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RWP: Hawaii vs. Fresno State: Three things to look for, Prediction

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The 18th-ranked Fresno State Bulldogs are the homecoming (?) opponent for the Warriors

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Fresno State Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII VS. FRESNO ST.

RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective. godogs13 will have the Fresno State perspective for this game in a separate post

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Clarence T.C. Ching Complex)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 2nd at 5:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: CBS Sports Network

Streaming: TV subscribers should be able to watch on the CBS Sports app, or this link.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: Fresno State leads the series 29-23-1. Hawaii did most of their damage in the series between 1986-2010, but it’s been all Bulldogs since. Oddly enough, the two exceptions have been at Bulldog Stadium. Warriors won there in 2016 and last season. Yes, Hawaii hasn’t beaten Fresno State on Oahu since 2007. Even the 2019 Hawaii team couldn’t beat the Bulldogs at home. It’s been a long drought.

Three things to look for:

1. Can Hawaii stop (or at least slow down) the vaunted Bulldogs offense?

Time to remove the training wheels, for better or worse. Todd Graham’s Hawaii defense has been up-and-down this season. Started really badly the first three weeks, albeit against P5 competition for the most part. The defense then rebounded very nicely against Nick Starkel and San Jose State, and had an uneven performance against New Mexico State’s offense this past weekend.

Now for the real deal. Fresno State’s offense, which ranks 11th-nationally in total offense, is the feature of Hawaii’s fan-less homecoming game at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. Quarterback Jake Haener, is a superstar. He leads the country in passing yards, 1,842 through 5 games (!!), along with 15 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions. That’s madness when you consider the Bulldogs have faced the likes of Oregon and UCLA.

Wide receivers Jalen Cropper, Josh Kelly, and Keric Wheatfall might make up the Mountain West’s best wide receiver corps (Yes, Nevada fans, that’s why I said might). All three can terrorize the defense over the top of the secondary, or on a handoff.

...and don’t let this elite passing offense leave you thinking the Bulldogs can’t run the ball. Running back Ronnie Rivers is a veteran talent who can victimize any defense. Rivers has 346 rushing yards on the season, and 176 receiving yards. Forget him in the flats at your own peril.

Now, Todd Graham’s Rainbow Warrior defense has stymied an elite offense before (Nevada 2020), but this unit will need to level up on Saturday to slow this offense down and give Chevan Cordeiro and co. a chance to keep up. Hawaii ranks 112th in passing yards allowed so far this season. Cringe.

2. Is the offense up for a shootout?

Hey now, the Fresno State offense isn’t the only unit putting up huge passing numbers. Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro ranks 4th-nationally in passing yards (albeit he’s played one more game than most) with 1,410 yards through five games. However, the 7 passing touchdowns to 6 interceptions comparison is not where Cordeiro wants to be. In fairness, a few of those interceptions have been the result of catchable balls being tipped to defenders by the Hawaii wide receivers.

The Fresno State defense doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. The Bulldogs rank 33rd-nationally in rushing defense, and 50th-nationally in passing yards allowed. Honestly, again very good considering the competition they’ve played to this point.

Beware of defensive tackle Kevin Atkins. Longtime feature on the Bulldog defensive line has 4.5 sacks on the season. That’s a lot for a tackle through 5 games. Defensive end Arron Mosby is a missile coming off the edge. Defensive back Evan Williams leads the Bulldogs in tackles. Haener and company rightfully catch the attention of viewers, but this Fresno State defense has quietly been one of the Mountain West’s best non-San Diego State units.

The Hawaii messed up two weeks ago. The defense gave them ample opportunity to defeat San Jose State, and Cordeiro and co. couldn’t finish. If the Warriors want any shot of an upset on Saturday, offensive coordinator Bo Graham and his offense need to show consistency we haven’t seen to this point.

3. Homecoming? Nobody is coming home.

Homecoming is one of many traditions that separates college football from other American sports. The timing of homecoming weekend can vary, I’ve seen it as early as mid-September and as late as early November. Most of the time, it’s in October. An opportunity for alumni to return to campus, a gathering of sorts. From Hawaii all the way to Penn State on the east coast, the annual homecoming game is expected to be the most-attended game of the season.

Well, not for Hawaii this season. The Warriors have already played two games without fans, and will play a third on Saturday. Hawaii Gov. David Ige does think fans will return in a phased system at some point this fall, but it’s hard to trust that statement.

Fans are mad. While vaccinated tourists flood Oahu on a daily basis, UH sporting events continue to be occur in front of vacant bleachers. Oahu is not on lockdown, from Waipio to Wai’anae, gatherings of people are happening on a daily basis. Why a few thousand vaccinated UH fans cannot attend a football game continues to be a curious case, but those are the rules.

Whatever your take on the topic, it’s a blow to the football team. A jolt of energy from the fans could really help the Warriors against a ranked opponent. Instead, Todd Graham’s Warriors will need to bring their own juice again, while Hawaii fans can watch the homecoming game...from home.

Prediction:

Hey, I was right last week! Not about the score, although I wasn’t far off, but I was correct about how the game would play out. Hawaii’s offense was pretty good, the defense was up-and-down. Cordeiro and Calvin Turner Jr. thrived, Nick Mardner is an emerging star. The defense scored a touchdown, forced turnovers, and had a goal line stand! That said, the NMSU offense moved with ease too frequently for my liking.

Frustration is rising among Hawaii football fans. There will be no fans there trying to push the Warriors over the edge against a ranked foe. Todd Graham and his team aren’t complaining, but surely this is having an affect on them.

It’s a bummer that boost won’t be available, because Hawaii needs it. Jake Haener didn’t look totally 100% last weekend against UNLV, dealing with hip/rib injuries, but the Fresno State offense is truly elite. Hawaii will need to raise their game on both offense and defense to steal victory.

This matchup has produced some crazy, unpredictable games on Oahu. I think shenanigans are a given, but the Bulldogs have too much firepower for the Warriors. Give me Hawaii 24, Fresno State 37.