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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: Hawai’i

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San Jose State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen setbacks due to COVID-19, there are seven Saturdays until the Nevada Football team will kickoff its 2020 season.

Assuming the Nevada football season begins on-time and non-conference play occurs, here is a look at its 2020 schedule:

Nevada Football 2020 Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
August 29 vs. UC Davis TBD TBD --------- ---------
September 5 at Arkansas TBD TBD 93 66
September 12 vs. UTEP TBD TBD 128 129
September 19 at South Florida TBD TBD 95 86
September 26 vs. San Diego State TBD TBD 71 88
October 3 at Hawai'i TBD TBD 79 119
October 10 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
October 17 at New Mexico TBD TBD 121 124
October 24 vs. Fresno State TBD TBD 81 93
October 31 vs. Utah State TBD TBD 73 85
November 7 at San Jose State TBD TBD 103 108
November 14 vs. Wyoming TBD TBD 68 77
November 21 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
November 28 at UNLV TBD TBD 116 117

Each Friday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2020 schedule. This week, we will be previewing their first road conference matchup: the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. Enjoy!

Previous weeks:

6/12: Week 1 vs. UC Davis

6/19: Week 2 at Arkansas

6/26: Week 3 vs. UTEP

7/3: Week 4 at South Florida

7/10: Week 5 vs. San Diego State

Week 6: Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

2019 record: 10-5 (5-3 MWC)

When: Saturday, Oct. 3

Where: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai’i

Matchup History: Nevada leads 13-10

Hawai’i 2019 season-in-review:

Hawai’i had their best season in nearly a decade, earning its first ever birth to a Mountain West Championship game with one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Rainbow Warriors’ season consisted of strong starts and finishes to the season, with a cold spell trapped in the middle. They came out winning four out of their first five, including a 45-38 home win in the season-opener versus Arizona and a 54-3 thrashing over Nevada in Reno, Nev. They lost their next two games to Boise State (59-37) and Air Force (56-26). Hawai’i picked up a 45-31 over New Mexico followed by a three-point loss to Fresno on the road, falling to 5-4. The Rainbow Warriors were victors in five of their next six, with their only loss coming in a 31-10 loss to Boise State in the conference title game. First-year Hawai’i head coach Todd Graham now replaces reigning Mountain West Coach of the Year Nick Rolovich, who bolted for the Washington State head coaching gig shortly following the season.

2020 Preview:

Offense:

Hawai’i boasted one of the conference’s best offenses last year behind Rolovich’s textbook run-and-shoot offense. It finished third in the conference — behind Air Force and Boise State — and No. 38 in the nation in offensive efficiency per ESPN’s efficiency metric.

Hawai’i finished atop the conference — 13th in the nation — in total offense (471.0 ypg) and third in the conference in scoring (33.9 ppg). It featured the fifth-best passing attack (337.1 ypg) in the nation led by quarterback Cole McDonald.

After an up-and-down year, McDonald forgoed his final season of eligibility and was selected in the seventh round (No. 224 overall) by the Tennessee Titans.

Chevan Cordeiro will likely take over as starting quarterback spot. Cordeiro does have college experience, but it’s limited. Appearing in 12 contests with three starts, he completed 69-of-120 (57.5 percent) of his passes for 907 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions, adding 212 yards on the ground with three scores.

The Rainbow Warriors return their two most skill position players in running back Miles Reed and wideout Jared Smart.

Reed finished sixth in the conference in rushing with 908 yards on 174 carries (5.2 ypc) with eight rushing touchdowns. His 5.2 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns both ranked in the Top-10 in the conference. Reed tallied 85-plus rushing yards in five out of the last eight games, including a season-high 124 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown versus San Jose State. He and Hekili Keliliki (17 att, 85 yds) are the only two returning running backs on the roster.

Smart was one of four players to start in all 15 games, totaling 87 receptions for 1,129 yards and five touchdowns in his first season with Hawai’i. His 87 receptions ranked were the second-most in the conference, 10th-most in the nation and leads all returning Hawai’i receivers. The former Laney College transfer was the one of 16 players in Hawai’i history to finish with at least 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. Smart ranked fifth in the Mountain West in both receptions per game (5.8) and receiving yards per game (75.3) and tallied five 100-yard games.

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Brigham Young vs Hawaii
Hawaii Warriors wide receiver Jared Smart (23) pulls in a touchdown catch against Brigham Young Cougars.
Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Smart, the receiving core will be with some inexperience. Melquise Stovall (brother of Pack wideout Melquan Stovall) — who was removed from the team last Oct. — is scheduled to be return to the program and play this fall. Stovall, catching 18 passes for 248 yards and four touchdowns in five games, will be the No. 2 wideout entering 2020. Lincoln Victor (10 rec, 86 yds, 3 TDs) is the only other returning Rainbow Warrior wideout with double digit receptions.

The offensive line returns four of its five starters, led by left tackle and second-team All-Mountain West selection Ilm Manning. The line boasts two more 2019 All-Conference honorees in right tackle Gene Pryor and center Taaga Tuulima, while right guard Solo Vaipulu shows All-Conference potential.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 15 Hawaii at Army
Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman Ilm Manning (75) during the game versus the Army Black Knights.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defense:

The defensive side of the ball has not been the Rainbow Warriors’ strength over the last several seasons, but they did see improvement last season. They ranked No. 104 in the nation in defensive efficiency, their highest ranking since 2016 when they ranked No. 99.

Hawai’i was No. 96 in the nation in total defense (431.3 ypc) and No. 98 in scoring defense (31.9 ppg). It had a difficult time stopping opponents’ run game — placing No. 111 in rushing defense (202.8 ypg), No. 124 in opponents’ yards per carry (5.6) while allowing the second-most rushing touchdowns (37) among any FBS program.

Part of the Rainbow Warriors’ struggle with their inability to generate pressure in the backfield. They tallied just 1.13 sacks and 4.07 tackles-for-loss per game, both ranking among the bottom-10 teams nationally.

Jonah Laulu leads all returning Hawai’i players in sacks (2.5) and tackles-for-loss (6.0). Over half of his total tackles (11) came behind the line of scrimmage. With an increased role heading into 2020, Laulu is expected to be one of the top disrupting forces along the Rainbow Warrior front.

Derek Thomas, Mason Vega and Blessman Ta’ala round out the defensive line. Thomas led the group in total tackles with 34, while Vega and Ta’ala tallied 12 apiece. Thomas totaled one sack, two tackles-for-loss and two pass breakups. Ta’ala registered 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and two pass breakups, while Vega captured one sack, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one pass breakup.

The linebacking corps will lose its second-leading tackler in Solomon Matautia, who recorded 81 tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, one sack, one pass breakup and two interceptions. It will be led by senior Jeremiah Pritchard, who was named the team’s Ben Yee’s Most Inspirational player last year. Pritchard, starting in all 12 games he appeared in, finished with 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack on the year.

The secondary is arguably Hawai’i’s best unit defensively, led by Cortez Davis and Khoury Bethley, the team’s leading tackler last season.

SoFi Hawai’i Bowl - Hawaii v BYU
Aleva Hifo #15 of the BYU Cougars looks to get past Khoury Bethley #5 of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

After emerging onto the scene as a freshman with 40 tackles and four pass deflections (interceptions + pass breakups), Bethley finished with 83 tackles and two tackles-for-loss. He also intercepted two passes — both coming against BYU in the SoFI Hawai’i Bowl.

Davis, who was named to the All-Mountain West honorable mention team, totaled a team-high 14 pass deflections at cornerback. He recorded 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception.

Overall:

Pairing the recent non-conference cancellations across the FBS and the Patriot League football fall cancellation in the FCS, Nevada will be Hawai’i’s first FBS opponent of the season after four of its scheduled opponents (Arizona, UCLA, Fordham, Oregon) cancelled. There is probably uncertainty on how they will start their season. Will they be rusty? Will they benefit because of the delayed start? Nobody will really know, as the season approaches. They could benefit from the lack of spring camps that took place. Nevada fans remember what happened in last year’s blood bath at home. The Pack came out flat and played arguably their worst game of the year, while Hawai’i did the exact opposite and dominated for 60 minutes. Nevada will like to flip the script this time around, seeking its eighth win in the last 10 meetings versus Hawai’i.