Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray breaks down Nevada’s football game against Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium with a position-by-position analysis.
Hawaii (3-3, 1-1 MW) at Nevada (4-1, 1-0 MW)
When: Saturday, 7:30 a.m.
Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)
Weather: High of 72; low of 37
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM
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 (in Honolulu)
Quarterback: Carson Strong is coming off a career-high six-touchdown game, although two of his five-lowest passing outputs have come against Hawaii (46 yards in 2019; 168 yards in 2020). Hawaii started true freshman Brayden Schager in place of veteran Chevan Cordeiro (undisclosed injury) in its last game and has not announced a starter. Cordeiro is more of a two-way threat than Schager. Edge: Nevada
Running backs: Hawaii coach Todd Graham raves about Nevada’s Toa Taua, who has averaged 109.7 rushing yards per game in three contests against the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii has a good one-two rushing punch in Dae Dae Hunter (384 yards, 5.5 ypc, one TD) and Dedrick Parson (203 yards, 5.8 ypc, three TDs). The Rainbow Warriors want to ride those guys to limit Nevada’s possessions. Edge: Nevada
Wide receivers/tight end: Nevada should get back star WR Romeo Doubs (leg). The Wolf Pack has good depth here regardless with Melquan Stovall and Justin Lockhart coming off 100-yard outings. TE Cole Turner has 13 TDs in his last 14 games. This is a strong group for Hawaii with WR/RB Calvin Turner Jr. being one of the nation’s most versatile and productive players (585 yards, eight TDs). Edge: Nevada
Offensive line: Hawaii starts four seniors and a junior, so it’s a veteran group that has been prone to allowing sacks (16 in six games; Nevada has given up 13 in five games). But Hawaii has been better in the run game than the Wolf Pack (4.51 yards/carry compared to Nevada’s 3.55 yards/carry). The Wolf Pack is back at full strength with the return of RG Drew Cannon, who started against NMSU. Edge: Hawaii
Defensive line: With back-to-back six-sack games, Nevada’s defensive line continues to get great pressure on the quarterback and should have ample opportunity to do so against the Rainbow Warriors. It must be good versus the run against Hawaii, which averages 159.3 rushing yards a game. Hawaii has good experience on the line but no star. It solid in pass rush and in slowing the run. Edge: Nevada
Linebackers: Both teams start two linebackers with Hawaii’s duo of Darius Muasau (All-MW first team last season) and Penei Pavihi (129 career tackles) both being excellent players. Nevada counters with Lawson Hall (All-MW second team last season) and Daiyan Henley (team-high 47 tackles, 103 in his career). Muasau is a potential next-level kind of player, so his team gets the close edge. Edge: Hawaii
Secondary: Hawaii has allowed single-season passing yardage totals of 400 yards, 388 yards and 302 yards this season and yielded 12 touchdowns in six games. But it’s also held opponents to 54.7 percent passing and nabbed eight interceptions, ranking 46th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. CB Cortez Davis and S Khoury Bethley are excellent. Nevada could get S Tyson Williams (knee) back. Edge: Hawaii
Special teams: Hawaii K Matthew Shipley has made 15-of-22 career field goals, although he’s 7-of-8 this year. He’s also the team’s punter, averaging 41.8 yards per attempt. The Rainbow Warriors have gotten zero out of its return game and had a punt blocked for a touchdown. Nevada's kickoff return unit has perked up in recent outings, and the Wolf Pack's typical strong duo of K Brandon Talton and P Julian Diaz has been among the MW's best. Edge: Nevada
Coaching: This one could go either way, but I’m higher than the average on Hawaii head coach Todd Graham who has never won a conference championship in 13 seasons but does have four division titles and is 103-69 in his career with a 68-45 conference mark. Nevada’s Jay Norvell was on Graham’s Arizona State staff in 2016 as wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator before getting the Wolf Pack job, so there’s mutual familiarity. Edge: Hawaii
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.