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Nevada football 2021 offseason opponent preview: Hawai’i

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

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (can we not have another pandemic, please?), there are seven Saturdays until the Nevada football season kicks off.

This is our second annual offseason opponent preview. Each Thursday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2021 schedule — starting at the beginning.

This week, we preview Nevada’s sixth game of the season against Hawai’i. Here’s the Wolf Pack’s full 2021 schedule to date:

Nevada Football 2021 Schedule

Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Sept. 4 at California FS1 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Idaho State TBA TBA
Sept. 18 at Kansas State ESPN+ 11:05 a.m.
Sept. 25 BYE ---------
Oct. 2 at Boise State Fox Networks (specifics not yet announced) TBA
Oct. 9 vs. New Mexico State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Hawai'i CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Fresno State Fox Networks TBA
Oct. 29 vs. UNLV CBS Sports Network 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. San Jose State Fox Networks TBA
Nov. 13 at San Diego State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Air Force FS1 6/7/7:30 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Colorado State CBS Sports Network 6 p.m.

Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Previous weeks:

Week 1: California

Week 2: Idaho State

Week 3: Kansas State

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: Boise State

Week 6: New Mexico State

Week 7: Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

2020 record: 5-4 (5-4 MWC)

When: Saturday, Oct. 16

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Nevada leads 14-11

Hawai’i 2020 season-in-review:

The Rainbow Warriors joined Nevada as the only Mountain West program to play all eight of its regular season games. Both also earned bowl victories — Hawai’i’s coming in a 28-14 victory over Houston in the New Mexico bowl. It began the season winning two of its first three games against Fresno State and New Mexico, but dropped its following two against San Diego State and Boise State by a combined 32 points. It handed the Wolf Pack their first loss of the season in a 24-21 home victory, then falling to San Jose State at home while closing its regular season with a 17-point victory over UNLV.

Hawai’i on offense:

For the second consecutive season, Chevan Cordeiro will lead the Rainbow Warriors behind center.

Corderio powered one of the best and most explosive passing offenses in the Mountain West last season. Hawai’i was fifth in the conference in passing (231.4 ypg) and placed in the top-2 in passing plays that went 40-plus yards with nine, second to only the Wolf Pack’s 12.

In his first season as a full-time starter, the 6-foot-1 quarterback completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,083 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Shockingly enough, Cordeiro tied UNLV’s Charles Williams for the most carries in the conference (116) — also placing second in rushing touchdowns (7) and ninth in rushing yards (483).

With Miles Reed graduated, Dae Dae Hunter is expected to share a majority of the load in the backfield this season.

Hunter tallied 46 carries for 183 yards and two touchdowns. In the team’s final two games, Hunter had 19 carries for 78 yards (4.1 ypc) with a touchdown, plus three receptions for nine yards and a receiving score.

Hawai’i returns each of its top two wideouts from last year in Jared Smart and Calvin Turner.

Smart led the team in receptions with 36, totaling 320 yards and a touchdown. Turner was Todd Graham’s swiss army knife: He hauled-in 33 receptions with team-highs in receiving yards (576) and touchdowns (6), adding 60 carries for 331 yards and four more touchdowns on the ground. His 10 touchdowns from scrimmage were atop the Mountain West.

Hawai’i should be one of the upper echelon Mountain West programs when discussing its offensive line. It returns tackles Gene Pryor and Ilm Manning plus Solo Vaipulu — each of which are two years removed from earning All-Mountain West honors. It also welcomes Western Illinois transfer Austin Hopp, who could see playing time across the line throughout the year.

Hawai’i on defense:

The Rainbow Warriors retain all of its starters on defense from last season, led by the Mountain West’s top tackler Darius Muasau.

Muasau totaled a career-high 104 tackles, the seventh-most in the FBS. His 68 solo tackles were the most in the nation while 11.6 tackles per contest ranked atop the conference and top-5 nationally.

Hawai’i lacked a formidable run defense last season, surrendering 211.7 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry — both ranking in the bottom-four in the Mountain West.

The defensive front is led by nose tackle Blessman Ta’ala and defensive end Justus Tavai.

Tavai finished fifth on the team in total tackles with 35, adding four tackles-for-loss and two sacks, the third-most on the team. Tavai also had two pass breakups, one quarterback hit, one forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Ta’ala tallied 21 tackles with 1.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and one quarterback knockdown.

The secondary is Hawai’i’s best and deepest unit defensively, evidenced by recording the third-best pass defense in the conference last season (197.1 ypg). Quentin Frazier, Michael Washington and Eugene Ford each tallied two interceptions apiece last season. Second-team All-Conference honoree Khoury Bethley also returns for his junior season after finishing second in tackles (70) with seven pass breakups.

My thoughts:

Nevada has dropped two straight after taking seven of the previous eight versus the Rainbow Warriors. In 2019, Nevada got bulldozed by 51 at home; there was a lot of bad and not a lot of good (if any?). Last year, it was a different story. Hawai’i’s stout pass defense significantly limited Nevada’s explosiveness in their matchup last season. The Pack were averaging 32.2 points and nearly 364 passing yards per game entering the contest; it was held to just 21 points and 168 yards through the air against the Rainbow Warriors, ultimately being one of the biggest reasons why they lost. It was by design. The Rainbow Warriors sat back, 5-to-6 guys deep in the secondary and kept everything underneath them. Much of Nevada’s explosiveness returns this season, and barring injury, it should be one of the most potent attacks in the Mountain West. A lot has gone sideways for the Pack in the team’s last two matchups, and it will look to get back on track this year against another dependable Hawai’i squad.