CFB GAME PREVIEW: ARIZONA @ HAWAII
By Joshua Edwards
It’s not all about Florida vs. Miami on the opening weekend. In the other game of ‘week zero’ Arizona head across the ocean to face Hawaii. Josh Edwards takes a look at the match-up:
THE TWO TEAMS:
Hawaii went a surprise 8-6 (5-3 in the Mountain West) last season, their first winning season since 2010, and tied for second in the West division. Though they ultimately lost the Hawaii Bowl to Louisiana Tech (31-14) they were an exciting watch in 2018 and a team to keep an eye on this season, even if primarily for entertainment purposes. Hawaii does however have a less forgiving schedule this season which includes games against Oregon State, at Washington and a season closer vs. Army.
Unlike Hawaii, Arizona didn’t get to a bowl game last season, finishing 5-7 (4-5 in the Pac-12). It was Kevin Sumlin’s first year as head coach and despite the usual caveats for first year coaches the season was seen as a disappointment given the young talent on the roster.
Arizona are 5-0 all-time against Hawaii, the most recent meeting ending in a 47-28 home victory for the Wildcats back in 2016. Prior to that the teams hadn’t met since 1998.
Nick Rolovich enters his fourth season with Hawaii with an 18-22 overall record. Hawaii have been one of the more fun teams to watch under Rolovich’s run-and-shoot, spread offense. Allowing the wideouts to get down the field and make mid-route adjustment upon which the offense functions relies on strong offensive line play, and Hawaii are lucky enough to return all five starting linemen in 2019. The defense was aggressive last season and though it paid off on occasion (34th in sack rate), they got torn apart at other times too: in the games they won they gave up an average of 29.6 points. The good news for Hawaii is that their better players on defense were sophomores and freshmen, and DC Corey Batoon will be optimistic about his squad’s development.
In Kevin Sumlin’s second year as HC at Arizona all eyes will be on how QB Khalil Tate develops in his second season in veteran OC Noel Mazzone’s system. Arizona have been explosive for a while now but lack consistency offensively. Mazzone and Sumlin have some work to do this season. On defense, Arizona has been dreadful for the best part of a decade but there are signs of potential under fourth year DC Marcel Yates. The Wildcats add two junior transfers in Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa who add size on the interior and help with much needed depth. There are also rumours of a move to a 4 man defensive front which, though certainly not a magic formula for success, will placate a vocal fanbase who’ve been after the switch for a while.
THE KEY MATCHUP:
It’s likely a shootout, even in CFB terms, with the over/under set at 74 (the average is now 57 in college football). It’s clichéd, but in a game like this the team who can get the most amount of defensive stops will emerge victorious. To that end, Arizona’s ability to get to Hawaii QB Cole McDonald is the game’s key match-up. Whether or not DEs Kylan Wilborn and Jalen Harris can disrupt this established Hawaii offensive line of returning starters will go a long way to deciding the outcome of the contest. Arizona are a better team with a more talented roster, but if Cole McDonald gets in rhythm Hawaii could be explosive and difficult to keep up with on the scoreboard.
THE DRAFT PROSPECTS:
J.J. Taylor, Running Back: Taylor is undersized at 5’6” but he is lightning quick and runs hard from a strong, low base. He rushed for 1,434 yards in 2018 at an average of 5.3ypc.
Kylan Wilborn, LB/DE: Wilborn was a freshman All-American two seasons ago. At 6’2”, 248lbs, Wilborn is a true edge rusher who had fewer sacks last year (2) than in 2017 (7.5), so his Junior year will be pivotal to his chances at a pro career, whether it be in 2020 or 2021.
Cole McDonald, Quarterback: McDonald threw for 3875 yards with 36 TDs and just 10 INTs last year. Most impressive was his toughness – he strained an MCL in the opener and played through it all year. He operates the spread offense comfortably and has a chance to be a mid-late round pick in 2020.
Cedric Byrd, Wide Receiver: Byrd is undersized at 5’9” and 175lbs but might be twitchy and explosive enough to entice the NFL, especially if he can surpass his impressive 79 catch, 970 yard, 9TD 2018 campaign.
I like Arizona to win this one and go 6-0 all-time against Hawaii in the opener. The line is -11 (as of publication) which sounds about right. It’ll be a fun watch and Hawaii will come out swinging but a couple of Arizona defensive stops will put the Rainbow Warriors to bed in the second half.
Score prediction: Arizona 45-28 Hawaii