HAWAII @ UTAH STATE
RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective. Graham Gibson will have the Utah State perspective for this game in a separate post
Location: Logan, Utah (Maverik Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 30th at 9:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time)
Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (for Hawaii residents only)
Streaming: Download the Team1Sports App.
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: Utah State leads this cross-divisional series 10-6, and currently holds a 5-game winning streak. The two programs met for the first time waaaay back in 1927. Thirty years later, the series resumed in 1957 and the two played each other in 1959, 1965, and 1966. Then another long pause in the series took place until Utah State joined the WAC. The June Jones run-and-shoot Warriors turned the Aggies into tune up fodder, and Greg McMackin kept that train moving for the most part, 2008 blip aside. Since then, however? Utah State has owned Hawaii in the Mountain West era. Last four contests the Aggies have won by: 39, 38, 21, and 37 points. Dominance. Most recent contest was in 2018, Jordan Love-led Aggies won 56-17 in Honolulu.
Three things to look for:
1. The unexpected Aggies
Let’s not hide the truth of it all: the Gary Andersen Utah State Aggies (take two version) were very bad. Poorly coached. So while Blake Anderson was quite the steal for Utah State, plucking him from Arkansas State, many believed it would take time for Anderson to clean the deck of the ship. The media picked the Aggies to finish 5th in the Mountain Division.
Instead, Anderson’s Aggies might be the surprise of the Mountain West in 2021. Positive surprise, anyway. Boise State sucking is probably the surprise of the season.
Anderson opened 2021 accomplishing what so many previous Utah State teams attempted, but ultimately agonizingly failed to do: defeat a Power 5 foe on the road. The Aggies defeated Washington State in Pullman 26-23, using a fourth quarter rally to shock the Cougars. Utah State built belief that night, and continued it by smashing North Dakota and beating Air Force in Colorado Springs (to what’s proving to be a pivotal victory).
There were hiccups against Boise State and Brigham Young, but the Aggies have bounced back by defeating UNLV and Colorado State. With Hawaii, and only San Jose State, Wyoming, and New Mexico remaining on the schedule, the Aggies appear poised to play in the Mountain West championship game. Sure, an avenue aided by a softer-than-usual cross-divisional schedule, but that’s how the chips fall sometimes.
Hawaii could very well be the last real hurdle for the Aggies and a date with one of the West division powers in December. Can the Warriors spoil, or at least complicate, the party?
2. Brace for a high-powered offense
How did the Aggies get here? How did one of the conference bottom-dwellers from 2020 turn things around immediately? By creating possibly the conference’s best offense, that’s how. The Aggies rank 15th-nationally in passing offense, a passable rushing attack ranking 72nd-nationally, all leading to ranking 19th-nationally in total offense.
The potential flaw: the Aggies rank 69th-nationally in scoring offense. Lots of yards, but the Aggies have been in conflict with the red zone at times this season. For example, the Aggies posted 443 yards of offense at home against Boise State, but only scored 3 points. Ouch. Similar issues arose against BYU and UNLV. If the Warriors are looking for a weakness in the high-powered Aggies offense, it’s red zone woes. Bend but don’t break isn’t an awful strategy this week.
Quarterback Logan Bonner, the transfer from Arkansas State, has been solid this season and a key player in the Aggies’ turnaround with 1,766 passing yards to this point. There are concerns over whether he’s 100% healthy, he’s been hit pretty hard lately. Colorado State sacked him 8 times. Oof. When allowed to operate though, he’s really good.
Elelyon Noa is the team’s second-leading rusher behind Calvin Tyler Jr. (yes, Calvin Tyler Jr. I will do my best to not mix up him and Calvin Turner Jr.). Noa was the bell-cow against Colorado State, so we’ll see if Tyler Jr. is healthy enough to play Saturday.
Brandon Bowling, Justin McGriff, and Derek Wright make up a quality group of support wide receivers, but Deven Thompkins is the superstar. 923 yards and six touchdowns and it’s not even November! With NFL speed, Hawaii’s corners would be wise to have good cleats on Saturday.
The Aggies aren’t unstoppable on offense, but Hawaii desperately needs the defense that faced San Jose State, Fresno State to show up Saturday. And definitely not the defense we saw against Portland State and New Mexico State take two.
3. Can Hawaii compete in a shootout?
You already know the other big question looming for this week: are Chevan Cordeiro and Dae Dae Hunter ready to play? Both members of Hawaii’s star backfield have been missing due to injury. Hunter went absolutely insane against Nevada, totally 174 yards on eight carries, before leaving with an injury and not returning. Cordeiro was one of the nation’s leading passers before an ill-advised tackle against New Mexico State in Las Cruces has left him missing ever since.
Dedrick Parson dominated against New Mexico State on Saturday, he can carry the load if necessary, but a 1-2 punch of Parson and Hunter could really help this offense take the next step.
I’m not going to bash Brayden Schager, all considered he’s played well for a true freshman flushed into action. He was efficient this past Saturday against the red Aggies. He’s clearly growing more comfortable with the role, but obviously he’s not Cordeiro.
Hawaii opened as a 6-point underdog against Utah State, some respect thrown the Warriors way. It’s dipped to 5 in some betting places. Still, while I think Hawaii has a solid chance to push Utah State to the whistle if Schager and Parson are asked to control the backfield again, Cordeiro and Hunter add a jolt that could propel Hawaii to an minor upset victory. The Aggies’ 118th-ranked rush defense is exploitable, Hawaii is built to give them problems.
Coach Graham isn’t going to give anything away, per usual. But we’ll all be scavenging through social media about the status of Cordeiro/Hunter prior to kickoff.
Hawaii bested New Mexico State in Todd Graham-led fashion: a dominant rushing attack and opportunistic defense. Jonah Johnson and Jawaun Price carved up the Warrior defense, Hawaii will want to clean that up before Saturday.
As usual, be wary of Hawaii and mainland football games. Never been an amicable pair. Still, as evidenced by the betting spread, Hawaii absolutely can beat the Aggies. I do not have any insider information about the status of Chevan Cordeiro and Dae Dae Hunter, but I think the former has to be getting close to playing. If #12 starts, the Warriors are primed to surprise.
It’ll be a four quarter tussle, Utah State does not any under circumstance quit, and their team finds ways to win football games. I think Hawaii can run the ball on the Aggies and control the clock. If Khoury Bethley and co. can pull down another interception or two, Hawaii can win.
Hawaii’s already knocked off one Mountain West darling, but that was at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. Can Hawaii take this show on the road?
Give me Hawaii 27, Utah State 26