Hawaii (0-2) at Nevada (1-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 8:05 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mackay Stadium (29,993) -- Reno, Nevada. Television: Oceanic PPV. Home Record: Hawaii 0-1, Nevada 1-0. Away Record: Hawaii 0-1, Nevada 0-2. Neutral Record: Hawaii 0-0, Nevada 0-0. Conference Record: Hawaii 0-0, Nevada 0-0. Series Record: Nevada leads, 9-8.
GAME NOTES: Back in action after a week off, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors try to work their way into the win column on Saturday as they open up Mountain West Conference play against the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno.
Last season, Hawaii won only once during the first 10 games of the season, a 54-2 romp over Lamar, and this time around the trend appears to be similar. Head coach Norm Chow went up against one of his former teams in USC in the opener and was turned back in a 30-13 decision at home. The squad then traveled to the mainland on Sept. 7 to challenge another Pac-12 Conference foe in Oregon State, bowing to the Beavers by a similar score, 33-14.
As for the Wolf Pack and their new head coach Brian Polian, they have been involved in some wild scoring affairs in the early going, with only one favoring Nevada. The team began with a 58-20 blowout loss versus UCLA and then bounced back with a 36-7 victory against UC Davis. However, last weekend the team was pitted against 10th-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee and, without injured quarterback Cody Fajardo, was blown away by the Seminoles in a 62-7 decision.
Hawaii was whipped by the Pack a season ago at home, 69-24, in one of the most lopsided defeats in program history. With the setback, Hawaii also fell behind in the all-time series, 9-8.
The Rainbow Warriors have been slow starters, as well as weak finishers, through the first two games of the season. The team has been held scoreless in both the first and third quarters, and come up with only eight points in the fourth period of play. A major part of the problem is, once again, a lack of a rushing attack. After three weeks of action in college football, Hawaii ranks 123rd in the country with a meager 46.0 ypg on the ground, this after being 111th nationally a year ago with a much more respectable 108.6 ypg.
Without a reliable running back to lean on, all the pressure has been dropped on the shoulders of starting quarterback Taylor Graham who has completed just 42.6 percent of his attempts for two touchdowns, while being picked off four times. No one has more than six receptions at the moment, which makes the loss of wideout Billy Ray Stutzmann (concussion) that much more of an issue because at least the Rainbow Warriors knew they could count on him for significant production.
On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary has been beaten up pretty badly already, permitting 311.5 passing ypg which is 116th in the country. Because the unit gives up big plays and allows drives to continue, coupled with an inept running attack on offense, Hawaii is one of the worst teams in the nation in terms of time of possession.
While Hawaii was watching the rest of the nation play from the comforts of home in Honolulu, the Wolf Pack was being pummeled by FSU in the Sunshine State. Without Fajardo, who is listed as questionable for this week with a knee injury, the Pack inserted Devin Combs as the starter at quarterback, but he barely made it through the first half.
Combs, who hit on 6-of-9 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, did not return to the field in the third quarter. Instead, Nevada turned to freshman Tyler Stewart who converted 7-of-15 passes for 49 yards and an interception. On the ground the Pack produced only 128 yards on 38 attempts, the majority of that being logged by Chris Solomon who gained 108 yards on 26 carries in the lopsided defeat.
As Nevada struggled to produce on offense, the 'Noles not only rolled up 377 yards rushing, they scored six times on the ground as they averaged better than nine yards per attempt. A total of seven players had at least one run for a minimum of 10 yards.
Nevada's run defense has been dismal in the early going, permitting 280.0 ypg which is 119th in the country. With the pass defense being only slightly better, it should come as little surprise that the Pack is 116th in the nation with a whopping 520.0 ypg allowed overall.
Having Fajardo on the sidelines not only takes away from the Nevada passing attack, with him having completed 69.8 percent of his pass attempts, but he's also third on the unit in rushing with 142 yards and has three of their five touchdowns on the ground. Needless to say, having Fajardo in the lineup forces defenses to think twice about how they want to attack the Pack because the young signal caller can use his own skills to evade defenders in a variety of ways.
The availability of Fajardo will have a lot to do with the outcome of this contest. Obviously the other quarterbacks on the depth chart don't have as much talent or experience, although they still could flourish going up against a weak Hawaii defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nevada 38, Hawaii 21
09/18 10:47:55 ET