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Hawaii vs. Boise State - Three things to look for, Predictions

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Warriors travel to Boise, Idaho dreaming of reaching the pinnacle of #Phase2

NCAA Football: Boise State at Hawaii Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII VS. BOISE ST.

Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 12th at 8:15 p.m. (Mountain Time) 4:15 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPN2

Streaming: ESPN App

Radio: ESPN Honolulu/Bronco Radio Network

Head-to-Head: To put it mildly, Boise State has owned this series. Hawaii defeated Boise State in 1996 and 1999, but are 1-12 against the Broncos since the turn of the millennium. Hawaii’s only victory in that span was the famous 39-27 win over the Broncos in 2007. Since then, the closest margin between the two programs was 20 points in 2008, a 27-7 win for the Broncos. Boise State won the most recent matchup in 2016 52-16 in Honolulu, Nick Rolovich’s debut season as head coach.

Three things to look for (Hawaii Perspective - Jeremy):

1. #Phase2

Let’s address the elephant in the room. As of this posting, Boise State is #1 all-time in college football in winning percentage, passing Michigan recently. As a result, it’s no surprise that plenty of the Broncos’ series history with opposition is lopsided. Hawaii-Boise State, is not an outlier in that regard. As noted earlier, the Warriors are 1-12 against the Broncos this century. After Hawaii’s golden victory against the Broncos in 2007, the series has been particularly lopsided. During the Broncos current 6-game winning streak, the average margin of victory is 37.6 points. From a Hawaii perspective, that is not what you want.

Because of that ugly history, it’s become clear how important Saturday’s contest at Albertsons Stadium might be for Hawaii football. The Warriors are absolutely soaring right now, and Saturday is the best chance the Warriors have had at beating Boise State in a long time. Sitting at 4-1, the Warriors have defeated two Pac-12 foes and more recently obliterated the Nevada Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium, a location that had plagued the Warriors in the past. Nick Rolovich and the Warriors have notched some wins against pretty good teams in the past. Air Force in 2016, San Diego State last season, Arizona this season, among others, but a win at Boise State would surely launch #Phase2 into dream season territory. Is the moment Hawaii fans have been waiting for? Or will this be another humbling experience not too dissimilar to last season’s loss in Provo, Utah when the Warriors were riding high at 6-1?

2. Hawaii’s passing attack vs. Boise State’s defense

What’s the old cliché? What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’re going to find out on the Blue Turf Saturday evening. The Cole McDonald-led Hawaii run-and-shoot offense currently ranks 4th nationally in passing offense, scorching their opposition left and right. Hawaii’s rushing game, while not highly-ranked for obvious reasons, is averaging 4.42 yards per carry. That’s pretty good for a pass-heavy offense. Hawaii also ranks tied for 42nd in sacks allowed through five games, another great statistic considering the injuries that position unit has endured. You get the point: Hawaii’s offense is really, really good.

How does Boise State stack up against this vaunted offense? The Broncos rank 21st nationally in passing yards allowed, albeit one of their games was against the triple option offense. All the same, that’s a positive number that suggests the Bronco defense will pose a challenge. The Broncos also rank 21st in Team Sacks (a fantastic stat considering the triple option/bye week caveat). Of Hawaii’s other FBS opposition, Oregon State was closest at 62nd (Washington, UH’s lone loss, ranks 96th). If the numbers are to be believed, the Broncos defense will be one of the best Hawaii has seen this season.

Soooo what gives? Will the Broncos defense break? Or will Hawaii’s sky-high offense come closer to Earth?

3. Is the defense for real?

There were about a bajillion positives to take from the Nevada beatdown. Explosive offense, very encouraging special teams. The unexpected wow factor came from the defense. Honolulu, road game, no matter. Run-and-shoot era, Hawaii just doesn’t hold teams to three points. In the era of offensive explosion for the Warriors, the defense has typically been capped at “above average” but more often than not was closer to average or even bad (2004 was a doozy). Hawaii’s clearly made significant progress under second-year defensive coordinator Corey Batoon. The Warriors held Arizona’s vaunted offense under 40 points despite gifting them six more possessions. Oregon State’s offense was held to 28, and the Warrior defense held Central Arkansas-Nevada to a combined 19 points.

Trending upward, is this defense for real? What better test to find out than an uneven but plenty talented Boise State offense? Can the Warriors slow down true freshman Hank Bachmeier and expose a Broncos offensive line that’s been the offense’s weakness? If they can, upset potential grows.

Three things to look for (Boise State Perspective - Zach)

1. How will the Bronco defense respond to the tempo of Hawaii’s offense?

Hawaii may be the road team, but they have some significant advantages coming into this game. They are coming off of a bye week which gives them some extra time to prepare for the Broncos. However, I feel that the biggest question entering this game is how Boise State will deal with the tempo and speed of Hawaii’s offense.

Boise State corners Avery Williams and Jalen Walker should be able to match up with the speed of Hawaii’s wide receivers. The biggest question may be Kekoa Nawahine, who has struggled in the passing game this season. If Nawahine can keep things in front of him and if DeAndre Pierce is back to full health, the Broncos will have an excellent chance of slowing down the Hawaii offense. The play at linebacker will be huge as well; the Rainbow Warriors like to use the pass to set up the run. Will a lack of depth at linebacker come back to haunt the Broncos?

Also, you have to wonder if Coach Harsin has had a talk with Coach Pete and the Washington staff. You would have to think they would utilize that relationship. Washington had success against Hawaii in both aspects of the game, and Boise State should look to capitalize on that advantage. Like Washington, Boise State will have a significant size advantage on both sides of the ball, but sometimes speed can overcome size.

2. Can the Broncos establish the run to set up the passing game?

Stopping the run is Hawaii’s biggest weakness on defense. Historically, the Broncos have been a run first team. This year, they have been more aggressive in the passing game in an attempt to give true freshman, quarterback Hank Bachmeier some confidence. Hawaii’s rush defense is ranked #103 in the nation, giving up an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That number was much worse before the Nevada game. Robert Mahone and George Holani need to have a big day, and Boise State needs to control the clock.

On the surface, the Broncos have the horses to control this game, but slow starts and poor ball control could keep Hawaii in this game.

3. Will this be the game where it all comes together? Or will this be the game where the little mistakes become too much?

This has been the golden question all year long. Maybe Air Force was a sign of things to come, and the defense is done with slow starts. But, getting behind a team like Hawaii is playing with fire. While the Warriors are turnover prone at times, they can also score quickly and in bunches. Hawaii is going to score, but this game will ultimately come down to limiting their possessions and putting pressure on Cole McDonald. If Curtis Weaver and the Boise State defensive line have a big day, it could get ugly.

It is not just the defense that has had to overcome slow starts; the offense has also had the same issue. Boise State has taken the approach of trying to establish the passing game early, but they should take the opposite approach against Hawaii. Get Robert Mahone and George Holani the ball early and often. The Broncos should also be able to get John Hightower and Khalil Shakir involved in the running game as well and use those carries to open up some throws down the field.

Predictions:

Jeremy - I, like Las Vegas gamblers and many other observers, was miles off on the Hawaii-Nevada score. The Warriors were a 2.5-point underdog and won by 51 points. That’s an extraordinary cover. Hawaii’s offense is humming right now. Cole McDonald is locked in and has been laser accurate. Defense’s can’t close down the fantastic route-running of the Warriors’ wide receivers. I think this will be the biggest test Boise State’s defense has faced since Florida State, and the Hawaii defense will pose a bigger challenge than many expect. Boise State’s been playing with fire in recent games, and I think Hawaii has what it takes to make them pay for it. McDonald’s quick release neutralizes a strong Boise defensive line and leads to a magical night. Boise State’s lack of a run game means the Broncos will have plenty of yards, but not the points to show for it. I’m calling for the stunner. Give me Hawaii 30, Boise State 24.

Zach - It is hard to see this game being a blowout. Harsin usually approaches these games trying to get a lead early in the second half and grinding out the game the rest of the way. Hawaii’s best hope of a victory is building an early lead. Boise State is a difficult team to come back on. The Bronco offensive line has been much better in the second half of games this season and has been able to grind out games. If Boise State goes into the fourth quarter with a touchdown lead, they will win. If not, they are in big trouble. With that being said, I expect the atmosphere at Boise State to be electric, and the game will probably be a sellout. The crowd and a competent run game will be too much for Hawaii. Boise State 31-Hawaii 24