By Bobby Curran.
There is every reason to believe that this weekend’s game between the Rainbow Warriors and the Rebels will be a closely fought battle. Both teams have had largely disappointing seasons, but both have shown flashes where they’ve been very good. The Rebels are trying to learn how to win, and the Rainbow Warriors are trying to develop some consistency on both sides of the ball.
UNLV got its first win of the season on the road in Albuquerque last week, defeating New Mexico, 31-17. The Rebels had a stretch recently where they lost four one-score games in a row. The repeated failures in making a big play when needed can wear a team down, but to their credit they’ve come out each week with a renewed sense of purpose. With a record of 1-8, they wouldn’t seem to have much to play for, except this is the Hawaii game and they always get up for this one.
They’ve been starting a true freshman QB, Cameron Friel from Kailua HS, and he has played pretty well, chalking up a 127 efficiency rating while completing almost 64% of his passes. There have been learning curves along the way, but the experience this year should springboard his future. RB Charles Williams remains the bell cow in the offense, rushing for 749 yards at 4.6 per and 8 TDs. At receiver, Steve Jenkins and Kyle Williams lead the way with 32 and 30 receptions respectively. TE Giovanni Fauolo can be a factor with 14 catches for 7.4 ypc.
Defensively, MLB Austin Ajiake with 74 T and hybrid S/LB Jacoby Windman (72 T) lead the way. The unit has had trouble getting off the field on third down, something they corrected against UNM. Safety Phillip Hill has three INTs and CB Cameron Oliver has two. UNLV has only eight sacks total on the season.
Hawaii comes off a heartbreaking loss against SDSU in which they managed only 10 points. So the offense was the culprit, despite the defense giving up only 226 yards. There is no margin left for the Rainbow Warriors; they need to win their remaining three games to be bowl eligible. Against UNLV, Hawaii will need to establish the run game and use play action to get the ball out to their receivers. They will face a weak pass rush, and that should give Chevan Cordeiro plenty of time to throw.
Above all, UH needs to to hang onto the football and avoid foolish penalties. Hawaii has found itself behind the chains far too often due to avoidable mistakes. The hope is that Dae Dae Hunter will be back, but Dedrick Parson is more than capable. The receiving corps should have a big day. Hawaii leads the country in giveaways with 24 (11 fumbles lost and 13 interceptions). Way too many, and Saturday would be a prime opportunity to change that.
The oft-maligned Hawaii defense has been superb at times. And by the way, this defense is fourth in the nation at forcing turnovers. They have turned teams over 21 times. LB Darius Muasau and S/LB Khoury Bethley each have 76 stops and have been fantastic. The rotation on the defensive front have been stout and disruptive. But they’ll need to be even better in Las Vegas. Takeaways, and no giveaways. Easily said, not so easily done. The season may depend on it. Go Bows!