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Rainbow Warrior Perspective - Hawaii @ San Diego State: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Warriors and Aztecs battle in what might be an elimination game in the Mountain West championship race

NCAA Football: Hawaii at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII @ SAN DIEGO ST.

Location: Carson, California (Dignity Health Sports Park)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 14th at 11:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time)

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

Streaming: A stream provided by Spectrum Sports. Mainlanders only, the feed is geo-blocked in Hawaii. The Team1Sports App must be downloaded on your phone/tablet/whatever in order to watch.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: San Diego State leads the series 21-11-2. Between 1990 and 2017, the two programs squared off 17 times, Hawaii only managing to win twice. The Aztecs owned the series, right up until 2018 where Hawaii shockingly upset Rocky Long’s Aztecs in San Diego 31-30 in overtime. The following fall, Hawaii won 14-11 at Aloha Stadium to secure the West Division title. A series that had been one way traffic, has done a U-turn in recent seasons.

Three things to look for:

1. Cordeiro and company against the highly-ranked Aztec defense

It’s been a see-saw affair for the Hawaii offense to this point in the season. A strong performance against Fresno State, defined by the rushing attack, provided optimism. That optimism was lessened after being humbled in Laramie, but reestablished against New Mexico when Hawaii finally unleashed its passing attack prowess. This week’s test, however, will be a full level tougher than previous games.

San Diego State has begun a transition. After years of being led by Rocky Long, whom Hawaii just dealt with over the weekend, Brady Hoke has retaken his old head coaching position from nearly a decade ago. So far, it’s been the same old Aztec defense. Dominant, unrelenting.

The Aztecs rank 2nd-nationally in total defense, 4th in passing yards allowed, and 12th in rushing defense. It doesn’t get much better than that. The Aztecs suffered a shocking home loss to San Jose State this past Saturday, but it’s evident this will be the best defense Hawaii has seen through four games.

Hawaii’s offensive line has looked surprisingly sketchy at times in recent weeks, hidden by quarterback Chevan Cordeiro’s elite scrambling ability, but that can only be pushed so far. Hawaii offense vs. San Diego State defense figures to be an intriguing matchup.

2. Can Hawaii’s defense play a factor?

Through two games, it appeared as if Brady Hoke had eliminated the offensive woes of the late Long era. Finally, San Diego State had a solid offense to compliment its elite defense.

...and then the San Jose State game happened.

Aztecs quarterback Carson Baker won’t be confused for Patrick Mahomes, but he’s been quite good to this point in the season. Running back Gregg Bell 377 rushing yards through 3 games, he’s the bell-cow in this offense, although running back Chance Bell is effective too.

Yet, despite a heavy edge in time of possession, a few timely turnovers and the inability to finish drives left the Aztecs with only 17 points against San Jose State. It’s only one game, but surely Hawaii will be scouting the San Jose State tape. Can Hawaii replicate a similar forced turnovers-laden performance? The New Mexico game sure didn’t seem to indicate it, but if the Warriors want to win at Dignity Health Sports Park, they’ll need to slow the Aztecs offense down and force a few turnovers. I expect more aggressive scheming from defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz this weekend.

3. Elimination game?

Both Hawaii and San Diego State enter this contest at 2-1. Hawaii is the reigning West Division championships, but many in the media believed the Aztecs were the West favorite entering 2020. Now, both teams having suffered a conference loss, a second conference loss puts the loser in a difficult position to claw back into a conference race in which the likes of Nevada, San Jose State, etc. haven’t lost yet. Could Saturday’s game essentially be an elimination game?

San Diego State will be playing with a purpose. That loss to San Jose State was completely unexpected, and they’ll not want to concede consecutive home losses. Hawaii, on the other hand, must deal with Boise State, Nevada, and San Jose State in the games following this contest. Remember, there are no divisions in 2020 Mountain West. For example, had the current rules been in place in 2019, Boise State and Air Force would have fought for the conference championship, not Boise State and Hawaii. This season, it’s the two teams with the highest win percentages that advance to the championship game. Meaning, it’s do or die time for the Warriors and Aztecs. Winner lives on in the race, loser needs to win out and hope several other contenders start losing.

Prediction

I cannot tell if I underestimated New Mexico last week, or overestimated Hawaii. The Warriors won, but not by the margin myself or Vegas expected. Speaking of Vegas, Hawaii is an 11-point underdog this week.

Hawaii’s defense has had uneven results through three games. I think Hawaii can slow down the Aztecs’ offense to an extent, and possibly even cause the turnover problems the Aztecs had against San Jose State to reemerge in this game. My concern, however, is with the Hawaii offensive line. It’s unthinkable, really. Many figured the Warrior OL was a near lock to be impenetrable, but instead Chevan Cordeiro has been effectively running for his life too frequently on offense. This Aztec defense will be much better than what Hawaii has seen to this point, save for maybe Wyoming. I think Hawaii will put up a fight via the passing game, but turnovers will be the difference maker. This game will go down to the wire. I’m going with Hawaii 24, San Diego State 27.