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Nevada vs. Hawaii: Three keys to victory and a prediction

 Brayden Schager
Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager is upended by Fresno State's LJ Early during a game earlier this season. (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

The Nevada football team plays Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game against the Rainbow Warriors with his three keys to victory and prediction. This feature is presented in partnership with Bradley, Drendel & Jeanney.

Hawaii (3-3, 1-1 MW) at Nevada (4-1, 1-0 MW)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 72; low of 37

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Online: None

Betting line: Nevada favored by 14; total of 61

All-time series: Nevada leads, 13-11

Last matchup: Hawaii 24, Nevada 21 on Nov. 28, 2020

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Slow Hawaii’s run game: Nevada’s pass rush has received much acclaim this season, and for good reason. The Wolf Pack ranks second in the nation in sacks per game, and Hawaii does like to throw the ball, with an almost 50-50 split (the Rainbow Warriors attempt one more pass per game than rush). But if last season’s winning formula for Hawaii is any indication, the Rainbow Warriors will lean on the run against Nevada to limit the number of possessions in the game (the Wolf Pack had just six possession in last year's contest). Hawaii’s quarterback situation is uncertain after Chevan Cordeiro missed the team’s last game with an unknown injury. If he doesn’t play, true freshman Brayden Schager will get the start, and Hawaii won't want to put too much on his plate. Hawaii has two good running backs in Dae Dae Hunter and Dedrick Parson, who combined to average 5.59 yards per rush. Nevada has been vulnerable to the run this year, so Hawaii would be silly to not try and exploit that weakness.

2. Limit the turnovers: Hawaii has given up a lot of yards this season, with opponents piling up 437.3 yards per game, the third most allowed by a Mountain West school. The Rainbow Warriors have counteracted that by creating 16 turnovers, tied for the third most in the nation. That includes eight interceptions and eight fumbles recovered. Hawaii shocked then-No. 18-ranked Fresno State in its last game thanks to a 6-1 turnover margin. The Rainbow Warriors probably need similar success in the turnover game – not plus-five, as that’s unrealistic – if it’s going to score another upset (Nevada is a two-touchdown favorite). The good news for the Wolf Pack is it rarely turns over the ball. Quarterback Carson Strong has one of the nation’s lowest interception rates over the last two seasons, and Nevada has just three giveaways in five games, also tied for third in the nation. This is strength versus strength, and if Nevada doesn’t turn the ball over, a lot of other things must go wrong for the Wolf Pack to lose this game.

3. Curtain Calvin Turner Jr.: If you were ranking the most dynamic offensive players in the MW, Hawaii’s Turner might top the list. The senior who began his career at Jacksonville University was Mr. Do Everything for the Rainbow Warriors last season, racking up 1,201 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games (546 receiving, 331 rushing, 324 kick return). He’s been even better this season with 707 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns in six games. In last year’s win over Nevada, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder had 10 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown; rushed twice for 28 yards; and had a 47-yard kick return. Those 152 all-purpose yards were more than his career average at Hawaii (127.2). If Nevada keeps Turner in that 100-125 range, that’s a big positive. He can almost single-handedly win a game.

Prediction

Nevada 33, Hawaii 20: This game has been hard to predict the last half-decade. In 2016, Nevada was a 3-point favorite and lost by three touchdowns. In 2017, it was a 3.5-point underdog but won by two touchdowns. In 2018, it was a three-point underdog and won by 18. In 2019, it was a two-touchdown favorite and lost by 51. And in 2020, it was a touchdown favorite and lost by three. So, the underdog has won five straight games in this rivalry. But I’m not going with the underdog in this one. I’ll take Nevada to win but barely miss covering the line. It’s a hard game to predict without knowing who Hawaii will start at quarterback. I think Cordeiro gets the call but Nevada prevails barring a barrage of turnovers. Season record: 3-2 (straight up); 4-1 (against the spread)

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.

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