Hawaii’s first conference game this weekend in Reno against the Nevada Wolfpack will see teams with identical 3 – 1 records, each with a victory over at least one Power Five Conference team and each with a lower division win and a blow-out loss to a Pac 12 Team. But there the resemblance ends.
While coaches like to talk about offensive balance, rarely does the team achieve it to the extent Nevada has. They have run the ball 145 times, and passed it 146 times. As far as scoring goes, Nevada is averaging 24 points a game and surrendering 35.5 point per game. But that statistic is a little skewed considering they gave up 77 points in a loss to Oregon.
Nevada’s strength is its running backs. Sophomore Toa Taua averages 4.5 yards per carry and has scored two touchdowns. Jackson Kincaid has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has a score. Kelton Moore averages only 3.3 yards, but has also scored two touchdowns.
As far as receivers go, Elijah Cooks is the star, having caught 18 balls for an average of 12.3 yards per, and 4 touchdowns. Kaleb Fossum has also been good, with 19 catches for 10.3 yards, per.
Quarterback play for Nevada has been interesting. Freshman Carson Strong won the starting job and has thrown for 683 yards, 3 touchdowns and 4 picks but was injured and out against UTEP last week, giving way to Christian Solana and Malik Henry who combined for a 37-21 win over the Miners. Strong’s availability is uncertain at the time of this post.
On defense, expect the Wolfpack to play multiple looks in the secondary. Hawai’i can expect to see some man, and probably more zone. The two leading tacklers are in the secondary; Tyson Williams has 32 tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception. EJ Muhammed has 22 tackles including 2 PBU’s and a recovered fumble.
The next two leading tacklers are linebackers; Lawson Hall with 21 tackles and an interception, and Gabe Sewell with 19 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. Nevada has totaled 6 sacks – not a huge number- so pressure on opposing QB’s has not been much of a factor.
Hawaii is coming off a 35 – 16 win over Central Arkansas and featured the strongest game yet by Hawaii QB Cole McDonald. McDonald threw for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns and each of five receivers had at lease 3 catches. The run game for Hawaii has been good for 120 yards per game, while the passing average is 353 yards per game.
Defensively, Hawaii in every outing has been stronger in the second half than the first, indicating a strong ability by defensive coordinator, Cory Batoon to make adjustments at intermission.
Hawai’i will have to slow down Nevada’s run game in order to get the defense off the field. The injury situation for the Rainbow Warriors has not been great . They have been down two starting offensive linemen, big back Dayton Furuta may be out for the season following surgery. On the defensive side, the linebacking core has been hurt by injuries to Jeremiah Pritchard and Kanai’i Picanso. Penei Pavihi was lost for the season three days before the opener with a knee injury. Complicating that situation has been an injury to Kai Kaneshiro who was hurt in the Central Arkansas game but no word yet on the severity of his injury.
It would help if Hawai’i can get some of these injured players back. It’s possible that head Coach Nick Rolovich has been keeping them out till conference play.
Two other factors in this game will be the weather, as it’s a night game and could be chilly or windy, and then, of course the altitude. Hawai’i has only won once in their history in Reno. The Wolfpack are a 1.5 point favorite. If Hawaii can stay even on turnovers, there could be an excellent result for the Rainbow Warriors in this conference opener.
By Bobby Curran | The Play-by-Play Voice of Rainbow Warrior Football