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Rainbow Warrior Perspective - Air Force vs. Hawaii: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Warriors return home for pivotal match in their pursuit of Mountain West championship game

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

AIR FORCE VS. HAWAII

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 19th at 5:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: CBS Sports Network

Streaming: If you have a television subscription package that includes CBS Sports Network, you should be able to stream the game legally.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: Air Force leads the overall series with a 13-7-1 record. Yes, there was a 35-35 tie in Honolulu in 1989. The two programs have only played each other three times since Hawaii joined the Mountain West. The 58-7 blasting of Hawaii at Aloha Stadium was what triggered Norm Chow’s mid-season firing in 2015. Showing how quickly things can change in college football, Hawaii won 34-27 in Colorado Springs the very next season. That victory means the Warriors are currently in possession of the Kuter Trophy.

Three things to look for:

1. Let’s get the obvious topic out of the way: Air Force’s triple option

Hawaii returns home after a disappointing showing in Boise over the weekend, but have no time at all to dwell on that loss. The triple option offense is notorious for catching opponents off guard, ill-prepared. A disciplined defense can be the difference in slowing down the Falcons offense, or watching the Falcons run (and sometimes pass) wild. Air Force currently ranks 2nd-nationally in rushing offense, right behind Navy, but having played one more game than the Midshipmen has the Falcons 1st in total rushing yards with 1,779 yards through six games. That’s a lot.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Falcons. Starting 2-0, a victory at Colorado left some wondering if the Falcons were threats to win the Mountain, maybe even crash the New Year’s 6 scene. A 19-30 loss at Boise State brought that hype train to a stop. A comfortable win vs. San Jose State had the Falcons back on track, but a disappointing loss at Navy could have really hurt the Falcons. It didn’t. The Falcons returned home and absolutely lit up a now soul-searching Fresno State team. The Falcons rushed for 340 yards (!!!) on what was thought to be a strong Bulldogs defense. Quarterback Donald Hammond III only threw the ball three times, yet still managed a touchdown pass.

When humming, the Falcons offense can be devastating. The Falcons rank 3rd in the Mountain West in scoring offense with 34.3 points per game, behind Boise State and Hawaii who share 1st on exactly 37.0 points per game. Point obvious: Hawaii’s defense has another tough task this weekend.

2. The Falcons can play defense too

Air Force is no one-trick pony. Aside from the loss to Navy, a team that isn’t fooled by anything the Falcons do (for obvious reasons), Air Force has only conceded 30 points or more once (Boise State, 30). The Falcons are 3rd in the Mountain West in pass defense, ranked behind Colorado State and Boise State. A surprising stat considering the Falcons defense is known for keying on the run, which they also do well, ranking 24th in rush defense nationally. Clock-killers on offense, the Falcons defense does a solid job keeping opposing offenses in check.

In the Falcons most recent game, the defense held Fresno State’s offense to 268 total yards despite conceding 24 points in the first half. At times, the Falcons can be prone to conceding a deep pass. After being held to 0 catches for 0 yards at Boise State, look for Hawaii to make finding wide receiver and deep threat JoJo Ward a priority.

Relief might be coming for the Hawaii offense in the weeks to come, but this week will be another challenge.

3. Championship implications

This past Saturday marked the mid-season point for many teams in college football. As conference play develops, attention turns to the championship game race, where historically little leeway is provided. Both Hawaii and Air Force now have a conference loss on their resumes. For Hawaii, the West Division is looking dodgy compared to the Mountain Division. A loss this weekend would give the Warriors next to no room for error, but probably wouldn’t eliminate the Warriors with San Diego State sitting on a conference loss and Fresno State fading fast. That said, no Mountain West team wants to be left chasing the title game from behind in October.

Air Force lost at Boise State, and will probably need some help along the way to qualify for the Mountain West championship game, but they too are still mathematically involved. A loss, however, would almost assuredly finish those hopes. This weekend in some ways might prove to be an elimination match in the Mountain West race. The pressure is on.

Prediction:

I am slowly developing into a total jinx for this Hawaii team. I’ve been off by miles on my last two predictions for this team, predicting a loss in Reno but a win in Boise. Whoops. This week, I’m expecting one of the best games of the Mountain West slate. Two completely different offensive philosophies. Two teams who need to win to not complicate their championship game dreams. Two potentially weary teams. Hawaii didn’t make it to their Boise hotel until 1 a.m. Mountain Time, woke up to fly back to Honolulu at 6 a.m. Yikes. Air Force is traveling to Hawaii only a few weeks after having traveled to Annapolis, Maryland. The talent and circumstances should push both these teams to perform at their best to win. I’m calling for a thriller. Last team to have the ball wins. Give me Hawaii 35, Air Force 34.