By Bobby Curran.
When the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors travel to Reno to take on the Nevada Wolfpack, there will be some familiar faces on both teams. Of course, you might ask, “Why bring up recent history? That was then, this is now.” The answer is simple: COVID.
With players granted an extra year, teams are returning unprecedented numbers of starters. For example, Nevada brings back 20 starters from last season, and Hawaii returns 18. Those crazy numbers are because of rule changes caused by the virus. So the personnel on each team is quite familiar with the players across the line of scrimmage. With the coaching staffs essentially the same, and these teams playing a close game last year, I would expect there is an excellent chance that we’ll see a contest similarly competitive.
Nevada is explosive offensively, averaging 36.8 ppg. They pass more than they run, 210 attempts to 121. In terms of yards gained, the disparity is much greater. They’ve thrown for 1,785 yards and rushed for 429. The receiving corps is a strength: Seven receivers have 13 or more catches, and three have 21 or more. The best of them are Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner and Melquan Stovall, who have combined for 828 yards and six TDS. Stovall is the younger brother of former UH receiver Melquise Stovall.
Nevada’s best RB is Toa Taua, who averages an impressive 7.0 ypc.
On defense, the Wolfpack get after QBs pretty well, averaging almost 4.5 sacks per game, with most of the damage inflicted by the men up front featuring Dom Peterson, Sam Hammond and Tristan Nichols. They only have 2 INT’s for the season, half of what UH managed against Fresno State alone.
UH, meanwhile, is coming off a big win over then-No. 18 Fresno St, followed by a bye. That was somewhat surprising since UH was without veteran QB Chevan Cordeiro. Instead, they turned to true freshman Brayden Schager, who had a couple of rough patches, but was aided by his defense that forced six turnovers. Schager completed a couple of big throws down the stretch, and UH and pulled out a 27-21 victory.
Here’s what we don’t know. Will Cordeiro be able to go on Saturday? If not, it will be Schager again, except now there is tape out on him. The offense is limited with Schager, who lacks experience and the mobility of Cordeiro. Hawaii will be much more run oriented if Schager is the QB, and will have to use a lot of Dae Dae Hunter and Calvin Turner out of the backfield.
Hawaii has gotten onto the habit of sending all four receivers on deep vertical routes, and probably needs some short and intermediate routes mixed in. Also, a drag route to the tight end led to a TD against Fresno and might be the kind of thing that Schager could use.
If Cordeiro is full go, UH has many more options. He is better moving in the pocket, and can run on designed plays to great effect. This is an average secondary, and Cordeiro can exploit it; it’ll be tougher for Schager.
Defensively, UH has been much better of late. The defensive line rotation has been really good and applied tremendous pressure on Fresno’s Jake Haener, leading to the four INTs. The Wolfpack has an excellent run game but prefers to throw. Romeo Doubs is back from injury so UH needs to keep everything in front of them like they did last year. Khoury Bethley was magic vs Fresno and needs a big game from Eugene Ford and Cortez Davis. Darius Muasau needs to be his usual self and the other secondary players can’t let Nevada receivers get on top of them.
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell worked for Todd Graham at Arizona State, and last year Graham won the coaching battle. If UH is going to win, he’ll have to do it again. Go Bows!