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Hawaii @ Vanderbilt: Three things to look for, Prediction

The Week 0 classic sends Hawaii all the way to Tennessee in an attempt to deal payback to Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images


Location: Nashville, Tennessee (FirstBank Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, August 26th at 1:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: SEC Network

Streaming: You’ll need a cable log-in, but the game will be on ESPN+.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: The two programs have only faced off once before, last season’s shocking 63-10 blowout at Ching Stadium. Vanderbilt scored 35 points in the third quarter alone.

Spread: Hawaii +17

Three things to look for:

1. The return of the run-and-shoot

I won’t spend too much time reviewing last season, but to point out the obvious: Hawaii never found its footing on offense in 2022. Blame scheme, personnel, you name it. It didn’t work. 19.4 points per game, bad for 113th nationally. How does Timmy Chang plan to fix this? Time to bust out ole’ reliable: the run-and-shoot offense.

This isn’t the first time Hawaii has re-adopted the run-and-shoot offense. In 2017, Hawaii’s offense finished 109th nationally with a disappointing 21.1 points per game. Nick Rolovich returned Hawaii to its run-and-shoot roots and in 2018 the offense jumped to 29.9 points per game, good for 43rd nationally. Clearly the change worked as intended. A near 10-point jump despite losing key personnel that off-season.

That said, Hawaii’s success rate (an efficiency metric that determines the success of a play) on passing downs was a shocking 24% in 2022. Their 4.9 yards-per-play doesn’t bring much confidence with it either. Hawaii is attempting to turn what was irrefutably a weakness in 2022 into a strength for 2023.

I’m confident progress will be made. Immediate progress in Nashville? Well, the Commodores did finish 128th-nationally in passing yards allowed. There’s hope, but keep in mind that the run-and-shoot is a system predicated on repetition. There might be some bumps in the road.

2. Exercising demons

The season-opening blowout loss to Vanderbilt was unquestionably one of the most shocking results in Hawaii football history. 63-10, the Commodores winning the third quarter battle 35-0! We should have seen it coming, the transfer portal losses entering the 2022 season were catastrophic. All the same, it was startling to watch the Warriors lose by 50+ points at home when they were merely 10-point underdogs.

This time around, Vanderbilt will not sneak up on Hawaii with a chainsaw. Good news: Mike Wright, the quarterback who rushed for 163 yards against the Warriors, now plays for Mississippi State. Running back Ray Davis, a 1,000-yard rusher who had 95 total yards against Hawaii, now plays for Kentucky. Quarterback AJ Swann is the signal-caller now, and there are high hopes for freshman running back Sedrick Alexander, but overall, there is some regression expected on offense for Vanderbilt.

However, Clark Lea’s defense is expected to be deeper in the front seven this year despite losing All-SEC second-team linebacker Anfernee Orji. Don’t get me wrong, Hawaii is no position to feel comfortable about this game. They are deserved big underdogs. That said, at least on paper, the Commodores seem to have some question marks. Is Hawaii good enough to exploit them? Until we start seeing positive results, it’s frankly a little hard to believe.

3. You might notice something strange about the scenery

Week 0 was essentially invented to accommodate the “Hawaii rule” around 2016. Years ago, the ridiculous travel Hawaii must endure weighed on the program, and the NCAA granted Hawaii a 13th game (almost always another home game) to make up for it. Well, teams traveling to Hawaii hated it. Week 0 allowed teams playing at Hawaii to start the season earlier to add an extra bye week to mitigate the effects of travel.

This year’s edition is the return trip to Vanderbilt, where Hawaii will find maybe the only other FBS team dealing with bizarre stadium issues! The Commodores will play the 2023 season with construction occurring in both endzones. Do not worry, fences will be erected to prevent anyone from running out of the endzone into danger.

Mind you, I’m not making fun of Vanderbilt for this. Hawaii is the last program in America that can make light of such things (2028?!). It will however be a unique sight for viewers on Saturday.


Hawaii is a 17-point underdog for this contest. That feels about right. Vanderbilt is replacing several key contributors and has seven freshmen listed on the depth chart, but Hawaii was not good last season and the run-and-shoot often takes time to get rolling. Timmy Chang will have some tricks up his sleeve for this game, but the Commodores have the talent and home advantage.

No massacre this year. Vanderbilt wins comfortably, but Hawaii finds enough positives to feel good about next week Friday’s home opener against Stanford. Give me Hawaii 17, Vanderbilt 34.