What are expectations like for Hawaii this season?
Depends who you ask. Last year the team came out red hot with one of the most exciting offenses in the country. After the 6-1 start things went south quickly and they barely made a bowl game. This year they could be a darkhorse team to win the West Division within Mountain West, and that is because of quarterback Cole McDonald, who will put up huge numbers in his second year of the run-and-shoot offense. The schedule is a bit tougher with this Arizona game plus they go to Washington and Boise State. Eight wins is probably a good goal for this team.
What makes McDonald so dangerous?
It is the style of offense that has him throw a lot plus he is surrounded by a really elite group of wide receivers. Last year, John Ursua was taken late in the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks so that is a loss but they have Cedric Byrd and Jojo Ward who both have a shot at the NFL Draft.
His feet make him so good and it showed in the second half of the year as he had a -- sorry in advance -- bloody scrotum which limited his running ability. That is key in this offense which does a good amount of read-option plays, so taking off and keeping the ball or at least being a threat makes him good. Also, McDonald is pretty accurate. His season-long stats do not show that as he was not fully healthy but in his first six games he was completing 65 percent of his passes.
Other than him, who is an offensive player Arizona fans should know about?
There are two. Jojo Ward and Cedric Byrd. They will need to replace the production from John Ursua and while that will be tough, these two guys have bright futures. The deep threat to watch for Ward who averaged 16.96 yards per catch so he can get behind the secondary and take the top off for huge plays to him while also opening up routes underneath. Ward and Byrd could realistically combine for 170 receptions. Last year they hauled in a total of 130. That is very reasonable when you consider that Ursua brought in 89 on his own.
What have Hawaii defenses under head coach Nick Rolovich been like?
They have not been great and has been this teams Achilles’ heel. They did have a really good player last year in linebacker Jahlani Tavai who went in the second round of the NFL Draft but even with him, the defense underperformed. This unit was near the bottom in yards per play allowed overall and there was no real difference in rushing or passing defense as they were at the bottom overall. The team does force turnovers at all, and was last in interceptions gained and fumbles recovered. So, overall the defense can be taken advantage of against any and all opponents. Maybe I should have just answered with not much.
Who’s a defensive player to know?
There could be a few since the unit returns a good amount of players back from last year’s team, however that unit wasn’t great. The three to watch are defensive end Kaimana Padello (13.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks), defensive back Rojesterman Farris II (11 PBU’s) and linebacker Solomon Matautia (4.5 TFL’s and 1 sack.)
What are the keys to the game for Hawaii?
The offense needs to click like it did last year where it was scoring at will and putting up a lot of points in the first half of the season. They need to find a running game, which is key for this offense. That area was hit or miss last year. The defense needs to make a few plays but there is no need to dominant. Just make a key stop or force a turnover to help out the offense since they will need to score a lot of points to make up for the defense that is not great.
How worried should Arizona fans be about this game?
I think there is a decent level of concern, especially because of the Hawaii defense not being great. Kevin Sumlin is in Year 2 should see this team be better than last season. Also, there is a real possibility that QB Khalil Tate will have a big game against this subpar Warriors defense.
There will be a lot of points scored in this game and it could come down to who has the ball last or that one defensive stop.
Hawaii 38, Arizona 34