Cougars host the Rainbow Warriors with true freshman Zach Wilson set to make his first start at quarterback
These two schools are old rivals with more of the rivalry coming from the Hawaii side of things, but this matchup has produced great games over the years. Last year, BYU defeated Hawaii 30-20 on the islands in the season-finale for both teams to end disastrous 2017 campaigns.
This year, both programs have made improvements and the improvements are very noticeable on the Hawaii sideline as Nick Rolovich and his team are 6-1 and one win away from becoming bowl eligible. For BYU, the Cougars came out of the gates strong with a 3-1 start that included a win over then-No. 6 Wisconsin. Now after two consecutive losses, BYU is looking to bounce back and get back to forming their winning identity once again.
Hawaii at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. New starting quarterback for BYU
After a pair of losses where BYU wasn’t competitive, head coach Kalani Sitake has decided to make a quarterback change. Tanner Mangum has had moments of great success but then he also has had long stretches where the offense did little or nothing. That has especially been the case the past two weeks as the Cougars have lost to Washington and Utah State by a combined score of 80-27.
Looking for a spark, Sitake has decided to give true freshman Zach Wilson his first career start with the news coming out Thursday morning. In limited action, Wilson has completed four of six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown to go along with 25 rushing yards. A small sample size indeed, but now he'll get his shot against a Hawaii defense that's allowing 410 yards and 30 points per game.
2. Hawaii QB Cole McDonald
McDonald, who has been a pleasant surprise this season, is dealing with an injury of some sort but he's still expected to play Saturday night. The sophomore is currently second in the nation in passing with 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's thrown just two interceptions despite all the attempts (240, third in the FBS), as he helped lead Hawaii to an unexpected 6-1 start.
Head coach Nick Rolovich's decision to return the program back to its run-and-shoot roots have paid off in a big way, but this offense isn't the same without McDonald at the helm. He missed last week's home game against Wyoming with an undisclosed injury and while the Rainbow Warriors won, the offense managed just 17 points. In the games in which he has played that number jumps to 42 per game.
3. Old WAC rivalry
These two teams used to have some heated matchups back when they were conference foes in the old Western Athletic Conference. Rolovich has said that he has shown YouTube clips to his team from old BYU-Hawaii games where the Rainbow Warriors pulled off the upset and emphasized how much this game means to the people on the islands. Rolovich had his own success as a player defeating an undefeated and No. 9-ranked BYU team in 2001, 72-45, the most points that have ever been given up in a game by the Cougars. All of Hawaii’s success in this matchup has come on the islands. BYU is 9-0 against Hawaii in Provo.
This is an interesting matchup based on the Vegas line, the lack of scoring firepower from BYU this season, and Hawaii’s inability to stop many opposing offenses. The hope is that starting Zach Wilson at quarterback will inject some life into an offense that has done very little the past two weeks. The Rainbow Warriors will get their share of points, but the Cougars' advantage in the trenches will be the difference in this one. Wilson serves as the sparkplug as BYU puts up a season high in points to get back on track and one win closer to bowl eligibility.
Prediction: BYU 34, Hawaii 27
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
(Top photo courtesy of @BYUfootball)