The Boise State Broncos returned to their winning ways last week with a 52-21 victory over Colorado State. Boise State improved to 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West to keep pace with upstarts Nevada and San Jose State atop the conference standings ahead of this week's date with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Hawaii, which lost to Boise State 31-10 in the Mountain West Championship Game last season, fell to 2-2 this year after a 34-10 loss to San Diego State a week ago. New head coach Todd Graham will be looking to lead the Rainbow Warriors to their first win against the Broncos since 2008.
Boise State at Hawaii
Kickoff: Saturday, November 21, at 11 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boise State -14
When Boise State Has the Ball
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier excelled in the season opener against Utah State and completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 268 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and added a rushing TD. However, Bachmeier was sidelined against both Air Force and BYU with what was later disclosed to be a positive COVID-19 test. Jack Sears started both games and performed very well but was injured early against BYU and gave way to Cade Fennegan. Bachmeier returned last week against Colorado State, going 16-for-28 as a passer, with 202 yards and a touchdown, and is in line to make his third start of the season, the 11th of his career.
Khalil Shakir has emerged as Bachmeier's favorite target and is one of the best all-around offensive weapons in the Mountain West. Shakir leads the Broncos with 27 receptions, 399 yards, and four touchdowns, all of which rank among the top three in the conference. CT Thomas ranks No. 8 in the league in receiving yardage (256) and has caught two touchdowns among his 13 receptions, a 19.69-yard average that also ranks among the top 10 in the Mountain West. Tight ends John Bates (12 rec., 117 yds.) and Riley Smith (7, 60, TD) have also been valuable as receivers.
There are depth issues at running back with George Holani limited to just 16 carries this season — none of them in the last two games. When healthy, Holani (who ran for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns against Utah State after racking up 1,014 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns as a freshman in 2019) is one of the best backs in the Mountain West. His presence has been missed, as Boise State ranks 101st nationally in rushing offense (125.0 ypg) and 83rd in yards per attempt (3.91). There's a chance Holani could return this week, but even if so, it's unclear to what extent he'd be available. Shakir has been useful as a runner, having gained 108 yards on 10 carries, but Andrew Van Buren has taken on a heavy role of late with 164 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 48 carries.
When Hawaii Has the Ball
Chevan Cordeiro looked like the Hawaii quarterbacks of old against New Mexico on Nov. 7, throwing for 410 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions on 33-for-43 passing. However, Cordeiro has been much less productive in his other three starts, completing a combined 47 of 92 attempts (51.1 percent) for 548 yards with one touchdown and two picks. The third-year sophomore has run for 174 yards and three scores as part of an improved rushing attack, but we'd gotten used to seeing the Rainbow Warriors ranked among the nation's leaders in passing offense, so it's odd to see Hawaii sitting at No. 57 on the FBS leaderboard so far, averaging only 239.5 passing yards per contest.
Miles Reed leads the Rainbow Warriors with 191 rushing yards, though 109 of them came in the opener against Fresno State. Transfer Calvin Turner (138 yds., 2 TDs) and freshman Dae Dae Hunter (100 rushing yards, TD) give Hawaii a deep group of ball carriers, and Turner's versatility (he leads the team with 227 receiving yards and is tied with Zion Bowens for the lead with two touchdown catches) has been a pleasant surprise, but no one has emerged as the go-to running back yet for Graham.
Jared Smart (185 receiving yards) and transfer Rico Bussey (137) have combined for 38 receptions albeit on just 8.8 and 8.1 yards per catch, respectively. Nick Mardner broke out with 147 yards and a touchdown on six grabs against New Mexico but has just three catches combined across the other three games. Bowens has averaged 34.3 yards per reception — on four catches. In all, the receiving corps has weapons, but like the entire offense as a whole, hasn't found a consistent rhythm under the new coaching staff.
If Holani returns healthy or the Broncos opt to ride Van Buren, Boise State should be able to run the football. Hawaii ranks 121st in rushing defense (251.5 yards allowed per game) and 113th in yards allowed per carry (5.44). The Rainbow Warriors should have success on the ground as well. Boise State has also surrendered 219.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 107th, but nearly half of the damage occurred against Air Force's triple-option attack. Still, Boise State has allowed 4.70 yards per carry, which ranks 88th.
Digging deeper, the Broncos rank No. 109 in Expected Points Added per rushing attempt (0.134), when removing garbage plays, according to cfb-graphs.com while Hawaii ranks 108th (0.132). The two defenses are mirror images of one another against the pass as well, with Hawaii ranking 19th in EPA per pass (-0.125) and Boise State No. 20 (-0.125), and both units sitting in the top 10 of the FBS leaderboard in traditional pass defense.
Which offense will break through? Boise State has been more consistent, and with Bachmeier healthy and available, there's reason to expect the Broncos have the edge. If Holani can return, that edge would be even bigger.
Prediction: Boise State 39, Hawaii 24
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions