RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective
HAWAII VS. AIR FORCE
Location: Honolulu, Oahu (Clarence T.C. Ching Complex)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 11th at 6:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)
Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (Hawaii only)
Streaming: Team 1 Sports app (mainland only)
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: This series dates back to 1966 with the Falcons leading 14-7-1. Despite sharing a conference since 2012, these two programs have only faced each other four times in that span. The Falcons won the most recent contest 56-26 in Honolulu back in 2019. A dreadful day in an otherwise glorious season for Hawaii.
Three things to look for:
1. This is not what the doctor ordered
Prior to Hawaii’s victory in Reno this past Saturday, the vibe surrounding the program was bleak. Losing 35-0 to San Jose State, some could not help but calculate the transitive property math for the upcoming games. Air Force, for example, beat the Spartans 45-20 in their own stadium. Needless to say, on paper it appears Hawaii’s hosting of Air Force on November 11th (Veterans Day, sure to be a spectacle) could mirror that of the 58-7 destruction the Warriors endured in 2015, the result that led to Norm Chow’s firing. After all, the Falcons were undefeated and knocking on the door of a major bowl appearance.
Then this past weekend happened. Hawaii picked up a solid, confidence-boosting victory over Nevada. Air Force shockingly lost to now 3-6 Army. The Falcons had SIX turnovers, nine if you count turnovers on downs. An absolute horror day at the office. Major bowl hopes take a serious blow. Now the Falcons have to travel all the way to Oahu. Will they be deflated? Or gulp...angry?
2. Can the defense keep this up?
On Saturday in Reno, Defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro and his unit put together their best effort of the season both tactically and fundamentally. The defense held Nevada’s offense to 69 total yards in the first half and forced the Wolf Pack to punt seven times on the day. The stat sheet will show that the Warriors forced two turnovers, but Nevada also turned it over on downs three times. The unit forced 6 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. In crucial situations, the Warriors’ defense rose the occasion and played relatively disciplined defense, Virdel Edwards II’s ejection aside (he’s eligible to play Saturday).
Yes, yes, Nevada’s offense is bad and was playing their second-string quarterback. That context is valid, but Hawaii conceded 42-points to New Mexico for crying out loud. This was progress. Can it continue against Air Force? Eye discipline, leverage, and forcing turnovers will be key this weekend.
3. Air Force is really good
Yes, the Falcons laid an enormous egg this past weekend. Those triple option vs. triple option games are always strange, taking on an opponent that knows exactly what you’re thinking on both sides of the ball. I’ll label this loss as an aberration; the Falcons are a great team and have maybe the best offense and defense in the conference.
Quarterback Zac Larrier is a difference maker. Anyone who has watched Air Force football knows the difference between a good and great Falcons team is whether the quarterback can throw or not, and Larrier is excellent in that regard. When healthy, he makes the Falcons a formidable opponent for any team in college football. Emmanuel Michel and John Lee Eldridge III are the backs you’ll be frustrated to watch.
The defense is the best in the Mountain West. Their defense ranks 3rd-nationally in total defense, 6th-nationally in rushing defense, and 4th-nationally in passing yards allowed. Linebackers and Alex Mock, Johnathan Youngblood, Bo Richter, and PJ Ramsey will be everywhere all at once. Aside from the Oregon, this is probably the best team Hawaii will play in 2023.
Hats off to Timmy Chang, his staff, and the team for picking up that much-needed victory over Nevada. Yes, I know, the Wolf Pack are terrible this year. That said, it would’ve been so easy for Hawaii to fold up tent and call it a season after the disastrous New Mexico and San Jose State games. That resilience will be relied upon going into next season.
I will not sugarcoat this: despite the 16-point spread, I’d be surprised if Hawaii kept this contest even remotely close. Air Force is really good and is going to arrive at Clarence T.C. Complex in a foul mood. Dream big, but brace for a humbling evening. Better days ahead, Warriors fans. Give me Rainbow Warriors 10, Falcons 38.