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Hawaii vs. Nevada Football Prediction and Preview

Carson Strong, Nevada Wolf Pack Football

Carson Strong and the Wolf Pack host the upset-minded Rainbow Warriors on Saturday night in an intriguing Mountain West divisional matchup

The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and the Nevada Wolf Pack both enter their Week 7 Mountain West meeting on Saturday night in Reno having won two straight games. So something's gotta give.

"Each week is a must-win situation," Hawaii head coach Todd Graham told reporters.

Added Warriors all-purpose weapon Calvin Turner Jr., "We want to use this as momentum to launch us forward."

"Forward" for Turner and the Warriors would push them above .500, since the two consecutive victories — with the latest an impressive effort coming against then-No. 18 Fresno State Bulldogs on Oct. 2 — have turned around their season to give them a 3-3 record (1-1 in conference play).

But for the hosts, a win at Mackay Stadium would continue a solid start that's got the Wolf Pack running hot at 4-1, including a 41-31 road victory over Boise State two weeks ago in their only conference game thus far.

"We can still play better," Nevada head coach Jay Norvell told reporters.

This statement coming after the Wolf Pack took New Mexico State to the proverbial woodshed last Saturday, whipping the Aggies 55-28 at home.

Hawaii is coming off of its bye week, well-rested, and looking to maintain its recent momentum away from the islands.

Hawaii at Nevada

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Nevada -14

When Hawaii Has the Ball

The bye served the Warriors well at QB. Chevan Cordeiro could be ready to get back on the field after getting injured three weeks ago and sitting out the upset of Fresno State.

Sure, freshman quarterback Brayden Schager was in on the victory, but it was really the defense that did the damage in the much-celebrated triumph. Schager was just 11-of-27 for 116 yards against the Bulldogs after it was announced prior to kickoff that Cordeiro — who is 101-of-185 for 1,410 yards and seven touchdowns against six interceptions — wasn't available to play.

Don't be surprised if Graham uses both signal-callers against Nevada, especially with the focal point of the offense shifting to the running game that was so successful against Fresno State.

Hawaii rolled up 232 rushing yards against the Bulldogs, led by Dae Dae Hunter's 127 on 21 carries. The freshman leads the team in rushing with 384 yards, but he's not the only one getting the job done on the ground. Dedrick Parson (203 yds.), Cordeiro (195), and Turner (184) also are contributing to the Warriors' 159.3 rushing yards per game effort, which ranks sixth in the Mountain West.

And why not continue to run the rock on Saturday night since Nevada has been spotty at best in stopping it? In the Wolf Pack's only loss thus far, they surrendered 269 rushing yards to Kansas State from the Big 12.

An effective ground attack also would help negate the conference's most disruptive pass rush that has produced six sacks in each of the last two games. And it just so happens that Hawaii ranks near the bottom of the Mountain West when it comes to sacks allowed (16 in six games).

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That doesn't mean that Graham will completely abandon the pass, however, not with the array of pass-catching weapons on his roster. Nick Mardner leads the way with 492 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while the versatile Turner is fifth in the conference with 31 receptions.

"He's one of the most athletic players in our league," Norvell told reporters, pointing to Turner's 585 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. "They find a way to put the ball in his hands, and we have to get after him."

When Nevada Has the Ball

When we say the defense won it for Hawaii against Fresno State, we mean it. That unit forced six turnovers in the trumpeted victory, as part of 16 in the last five games.

That's fine work, but up next is a Wolf Pack offense that is both productive and protective with the ball. They have just three turnovers in the first five games.

And with quarterback Carson Strong seemingly getting, well, stronger with each passing game — he's the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week — don't expect the Warriors to have another banner day defensively.

Strong, a junior who's turning the heads of NFL scouts, had a 377-yard, six-touchdown day against New Mexico State a week ago. All told, he's thrown for 1,595 yards with 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

Even better for Strong is the expected return of star senior wide receiver Romeo Doubs from a leg injury. Doubs, with 22 catches for 304 yards this season, missed last week's game.

Without Doubs, Strong turned to Melquan Stovall and Justin Lockhart, who each put up more than 100 receiving yards in the win over the Aggies. There's also senior tight end Cole Turner, who has produced 11 touchdowns since the start of the 2020 season.

"We have a real deep receiving corps," Strong told reporters. "I trust all my guys. It doesn't matter who it is because I know all of them can make plays."

With such a potent passing attack, Nevada doesn't run the ball much, averaging just 86 rushing yards a game. But Toa Taua (44 att., 307 yds., 2 TDs) is capable of gaining ground when called upon.

Final Analysis

Strong is clearly the main player to watch in this game as he powers one of the nation's top passing attacks (357 ypg) and considering Hawaii is on the opposite end of the spectrum in this respect. The Rainbow Warriors are giving up 292 yards per game through the air (120th nationally), and even though they upset Fresno State a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs still put up 388 passing yards.

"There are a lot of different ways we can score," Norvell told reporters, being careful, though, not to get too ahead of himself. "We don't want to let any team off the hook."

Despite Hawaii's recent success, that's not likely to happen Saturday. Strong and Co. are at home and should continue to enjoy plenty of success on offense.

Try as they might, the visitors won't be able to stop that potent attack or keep up offensively themselves.

Prediction: Nevada 48, Hawaii 28

Podcast: Week 7 Preview & Predictions + Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.