The Fresno State Bulldogs aim to stay atop the West Division standings Saturday when the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors visit the valley in a Mountain West Conference showdown. Fresno State improved its record to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in MWC play last week with a 38-7 victory on the road against New Mexico. The Bulldogs, who have won five straight and continue to inch closer to the Top 25, have yet to allow a conference opponent to score double digits.
Meanwhile, Hawaii lost its second straight game as Nevada beat the Rainbow Warriors at home, 40-22. It also was the second consecutive game and the fourth time this season in which the UH defense surrendered 40 or more points. Nevertheless, Hawaii’s potent offense has powered the Rainbow Warriors to a 6-3 overall record, and a 3-1 mark in conference, which has allowed UH maintain control of its fate in the division race.
Hawaii at Fresno State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Fresno State -24.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Two of the most productive quarterbacks in the Mountain West will be on display as Hawaii QB Cole McDonald and Fresno State signal caller Marcus McMaryion take the field. As the conductor of head coach Nick Rolovich’s updated Run and Shoot offense, McDonald leads the conference in passing (325.9 yards per game, which ranks No. 5 nationally), touchdowns (29, second most in FBS) and he ranks second in rating (160.54, No. 15 overall). Though McDonald’s rushing numbers (270 yards, 2 TDs) aren’t huge, in part because he’s taken 22 sacks, he is also a dangerous runner.
McMaryion is also capable of making plays with both his arm and his feet in head coach Jeff Tedford’s balanced attack. The senior has completed an MWC-best 70.8 percent of his passes for 1,858 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions, which is good for a league-leading 164.28 rating. McMaryion also leads the conference with an average of 8.8 yards per pass attempt (a half-yard better than McDonald), which ranks 16th nationally.
2. Top targets
Likewise, Hawaii and Fresno State each boast one of the top receivers in the Mountain West. UH wideout John Ursua isn’t just the Mountain West’s receiving Triple Crown leader, he leads the country in receptions (71) and touchdown catches (14), and is tied for the national lead with 1,013 receiving yards. Ursua has been incredibly consistent, having recorded at least five receptions in every game this season. He has eclipsed 100 receiving yards six times, and has at least one TD in seven of eight games.
Fresno State wideout KeeSean Johnson doesn’t have the same eye-popping raw numbers as Ursua, but he’s arguably just as good. Johnson ranks third in the Mountain West with 94.1 receiving yards per game, which puts him No. 16 on the national leaderboard. The 6-foot-2, 199-pound senior ranks fifth in the league in receptions (46), third in receiving yards (659) and fourth in TDs (6).
3. A tale of two defenses
Both Hawaii and Fresno State can score points in a hurry, but only one has consistently kept opponents off the scoreboard. In fact, no one has done a better job than the Bulldogs. Fresno State leads the country in scoring defense (12.6 points allowed per game) and leads the Mountain West and ranks in the top 15 in the country in total defense (298.1 yards allowed per game), yards allowed per play (4.4) and pass defense (173.3 yards allowed per game). Fresno State has also picked off 13 passes and held opponents to a 91.23 rating, both of which are best in the Mountain West and rank second nationally.
Hawaii finds itself on the other end of the spectrum. The Rainbow Warriors rank No. 108 in the country in yards allowed per play (6.23), and No. 101 in total defense (425.6) largely because opponents have feasted on the Hawaii secondary. The Rainbow Warriors rank No. 93 nationally in pass defense (246.4) having surrendered an ugly 8.7 yards per attempt, which ranks 118th. UH also sits No. 117 in FBS in rating allowed (154.39) and has intercepted just four of 255 attempts while allowing 18 touchdown passes. It should come as no surprise Hawaii also finds itself in the triple digits in scoring defense (32.9, No. 102).
Hawaii has posted solid offensive numbers overall, but the Rainbow Warriors have also slowed down considerably over the last few weeks. Over its last three games, UH has averaged just 20.7 points and 328.7 yards of total offense, as well as 4.81 yards per play. For comparison’s sake, the Rainbow Warriors averaged 42.0 points, 6.98 yards per play and 495.8 yards of total offense in the six games prior. It’s a sobering trend given the fact Hawaii has yet to face a defense as stingy as the Bulldogs. Coupled with the Rainbow Warriors’ struggles defensively, Hawaii could be in for a long night.
Prediction: Fresno State 41, Hawaii 13
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo courtesy of hawaiiathletics.com)