Black Knights need to beat MAC title game-bound Rainbow Warriors to keep bowl hopes alive
Meanwhile, the Rainbow Warriors are simply in tune-up mode for next Saturday when they will face Boise State in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.
So this one — between the only two teams who will play a rare 13 regular-season games — seems to mean a whole heck of a lot more to the Black Knights than it does the Rainbow Warriors. But that doesn't mean the Warriors aren't playing for anything.
Hawaii (8-4, 5-3 MW) has won three in a row, including last week's 14-11 victory over San Diego State, as a late missed field goal by the Aztecs gave the Rainbow Warriors the West Division title.
Army (5-6) needs to win out to go bowling as the Black Knights need seven victories to qualify because of their 13-game schedule. They have won two in a row, but those victories came against UMass (63-7) and VMI (47-6), an FCS program. These two teams are a combined 6-18 on the season.
Neither result offers much reason to believe the Black Knights have completely turned things around after losing five in a row, especially given the caliber of competition.
This will be the second straight season these teams have met. Army won last year in West Point, 28-21, after Hawaii had won the previous three meetings.
Army at Hawaii
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 1, at 12:30 a.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Hawaii -2.5
When Army Has the Ball
True to the Army brand, the Black Knights love to march along the ground with their triple-option offense. And they do it well, ranking third in the country at 302.6 rushing yards per game. In the last two games alone, wins over UMass and VMI, Army has racked nearly 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
Senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. leads the way with 619 yards on 127 attempts. Fellow senior Connor Slomka is the top running back with 572 yards on a team-high 132 carries while junior Sandon McCoy is tops with eight touchdowns.
All told, seven different Black Knights have amassed more than 100 yards on the ground and 12 have been credited with a rushing touchdown. Army is tied with Navy for the most rushing touchdowns by any team (40), and as a team averaged 5.3 yards per carry (20th).
The good news for Army is that it should find some running room against a Hawaii defense that ranks 94th nationally at 188 rushing yards per game allowed. When the Rainbow Warriors do a good job against the run they usually win, as they are giving up 152.5 yards per game on the ground in their eight wins. In four losses that number jumps up to 259.
Hawaii certainly knows what to expect when it comes to the Black Knights' offensive game plan. For the season, Hopkins is completing just 43 percent of his pass attempts with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Army's leading receiver, wide receiver Camden Harrison, is responsible for 43 percent of his team's catches (22 of 51), 44 percent of the yards (400 of 914), and half of the touchdowns (3 of 6).
When Hawaii Has the Ball
The Rainbow Warriors boast one of the nation's most productive offenses. They are 11th in total offense (479.8 ypg) and tied for 31st (34.0 ppg) in scoring offense. The challenge for Hawaii in this one could be Army's defense.
The Black Knights are 22nd in FBS in scoring defense, surrendering less than 20 points per game (19.6). That thanks in large party to the country's 11th-ranked pass defense (178.7 ypg). That could be a big asset against the Rainbow Warriors' passing attack.
Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro have combined for 3,949 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Both quarterbacks have had their shares of ups and downs so it will be interesting to see how head coach Nick Rolovich approaches this game with the Mountain West title game looming.
Consistency has been an issue under center, as last week's uneven performance against San Diego State showed. The Aztecs, like Army, are solid on defense so Rolovich could give both signal-callers their opportunities to lead the offense and treat this game as sort of an audition for next week against Boise State.
Rolovich also could opt to change his game plan up and run the ball more but Hawaii has had middling success (149.6 rushing ypg) in that respect and the Black Knights hold up well on the ground (145.1 ypg) too.
Hawaii doesn't need to win this game. Army does.
And the added threat of the Black Knights' triple-option attack won't play in the Rainbow Warriors' favor either. Consider that earlier this season Hawaii gave up a whopping 353 rushing yards when Air Force brought its option offense to Honolulu.
Sure, there's pride on the line for the Warriors, but nobody lines up with more pride than Army. And it has really the only motivation to play for 60 minutes in this one.
Prediction: Army 24, Hawaii 18
(Top photo courtesy of Army West Point Athletics)