The Nevada Wolf Pack are set to put their undefeated record and first-place standing in the Mountain West on the line Saturday against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Nevada survived with a 26-21 victory over San Diego State last week, improving to 5-0 with three games to go. Hawaii lost 40-32 to Boise State Saturday night after a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell short, which dropped the Rainbow Warriors to 2-3 in Todd Graham's first season.
Nevada at Hawaii
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28, at 11 p.m. ET
TV: Spectrum Sports PPV (in Hawaii) and Team1Sports app (outside Hawaii)
Spread: Nevada -7
When Nevada Has the Ball
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong has been one of the most consistently productive players in the Mountain West in 2020. Strong has completed 70.2 percent of his passes — never falling below 63.2 in a single game — for a Mountain West-leading 1,805 yards and 14 touchdowns with only two interceptions. The sophomore has averaged 361.0 passing yards per game, which ranks third in the country, and has averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt.
Strong's top target, Romeo Doubs, has quickly emerged as one of the best receivers in college football. In fact, Doubs leads the nation with an average of 155.6 receiving yards per game. He also leads the Mountain West with 778 receiving yards and nine touchdowns and ranks second in the conference with 36 receptions. But the junior, who has averaged 21.61 yards per catch, isn't alone: tight end Cole Turner ranks third in the league with 27 receptions, on which he has gained 379 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Justin Lockhart has caught 26 passes (fifth in the conference) for 218 yards and one score, and Melquan Stovall is tied for 11th in the Mountain West with 18 receptions, which he has turned into 151 yards.
Running back Toa Taua missed the season opener but has 307 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries in the four games since. Devonte Lee is a solid second option with 167 yards and one touchdown on 39 attempts, and freshman Avery Morrow has chipped in with 82 rushing yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. The Nevada offense has averaged 6.64 yards per play and 460.6 total yards per game, which ranks No. 20 and No. 26 nationally, respectively.
When Hawaii Has the Ball
Hawaii's offense is similarly talented, but not as consistent, so far in 2020. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro has flashed huge potential as both a passer and a runner, including a 410-yard passing performance against New Mexico and 116 rushing yards and two scores against Utah State. Cordeiro put together arguably his best all-around game last week with 253 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 90 yards on the ground against Boise State. However, Cordiero completed 25 of 48 passes against the Broncos — 52.1 percent — which dropped his season average to 57.9 percent. He has twice failed to break the 50 percent mark as a passer. Overall, Cordeiro has thrown for 1,211 yards — good for second in the Mountain West — with eight touchdowns and four interceptions and has run for 264 yards and three TDs.
Like Cordeiro, the Hawaii supporting cast has flashed big potential. Running back Miles Reed ran for 109 yards in the opener, ranks second on the team with 208 rushing yards on 44 carries, and has caught 11 passes for 76 yards (including six for 69 last week). Do-everything grad transfer Calvin Turner has run for 170 yards and three touchdowns on 33 attempts as a running back and Wildcat quarterback, and he also leads the team with 292 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 15 receptions. Jared Smart leads the way with 23 catches, on which he has gained 202 yards and scored once. Nick Mardner caught six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown against New Mexico. Rico Bussey, who like Smart is a former 1,000-yard receiver, has caught 18 passes for 149 yards, and Zion Bowens has scored twice and averaged 29.0 yards across five receptions.
Nevada was a bowl team in 2019 and finished with a 7-6 record, so its hot start isn't unprecedented. Nevertheless, the Wolf Pack could be one of the most improved teams in the country in 2020. In addition to the offensive success, Nevada ranks second in the Mountain West in total defense (312.8 total yards per game) and yards allowed per play (4.64), both of which rank among the top 15 nationally. Nevada has done an excellent job on third downs, having allowed 21 conversions in 76 opportunities — a 27.6 percent rate that ranks ninth in FBS.
Hawaii finished 10-5 following a loss in the Mountain West Championship Game and a victory over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl, which is increasingly impressive given the Cougars' dominance this year. But the Rainbow Warriors have also faced a lot of turnover at key spots, including the entire coaching staff and at quarterback, among other positions. Numbers are moving in the right way defensively, including a drop in scoring defense (from 31.9 points allowed per game in 2019 to 31.4), total defense (431.3 to 413.0), and yards allowed per play (6.29 to 5.87), but not nearly as much as Nevada. The Rainbow Warriors have also lacked the stability on offense to cover up defensive deficiencies. Hawaii is a tough opponent, especially at Aloha Stadium, but Nevada has looked like a true conference title contender this year and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Prediction: Nevada 35, Hawaii 24
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
(Top photo by Matt Burn/University of Hawaii)