ARIZONA VS. HAWAII
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, August 24th at 4:30 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 1420
Head-to-Head: Arizona leads the brief series 2-0, having won the 1998 showdown at Aloha Stadium 27-6. Arizona won the second contest in Tucson 47-28 back in 2016, Nick Rolovich’s first season as head coach of Hawaii.
Three things to look for:
1. Now witness the full power of these armed and operational offenses
Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re weird and want defensive struggles on TV, avert your eyes. The offenses of Hawaii and Arizona figure to light up the scoreboard...that is for some reason powered by points and not electricity. The Wildcats, led by senior quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor, ranked 24th in total offense in 2018 despite tactical shifts. Tate, for example of that shift, ran for 1411 yards under Rich Rodriguez, but that stat was scaled back to 224 yards under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin. Tate did however boost his passing stats considerably. Taylor didn’t care one way or another, he did what he does: run defenses to death (finished with 1567 total yards of offense).
You already know the story of Cole McDonald and Hawaii’s run-and-shoot. The Warriors ranked 48th nationally in total offense, but 9th overall in passing offense. Superstar slotback John Ursus is now making a good impression with the Seattle Seahawks, but the Warriors offense should still be statistically impressive. The over/under point total for gamblers is 74. Hard to blame those who pick the over.
2. Taking the next step
The 2018 seasons for Hawaii and Arizona were a mixed bag of results. Nobody gave Hawaii, a team rampant with inexperience entering the 2018 season, a chance to surprise. A team expected to win 5-6 games at best from the most optimistic neutral predictions ended up winning 8 games, including a Hallmark moment for the Rolovich era with an overtime win at San Diego State. That said, it wasn’t without struggles. Hawaii averaged only 23.4 points per game on offense in the final seven games of the season. Losses to Brigham Young, Nevada, Fresno State, Utah State, and Louisiana Tech were not easy to stomach in that stretch, the Warriors often overmatched. Hawaii will need to find some consistency on offense if it wants to avoid a similar stretch this fall.
The Kevin Sumlin regime in Tucson did not start well (this is an understatement). An opening day loss to Brigham Young was followed by getting pistol whipped 45-18 to the Houston Cougars. Sitting at 3-5 in late October, the Wildcats needed something positive to happen. That positivity arrived in the form of duck hunting, when Arizona defeated #19 Oregon 44-15. That win was followed up by a victory over Colorado, and suddenly it appeared bowl eligibility might be salvaged. That did not come to be after a loss to bitter rival Arizona State. 2018 left Wildcats fans underwhelmed, but not completely discouraged.
The stakes are high for both teams this season, with little content for average results. Are these two programs ready to take the next step? The winner of this game will feel much better than the loser.
3. Respect for Coach Dick Tomey
Back in May, former Hawaii Rainbow and Arizona Wildcat head coach Dick Tomey passed away. For those unaware, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Tomey is the godfather of Hawaii football and Arizona football. Tomey gave the Rainbow Warriors program legitimacy when it had little, helping the program earn its first ranking in the AP Poll in 1981, and producing their first AP first-team all-American player in Rainbow legend Al Noga. He left Hawaii as the program’s winningest coach at the time before June Jones surpassed him.
Tomey would leave Hawaii in 1987 to coach the Arizona Wildcats, and led that program to arguably its most fruitful era of college football. While in Tucson, Tomey helped produce numerous NFL players, highlighted by the Desert Swarm defenses that harassed the Pac-10. It is fitting that Arizona and Hawaii face each other on opening night to commemorate the legacy of Coach Dick Tomey, who’s imprint on both programs will not be soon forgotten.
The Wildcats come into this contest a fairly stiff favorite at -11. While Dick Tomey’s Rainbow and Wildcat defenses were known for their unrelenting dominance, it’s hard to describe the current defenses in that fashion. We’re likely to a see a shootout Saturday night. Defense, special teams, and turnovers will likely decide this game. I think the tandem of Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor will prove difficult for the Warrior defense, and that should be just enough to find victory at Aloha Stadium. Give me Hawaii 31, Arizona 37.
(apologies in advance for that jinx, Wildcats fans)