By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The University of Hawaii football team hosts New Mexico State this Saturday at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex on the UH-Manoa campus. The Rainbow Warriors are 3-4 on the season (1-2 in Mountain West play) and are looking to rebound from last week’s 34-17 loss to Nevada. The 1-6 Aggies have lost three straight games, including their most recent defeat, a 55-28 blowout at the hands of the same Nevada Wolf Pack. The Aggies are coming off a bye week.
For both teams, Saturday’s contest is a rare in-season rematch. Hawaii and NMSU played each other less than a month ago, on Sept. 25 in Las Cruces. Here’s what happened then, and what you can expect this Saturday:
LAST MONTH: The Rainbow Warriors took advantage of two big first-half plays – one by the offense, and one by the defense – to catapult them to a hard-fought 41-21 victory. On the very first play of their first possession, UH QB Chevan Cordeiro connected on a 74-yard TD strike to WR Nick Mardner to take an early 7-3 lead. Later, at the start of the second quarter, Hawaii’s Quentin Frazier deflected a lateral pass thrown by Aggie QB Jonah Johnson. Cornerback Cameron Lockridge scooped up the ball and returned it for a five-yard defensive TD.
Despite the big plays, Hawaii only led 17-13 at the half. Cordeiro opened the second-half scoring with a one-yard TD run late in the third quarter, and UH receiver Calvin Turner followed up with a 14-yard TD run at the start of the fourth. RB Dedrick Parson capped the scoring for the visiting team with a 19-yard run near the end of the game.
Cordeiro finished the day with 277 passing yards, one TD and one INT. His Aggie counterpart, Johnson, posted nearly identical numbers: 280 passing yards, one TD and one INT. The UH defense sacked Johnson four times.
The victory is, to date, Hawaii’s lone road win of the season.
SINCE THEN: Injuries have taken a toll on Hawaii. Cordeiro has been out with an upper-body injury (except for taking one snap last week as a punter) for the past two games. Although the Saint Louis alum could return to action on Saturday, it’s likely that true freshman Brayden Schager will make his third consecutive start for the Rainbow Warriors. In his last two outings, Schager is 33 for 66 in passing attempts for 321 yards, two TDs and four INTs. Unlike Cordeiro, Schager is not a threat to run with the ball; his rushing total on the season is minus-34 yards.
Hawaii’s leading rusher, Dae Dae Hunter, was injured against Nevada and will miss this week’s game. Dedrick Parson, whose season high in rushing (89 yards) came in the first UH-NMSU game, will step in as the starter.
NMSU, meanwhile, is 0-2 since the Sept. 25 game against UH, falling to San Jose State and Nevada. Johnson put up impressive numbers in the two losses, going a combined 68 for 106 in passing attempts for 725 passing yards, six TDs and only one INT. Aggie head coach Doug Martin recently told the Las Cruces Sun News that he and his players are looking forward to the rematch, saying: “I think they are a confident anyway because most of our games have been competitive and we are getting better and better so they have a good attitude.”
FORECAST: Hawaii is an 18-point favorite to beat NMSU on Saturday. While the Rainbow Warriors aren’t in a position to take any opponent likely, it’s difficult to see a scenario where the Aggies spring an upset regardless of who the UH QB is. The Aggies are 0-9 against Hawaii, and I expect that losing streak to continue. Prediction: Hawaii 38, New Mexico State 24.