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Hawaii vs. Portland State: Three things to look for, Prediction

Rainbow Warriors return to Oahu to play first ever game at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex

UCLA Bruins defeated the Hawaii Warriors 44-10 during a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

HAWAII VS. PORTLAND ST.

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

Date/Time: Saturday, September 4th at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (for Hawaii residents only)

Streaming: Download the Team1Sports App. I think this is still the method, I’ll update if it’s outdated

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: Hawaii leads the series 4-1, the two programs playing four contests scattered across the 1970s. Hawaii even played in Portland once! The most recent matchup between the two was in 2000 at Aloha Stadium. It was an absolute shocker: a 45-20 thumping, the I-AA (wasn’t called FCS just yet) Vikings hammered Hawaii on opening night. It was a jarring result for Rainbow Warriors fans, UH coming off a 9-4 season that featured a bowl victory over Oregon State (who was quite good at the time). Quarterback Nick Rolovich went 28-for-57 for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and notably 2 interceptions. I remember the “...did that just happen” vibe in the parking lot postgame, it was a hugely disappointing loss.

Three things to look for:

1. The curious case of the Portland State Vikings

The pandemic sadly shutdown the Big Sky Conference during fall of 2020. Unlike the Mountain West Conference and others, the Big Sky didn’t reverse course until spring 2021. Portland State, unlike their peers, did not play a full schedule in spring. The Vikings did ultimately play one game, a road trip in the spring to Missoula, Montana to play the Grizzlies. It went badly, the Vikings losing 48-7.

Fast-forward to this week, the above details mean the Vikings have played precisely one football game since 2019. How does one go about preparing for a such a team? Will the Vikings come to Oahu as one of the freshest, most energetic football teams in America? Or will substantial rust come into play (it sure did in Missoula)? The Vikings have some good players (we’ll get into that), but the background story of this program greatly stricken by the pandemic, combined with Hawaii’s struggles against UCLA, makes for a difficult football game to project.

2. The Vikings have some dudes

Despite all the setbacks, Portland State has some pretty good football players. Quarterback Davis Alexander returns to the Vikings this season sitting at fourth all-time in total offense with 7,234 yards, ranks sixth in passing yards at 6,140, seventh in touchdowns with 42 and seventh in completions at 442. To top it off, he also has over 1,000 career rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. Needless to say, Alexander is one of the GOATs in PSU football history. He isn’t the biggest quarterback (listed at 6’0” 195 lbs), but he has a strong arm and can move well. Hawaii would be wise to prep thoroughly for #6.

Safety Anthony Adams is one of the best defenders at the FCS level, garnering 1st-team all-American honors in 2019, with 19 pass breakups and 5 interceptions. Elite. He’ll only be a junior this fall, and figures to be a player the Warriors must be aware of.

If the spring football game against Montana is any indicator, wide receiver Mataio Talalemotu will be one to monitor as well. Freshman linebacker Parker McKenna also stood out against the Grizzlies. Also of note: punter Seth Vernon had six punts of over 50 yards in this game, which is ridiculous. If the Vikings need to flip the field and play field possession, they can.

It’s easy to look at Portland State and say hey, they’ve played one game since 2019 and were totally rocked. UH should win this game with ease. And maybe you’ll be right, but a closer look at the Vikings’ personnel suggests the Warriors should remain guarded Saturday. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time PSU has caught the Warriors by surprise.

3. The Rainbow Warrior offense must bounce back

A certain writer for the Mountain West Connection warned folks last week that UCLA might be tougher than some are suggesting. Well, Hawaii made the Bruins look like Alabama, the score sitting at 44-3 before both teams made a line change. Hawaii’s offense, in particular, was a mess.

The offensive line is a unit stacked with experience, which made their complete collapse in the first half all the more surprising. Hawaii rushed the football for 26 yards on 21 carries. That’s abysmal for any offense, but especially an offense engineered on establishing the run. Curious enough, star weapon Calvin Turner Jr. didn’t receive a single carry. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro had little time to throw, and didn’t step up in the pocket and make throws. Probably wise, he likely would’ve been smashed.

Still, UCLA’s tactics were no secret. The Bruins attack relentlessly, but concede the intermediate and deep portions of the field. Opposing offenses in 2020 did take advantage of this approach against the Bruins, Hawaii did not. At least not until the third quarter did Cordeiro start to locate his targets down field, but the game was totally out of hand by then.

Cordeiro finished with 220 passing yards on 47 attempts, with 2 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions. His 11 rushing yards on 9 carries illustrate his struggles.

Hawaii’s defense played poorly, but I get it. UCLA has one of the best offenses in college football, that’s not the last time they’ll victimize an opponent. The Warrior offense, however, looked disorganized and almost unprepared. There was one sequence in which Hawaii called a timeout coming out of a long stoppage in play. How, why? The line couldn’t protect, Cordeiro did not look like a fourth-year Junior, the running game was stymied, and receivers dropped passes galore, and the play-calling left much to be desired.

For now, the quality of UCLA’s talent holds weight in blame for Saturday’s debacle. Bo Graham’s debut as offensive coordinator was rough, but how he and his offense adjust this week will be the barometer for whether Hawaii’s shameful offensive play in Pasadena was a result of a talent mismatch, or an underachieving offense.

Either way, the offense must produce Saturday. If they can’t score a comfortable amount of points against an FCS foe (no disrespect intended, PSU), Hawaii might be in for a humbling September.

Prediction:

When I typed out my 40-24 prediction last week, I wondered if I was shortchanging Hawaii. Turns out I was too optimistic. This week’s game against Portland State is historic, albeit frustrating. As of this posting, fans are not going to be allowed at the game. Shame. Hawaii, as of now, is the only FBS team willingly playing in front of no fans. How does the new dynamic affect Hawaii? College Football Saturday at Manoa of all places, where initially no fans will be allowed to attend. It’s sadly another edition of “bring your own energy to work” for the Warriors.

Portland State is impossible to predict. As noted above, they have some pretty good players. However, as indicated by the 48-7 spring loss to Montana, there may be some rust. Still, beware Warriors. Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum has succeeded in this position before. He’s beaten North Texas and Washington State on the road, his teams have a formula for success against FBS foes. Will that come into play? Or has Portland State endured too many setbacks related to the pandemic? Hawaii would be wise to prep for the former.

I’ve seen this act before. Cordeiro and the offense struggle on the mainland, leaving one to wonder if something is amiss with the offense, only to return to Oahu and finish with player of the week honors. Bo Graham might have a bit of a learning curve this fall, but I think the offense should bounce back Saturday. Give me Hawaii 38, Portland State 17.