offensive weapon UNLV brings to the table is Freshman WR Devonte Boyd, who filled in as the #1 WR in a big way after Devante Davis went down with a injury in September.
Boyd leads all freshman in the MW with 898 receiving yards, 14.7 yards per catch, and three scores this year, behind great deep play speed and natural hands as a receiver. Hawaii has had their fair share of troubles covering the deep ball, (see Washington/Colorado/Rice game), and a deep TD pass takes all the momentum away from Hawaii. Keep both Boyd and Devante Davis from getting loose in the secondary, and the 'Bows can force the Rebs to try and run it against the stout UH front seven.
KEEP THE PRESSURE UP ON BLAKE DECKER
While most of Hawaii's 13-0 win over San Jose State can fall on the Spartans constant mistakes, the 'Bows defense had a huge day in shutting out their first opponent since 2005. The front seven came up with 3.0 sacks, 6.0 tackles for loss, and two QB hurries, keeping the Spartans from reaching any rhythm or consistency offensively. The Warriors defensive front has looked impressive in the new 3-4 look installed by new DC Kevin Clune, and an offensive line like UNLV's presents another opportunity for a big game.
The Rebs have allowed 35 sacks this year, an average of about three a game. I would expect Hawaii to throw a lot of stunts toward this line and work their way into the backfield quickly, if they can pressure Decker into making bad throws, or force him to take a sack, UH can set the tone in this game early.
San Diego State's win over Air Force officially ending Hawaii's hopes of any postseason (MWC Title Game) action, so if I'm Coach Chow, I make this game vs. UNLV the Warriors de facto Bowl Game. Hell, they can even name it. Hawaii needs to win this game, otherwise he will be gone at the season's end, a win over the Rebs will at least give him an argument to stay employed for 2015. UH can be a better team than UNLV on Saturday night, but it depends which Hawaii team shows up. Hawaii 35, UNLV 31