The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors return to warmer temperatures and Mountain West Conference play Saturday as Nick Rolovich’s squad hosts the Nevada Wolf Pack. Hawaii fell to 6-2 overall after a 49-23 loss at BYU a week ago, but the Rainbow Warriors still sit atop the MW Western Division with a 3-0 record in league play.
A change of scenery might also suit Nevada. Jay Norvell’s Wolf Pack will arrive in Honolulu with a 3-4 overall record and 1-2 mark in Mountain West action and will aim to get back on track following back-to-back home losses to conference heavyweights Fresno State and Boise State.
Nevada at Hawaii
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 11:59 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Spectrum (in Hawaii), Stadium App (outside Hawaii)
Spread: Hawaii -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald leads the Mountain West in passing (335.4 yards per game, No. 3 nationally), passer rating (163.68, No. 16 overall) and touchdowns (26, No. 2 in FBS). McDonald also ranks third in the league in yards per attempt (8.4, No. 28 in the country) while completing an impressive 64 percent of his passes in Rolovich’s updated Run-and-Shoot offense, with just three interceptions. A capable scrambler, McDonald has 249 rushing yards and two scores on the ground as well and appears to be recovered from the unspecified injury that held him out of the win over Wyoming. The sophomore was 22-for-38 passing for 248 yards and two TDs with one pick last week against BYU.
Nevada QB Ty Gangi's numbers aren't quite as prolific, but he’s still one of the best in the Mountain West. Gangi has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,636 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions this season. He, too, was held out of action once but returned to completed 24-of-42 attempts for 304 yards and two TDs with one interceptions last week against Boise State. Like McDonald, Gangi can pick up yards on the ground when necessary: He’s Nevada’s third-leading rusher with 122 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Top targets
The Mountain West is loaded with high-quality receivers, and Hawaii and Nevada both have multiple pass catchers worth watching. UH wideout John Ursua is currently the FBS receiving Triple Crown leader, topping the national leaderboard in receptions (64), receiving yards (890) and touchdown catches (13). Ursua already has five 100-yard receiving games this season, and he has caught at least one scoring strike in six of seven contests. But Ursua isn’t the only Rainbow Warrior capable of putting up big numbers. Newcomer Cedric Byrd ranks second in the conference in receptions (53) and TDs (7) and ranks third in the league with 594 receiving yards.
Nevada’s McLane Mannix sits just behind Byrd with 563 receiving yards. A big-play threat, Mannix ranks fourth in the conference in yards per reception (19.83), and he has scored on seven of his 29 catches. Teammate Kaleb Fossum has played the role of possession receiver for the Wolf Pack, and he ranks fourth in the Mountain West with 48 receptions. Fossum has yet to find the end zone, but the 5-foot-9 junior has racked up 506 receiving yards, which ranks seventh in the league.
3. Rushing the passer
Both offenses are capable of putting up big numbers, and both defenses will have their hands full. However, both Hawaii and Nevada have had success rushing the passer. Led by Kaimana Padello, whose 7.0 sacks lead the Mountain West and rank among the top 10 nationally, the Rainbow Warriors have recorded a league-high 22 sacks this season. Only five teams in the country have gotten to the quarterback more in 2018.
However, Nevada isn’t far behind. The Wolf Pack rank fourth in the conference with 18.0 sacks. Pro prospect linebacker Malik Reed sits No. 4 on the conference leaderboard with 5.0 sacks, and aptly named defensive lineman Korey Rush ranks ninth with 3.0. Offensively, Nevada’s quick passing game has helped limit sacks. Wolf Pack QBs have been sacked 10 times this season compared to Hawaii’s 21 sacks allowed.
With two strong offenses and two mediocre defenses, we can expect lots of points. Hawaii has been more consistent offensively this season and has done a better job limiting turnovers, but the Rainbow Warriors have also allowed an ugly 6.11 yards per play on defense, which ranks 100th nationally. Nevada has a slightly better rushing attack behind freshman running back Toa Taua, and a better rushing defense and stronger offensive line, but the edges are small in each area.
Overall, these are two evenly matched teams. But, because Hawaii has done a better job finding a way to win this season, and also because Nevada will be the team forced to travel halfway across the Pacific Ocean to play, the Rainbow Warriors have the best chance to pick up a victory.
Prediction: Hawaii 38, Nevada 34
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo by Harry Caston, courtesy of @HawaiiFootball)