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

The Rainbow Warriors that will take the field against Memphis in the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl will look a little different than last we saw them...

Fresno State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

EASYPOST HAWAII BOWL

HAWAII VS. MEMPHIS

RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective

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

Date/Time: Saturday, December 24th at 3:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPN

Streaming: ESPN app

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

According to DraftKings, Memphis is an 8.5-point favorite over Hawaii

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

Head-to-Head: Never! The 2021 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex will be the first meeting between Hawaii and Memphis on the gridiron.

Three things to look for:

1. Drama in Manoa

The last we saw of the 2021 Hawaii Warriors, they left us with a tease. An entertaining 50-45 win against Colorado State, followed by a shocking 38-14 blowout of Wyoming in frigid Laramie. It was bittersweet, of course watching the team win was enjoyable for the fans, but many couldn’t help but wonder why the team was unable to play like that in the preceding 11 games. Oh well, at least it gave fans optimism for 2022, right?

Well, soon unrest within the program would become public. There had been rumblings of discontent in the Hawaii locker room, but such rumors were merely rumors until Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro entered the transfer portal. Nothing short of an absolute shock to the program, and especially the fans. Were the rumors true?

In short, yes. It started with a public Twitter Spaces hosted by former Hawaii Warrior football players R.J. Hollis and Darryl McBride Jr. At first, it was just Hollis and McBride Jr. airing grievances about the rumors of discontent, about Chevan leaving, with Hawaii football fans listening in. Then actual current players began to join and discuss the behind-the-scenes issues with the program, and particularly head coach Todd Graham. The players thought this was happening in anonymity, but that wasn’t really the case.

Marc Delucchi of the SFGATE spoke to some of these players and detailed the issues with Graham and the program. Cordeiro wasn’t the only surprise exit, running back Dae Dae Hunter and cornerback Cameron Lockridge have also left the program. Hunter has since landed at Liberty, and Cordeiro has infamously chosen to rep rival San Jose State. Lockridge transferred to South Alabama. Those are three of the team’s best players.

These issues are being handled internally by Athletics Director Dave Matlin, and the program is supposedly trying to move forward and be better. Needless to say, it’s worth questioning how much Hawaii wants to be in this bowl game against Memphis. That sounds preposterous, the Hawaii Bowl has never been a birthright for the program. We all remember the dominant 2001 team that was snubbed in the bowl season. The Hawaii Bowl means something to fans and players, but Todd Graham has a lot of self-reflection to do if he doesn’t want to see his players lay an egg on Christmas Eve.

2. Where does the Hawaii offense go from here?

Hawaii can attempt to mitigate the losses of Chevan Cordeiro and Dae Dae Hunter in the transfer portal this off-season. There is no shortage of quarterback options in the portal, I’d be stunned if Hawaii doesn’t add someone to compete with freshmen quarterbacks Brayden Schager and (hopefully? maybe not?) A.J. Bianco next fall.

Unfortunately, the transfer portal cannot help the Warriors in the Hawaii Bowl. Now, all is not lost. Schager started three games for Hawaii earlier this season. The Warriors did manage to beat then-ranked Fresno State without Cordeiro, with Schager leading the way. The next game, Schager turned the ball over a plethora of times against Nevada, reminding fans that he is in fact a true freshman. So Schager will not be thrust into action with no experience, but clearly there is a drop off from Cordeiro to the freshman.

At running back, the concern is present, but Dedrick Parson has proven plenty capable. Depth could be a problem, and Hawaii will miss Hunter’s big-play capability, but I think Parson should keep the Hawaii running game in a good place.

The good news? Memphis is no defensive juggernaut, the Tigers rank 96th in total defense nationally, 102nd in passing yards allowed and 91st in rushing defense. Balanced, but bad. There is opportunity to move the ball against this defense, we’ll see if the suddenly shorthanded Warrior offense can make-do with Schager, Parson instead of Cordeiro, Hunter. Expect to see a ton of Calvin Turner Jr. in this game.

3. Can Hawaii’s defense impress one more time?

I know, I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you know the drill with this 2021 Hawaii Warriors team: turnovers will play a role. The Rainbow Warriors rank 4th-nationally in turnovers gained. Linebacker Darius Muasau and defensive back Khoury Bethley are lurking somewhere at all times. If Hawaii is to win this bowl game, I’m guessing the defense will need to continue to force turnovers. Thankfully for the Warriors, the defense is quite adept at doing that.

The unfortunate flip side of this is that Hawaii also ranks 129th-nationally in turnovers lost. Ouch. That stat probably won’t be improved upon with Cordeiro not available.

Memphis is in the middle of the road on both these stats, ranking 60th-nationally in turnovers gained and 69th in turnovers lost.

I know what you’re thinking, pretty much all of the Memphis stats posted thus far are ugly. How did they even make this bowl game? Through one of the nation’s best passing games, that’s how. Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan threw for 3,322 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes, and 8 interceptions this season. Henigan will be looking to throw to wide receiver Calvin Austin III, who has 74 catches for 1,149 receiving yards and 8 touchdown catches. He also has one carry for 69 yards and a touchdown (Or, Austin III will instead opt out of the bowl game lol). Also beware of tight end Sean Dykes, he has 657 receiving yards and 7 touchdown catches this season.

Running back Brandon Thomas leads the team with 669 rushing yards. The Tigers rank 90th-nationally in rushing offense, the strength of this unit is definitely the passing game.

Hawaii’s defense will be tested, this Memphis passing attack is no joke, but the Tigers will pass and pass and pass. That brings with it a chance to create turnovers for the opportunistic Warrior defense that’s been one of the nation’s best in that category, 21st in passes intercepted. Bethley alone ranks 2nd-nationally.

Prediction:

2021 has arguably been the most eventful year in Hawaii football history. From the stadium debacle to the loss of legends in the football community, to this December chaos in the transfer portal, Hawaii football has been anything but chill this year.

Bowl games are notorious for being unpredictable. Who wants to play in this game? Who wishes they were on break already? Who enjoyed the beach a little too much? There’s no telling. On paper, this could’ve been one of the better bowl games this holiday season, but the transfers of Cordeiro and Hunter complicate things for Hawaii. Memphis, as evidenced by the spread, should beat the shorthanded Warriors.

What the hell. It’s been a weird year, and I don’t know why that would stop now. Khoury Bethley for bowl game MVP. Give me Hawaii 27, Memphis 24.