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

Hawaii hosts the reeling Aztecs in front of a full capacity Clarence T.C. Ching Complex

SJSU v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

HAWAII VS. SAN DIEGO ST.

RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective.

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

Date/Time: Saturday, November 6th at 5:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: FS1

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

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: San Diego State leads the series 22-12-2, the series dating back to 1939. The two programs tied twice, once in 1983 and the other in 1985. I bet ending of those games were awkward. The two programs have played each other 20 times since 1990, Hawaii only winning four of those games. Two of them, however, were recent. Warriors won in San Diego in 2018, and famously in Honolulu in 2019 in a 14-11 win that delivered the program’s first West Division championship. San Diego State smoked Hawaii 34-10 in last season’s matchup.

Three things to look for:

1. Can Hawaii find a weakness in the vaunted Aztec defense?

When it comes to divisional foes, there are just some opponents you know never change. San Diego State football falls into that category. Rocky Long’s philosophy was consistent over the years: ridiculously dominant exotic 3-3-5 defense, and a consistent running game to control the clock. Under Brady Hoke, that formula hasn’t changed.

San Diego State ranks 12th-nationally in total defense, rank 6th-nationally in rushing defense, but 51st-nationally in passing defense. To be fair, that passing yards allowed stat was much prettier last weekend before the Aztecs were lit up by Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener. Haener had 306 passing yards, and running back Jordan Mims rushed for 186 yards. The seemingly impenetrable Aztec defense was very much broken this past Saturday.

Yes, small sample size, and Fresno State is the best team in the Mountain West, but nonetheless it shows the Aztecs aren’t unbeatable on that side of the ball. That said, the Hawaii offense better have its best bag of plays ready to go, because the Aztecs will assuredly be itching to get rid of the Fresno game stench.

The Aztecs rank 19th-nationally in team sacks, and defensive linemen Cameron Thomas leads the way in that category. Thomas is a rare breed. Great pass rusher, also an elite run stopper. He’ll play on Sunday’s.

Thomas ranks 2nd on the team in tackles, behind leading tackler safety Patrick McMorris. Safety Cedarious Barfield and cornerback Tayler Hawkins round out the top four tacklers. This secondary covers a lot of ground. Aztecs have 13 players with at least 20 tackles.

2. Turnovers will assuredly play a role

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more erratic team in college football than Hawaii when it comes to turnovers. Safety Eugene Ford took an errant pitch in the other direction for a touchdown against Utah State, giving the Warriors their 4th defensive touchdown of the season. Fourth! The Rainbow Warriors rank tied for 2nd-nationally in turnovers gained this fall, living up to the billing of an opportunistic Todd Graham defense.

San Diego State unsurprisingly, isn’t all that far behind in that category, ranking tied for 29th-nationally in turnovers forced. Both offenses will want to take care of the ball Saturday.

...and that’s where things get tricky for Hawaii. Hawaii currently ranks 130th-nationally, dead last, in turnovers lost. Hawaii has turned the ball over 22 times this season. To be fair, a lot of those turnovers occurred when Chevan Cordeiro was out with injury, but nonetheless it’s wild that Hawaii ranks so highly in turnovers gained, and so lowly in turnovers lost.

San Diego State, on the flip side, ranks 38th-nationally in turnovers lost. They take care of the football.

I do not expect a high-scoring football game Saturday. Much like the 2019 contest that finished 14-11, I expect a slog of sorts. What I do think will determine the winner, is turnovers. Hawaii knows how to force them, but the ugly trend of the offense turning the ball over has to end Saturday if the Warriors want to pull off a marginal upset.

3. Matt Araiza is a genuine weapon

At times, San Diego State’s dominance can be puzzling. How does a team that ranks 109th-nationally in total offense crack the Top 25, beating multiple Power 5 opponents?

Ruthlessly dominant defense is the correct answer, but the hidden elite factor is punter/kicker Matt Araiza. The star punter (don’t laugh, for real) averages 52.18 yards per punt this season, good for 1st-nationally. 52.18 yards per punt!!!!! The man entirely flips the field every time he’s out there. So sure, the San Diego State offense might sputter more often than Aztecs fans would like, but the opposing offense is almost assuredly facing a long field every drive. That becomes taxing very quickly.

Weeks ago, against Air Force, Araiza bombed a punt for 86-yards. 86!!!

Araiza pulls double duty as the Aztecs’ kicker. He’s not quite as impressive in that regard, but prepare yourselves for frustration on Saturday, Rainbow Warriors fans. Offensive Coordinator Bo Graham’s will need to be methodical on Saturday night, because Araiza will have the Warrior offense pinned in their own territory all evening.

Prediction:

Two weeks ago, Hawaii football played in front of the home fans for the first time since late 2019. Attendance was limited to 1,000 spectators due to COVID restrictions, but nonetheless fans were finally able to cheer on the home team. The San Diego State game should have a festive atmosphere now that Hawaii can allow up to full capacity (must be vaccinated). 9,000+ fans or so should in attendance for Saturday evening’s game.

One thing I’ve learned from watching Hawaii football for more than two decades: just because Hawaii football performs well at home, doesn’t mean that form will show up on the mainland. The vice-versa is true. Last Saturday’s game against Utah State was embarrassing, but it has no bearing on how the Warriors will perform at Aloha Stadium Clarence T.C. Ching Complex.

As noted in the three things to look for: I think this game comes down to a turnover or two. My fear is this game ends up much like the San Jose State game, with Hawaii failing to cash in while in the red zone. Field goals aren’t the end of the world, the Warriors must come away with points on the rare occasion they pass the 50-yard line.

I think Cordeiro and Matthew Shipley, coupled with a few timely turnovers forced by the Hawaii defense, will be the difference. Give me Hawaii 20, San Diego State 17.

Look for Hawaii to debut new uniforms on Saturday honoring the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.