HAWAII VS. NEW MEXICO ST.
Location: Honolulu, Oahu (Clarence T.C. Ching Complex)
Date/Time: Friday, September 23rd 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: Hawaii leads this series 10-1. From 2005-2021, the Aggies had hardly put together a competitive game against the Warriors until last year when they completely reversed the narrative and beat Hawaii 45-26 in Las Cruces.
Spread: UH -2.5
Three things to look for:
1. Another capable offense
Hawaii and New Mexico State might not be Western Athletic Conference mates anymore, but this annual contest has both teams feeling pretty familiar with the personnel and tactics of the opposite sideline. New Mexico State quarterback Diego Pavia took over the starting spot for the Aggies in 2022 just a few weeks after playing Hawaii, so this will be Hawaii’s first real look at the man from Albuquerque. Pavia is completing 64% of his passes for 918 passing yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He does have the ability to take off and run as well.
The Aggies use a committee approach at running with Star Thomas leading the way. He’s spelled by Jamoni Jones and Monte Watkins.
Sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Brady has an astounding 251 receiving yards on only ten catches. Beware of his presence deep. This will be a quality challenge for Hawaii’s defense. Not overwhelming, but far from a cupcake either. A good test right before conference play.
2. The offense needs to find a rhythm
Alright, the bills are paid. Ideally, I’d prefer Hawaii play Power 5 teams that are just a little closer to UH’s upset range. Arizona, perhaps. Iowa State. Fewer Oregon’s, please. Oh well, water under the bridge.
Hawaii’s run-and-shoot remains a work in progress. The Warriors rank 123rd-nationally in sacks allowed. Needless to say, losing the likes of Ilm Manning has been a bigger deal than expected. Thankfully, the Aggies rank 117th-nationally in Team Sacks. A slight reprieve compared to the defensive lines Hawaii will see eventually.
Now is the time to put together a complete performance. I don’t know what’s going on with running back Tylan Hines, but Jordan Johnson is plenty capable in the running game. Pofele Ashlock, Steven McBride, Alex Perry, etc. are making plays at wide receiver. Ashlock in particular, 362 receiving yards this season. What a star he’s become.
Hawaii needs to find an offensive rhythm on Saturday. If not now, when?
3. Last call
In summary of the above point, New Mexico State concludes out-of-conference play for Hawaii. This is it, after this week the games really start to count in Mountain West play. The divisional setup is gone. No more West Division, no more Mountain Division. In order to qualify for the MWC championship game, a 6-2 conference record is more-than-likely the worst result one can attain to have a chance. 8-0, 7-1 are probably more likely. The road to a conference championship is tougher now.
Hawaii needs a strong performance against New Mexico State. A trip to Vegas kicks off conference play next week, followed by the bye and then San Diego State at home. Pivotal football games if Hawaii wants to maintain their goal of competing for the conference title. Confidence is paramount, and Hawaii will want to feel good about their execution after NMSU.
Last call. After Saturday, the conference race begins.
Hawaii is a 3-point favorite as of Thursday. It’s been a rough debut month for the 2023 Rainbow Warriors. Again, the bills have been paid. Now Hawaii starts to regularly face competition closer to their level.
I won’t front, this is still very much a rebuilding season. Hawaii’s best players are freshman and sophomores. I expect NMSU to provide a stiff challenge and uncomfortable moments through the evening. Diego Pavia and that offense are solid.
A late fourth quarter game-winning drive capped by a Pofele Ashlock touchdown prevents a tough loss. Give me Rainbow Warriors 31, Aggies 28.