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

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Will Hawaii win on Senior Night and clinch a bowl berth?

NCAA Football: Hawaii at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV VS. HAWAII

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 17th 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: Hawaii leads the series 15-12 all-time, but UNLV has won three of the last four contests between the two programs. Hawaii’s last win vs. the Rebels came in 2014 in wild fashion off a Hail Mary play. UNLV won the 2017 game between the two 31-23 in Vegas. Nick Rolovich has yet to defeat UNLV as head coach of Hawaii.

Three things to look for:

1. Did the bye week allow Hawaii to become healthier?

Hawaii entered the second week of November having already played 11 football games. That seems next to impossible, but the combination of playing in Week 0 with no bye week until the November 10th weekend made it reality. Add in the fact that the final two games prior to the bye week were against ranked opponents in Fresno State and Utah State, and it’s no wonder why Hawaii was the walking wounded. The bye week did come with some bad news, as star linebacker Jahlani Tavai was forced to have season-ending surgery on his shoulder, thus ending his Hawaii football career. He’ll be missed, but otherwise the break allowed a physically and mentally drained Warriors team to recuperate for this final stretch vs. UNLV and San Diego State. The best of Warriors, even star quarterback Cole McDonald, were obviously beaten and bruised from having to play 11 consecutive games. While the coaches recruited on the mainland, most of the players were given a few days off completely. Can Hawaii use this refresher to close this season on a positive note, or did the first 11 games take their toll conclusively?

2. Can the Hawaii defense please do something?

Everything was always about the offense during the June Jones run-and-shoot era. Defense be damned, Hawaii was winning their game 51-49 or not at all. That is of course, not fair. Many fans have felt the offense wasn’t up to snuff the last four games. Sure, there is something to that. The offensive line has shown its youth, McDonald appears to be playing hurt. There are concerns, but none of them as pressing as how poor Hawaii’s defense has been. Ranking 110th nationally in total defense, Hawaii has conceded nearly 5000 total yards this season (4993, to be exact). The Warriors also rank 114th in scoring defense, giving up 36.5 points per game. It’s a good thing Hawaii’s offense ranks really well, cause they need to be for this team to win. A concerning stat for this weekend in particular: Hawaii ranks 104th against the run, and UNLV ranks 23rd in rushing offense. UNLV running back Lexington Thomas is one of the best offensive players in the conference and figures to have a big day on Saturday. Can Hawaii’s defense pick up a turnover or two? Offer some kind of resistance to the Rebel offense? Or is this game destined to blow away the o/u of 69 total points between the two teams?

3. Is this now or never for Hawaii Bowl hopes?

Real life fact: at one point this season, Hawaii was receiving votes for the Top 25! It feels like forever ago, but Hawaii started the season 6-1. Their last victory came vs. Wyoming, in which backup quarterback Chevan Cordeiro led them to victory. There was a sense that something special was brewing. Since then, Hawaii has lost to Brigham Young, Nevada, Fresno State, and Utah State in consecutive games. A four-game losing streak. Suddenly the team sits at 6-5 coming out of the bye week and leaving fans wondering: could Hawaii close the season on a six-game losing streak and miss a bowl game altogether? Those fears were heightened this past weekend when UNLV shockingly beat the San Diego State Aztecs 27-24 in San Diego.

Hawaii is a 6-point favorite for this weekend’s pivotal game vs. the Rebels, and while the Aztecs do look vulnerable, this might be Hawaii’s last realistic chance to clinch a bowl berth. Hawaii has already beaten preseason expectations by reaching 6 wins, but it would be a shame to waste the efforts of Cole McDonald, John Ursua, Cedric Byrd, JoJo Ward, etc. and miss the Hawaii Bowl entirely. There would be conflicting feelings for all involved. Was the bye week enough time to heal up and prepare for the Rebels? It’s potentially do or die time for the 2018 Hawaii Warriors.

Prediction:

This is Hawaii’s final home game, meaning it’s Senior Night. This being a very young Warriors squad, there aren’t a ton of seniors being honored, but obviously this is never a game any program wants to lose. This has been a roller coaster of a season for Hawaii. I have no doubt this game against UNLV will be a nervy one for fans. I’m predicting that UNLV will take control in the second half, but begin to run out of gas in the mid-fourth quarter (this is the tail end of back-to-back road games for the Rebels) and Cole McDonald will pounce. This rivalry always seems to produce close contests, and that’ll continue this weekend. Give me Hawaii 35, UNLV 34.