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Hawaii Bowl Preview: Is Hawaii on Santa’s naughty or nice list?

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The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors look to end their bowl win drought against the Middle Tennesee State Blue Raiders.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Hawaii Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Bowl Game Info:

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (6-7, 4-4 MWC) vs Middle Tennessee State (8-4, 2-1 MWC)

December 24, 2016, at 3:00 PM HST, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii

TV: ESPN and ESPN Deportes

National Radio: ESPN Radio.

Local Radio: KKEA ESPN 1420 (Honolulu), KNUI 550AM (Maui), KHLO 850AM (Hilo), KKON 790AM (Kona), KTOH 99.9FM (Kauai), KNWJ 104.7FM (American Samoa).

Spread: -7 MTSU

Over/Under: 72

S&P+ Prediction: 35.9 – 30.5 Middle Tennessee (38% win probability for Hawaii)

Bowl Game Tidbits:

  • Hawaii and Middle Tennessee State have played each other once before back in 1993; the Rainbow Warriors won 35-14 in Honolulu. The Blue Raiders were a Division 1-AA school at that time.
  • Saturday’s game marks the first time since 2010 since UH has made a bowl game. It also marks the seventh time they have made a Hawaii Bowl appearance.
  • Hawaii is 3-3 in the Hawaii Bowl and 5-5 overall in bowl competition.
  • They have lost their last two Hawaii Bowl appearances (2008 and 2010).
  • MTSU has lost their last three bowl appearances.
  • UH’s last bowl win came against Arizona State in the 2006 Hawaii Bowl; the final score was 41-24.

Roster Report:

Hawaii: Out for Season: Melvin Davis (RB).

Middle Tennessee State: Probable: Jocquez Bruce (WR); Questionable: Brent Stockwill (QB), John Urzua (QB), Carlos Johnson (OL); Out: Chris Hale (DE); Out for Season: Demetrius Frazier (WR), Shane Tucker (RB), Terry Pettis (WR).

2016 Team Leaders:

Passing: Dru Brown (Hawaii): 189-305, 2,214 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT; Brent Stockwill (MTSU): 232-363, 2,801 yards, 27 TD, 5 INT

Rushing: Diocemy Saint Juste (Hawaii): 140 carries, 836 yards, 3 TD; I’Tavius Mathers (MTSU): 220 carries, 1,504 yards, 16 TD

Receiving: Marcus Kemp (Hawaii): 70 receptions, 1,036 yards, 7 TD; Richie James (MTSU): 97 receptions, 1,463 yards, 11 TD

Tackles: Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii): 118 (80 solo) tackles; Chris Melton (MTSU): 96 (47 solo) tackles

Sacks: Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii): 7.0 sacks; Steven Rhodes (MTSU): 4.5 sacks

Pass Breakup: Trayvon Henderson (Hawaii): 6 PBU; Jeremy Cutrer (MTSU): 10 PBU

Interceptions: Jalen Rogers (Hawaii): 3 INT; Jeremy Cutrer (MTSU): 3 INT

Names to Know:

Hawaii: (QB) Dru Brown, (RB) Diocemy Saint Juste, (WR) Marcus Kemp, (LB) Jahlani Tavai, (S) Trayvon Henderson.

MTSU: (QB) Brent Stockwill, (RB) I’Tavius Mathers, (WR) Richie James, (DE) Steven Rhodes, (CB) Jeremy Cutrer.

For the Hawaii depth chart click here and go to page 10.

For the Middle Tennessee State depth chart click here and go to page 15.

Key to the Game:

Run Game: This year, Rainbow Warriors’ offense has revolved around the run game. In fact, it should be no surprise that their offense should always feature their three-headed monster: Diocemy Saint-Juste, Paul Harris, and Steven Lakalaka. The Blue Raiders have a great pass defense that allows just 5.86 yards per attempt (good for 36th in the nation). Combine that with the growing pains that Dru Brown has experienced and the inconsistent performances from the receiving corps; getting the run game going must be a priority for OC Brian Smith.

Tackle: S&P+ has the Blue Raiders ranked as the 9th most explosive offense. To limit this offense’s impact on the game, the Rainbow Warriors need to tackle them when given the chance. Middle Tennessee possesses the 36th best pass attack and 5th best rush attack (in terms of yards per attempt). So the Blue Raiders will get theirs no matter what Hawaii does. But, limiting extra yards in this “home game” will be a must if the ‘Bows want to slow the MTSU attack down.

Bottom Line:

Middle Tennessee State is going to be a formidable opponent for Hawaii. Their only weakness comes from their rush defense and inability to get to the quarterback. They have an elite offense, fantastic pass coverage, and good special teams. They also have star players across the board that will no doubt step up to help the Blue Raiders win.

The strengths and weaknesses in this matchup favor MTSU across the board. UH’s pass defense and lack of a good pass rush will help whoever is slinging the pigskin for the Blue Raiders. Not only that but the undersized front of the Rainbow Warriors will have problems trying to stop I’Tavius Mathers.

Middle Tennessee also has an above-average run defense that will pressure Dru Brown to perform well. This is where Jeremy Cutrer and company are waiting to shut down Marcus Kemp and force the supporting receivers to step up.

The bottom line being that Santa will not be bringing Hawaii a present this Christmas and Hawaii's bowl win drought will extend to a full decade. The final score will be 42-31 where the Blue Raiders will pull away late in the game. We will see a wonderful fight highlighted by strong offensive performances by Diocemy Saint Juste and Richie James.

While the 'Bows will lose in the end, it will be a fun Christmas Eve nonetheless. The in-game excitement will only be eclipsed by the hope fans should feel about the future being built here.

I hope to see you all at Aloha Stadium tomorrow.

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter to get play-by-play commentary and a few snarky remarks from me.

Last but not least GO BOWS!

Stats and info courtesy of the University of Hawaii and the Middle Tennessee State University football programs.