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Wolf Pack football preview: Nevada looks to continue perfect season against Hawai’i

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Nevada Wolf Pack and the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors will square off at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai’i at 8 p.m. PST on Saturday.

The Wolf Pack are coming off a tight 26-21 victory over the San Diego Aztecs last Saturday. Per Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net, it was the most watched game in the Mountain West this season.

Nevada has started 5-0 for the first time since 2010 and for the 8th time in school history. Only five teams in school history have started 6-0 — the last coming in 2010.

The Pack haven’t left the state of Nevada in its first five games. They played three games in Reno and two in Las Vegas — one against UNLV and the other as a neutral-site contest versus New Mexico.

Ironically enough, Hawai’i handed Nevada its only loss of the 2010 season. It upset the 19th-ranked Wolf Pack, led by Colin Kaepernick, 27-21 in Honolulu.

Nevada head coach Jay Norvell and the Pack are 3-0 against teams it lost to last season. After its tumultuous 54-3 loss to the Rainbow Warriors at home last year, it looks to add another win to that list.

Norvell is 23-20 (.535) in four seasons with Nevada, while first-year Hawai’i head coach Todd Graham is 97-64 (.602) in his 13th season as a head coach in the FBS.

After scoring 15 second-half points, Hawai’i dropped its second consecutive contest last weekend against Boise State, 40-32. The loss snapped its five-game home win streak. Saturday marks Hawaii’s second consecutive contest against an undefeated conference opponent (Boise is 4-1 on the year, but 4-0 in MW play).

Matchup: Nevada (5-0) vs. Hawai’i (2-3)

When: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 8:00 p.m. PST

Where: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai’i

TV: Nevada Sports Net

Spread: Nevada -7

Last Meeting: Hawai’i won 54-3 (Sept. 28, 2019)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 14-10

When Hawai’i is on offense:

Hawai’i has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the Mountain West this season. In order, it has produced scoring outputs of 34, 7, 39, 10 and 32.

The Rainbow Warriors have been much better at home this season than on the road — averaging 448.5 yards in Hawai’i compared to 352.3 elsewhere. They have also produced 35.5 points per game at home (two games), compared to 17.0 on the road (three games).

In total, the Rainbow Warriors are No. 8 in the Mountain West in scoring (24.4 ppg) and in total offense (390.8 ypg).

Chevan Cordeiro has completed 106-of-183 (57.9 percent) of his passes for 1,211 yards, eight touchdowns against four interceptions. He ranks No. 5 in the Mountain West in passer rating (123.6) and No. 7 in QBR (53.0).

Cordeiro also leads the team in carries by an overwhelming amount. He has 70; Miles Reed, the team’s starting running back, has 44. Cordeiro has also rushed for a team-high 266 yards and three touchdowns. If you don’t account for the 19 sacks. Cordeiro would have 400 rushing yards (yes, I find it silly that sacks count as negative rushing yards in college, but I digress).

The Rainbow Warriors are Top-5 in the conference in both passing (242.2 ypg) and rushing (148.6 ypg). They are third in first downs gained per contests (20.2), but have recorded the third-most first downs in the run game (45).

Hawaii’s most versatile weapon is scat back Calvin Turner. Turner is second among running backs in carries (33) for 170 yards and ties Cordeiro for a team-high three rushing touchdowns. He has hauled in 15 catches — third-most on the team — for 292 yards and a team-high four receiving touchdowns.

Turner’s seven total touchdowns trails Nevada’s Romeo Doubs (9; more on him in a bit) and Fresno State’s Ronnie Rivers (9) for the most in the Mountain West.

Reed has tallied 44 carries for 208 yards (4.7 ypc). He had 21 carries in the season-opener versus Fresno State, but his load has decreased considerably since. He has totaled just 23 combined carries for 100 yards. In the last two weeks against SDSU and Boise State, he has only 11 carries for a measly 18 yards (1.6 ypc).

Since week one, Turner has two more carries (25) than Reed and ten more yards (110) with one more rushing touchdown (1), but is much more involved in the passing game. He will line up both in the slot and in the backfield.

Jared Smart leads Hawai’i in receptions with 23 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown. Rico Bussey Jr. was second with 18 receptions for 149 yards.

Nevada’s defense was spectacular in the second half versus the Aztecs. It allowed just 41 total yards (on 32 plays), three first downs without allowing a score. The Pack held SDSU’s rushing attack — that entered the game with 280.3 rushing yards per contest — to 109 yards rushing.

The group is led by Dom Peterson, the conference’s reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week. Peterson registered three tackles-for-loss and two sacks on the afternoon; he’s totaled a team-high four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season. The junior defensive lineman is a 0.5 sack shy and two tackles-for-loss shy in breaking into the Top-10 in Wolf Pack history in the aforementioned categories. Sam Hammond is second on the team in tackles-for-loss (5.0) and sacks (1.5).

Linebacker Lawson Hall leads the team in tackles with 33, 4.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage (third-most on the team). Daiyan Henley is T-4 with Jojuan Claiborne with 22.

The Wolf Pack rank No. 16 nationally in defensive pass efficiency, No. 22 in pass defense (190.2) and No. 9 in opposing pass yards per attempt (5.8).

Nevada’s secondary is led by Tyson Williams. He leads the team in solo tackles with 18 and is second on the team in total tackles with 32. Berdale Robins has recorded a team-high four pass breakups with one interception. Sixth-year senior E.J. Muhammad has three pass breakups, along with 16 tackles and one tackle-for-loss.

Williams and Robins have recorded the team’s only two interceptions. The only other turnover this defense has gathered was a fumble recovery by defensive end Kameron Toomer on a failed lateral versus SDSU.

When Nevada is on offense:

Nevada has been one of the most productive offenses in the Mountain West through five games. They are top-3 in scoring (32.2 ppg), total offense (460.6 ypg), passing offense (363.8 ypg) and first downs per game (22.4).

Carson Strong has been among the best Mountain West quarterback this year. He has thrown for 1,805 passing yards, 14 touchdowns against two interceptions — all atop the Mountain West. His 361.0 passing yards per game trail Florida’s Kyle Trask and UCF’s Dillon Gabriel for the most in the nation.

His 160.4 passer rating is third-best in the conference while his 60.9 QBR ranks No. 5.

Stong’s six-game streak of 300-plus passing yards was snapped last week against SDSU. He still played well, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Nevada has run the rock on just 35.7 percent of its plays, the fourth-lowest percentage nationally. Toa Taua has totaled a team-high 302 yards on 5.9 yards per carry with two rushing scores. Devonte Lee is second in carries (39) for 167 yards and a touchdown.

It has been no secret that Strong’s favorite target has been wideout Romeo Doubs, who has taken the top off defenses — zero players have more receiving plays of 40-plus yards (8) and 50-plus yards (7) than Doubs.

Despite appearing in just five games, he is T-6 in the FBS and receiving touchdowns (9) and leads in receiving yards per game (155.6 ypg).

Doubs has reached the end zone more than Utah State (6) has all year and as often as UNLV and New Mexico. He is looking to become the 16th player in program history to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards. Doubs needs just 11 yards to accomplish that feat.

While Doubs does rightfully garner all the attention, Nevada’s receiving core — arguably its deepest unit — has other quality receiving threats.

Nevada has two other receivers who rank in the Top-5 in the conference in receptions in Cole Turner (29; 3rd) and Justin Lockhart (26; 5th).

Cole Turner has totaled 379 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-6 target has arguably been Strong’s favorite red zone target, using his big frame to box out opponents for the football. Justin Lockhart is third on the team with 218 yards and one receiving touchdown. Melquan Stovall has added 18 catches for 151 yards.

It is going to be a strength versus strength battle.

The Rainbow Warrior defense ranks second-worst in the Mountain West against the run with surrendering 226.6 rushing yards per contest. What they lack against the run, they make up in the passing game. They are the 8th-most efficient pass defense in the FBS and allow the 15th-fewest pass yards (186.4 ypg).

Hawai’i has also done a great job getting penetration into the backfield. It ranks second in the conference in tackles-for-loss (39.0) and fifth — No. 23 nationally — in tackles-for-loss per game (7.8).

The front seven begins with Justus Tavai and Jonah Laulu. Tavai has totaled 23 tackles with 3.0 tackles-for-loss and one sack, while Laulu has posted a team-high 1.5 sacks with 5.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker Darius Muasau and Quentin Frazier has also made large contributions. Frazier leads the squad with six tackles-for-loss with just 28 total tackles, four QB hits, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Muasau has the most solo (37) and combined tackles (54), five coming behind the line of scrimmage.

Cortez Davis is one of the better corners in the conference. He has 25 total tackles with two forced fumbles and one pass breakup. Matching him on the other side is Michael Washington, who has just four tackles but two tackles pass breakups plus one pick.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 35
  • Hawai’i: 24

I feel like I’ve been repeating myself all season when I say: Contain the quarterback. Nevada has faced mobile quarterbacks in each of its first five games this season. However, Cordeiro is the most dangerous one they will have faced up to this point. They will utilize read option, quarterback draws, or Cordeiro will often create his own avenue to run. With reward, there comes risk. Sometimes that alley isn’t there. Hawai’i has surrendered the second-most sacks in the Mountain West this year with 19. With a two-man wrecking crew in Peterson and Hammond, Nevada has the potential to flush the pocket in a hurry. Hawai’i will go as Cordeiro goes. If he is lights out slinging the pigskin while generating production with his mobility, there is a much higher likelihood Hawai’i wins this game, and vice versa. Season record: 4-1

Additional links:

Nevada game notes: https://bit.ly/3meicEZ

Hawai’i game notes: https://bit.ly/3lcs8h4

Live Stats: https://bit.ly/3fD0QiJ

Nevada Sports Net stream: https://bit.ly/3mfshl5

Nevada vs. Hawai’i stats
Nevada Game Notes; Nevada Athletic Department