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2018 Hawaii Bowl: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Old WAC foes Hawaii and Louisiana Tech are set to battle in front of a national audience

NCAA Football: Hawaii at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII VS. LOUISIANA TECH

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 22nd at 5:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPN

Streaming: WatchESPN app

Radio: ESPN 1420

Head-to-Head: Hawaii leads the series 8-2 all-time. Hawaii’s last win vs. the Bulldogs came in 2011 in Ruston, Louisiana in a 44-26 win. The two programs used to play each other annually before the WAC dissolved.

Three things to look for:

1. Who wins the clash of styles?

Hawaii and Louisiana Tech meet at Aloha Stadium on December 22nd having arrived via different approaches. Hawaii came into the 2018 season with low expectations, but a beacon of hope: the run-and-shoot offense was back. The rewards came early for the Warriors, with unexpected wins vs. Colorado State and Navy. Oddly enough, Hawaii’s close loss to Army at West Point might have been the best showing of the season on paper. Hawaii took a midseason dive vs. the brass of the Mountain West, but bounced back late in the season to not only qualify for the Hawaii Bowl, but shock San Diego State in San Diego. At 8-5, it wasn’t always pretty, but the Warriors lived and died on the reliance of their vaunted passing attack. Most of the time it worked, some of the time it didn’t. Tough, stingy defenses gave the Warriors problems.

That’s where Louisiana Tech comes in. The Bulldogs finished the regular season ranked 90th in total offense. 53rd in passing offense, 111th in rushing offense. Nothing spectacular. Then how did the Bulldogs make it to Honolulu? Defense. Ranking 33rd in total defense, the Bulldogs also ranked 10th nationally in team sacks, a terrifying stat for any opposing offense to see. Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson was selected second-team All-American by the associated press and sacked the quarterback an insane 15 times in 2018. He’s expected to be drafted on Thursday or Friday of the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s a star. That’s where the primary clash is in this contest. Hawaii’s quick strike passing offense vs. Louisiana Tech’s devastating pass rush. What gives?

2. Will the long layoff be a problem for either team?

Neither Hawaii or Louisiana Tech participated in their conference championship game, meaning both teams haven’t played a game since November 24th. By Saturday, both teams will have been off for a month. That’s a long time in the football world. This isn’t some unique factor to the Hawaii Bowl, nearly all bowl participants have to confront balancing freshness with preparedness. We see it over and over during the bowl season: unexpected results because one team was more prepared than the other. Surely both the Hawaii and Louisiana Tech coaching staffs have been busy recruiting, especially nowadays with the primary signing day occurring in mid-December (December 19th, this year). Add in the bowl festivities that players and coaches are sure to enjoy, distractions are plenty. Will both teams be at their best come Saturday?

3. Can Hawaii go into the off-season with momentum?

There are few experiences in college football more gratifying than when your favorite team beats the expectations of neutral overserves. It’s been said many times: with Hawaii entering the 2018 season after dealing with multiple transfers and lost talent to graduation, the Warriors on paper were inexperienced and with question marks at nearly every position except for probably linebacker. Hawaii would start two true freshman on the offensive line, a disaster task more often than not. With a new quarterback and relatively untested wide receiver group, struggles were expected. Even the most terrifying run-and-shoot group needed a season to gel. Instead, Hawaii defied all odds. Vegas gamblers wagered on a line of 3.5 wins for Hawaii. The Warriors obliterated that number by winning 8 regular season games. The final question for the 2018 Warriors: can they finish? Assuming wide receiver John Ursua returns to school, Hawaii will return 19 starters in 2019. That’s a crazy high number. With three Pac-12 teams on the schedule in the first month of the 2019 season, you can bet the hype surrounding Hawaii football will be the highest its been for a long time. To secure that hype, the Warriors need to keep momentum in tact. Can Hawaii finish by winning the Hawaii Bowl?

Prediction:

For records purposes: I went 8-5 this season predicting Hawaii football games week-to-week. I, like many others, was obviously wrong about expectations in the preseason. I thought 5-6 wins would be a positive sign for the program, while expecting something slightly lower than that. The Warriors beat up expectations pretty good. It wasn’t always pretty, but Hawaii fans must acknowledge the tremendous job Nick Rolovich and his staff have done with this inexperienced group. A chance to finish the season with 9 wins is nothing to scoff at. As for the Hawaii Bowl, bowl games in general are notorious for being unpredictable. I remember last December listening to a trusted bookie in Vegas explain why Oregon should have little problem with Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, only to then see the Ducks trail by 20+ points in the first half. Bowl season by nature, is unpredictable. I do know this: Hawaii needs to protect Cole McDonald. McDonald had a tremendous debut season, by like any quarterback with a pulse, struggled when the pass rush was too much. There is a good argument to be made that Louisiana Tech has the best pass rush Hawaii will see all season. Can Hawaii slow down Jaylon Ferguson? The Bulldogs tripped up at the finish line of the regular season, but I expect them to be hyped for this game. Expect a close game with McDonald and the offense coming through late. Give me, for the last time in the 2018 season, Hawaii 27, Louisiana Tech 23.

Thanks to all of you who spent the time reading my coverage of Hawaii football this season, I truly appreciate it. I’ll have more on this season of Hawaii football and next in the coming months. Again, my thanks.