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Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez

Another week, another flight over the Pacific for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. America's most-traveled college football program gets something of a reprieve in its fourth contest of 2016 after having flown from Sydney, Australia, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and back to Honolulu for its first three contests.

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The six-hour flight to Tucson is just a hop, skip and a jump in comparison.

Still, the Sonoran Desert could not be much different from the Islands. Arizona enjoys a serious home-field advantage in Week 3 — and the Wildcats need it after opening the season with two taxing contests against BYU and Grambling.

Hawaii at Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Line: Arizona -24.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Starting Slow

Rich Rodriguez's typically explosive offense has been driving without an engine in first halves thus far in 2016. The Wildcats have scored a grand total of three points in four opening quarters against BYU and Grambling. Zero touchdowns, in other words.

By contrast, Hawaii's defense allowed 34 first-half points against Cal, 35 against Michigan, and 17 against UT-Martin.

Something has to give, whether it's Arizona's offense finally getting out of the blocks — and into the end zone — before intermission, or the Rainbow Warriors finally avoiding a disadvantage through the opening quarters.

2. Carry Distribution

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Running back Orlando Bradford was dismissed from Arizona's roster Wednesday, shortly after an arrest. Bradford's removal from the lineup leaves Nick Wilson as the only running back with much in the way of collegiate carries. Wilson's been explosive at times in his career, even looking like he could be on par with the Pac-12's best during the 2014 season.

He's been injury prone, however, making the distribution of touches an important wrinkle to the Wildcat offense. Without Bradford, Arizona could turn to quarterback Brandon Dawkins, a more mobile player than injured starter Anu Solomon. However, Rodriguez wants to limit hits on Dawkins with Solomon sidelined.

Freshman J.J. Taylor could see touches for the first time, particularly if the Wildcats are able to get out in front early.

3. Turnover Creation 

New Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates injected life into what was one of the worst defenses in college football a season ago. Thus far, it's been bend-but-don't-break: BYU managed yards, but just 18 points. Grambling scored 21 before halftime and totaled big yardage through the air, but was blanked in the second half.

More notable is that Arizona generated an incredible six turnovers last week against the Tigers from the FCS ranks. While such a pace would be impossible to keep, Hawaii's a likely candidate to help the Wildcats along that route.

The Rainbow Warriors have given away eight turnovers through three games, including three interceptions thrown by quarterback Ikaika Woolsey last week vs. UT-Martin.

Final Analysis

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Arizona's one drive away from 2-0, with an impressive win over BYU to its credit. In the same vein, just a few turnovers separate the Wildcats from a 0-2 start, with a cataclysmic loss to Grambling sullying their ledger.

It's tough to glean too much from two oddly different games beyond this: Arizona needs to open games with the same intensity it's finished the last two weeks. This is the last opportunity for a tune-up before beginning Pac-12 play with a real test, when Washington visits Arizona Stadium.

Arizona's 28-0 second half against Grambling should give the Wildcats a springboard against another opponent that should be no match for them — at least on paper.

Prediction: Arizona 38, Hawaii 24

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.