HAWAII @ UNLV
RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective.
Location: Logan, Utah (Maverik Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 13th at 11:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time)
Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (for Hawaii residents only)
Streaming: Download the Team1Sports App.
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: Hawaii leads the series 18-12, the Rainbow Warriors currently on a three game winning streak. From 2007-2014, the series was a back-and-forth affair. Then the Rebels went on a three game winning streak from 2015-2017, followed by Hawaii flipping the script from 2018-2020. Hawaii won last season’s matchup with the Rebels 38-21 in the last UH football game played at Aloha Stadium, unbeknownst to everyone. The two programs have played for the Island Showdown Trophy every year since 2017.
Three things to look for:
1. Gut check time for the Rainbow Warriors
The month of November tends to make or break seasons for college football teams across America. Head coaches hope their team is starting to round into form, and eventually peak in November. Todd Graham’s Hawaii Warriors seemed to be turning a corner after defeating then-ranked Fresno State. Unfortunately, losses to Nevada, Utah State, and Nevada have the 4-6 Warriors needing to rally in November to qualify for the Hawaii Bowl.
Standing in Hawaii’s way from that goal: 1-8 UNLV, 3-6 Colorado State, and 5-4 Wyoming. Not a daunting slate, but each team presents a challenge for the slumping Warriors.
Believe it or not, Hawaii opened as only a 3-point favorite against the 1-8 Rebels this week. Hawaii’s offense is in shambles right now, and needs to turn around starting this week if the Warriors want to finish this season on a positive note.
Hawaii’s current depth chart shows a starting lineup featuring 14 seniors. This is a veteran ball club, and while Todd Graham needs time to mold his vision for the roster, it’d be a shame if this experienced team that’s won a division title and played in bowl games in the past, concludes memorable careers with a losing season. If the Warriors want to avoid that fate, they need to rally. The Rebels, Rams, and Cowboys await.
2. Do not underestimate the Rebels
It’s understandable for fans to look at UNLV’s record of 1-8 and automatically think the Warriors should coast this weekend. To be fair, by November most teams are precisely what their record indicates.
There are very few positives to point out about the Rebels. UNLV ranks 120th in rushing offense and 98th in passing offense. Essentially without a statistical strength on offense. The defense doesn’t rank much better, coming in at 103rd in total defense. The passing yards allowed stat is the ugliest at 116th-nationally, but the rushing defense is somewhat better at 71st. Needless to say, when a team’s strongest major stat category only ranks 71st out of 130 teams, it’s been a rough season.
Despite all the on-paper ugliness, the Rebels only lost by 8 points to Fresno State, 7 points to ranked UTSA, 4 points to Mountain Division leaders Utah State, and 7 points to San Jose State. Sure, they’ve also been blasted by Arizona State, Iowa State, and Nevada, but I think it’s fair to say Hawaii isn’t that echelon.
UNLV finally found its first win under head coach Marcus Arroyo this past weekend in Albuquerque, 31-17 over the Lobos. Again, I know that sounds laughable, and it is to some extent. Nearly two seasons in and Arroyo only now finds win #1. Again, caution. UNLV is rarely being blown out, and has consistently competed and pushed their opposition. Records aside, this game won’t be a cakewalk.
3. Individual brilliance? Kind of?
Despite their 1-8 record, the Rebels do have individual talent making plays on both sides of the ball. Linebackers Jacoby Windman and Austin Ajiake rank in the top 25 nationally in total tackles, playing a large role in the Rebels adequate rushing defense. Defensive back Philip Hill is tied for 16th-nationally with a bazillion other players in interceptions. There are playmakers on this defense.
Offensively, it’s hard to gush too much, the stats are what they are overall, but this unit isn’t devoid of talent. Somehow, someway running back Charles Williams still plays for UNLV, ranking 27th-nationally in rushing yards with 823 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Hawaii fans are all too accustomed to what Williams’ is capable of.
Cameron Friel took over at quarterback for Doug Brumfield after Brumfield was hurt against Fresno State. He’s completing 63% of his passes, albeit while throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes. Wide receivers Kyle Williams and Steve Jenkins have the ability to keep a defense honest, both averaging over 12 yards per reception.
Kicker Daniel Gutierrez ranks 11th-nationally in kicking percentage, and has a long of 53-yards.
These players aren’t receiving a ton of help from their teammates, hence the 1-8 record, but UNLV has some good players. Again, Hawaii cannot take this team lightly.
Needless to say, Hawaii’s loss to San Diego State was a gut punch. Rainbow Warriors fans are not used to seeing the home team’s offense struggle mightily. I was personally disappointed as well, Hawaii’s veteran-laden offensive line and experienced quarterback were unable to lift that unit. Yes, San Diego State’s defense is very good, but it’s still a letdown to see an experienced group appear to have no answers. And yes, Todd and Bo Graham do own that too.
Hawaii opened as a 3-point favorite against UNLV, making it clear Vegas expects a tight football game. If the Warriors want to play in a bowl game, they need to win their final three contests. On paper, this is the easiest of the three, but I expect UNLV to be a thorn in Hawaii’s side with a renewed energy after beating New Mexico last week. I think Chevan Cordeiro and the offense bounce back, but this one is going down to the wire. Give me Hawaii 30, UNLV 26.