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Rainbow Warrior Perspective - Fresno State vs. Hawaii: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Warriors return to Oahu looking to exercise demons of last decade

Hawaii at Fresno State Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

FRESNO ST. VS. HAWAII

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 2nd at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: Spectrum Sports (PPV in the islands only, so no TV channel for mainlanders)

Streaming: Facebook for mainland viewers. The Hawaii-Oregon State feed reached 24,000+ viewers at one point. It was a little smoother against Central Arkansas. Had no problems during New Mexico game.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: Fresno State leads the series 28-22-1. Those ties are always funny (1985 teams tied 24-24 in Fresno). In the new WAC era 2000-2010, Hawaii largely owned this series. Since then the Bulldogs have had a decade of dominance vs. Hawaii. Hawaii has defeated the Bulldogs once since 2011, a win in Fresno in 2016. That aside, it’s been all Bulldogs. Since 2008, Hawaii has three wins against Fresno, all at Bulldog Stadium. As crazy as it sounds, it’s true: Hawaii has not beaten Fresno State at Aloha Stadium since 2007. Fresno won last season’s matchup 50-20 in Fresno.

Three things to look for:

1. Fresno State is the epitome of “last season was last season”

If you’ve been living under a rock, former California head coach Jeff Tedford took over the Fresno State Bulldogs in 2017. Many expected a potentially lengthy rebuilding process. Instead, Fresno State dominated. The Bulldogs qualified for the Mountain West championship game in 2017, and won the conference in 2018. Along the way, the Bulldogs defense held opposing offenses under 30 points for 25 consecutive games, which is insane. Fresno State had long been a program that felt it was a sleeping giant, and finally the Bulldogs had awoken.

Then the 2019 season began. The Bulldogs went 32-6 over the course of the last two seasons, but sit at 3-4 in 2019. In that stretch, the once dominant Bulldog defense has given up 30 points or more four times! A ridiculous turnaround from the dominance of 2017-2018. This plight reached its peak (or at least Fresno fans hope it has) last weekend when the Bulldogs lost at home to a Colorado State team that had been far from convincing in 2019. Needless to say, the Bulldogs aren’t the annual lock for 10+ wins a season many thought Tedford had established.

Hawaii has been routinely whipped by this Fresno program over the last decade, but the Warriors obviously will smell blood in the water. Will the Mountain West champion Fresno State Bulldogs say enough is enough? Or will this team shockingly move to 3-5 on the season?

2. Warrior defense must be prepared

Yes, yes. Fresno State is vulnerable, but Hawaii is far from a finished product themselves. Hawaii completely dominated the New Mexico Lobos, albeit with the reserves allowing the final score to look much closer than reality. All that said, Hawaii’s defense is starting to show some warts. After an encouraging start to the 2019 season, Hawaii has conceded 146 in its last three games, good (or bad?) for 48 points per game conceded. Yes, the Warrior backups gave up a large amount of New Mexico’s 31 points, but that only emphasizes that Hawaii’s depth on defense is on thin ice.

In that time, opposing offenses have had success passing and running the ball on the Warriors. Fresno State might not be the monster it was in 2017 or 2018, but quarterback Jorge Reyna has quietly one of the best wide receiver corps in the conference and a stud running back in Ronnie Rivers. If Hawaii’s defense doesn’t show improvement in this game, a shootout is a near guarantee.

3. Cole McDonald and the offense must flex their muscles

Sure, it’s easy to pick on the Hawaii defense, but save for a handful of seasons here and there, run-and-shoot football teams rarely sport top defenses, or even decent defenses. That’s just a byproduct of the system. Quick scoring, lots of passing leads to time of possession favoring opposition and leaving the Warriors defense on the field frequently.

This Saturday, the attention is on Cole McDonald and the offense. It’s clear Fresno State’s defense, while not totally putrid, is clearly not the reckoning force its been in recent seasons. Hawaii sits at 5-3 (2-2), Boise State and Air Force having dealt huge blows to the Warriors West Division championship aspirations. It’s go time. If the Warriors want to genuinely compete for a championship, they need to beat Fresno State. Recent form suggests that Fresno State’s offense will find some success Saturday, so it’s up to McDonald to light Fresno up.

Fresno State’s secondary still features a few battle-tested defensive backs that will likely key on Hawaii wide receivers JoJo Ward and Cedric Byrd. Whether it’s Jason-Matthew Sharsh, Jared Smart, or emerging receivers like Lincoln Victor or Kumoku Noa, Hawaii’s secondary receiving targets will be forced to contribute. Running back Miles Reed will also need to keep the Bulldog defense honest. One way or another, to snap this ugly winless streak at Aloha Stadium against Fresno State, the offense must be firing on all cylinders.

Prediction:

I was actually super close to predicting last weekend’s score line (Prediction was 45-35, actual score was 45-31). That said, I must confess the game went differently than I expected. This is a pivotal week for Hawaii. Head coach Nick Rolovich has banished the sorrows of the Chow era. Hawaii is a good team. The question that remains is: how good? The Warriors sit at 5-3 with several tricky contests ahead, and it starts with Fresno State. Win this game and a sprint to the West Division title remains possible. Lose, and suddenly even bowl eligibility isn’t a given.

Believe it or not, Fresno State opened up a 3-point favorite for this game. I think Saturday is going to be a classic, similar to the 1999 and 2001 showdowns against Fresno State. I think both offenses will find success, but in the end Cole McDonald will come up clutch for the Warriors with a late winning drive. Give me Fresno State 34, Hawaii 38.