Opponent Preview: Utah State

Opponent Preview: Utah State

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

Among the University of Hawaii football team’s seven road games this season is a meeting with Utah State on Oct. 30 – the day before Halloween. It should be an interesting trick-or-treat scenario for the Rainbow Warriors. One one hand, Utah State is coming off a down season and is seemingly in rebuilding mode. Conversely, Hawaii hasn’t had success against the Aggies in recent years. Here’s a closer look at Utah State:

Game Date: Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 @ Utah State (9:00 a.m. HST)

2020 Record: 1-5 (1-5 in MW)

Head Coach: Blake Anderson (1st season)

♦ Utah State leads the all-time series with UH, 10-6. The Aggies currently have a five-game winning streak against Hawaii. (The last time the Rainbow Warriors beat the Aggies was in 2010, when Greg McMackin was the UH head coach.) The last four meetings have been blowouts, with Utah State’s margin of victory being 33.8 points.

♦ Blake Anderson is in his first year as USU’s head coach. He joined the program on Dec. 12, 2020. Anderson previously served as the head coach at Arkansas State, where he guided the Red Wolves to two Sun Belt Conference championships and six consecutive postseason bowl game appearances.

♦ Hawaii will have to try to contain Savon Scarver, a senior receiver/kick returner who has a chance to break the NCAA’s record for most career kickoff return TDs (he currently has six). Scarver is a former consensus All-American (2018) and 2x First-Team All-Mountain West selection. In his 2021 preview, Phil Steele named Scarver to his Fourth-Team All-American Team as a kick returner.

♦ Another player to watch is receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen, who has been opening eyes in fall camp. The 5’9, 180-lb. redshirt sophomore gathered 11 receptions for 131 yards in one scrimmage, then snared 4 receptions for 81 yards and 3 TDs in the Aggies’ final fall scrimmage this past Saturday. Van Leeuwen played in only two games in 2020 and did not record a catch.

♦ For USU to have any chance of bouncing back from the disappointing 2020 season, the defense will have to improve dramatically. The Aggies ranked 120th in total defense last year, surrendering 485.3 yards and 35.2 points per game. They allowed 260.7 passing yards and 224.7 rushing yards per contest. New defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda, who spent the previous five seasons as the safeties coach for the Miami Hurricanes (the last two also as co-defensive coordinator) is charged with the task of rebuilding the unit.

♦ Overall, the Aggies return 18 starters – nine each on offense and defense. The list includes offensive linemen Demytrick Ali‘ifua and Falepule Alo, who were recently named to the 2021 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award Watch List. Ali‘ifua is a 6’3, 320-lb. interior lineman who started all six games for the team last season, playing two at center and four at left guard. Alo is a 6’1, 300-lb. center who started four games for the Aggies.

♦ With QB Jordan Love running the offense, the Aggies made three consecutive postseason bowl appearances from 2017 to 2019. After the 2019 campaign, however, Jordan entered the NFL Draft and became a first-round selection of the Green Bay Packers. Without Love, USU stumbled badly last year, and the climb back toward the school’s winning ways may take some time. The Aggies were tabbed to finish fifth in the MW Mountain Division in a preseason media poll.

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