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Utah State Aggies vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Prediction and Preview

Utah State Aggies vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Prediction and Preview

Utah State Aggies vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Prediction and Preview

The Utah State Aggies and Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are set to square off Saturday night in an important Mountain West Conference showdown at Aloha Stadium. One of the hottest teams in the country, Utah State destroyed New Mexico 61-19 last week to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in league play. The win not only kept the Aggies atop the Mountain Division standings, it also propelled Matt Wells’ team all the way to No. 18 in the AP poll. However, Utah State was left out of the College Football Playoff rankings, meaning the Aggies have a lot of work to do to challenge for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Hawaii, which once entertained NY6 thoughts of its own after jumping out to a 6-1 record, has gone ice cold in recent weeks. The Rainbow Warriors have lost three straight games, including a 50-20 blowout at Fresno State last week. Still in need of one more win to become bowl eligible because of a 13-game regular season schedule, what once seemed to be a foregone conclusion is now in jeopardy.

Utah State at Hawaii

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11:59 p.m. ET

TV: Spectrum (in Hawaii), Stadium App (Outside Hawaii)

Spread: Utah State -19.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The quarterbacks

Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald exploded onto the national scene during Hawaii’s hot start, and he still ranks among the national leaders in many statistical categories. McDonald ranks third in the country in passing yardage (2,832) and is tied for the FBS lead in touchdown passes (30) while throwing just four interceptions in 343 attempts. With the help of a talented receiving corps led by FBS receptions and TD reception leader John Ursua, McDonald also ranks among the top 25 in the country among qualified quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (8.3) and rating (158.28). He’s a good runner as well, having gained 332 yards with two touchdowns on the ground.

But as good as McDonald’s numbers are, Utah State signal caller Jordan Love might be even better. Love has completed 64.5 percent of his passes (compared to McDonald’s 62.4 percent) for 2,058 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions (only two of which have come since Week 1). The sophomore has thrown for 300 yards or more four times this season, and has connected on four or more touchdown passes three times, which includes a career high 448-yard, 4-TD performance last week and a career-best five touchdowns against UNLV. Love has averaged 8.3 yards per pass, and though he’s got just 47 rushing yards, he has four rushing touchdowns.

2. Rushing the passer

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Given the pair of star quarterbacks on display, and the strength of the two offenses as a whole, both defenses will have their hands full. Statistically speaking, the Utah State defense is far superior to Hawaii as the Aggies rank third in the Mountain West and 38th nationally in total defense (351.9 yards allowed per game). They are also first in the conference and No. 11 overall in yards allowed per play (4.53), while the Rainbow Warriors rank in triple digits nationally in both categories: No. 103 in total defense (439.2) and No. 112 in yards allowed per play (6.4).

However, if there is a bright spot for the Hawaii defense, it’s the pass rush. The Rainbow Warriors have 23 sacks this season, which ranks third in the league (just one behind the co-leaders Boise State and Nevada) and 22nd nationally. Hawaii defensive end Kaimana Padello leads the Mountain West and sits at No. 12 on the FBS leaderboard with 7.0 sacks.

However, Hawaii’s sack numbers have slowed mightily during the three-game losing streak, falling from five in back-to-back weeks versus San Jose State and Wyoming, to three against BYU, one versus Nevada, and zero last week against Fresno State. Making matters worse, the Utah State offensive line has allowed just eight sacks this season, which is the third fewest in the Mountain West overall. The Aggies have surrendered just three sacks across the last six games.

3. Turnovers

Despite attempting 381 passes this season (second most in the conference and fourth most in the country), Hawaii quarterbacks have thrown only five interceptions, which is good for a 1.3 percent interception rate that ranks among the nation’s best. However, Hawaii ranks No. 97 in the country in turnover margin (minus-4) as the Rainbow Warriors have lost seven fumbles and have managed just eight takeaways on defense. UH has lost the turnover battle six times, including in five of its last six games.

On the other end of the spectrum, Utah State has forced 21 turnovers on defense, which is the most in the MWC and third most in the country. The Aggies have picked off 12 passes (second most in the league and No. 8 in FBS) and have tossed only four in 277 pass attempts on offense, good for a solid 1.42 percent interception rate. If not for nine lost fumbles (more than all but five other FBS programs), Utah State might rank toward the very top of the national leaderboard in turnover margin. Still, the Aggies rank No. 11 nationally with a plus-8 turnover margin and have lost the turnover battle only once this season (a minus-1 performance against Air Force).

Final Analysis

The Hawaii defense has been the biggest cause for concern during the Rainbow Warriors’ recent downturn, having surrendered 40 points or more during each of the last three contests, and in five of 10 games overall. That’s a bad sign for a unit preparing to face a Utah State offense that has averaged 49.4 points per game — third most in the country — and has scored 59 or more four times. Though UH has found success rushing the passer this season, the Aggies offensive line does a great job protecting Love, and the Aggies also rank among the best in the country in turnover margin, while Hawaii has been among the worst.

College Football Rankings: Utah State

In short, Utah State is a heavy favorite and for good reason. The Aggies match up very well against Nick Rolovich’s squad and should post another big win.

Prediction: Utah State 45, Hawaii 24

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

(Top photo courtesy of utahstateaggies.com)