HAWAII VS. FRESNO STATE
Location: Fresno, California (Bulldog Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 27th at 4:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)
Radio: ESPN 1420
Head-to-Head: Fresno State leads the series 27-22-1 (Yes, they tied 24-24 in 1985), having dominated the series since 2009. Hawaii has only won twice in the last nine games between the two schools. Fresno won last season’s contest 31-21 in Honolulu.
Three things to look for:
1. Can Hawaii end this slump?
This week’s game vs. Fresno State would be a tall task for the Hawaii Warriors even if UH was in form. The Bulldogs come in at an impressive #9 in Bill Connelly’s S&P ratings and are the clear class of the Mountain West. Hawaii has to play this game in Fresno. Not good, Bob. Unfortunately for Hawaii, the difficulty of this game is amplified by the fact that UH is officially slumping. Hawaii’s amazing start to the 2018 season almost seemed too good to be true, and well, it’s starting to seem like that’s the case. It started with a shaky showing vs. a winless San Jose State, extended to barely getting past Wyoming, came to fruition in getting destroyed by Brigham Young, and became solidified by Nevada coming to Aloha Stadium and winning by 18 points. The Hawaii Warriors are officially not playing their best football.
The issues are plentiful. Poor protection for quarterback Cole McDonald. Wide receivers running the wrong route, dropped passes, poor tackling. The injury to star linebacker Jahlani Tavai certainly doesn’t help. Outside of wide receiver John Ursua, there is hardly anyone on the team playing at a high level. Can Hawaii end this slump and start to be the well-oiled machine we saw vs. Colorado State, Navy, etc.? A strong week of practice will be required for Hawaii to not embarrass themselves in Fresno.
2. Beware of the vaunted Bulldogs defense
Man, where to start? Remember that scary Wyoming defense Hawaii played that made Hawaii look slow and tiny? They rank 39th in total defense nationally. Fresno State ranks 10th. Fresno conceded a touchdown to New Mexico late in the first half of last week’s game. That is notable, because it’s the only touchdown Fresno has conceded since September 29th. Read that sentence again, it’s not made up. Sure, that’s probably not the case had Nevada’s Ty Gangi played vs. the Bulldogs two weeks ago, but the point stands: the Bulldogs are crazy good on defense. At every level. Defensive line is raucous, the linebackers are the real deal, and the secondary concedes nothing. They’re 28th nationally against the run, 13th against the pass, and here’s the big one: 1st in red zone defense. Red zone efficiency is the run-and-shoot offense’s oldest rival. The Bulldogs haven’t give up more than 30 points in 18 consecutive games, tied for the lead nationally. Wow!
Needless to say, Cole McDonald and the Warriors offense needs to bring their A-game to Fresno to have a chance at winning this game. Fresno is cunning and efficient on both sides of the ball. Hawaii must play clean, mistake-free football for the result of this game to still be in doubt heading into the fourth quarter.
3. Can history come to Hawaii’s rescue?
Fresno State is riding high right now. This past Saturday, College GameDay’s Kirk Herbstreit made a compelling argument for why the Bulldogs, not media darling Central Florida, should be in line to represent the Group of 5 teams in a major bowl game. The Bulldogs were shunned from the Top 25 polls on Sunday, but are on the cusp of joining college football’s elite. There is no way to undermine the results: head coach Jeff Tedford has been a homerun hire for the Bulldogs. He took over a team that went through a disastrous few seasons and turned them into a football team with next to no weaknesses. I could go on, but the point is: it’s good to be a Fresno State Bulldog right now.
With all that said, Bulldogs fans aren’t strangers to gut punches. This isn’t their first go around when it comes to flirting with greatness, and while many will point to Boise State as the saboteur of Bulldog greatness in the past, Hawaii has been a thorn for the Bulldogs as well. The famed 2001 Fresno State Bulldogs, the one featuring future #1 overall pick quarterback David Carr, defeated three Power 5 opponents (or whatever people called them back then), including #10 Oregon State and #23 Wisconsin. That team somehow managed to lose to Nick Rolovich and the Warriors that season.
Seven seasons later, Fresno State found themselves in the spotlight again. The 2008 Bulldogs had rebounded under then head coach Pat Hill after a few seasons not up to their standards and cracked the Top 25. Hawaii, however, was a team of yesteryear. June Jones was gone, and with him the magic that was the Hawaii Warriors. Or so people thought. Fresno would once again be bamboozled by Hawaii in one of the most bizarre conclusions I’ve ever seen to a football game. Once again, the Bulldogs were starting to look at football glory, only to have Hawaii grab the Bulldog by its collar and pull it backwards.
Even the 2013 Fresno State Bulldogs, arguably the greatest Bulldogs team ever, nearly blew a huge lead in Honolulu. That was an awful Hawaii team they played against, but were almost cursed again. Weird things happen when Hawaii plays against a respected Fresno team.
On paper, Fresno State should beat the paste out of Hawaii this Saturday. The game, however, is not played on paper and unexpected things happen in college football every single weekend. Can Hawaii be the boogeyman for Fresno State football again?
I have been off by miles two consecutive weeks. Hawaii went two entire quarters without scoring any points against Nevada. This upcoming task is their toughest of 2018. As noted above, this series seems to get weird when the Bulldogs are in the national spotlight. That said, I’ve watched both these two teams play regularly and I just can’t see Hawaii making a game of this one. A fast start is required for any upset potential, but Hawaii’s defensive youth and inexperience on the offensive line is starting to show. I expect Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford to expose that. Tedford isn’t the run-up-the-score type, so I don’t think it’ll be a 2004-like blowout, but I don’t think it’ll be pretty either. Give me Hawaii 9, Fresno State 38.