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Wyoming vs. Hawaii: Perspective & Predictions from Both Sides

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Wyoming will travel to Oahu to take on the Rainbow Warriors for the rights to the Paniolo Trophy

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

WYOMING VS. HAWAII

It’s a trivia question many fans outside of the Mountain West/Old WAC lexicon would probably get wrong: name the unlikeliest trophy game between two Mountain West programs? Wyoming and Hawaii have hardly played each other since 1997, only meeting three times on the gridiron. Before that, the two teams used to play each other annually, and for a trophy! The battle for the Paniolo Trophy is reborn again this weekend when Wyoming travels to Oahu. In this article, Jeremy will be providing his commentary from a Hawaii perspective, and FatDuckUW will give his two cents from the Wyoming perspective.

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 6th at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time) (10:00 p.m. Mountain 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: Wyoming leads the series 14-9, having dominated the series since 1993. Hawaii has only won once in the last 8 games between the two schools. Wyoming won last season’s contest 28-21 in overtime in Laramie.

PERSPECTIVE:

Where are the two teams at injury wise?

Jeremy: The injury bug has bitten Mountain West teams hard this fall, but one of the very few teams that has remained unscathed is Hawaii. Star linebacker Solomon Matautia missed the Duquesne game, but returned vs. San Jose State to record 12 tackles, so he should be good to go this week. Other than the typical bumps and bruises that come with FBS college football, the Rainbow Warriors should be pretty close to 100% for this weekend’s game vs. Wyoming.

FatDuckUW: The Cowboys took a literal beating the first, four games of the season with injuries. After the bye week, several players returned for the Boise State game. Nico Evans, Austin Fort, and Tyler Hall were able to come back and play against Boise State, and they all appear to be ready for the Hawaii game as well. For this week, Wyoming will get another body back along the offensive line in Patrick Arnold. The Pokes have been a little banged up along the OL, so it will be a nice plus to have Arnold back in uniform. The newest injury news is at punter. Tim Zaleski tore his ACL against Boise State and is out for the year. That’s a big loss for the Cowboys as they’ve punted a lot so far this season. Ryan Galovich will replace Zaleski and a drop off in the punting game is probably likely.

On the offensive side of the ball:

Jeremy: The training wheels come off this weekend. Hawaii has soared to a shocking 5-1 start to the 2018 season, and a big part of that has been the effectiveness of the offense. Quarterback Cole McDonald has had ample time to throw the football and it’s produced jarring results with the sophomore quarterback already having thrown for 2100 passing yards and a 12 touchdown passes for every interception ratio (24 TDs/2 INTs). All that said, let’s be honest, the defenses Hawaii has seen thus far are not very good. The highest ranked unit is Army at 46th in total defense, and it’s well-known that service academies tend to play smaller defensive lineman. Bottom line: Hawaii’s offensive line, one that includes two true freshman in Ilm Manning and Solo Vaipulu, hasn’t faced a defensive front like Wyoming’s. The likes Carl Granderson, Youhanna Ghaifan, and Garrett Crall put to shame what UH has seen to this point, and that’s not even focusing on the stars Wyoming has at the next two levels of the defense. It’s been all fun and games, but the real tests begin this weekend. Can the offensive line give Cole McDonald enough time to work his magic? Or will the offense face its first real adversity of the season? If Cole ends up on his back side, or is even just flustered more than usual, Hawaii’s gaudy numbers might dip this weekend and possibly lead to a lower-scoring game than usual for run-and-shoot contests.

FatDuckUW: Wyoming really needs to start fast. In general, the offense has struggled so far this season, but they also have really struggled scoring early in games. Hawaii has come out and scored early and often in several games this season, so the Cowboys offense needs to be able to move the ball and score some points throughout the course of this game. Currently, Hawaii has the 69th rushing defense and 110th passing defense in the country. The Cowboys need to run the ball to setup some play action pass opportunities against the Rainbow Warriors secondary. Not the other way around. Wyoming needs to play to their strengths. That means, Wyoming must run the ball and give Nico Evans more touches than they did against Boise State. This is also important for the Cowboys defense. The more clock that Wyoming can run, the better. The defense can’t be on the field all the time. Also, Hawaii has a quick score offense that Wyoming needs to try to limit how many times they possess the ball. Sort of like the Army game for Hawaii.

On the defensive side of the ball:

Jeremy: The old saying goes true: something has to give. Wyoming enters the game ranked 121st in total offense. Not exactly what head coach Craig Bohl drew up in the preseason. It’s easy to pick on quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, play-caller Brant Vigen, and others, but can Hawaii exploit Wyoming’s poor offense? The Warriors defense rank 105th nationally in total defense, so it’s not like the Cowboys are going up against the 85’ Bears this week. Wyoming did absolutely nothing on offense vs. Boise State outside of a long run by running back Nico Evans and a long touchdown pass to wide receiver James Price during what was essentially garbage time. Hawaii, however, is not Boise State. If you’ll recall in my preview for last week’s San Jose State game, the Spartans entered the game with abysmal offensive stats too. Quarterback Josh Love gouged Hawaii for 451 passing yards. He didn’t have 451 passing yards through the first three games! So while cynics might scoff at the Cowboy offense, Hawaii’s defense hasn’t shown the ability to capitalize on playing against a poorly ranked unit. Wyoming’s offense is about as old-school, pro-style football as it gets. Running back Nico Evans is a stud and will gash Hawaii on the ground if the defensive front isn’t in tune, or if the linebackers don’t play with good eye discipline. Jahlani Tavai and Solomon Matautia will called upon over and over. Wyoming’s goal will be to eat up clock and keep the ball out of Cole McDonald’s hand. Failing to get Vander Waal and the offense off the field might lead to Army game vibes at Aloha Stadium.

FatDuckUW: So far this season, Wyoming is failing in two areas compared to last season. First, turnovers. Second, passing defense. I feel like I repeat this every week, but Wyoming really needs to get back to creating turnovers and winning the turnover battle. On the season, Cole McDonald has 24 TD’s to 2 INT’s, so it’s probably unlikely that Wyoming will force multiple interceptions this weekend. Maybe, Wyoming will be able to force some fumbles, but losing the turnover battle again will likely lead to another loss. As noted above, McDonald has 24 TD’s passing in 6 games. That’s good for 4 TD’s a game. Wyoming currently has the 98th ranked passing defense. Simply put, this is not a good matchup. The passing defense needs to show improvement this week, but it will be a tough challenge.

On special teams:

Jeremy: It goes without saying, Hawaii has been scoring like crazy, and thus hasn’t been punting the ball much. Kicker Ryan Meskell was named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week this week after nailing his 35-yard field goal in the 5th overtime vs. San Jose State to lift the Warriors to victory. He hasn’t been perfect, but that moment and then the conference honor should lift his confident. Hawaii, really, should just keep doing what it’s doing on special teams: nothing outstanding, but not overtly negative either.

FatDuckUW: The Cowboys have punted way too much this season. They really need to stop that trend this week with a new punter, Ryan Galovich, taking over. When Galovich does punt, play clean special teams. Last week, one punt was blocked, and another punt was fumbled by Zaleski. Wyoming can’t afford to give away field position and the ball like that if they expect to win. Cooper Rothe is a good kicker, so Wyoming should be comfortable with him kicking any field goals in overtime should Wyoming/Hawaii play out like Hawaii/San Jose State did.

Vegas Line:

Hawaii opened as a 3.5-point favorite

Predictions:

Jeremy: With Wyoming falling to 2-3, it’s easy for fans to look ahead to the BYU game next week, but the coaching staff and team will know better. Yes, Wyoming’s defense hasn’t gotten off to torrid start, but they’ve played three very strong offenses in Missouri, Washington State, and Boise State. Hawaii also has a strong offense, but one that hasn’t faced much adversity from a talented defense. Make no mistake about it, the Pokes have some dudes on that side of the ball. I’m not sure if the Cowboy offense can muster enough points to win. Playing at what will be 10 PM MT body clock wise, and dealing with the humidity, figures to play a role too. That said, I think this game will be a precursor to the difficult challenges that are ahead for UH. Hawaii’s backloaded schedule begins with a positive start, but not without Wyoming scaring the hell out of them. Hawaii 24, Wyoming 20.

FatDuckUW: Wyoming better come out fighting. If the Cowboys want to still make a bowl game this season, it will be a lot easier from 3-3 than from 2-4. That said, the Wyoming defense has not been able to make the same big plays and stops so far this season that they were making last year. On offense, the Cowboys have only been able to score enough points to get into the teens in their last, four games. With this game being on the road against a humming Hawaii offense, I see Hawaii winning a higher scoring game than Wyoming would like to play. Wyoming 24, Hawaii 31