HAWAII VS. NEVADA
Location: Reno, Nevada (Mackay Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 28th at 4:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)
Streaming: ESPN App
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: Like many entries in the Hawaii football history book, the Warriors owned this matchup in the Jones era, but have since struggled. Hawaii’s only road and arguably most famous win against Nevada came in 2007, when Dan Kelly defeated Chris Ault’s icing tactics to shock the Pack minus an injured Colt Brennan. Since then, Hawaii has beaten Nevada three times in the last eleven matchups. Nevada leads the all-time series 14-9. Nevada won the 2018 contest 40-22 in Honolulu. Hawaii is 1-8 all-time in Reno.
Three things to look for:
1. Can Hawaii expose the 3-3-5 defense?
It’s Hawaii football, we’re always going to look at the offense first. Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense, led by quarterback Cole McDonald is precisely where they want to be in the stat book. Hawaii ranks 6th nationally in passing offense, behind the likes of Washington State, LSU, Alabama, Purdue, and the Mountain West’s Utah State. It’s natural for onlookers to immediately look at the pass defense of Hawaii’s opposition to gauge difficulty. Nevada ranks 91st in that category, although I’m guessing there was quite the extra negative bump on that stat due to the shellacking the Pack took in Eugene. Needless to say, Hawaii will be doing their best to exploit the Wolf Pack secondary.
Nevada ranks 55th in rushing defense, so that’s unlikely to be an avenue for success for the Warrior offense, which might be okay considering the next topic...
2. Will the turnovers on offense stop?
Hawaii’s offense has been solid in many regards. The aforementioned passing offense stat is ideal. Hawaii’s offensive line is ranked tied for 48th in sacks allowed, which is tremendous for a unit that has to pass protect far more than the typical offense. That said, the Warrior offense has a weakness: turnovers.
Oh, it’s not just the interceptions, although that’s a major problem. Hawaii is dead last nationally, ranked 130th all by themselves, in interceptions with 9 picks. All of them thrown by Cole McDonald, who oddly enough only had 10 interceptions all of 2018. Nine thrown interceptions in September with a week to go is crazy, but it’s even more mind-boggling when you realize Hawaii is tied for 125th nationally in fumbles lost with six lost fumbles on the year. Fifteen turnovers through four games.
No need to be a statistical genius to realize that Hawaii needs this issue to cease soon. 3-1 is nothing to cry about, but the losses will come if this issue doesn’t subside. The picks and fumbles must stop.
3. Exercising demons of the past
It’s nothing I haven’t harped on before: Hawaii football hasn’t been great away from Aloha Stadium. It also hasn’t been particularly good in Reno specifically. As noted earlier, the Warriors are 1-8 in Reno all-time. Good Nevada team, bad Nevada team, no matter. Mackay Stadium has typically gotten the best of Hawaii.
No one game was more disheartening than the most recent trip to Nevada in 2017. Nevada entered the game 0-5, including an astounding loss to Big Sky doormat Idaho State. Surely this would be the time Hawaii would get the best of the Pack? Nope. UH would lose by two touchdowns to the Wolf Pack, who would finish the year 3-9. The names and faces change, but the results have largely been the same: Nevada beats Hawaii in Reno.
Can this Warriors team, which many have declared as “different”, find a win in Reno? This is a titanic matchup for two teams that desperately want to end Fresno State and San Diego State’s monopoly of the West Division title. If that dream is to remain alive, this is a must-win for both programs. Winner is thinking they have a chance at the West, loser is being rerouted.
It sounds like Nevada is going to start redshirt freshman Carson Strong against Hawaii, the hero from the Purdue victory. Cristiano Solano is waiting in reserve should he be needed. Nevada is currently a 2.5-point favorite.
This is a difficult game to predict. On paper, Hawaii should probably succeed against the Nevada secondary that certainly doesn’t resemble the Legion of Boom. The history books, however, suggest picking Hawaii here is nuts. After all, Hawaii is 1-8 at Mackay Stadium. This game will be on ESPN2 for all the nation to see. Two top offenses filled star players. Hawaii rested starters against Central Arkansas for this pivotal game before the bye week. I think Hawaii keeps this game close, but a Cole McDonald turnover and Nevada running back Toa Taua are the difference. Give me Hawaii 27, Nevada 30.