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Nevada vs. Hawaii: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Warriors return home to take on the Wolf Pack in a pivotal match with potential bowl implications

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

NEVADA VS. HAWAII

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 20th at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: Spectrum Sports (via PPV only available in the islands)

Streaming: For mainlanders, the only viewing option is the Stadium app. This app is only available via smartphone or tablet.

Radio: ESPN 1420

Head-to-Head: Nevada leads the series 13-9, having dominated the series since 2011. Hawaii has only won twice in the last nine games between the two schools. Nevada won last season’s contest 35-21 in Reno.

Three things to look for:

1. Outcome for the first time through the gauntlet: not good

It was the caveat to Hawaii’s success. The 6-1 start is great and all, really cool actually considering preseason expectations, but the numbers didn’t lie: Hawaii had played a weak schedule to this point. BYU, on the other hand, was coming off of a massive beat down at the hands of Mountain Division leader Utah State, a Hawaii opponent in the coming weeks. Fans and media alike thought UH had a decent chance to upset the Cougars in Provo for the first time ever. College GameDay’s Kirk Herbstreit chose Hawaii as his weekly SuperDog, meaning he was projecting Hawaii to cover the 8-point spread. Instead Hawaii was torn to shreds by BYU. The offense didn’t wake up until the second half, and the defense had no answer for BYU’s rushing attack the entire game. It was a humbling experience for a team floating the idea around of competing with Fresno State and San Diego State for the West Division title.

After this shellacking, how will Hawaii handle the remaining games? Nevada gave Boise State all they could handle this past weekend, and held Fresno to 271 total yards on offense and 21 points the week before. That suddenly appears to be a difficult matchup. The games vs. Fresno and Utah State speak for themselves. UNLV might be the last chance for bowl eligibility if UH were to drop the Nevada game and lose the games in which they will be clear underdogs. Hawaii got their first taste of tough competition. Will they retaliate? Or regress to the mean?

2. Can the Warrior defense bounce back?

It wasn’t a secret that Hawaii’s defensive ranking suggested they weren’t the 85’ Bears going into the BYU contest, but what happened on the field was bigger than just statistics. The Cougar rushing attack surprisingly plowed over the Warrior defense, despite ranking poorly in rushing offense. Even after the breakout performance, the Cougars still rank 100th in rushing offense nationally. But again, it was bigger than stats. Hawaii looked small to the casual observer, clearly not being able to match BYU’s strength up front. The linebackers were constantly engaging with lineman at the second level. Sure, the hype train for BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson is off and running, but Wilson didn’t exactly set the field on fire. Don’t get me wrong, 194 yards, 3 touchdown passes, and 1 interception is a solid debut for the young quarterback, but his job was made easy. He had all day to throw in the pocket and the team rushed for 200+ yards. It was just one game, but one preseason concern for UH was how the young, inexperienced defensive line would handle themselves. Vs. BYU, they looked overwhelmed.

Prior to Saturday, no real challenges had presented themselves. They’ll need to be much more physical this week vs. Nevada’s potent rushing attack of Kelton Moore and Toa Taua. It would be ideal for defensive end Kamiana Padello to reemerge this week and cause problems for the hobbled Nevada quarterback, Ty Gangi, who is dealing with a thigh injury.

3. Time for the offense to re-find its early season form

Good news arrived prior to kickoff in Provo: Cole McDonald was back. Apparently he and the offense needed an entire half to recalibrate, because their 3 points at halftime were easily a season low. The week prior, McDonald missed the Wyoming game with a mysterious injury, forcing freshman Chevan Cordeiro to start at quarterback. Hawaii scored 19 points at Aloha Stadium. Sure, Wyoming’s defense is very good, but this is now back-to-back weeks the potent Warriors offense has sputtered vs. stronger competition. It would be easy to look at Nevada and assume that historically, they stink on defense. That’s true, but the Pack have shown improvement under the 3-3-5 base set. Again, Fresno State’s potent offense was held to 271 total yards vs. Nevada. The Pack only conceded 24 offensive points to a Boise State offense that can occasionally be daunting this past Saturday.

Sure, I’ll concede: 95% of the time, the Nevada football defense is bad. This time, however, they might present a unique challenge with their strong run-stopping defense that does a good job of executing bizarre blitzes. Cole McDonald and his offense will want to open things up in the passing game again and recapture that early season form not just for this week, but in the coming weeks ahead.

Prediction

Whoa buddy, I was off by miles last week. I gave Hawaii the benefit of the doubt, thought BYU was in a bad place and was proven wrong. Goes to show that things change every week in college football. I was channel-flipping between the Hawaii-BYU game on ESPN2, and the Boise State-Nevada game on CBS Sports Network. The Wolf Pack have some really good players on offense, and even while hobbled, Gangi is still more than effective. Hawaii will need to be strong on offense this week as I suspect a shootout might break out. With Fresno State and Utah State ahead, this might be the last time I predict a Hawaii win for a few weeks, and while I think they’re in for a very tough game, I’m predicting Hawaii to secure their berth to the Hawaii Bowl this weekend. Give me Nevada 31, Hawaii 33.