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Hawaii @ New Mexico State: Three things to look for, Prediction

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The Warriors and Aggies kickoff the first of 8 scheduled matchups through 2028 on Saturday

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Hawaii at UCLA Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HAWAII @ NEW MEXICO ST.

Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico (Aggie Memorial Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, September 25th at 2:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: None? See streaming below

Streaming: So, here’s the deal. New Mexico State streams their games on Flo Football. You need to signup, pick a subscription that you’ll cancel after the game. Good news: this stream can be watched on a laptop, or even cast to a television. Bad news: It looks like this will cost $19.99. I will continue to monitor for other options, but as of now it appears you either cough up the money to watch the game, or listen to Bobby Curran. Not ideal.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: The Rainbow Warriors lead the series 8-0. Yup, neva lost *LaVar Ball voice*. Hawaii won the first ever matchup between the two programs back in 1978, and then the Warriors and Aggies didn’t meetup again until 2005. The two played each other every season through 2011, and then Hawaii left for the Mountain West. Now the two programs are making up for lost time, playing twice this season, and an additional six times through 2028! Don’t ask, I don’t know why the two teams will play each other this frequently.

Three things to look for:

1. Can Hawaii show off the offense’s potential?

Consistency has proven to be an issue for the Hawaii offense through four games. Offensive coordinator Bo Graham was chastised for the offense’s performance against UCLA in Pasadena, but recovered nicely against Portland State and Oregon State. It seemed as if maybe the offense was starting to find their form, and then the San Jose State game happened. 13 points at home, a barrage of punts. Repeated failure in the red zone. Most of all, a missed opportunity. The Hawaii defense largely dominated San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel and the Spartans, the Warriors offense needed to be merely average on the night and failed to do that.

That failure led to a 17-13 home loss that puts Hawaii in an 0-1 hole in a West Division that appears to be college football’s deepest Group of 5 division by a mile.

No disrespect to New Mexico State, all mainland games are trap games for UH football, but this matchup might be Hawaii’s last “get right” game for the next month. The NMSU defense ranks 114th in rushing defense and 87th in passing defense, despite a manageable first four games, Aztecs aside.

That’s not to say the Aggies don’t have good players. Linebacker Chris Ojoh has two sacks on the season and ranks tied for 35th nationally in tackles for loss. Linebacker Joshua Ferguson has 30 tackles on the season, and 6’5” 270 lbs defensive linemen Lazarus Williams can cause havoc in the backfield. Still, the numbers are what they are. Can Bo Graham’s offense step on the throat and post 40+ points Saturday? It’s tough-sledding after this matchup in Las Cruces.

2. Has Hawaii’s defense turned the corner?

Now that’s more like it. The praise pointed the Hawaii defense’s way was well-documented heading into the 2021 season, making the faceplant that was the first three games all the more disappointing. UCLA, Portland State, Oregon State all operated however they liked against the Hawaii defense. Frankly, there was no reason to think San Jose State, returning star quarterback Nick Starkel, wouldn’t fall in line.

Thankfully, Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz finally found a rhythm, their defense holding San Jose State to 291 total yards and 17 points, despite the Spartans being given a boatload of possessions in Saturday’s punt fest.

This week, the defense needs to parlay that success into shutting down the Aggie offense. The Aggies rank 75th in passing offense, 119th in rushing offense. The Aggies are playing Dino Maldonado at quarterback, who replaced Jonah Johnson the last two games. Or at least we think, the situation is fluid. Juwaun Price and O’Maury Samuels make up a running back tandem that’s frankly struggled to this point, as evidenced by the 119th in rushing offense ranking. Wide receiver Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda is averaging 23.9 yards per catch, that’s a lot! The Warriors can’t overlook the Aggies, but this needs to be a game where the defense builds on the SJSU success. If Hawaii wants any chance whatsoever in the West Division, they need to play well this Saturday. Fresno State and Nevada loom afterwards...

3. Can the Warriors put together a complete performance?

This point is a mashup of the first two “things to look for”, but it’s important. We’re four games into the 2021 season, and Hawaii has yet to put together a complete performance. Well, a positive one anyway. The team was completely awful against UCLA, neither side of the ball performed well. Against Portland State, the offense thrived, but the defense was set ablaze through the air by quarterback Davis Alexander.

Against Oregon State, Chevan Cordeiro and the passing game impressed in Pac-12 territory, but the Rainbow Warrior defense was terrible. Said defense finally found success against San Jose State, an impressive accomplishment, Starkel and company are quite good, but of course then Bo Graham’s offense had its worst performance of the season.

Hawaii has talent, it’s evident. Both sides of the ball have star players. Cordeiro, Darius Muasau, Cortez Davis, among others. It’s there, but this team needs to find consistency and soon. The West Division has become a gauntlet. Fresno State is ranked, San Diego State will be soon as well. Nevada features several first-round caliber talents. Hawaii just lost to San Jose State. The Warriors need both the offense and defense to find some semblance of consistency, or else it’s difficult to find a path to a bowl game.

Prediction:

I’ve been doing this “Three things to look for, Prediction” article for several years now, and if you haven’t figured out by now that I really suck at the prediction part, I’m not sure what to tell you. I was right about SJSU winning, but the shootout turned into a plethora of punts. Bleh.

Hawaii is a 17-point road favorite. Don’t see that often. Again, no disrespect to the Aggies, but if Hawaii can’t put together a comprehensive performance Saturday, it’s fair to wonder if this season is about to get ugly. Tough games are on the horizon, the Warriors would be wise to impress against NMSU. I think the running game, featuring Dae Dae Hunter and Dedrick Parsons, takes off in Las Cruces and the defense has an up-and-down performance. Give me Hawaii 37, New Mexico State 23.