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Hawaii Football Game Preview: Rainbow Warriors take on the Boise State Broncos

Can UH keep their bowl hopes alive against the #22 team in the country?

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Gameday Info:

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (4-6, 3-3 MWC) vs #22 Boise State Broncos (8-1, 4-1 MWC)

November 12, 2016 at 2:00 PM HST, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: KKEA ESPN 1420 (Honolulu), KNUI 550AM (Maui), KHLO 850AM (Hilo), KKON 790AM (Kona), KTOH 99.9FM (Kauai), KNWJ 104.7FM (American Samoa), XM Radio 203 and Sirius Radio 93.

Web Audio-Cast: ESPN 1420 AM

Spread: +18 Hawaii

Over/Under: 64

S&P+ Prediction: 40-23.6 Boise State (17% win probability for Hawaii)

Gameday Tidbit:

I could put down arbitrary statistics or facts but the one thing that matters the most is that Zak Hill is returning to the islands. Not long after Nick Rolovich hired Hill to be the team’s offensive coordinator, he left the team for Boise State.

The move left Hawaii coaches stunned and fans confused. If anything, the Rainbow Warriors will look to make a statement to Hill. If the team needed extra motivation to maintain their bowl hopes, his return should do it.

Not really mad about Zak Hill but I sure hope the team uses him as extra motivation to come out and kick some ass.

Roster Report:

Hawaii: Questionable: Jeremiah Pritchard (LB), Kory Rasmussen (DL); Out for Season: Melvin Davis (RB).

Boise State: Out for Season: Gabe Perez (UT), Skyler Seibold (S), Evan Tyler (S).

2016 Team Leaders:

Passing: Dru Brown (Hawaii): 131-213, 1,551 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT; Brett Rypien (Boise State): 175-275, 2,578 yards, 18 TD, 6 INT

Rushing: Diocemy Saint Juste (Hawaii): 120 carries, 713 yards, 2 TD; Jeremy McNichols (Boise State): 226 carries, 1,216 yards, 16 TD

Receiving: Marcus Kemp (Hawaii): 55 receptions, 910 yards, 6 TD; Thomas Sperbeck (Boise State): 57 receptions, 909 yards, 7 TD

Tackles: Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii): 91 (59 solo) tackles; Ben Weaver (Boise State): 87 (43 solo) tackles

Sacks: Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii): 3.0 sacks; David Moa (Boise State): 6.5 sacks

Pass Breakup: Trayvon Henderson (Hawaii): 5 PBU; Jonathan Moxey (Boise State): 9 PBU

Interceptions: Jalen Rogers (Hawaii): 3 INT; Tyler Horton (Boise State): 1 INT

For the Hawaii depth chart click here and go to page 9.

For the Boise State depth chart click here and go to page 24.

Keys to the game:

Stop McNichols: Similar to the situation that the Rainbow Warriors faced last week, another top running back will oppose them in Jeremy McNichols. The 5’9”, 212 lb junior leads the Broncos’ rush attack with 1,216 yards on the season with 16 touchdowns. McNichols provides the Hawaii defense with a different challenge than that of Donnel Pumphrey. Unlike the slight frame and blazing speed that Pumphrey displays in the backfield, McNichols is a more conventional running back.

He is big and strong but has enough speed to break things wide open if the opportunity presents itself. He is as well-rounded a back as Pumphrey is. So far in 2016, he has totaled 399 yards on 28 receptions with 4 touchdowns. The former prep receiver’s versatility will be on full display in Zak Hill's game plan. Stopping him will be a challenge but it needs to be priority number one.

Be prepared for the pass: Unlike the Aztecs, the Bronco pass attack is just as likely to hurt you as their rush attack. Brett Rypien continues to improve in his sophomore season sporting a 66.6 QBR, good for 46th in the nation. Rypien might not be a Lamar Jackson but he is leading a pretty good pass attack. S&P+ has them ranked as the 15th most explosive, 7th most efficient and 12th best passing attack in the nation.

Thomas Sperbeck will be the featured pass catcher. The big-play threat has amassed 909 yards on 57 catches while totaling 7 touchdowns in 2016. He accounts for nearly one-third of the team’s targets. As you may know, he burned UH last year for 87 yards and a touchdown. In other words, Trayvon Henderson and company must keep an eye on him.

Don't run from the run: The most puzzling thing that I’ve seen in recent weeks was the neglect of the run game. Even though the passing game is better with Dru Brown at quarterback, the offense is still run-based. This Rainbow Warriors offense isn’t like that of June Jones, they need to establish the run. The game against SDSU marked three consecutive weeks where the rush attack has averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry. Without the threat of the rush, teams force Dru Brown to read coverage and pick windows to throw into - something he has failed to do effectively.

With Brown’s effectiveness waning and turnovers becoming a larger issue each week, the offense needs to go back to its roots. Boise State is 18th against the pass but is 75th against the run (both in yards per attempt). They are currently allowing 5.07 yards per carry and if the Rainbow Warriors have Diocemy Saint Juste at their disposal they should have an advantage here. Even if DSJ cannot go, Paul Harris has shown that he is an effective runner already. The only question about him is if Brian Smith will use him or not. If the coaches use Saint Juste and Harris to establish the run, the 'Bows offense should move along rather well.

BONUS KEY: Win the Turnover Battle. UH is terrible with turnovers again in 2016 and it shows with their 118th rank in turnover margin per game. The good news is that Boise State is right there with Hawaii at 117. Turnovers can help teams overcome a talent gap to win. BYU used a 5-0 turnover advantage to nearly defeat the Broncos. Wyoming used a similar model paired with a great rush attack to actually hand Boise State their only loss of the season. Turnovers can be random but if the 'Bows can maintain the ratio in their favor they will have a good chance to win.

Bottom Line:

If you thought San Diego State was good, Boise State is arguably better. They do not sport the #22 rank in the country for nothing. Based on the past two weeks, Hawaii’s chances of winning seem pretty bleak. Both FPI and S&P+ agree with that assessment and give UH a 10.6% and 17% chance to win respectively.

The Broncos are a tough team and will come ready to play. The Rainbow Warriors will need to play near perfect football to win. They must minimize the turnovers and penalties. They cannot afford to give opportunities and yards away. As they found out last week against the Aztecs, their mistakes will cost them dearly.

The projections have UH at a large disadvantage but college football has proven that upsets happen on a weekly basis. The 18 point deficit seems daunting but it can be done; especially if they remember who is on the other sideline, Zak Hill.

I cannot predict that the team will win with logic. They have a lot of holes in their game right now that will take some time to fix. I predict that the final score will be 31-10. Turnovers will plague both teams but the talent that Boise State possesses will put them over the top.

Jeremy McNichols will be the player of the game compiling over 150 total yards and account for two scores. Dru Brown will make strides to correct his recent slump to give fans hope for next year. He will still have a turnover or two but his passing will be more on target. The ‘Bows will end their two-week offensive drought and compile more than 300 yards. The defense will show continue to show signs of improvement but their lack of ability to penetrate the backfield will highlight their struggles for the night.

The bottom line is that the Rainbow Warriors will probably lose tomorrow and it will end their bowl game hopes. Losing, however, will not make this a lost season. I for one, am damn proud of everything that Nick Rolovich and company have accomplished this year. They brought the program back fear a near death experience. The future is bright for this program and I hope you UH fans out there are as proud as I am of what is being built.

Enjoy the game and GO ‘BOWS!

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