University of Hawaii looking to buck history against Boise State

  • Hawaii head coach Todd Graham during the second half of Hawaii’s contest against San Diego State last Saturday. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro throws a pass against San Diego State in last week’s Mountain West conference matchup. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

The Boise State football team’s magic number is 808.

For two decades, in a rivalry that precedes Wikipedia and smart phones, Boise State has dominated the series against Hawaii. The teams face off at 6 p.m. Saturday at Aloha Stadium.

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Since 2001, the Broncos have won 14 of 15 meetings. They have won eight in a row since suffering a 39-27 loss during the Rainbow Warriors’ undefeated 2007 regular season.

Then again, the Broncos have dominated the Western Athletic Conference and now the Mountain West Conference. Since 2000, the Broncos have the best conference winning percentage (.893 ) among FBS teams.

This year, the Broncos won their first three MWC games despite being without their top running back, starting quarterback and half their interior defensive line. In four overall games, they are averaging 40 points while scoring touchdowns on all 12 red-zone drives.

Saturday’s game will be shown on the CBS Sports Network. The Broncos are 141-34 in nationally televised games.

The Warriors, in the meantime, are not focused on the past. “It’s not who we play, it’s how we play, ” defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz said. “Can we play our best game ?”

BOISE STATE OFFENSE

The Broncos have relied on depth consolidation because of injuries and circumstances. Running back George Holani (no fumbles or negative-yard carries ) has not played the past 11 quarters. Andrew Van Buren has assumed Holani’s caseload. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier returned last week after missing two games following a positive COVID-19 test. With USC transfer Jack Sears ailing, two 2020 high school grads have taken snaps. The four QBs have combined for 65 % accuracy. The Broncos are at their best with Bachmeier, who has a powerful arm, pocket coolness, and several launch points to elude pass rushes and reach every tip of the passing tree. The Broncos create pre-snap illusions with motions, shifts and double shifts, many involving tight ends John Bates and Riley Smith. Khalil Shakir uses his 4.5-second speed on jet sweeps (10.8-yard average ) and pass routes (team-high 11 targets per game ). Shakir averages 13.7 yards per touch, a figure boosted by five receptions of 39-plus yards. CT Thomas is a go-to receiver on third down (83.3 % conversions ).

BOISE STATE DEFENSE

Last week, the Broncos struggled to make the quorum of four interior defensive linemen, needing three freshmen and backup offensive lineman Ben Dooley to suit up six. But defensive tackle Scott Matlock (16 tackles, most among D-linemen ) and end Shane Irwin (who previously attended San Diego State and Long Beach City College ) provide enough push in the 3-3-5 scheme. Weak-side backer Riley Whimpey also can set up as an end. Two linebackers who suffered season-ending injuries in 2019—Sam Whitney, a sixth-year senior, and Ezekiel Noa—are fully healthy. Nickelback Kekaula Kaniho, and cornerbacks Avery Williams and Jalen Walker are roaming playmakers. Kaniho often aligns on the edge as a pass-rushing threat. Head coach Bryan Harsin said Kaniho fulfilled the promise he showed as a Kahuku High standout. “He was a very good player then, and he’s an exceptional player now, ” Harsin said. “Nobody works harder than Kaniho.”

HAWAII OFFENSE

In practices this week, the Warriors worked on a quick fix. “Just keep playing fast, ” running back Miles Reed said. The Warriors are seeking to further accelerate an offense averaging 71 plays a game and 24.3 seconds between snaps. Last week, San Diego State’s chaos-causing pressure walled off the back side and attacked the middle, leading to seven sacks, nine hits on QB Chevan Cordeiro, and harassment even on quick-release throws. Two times, Cordeiro threw away passes while back-pedaling. The Warriors would like to establish quick-rhythm passing and reboot a running game that gained 323 yards in the opener but a combined 279 in the three games thereafter. Calvin Turner—who aligns as a slot, wideout, running back and wildcat QB—is expected to add to his 10.3 touches per game. Turner has gained 11.8 yards per touch. His post-catch average is 18.4 yards ; on rushes, he averages 4.1 yards after contact or eluding a tackle.

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HAWAII DEFENSE

Moving parts have helped assemble a defense allowing opponents only 2.1 points per drive. With a three-man front that can widen to five when cornerback Cortez Davis and hybrid Quentin Frazier sneak to the edge, the Warriors can launch blitzes into the running lanes. Against SDSU, 12 of the Warriors’ 14 backfield stops were on the running backs. In all, 45.3 % of the Aztecs’ plays netted zero to negative yards. Head coach Todd Graham, who makes the defensive calls, has continued to tinker with the lineup. Khoury Bethley moved from middle DB to bandit safety, where he has more precise duties on pass coverages and run blitzes. Penei Pavihi switched from a rush end who dropped into the flats to a middle linebacker who storms the gaps. The new alignment places three heat seekers—Pavihi, Darius Muasau (11.8 tackles per game ) and Jeremiah Pritchard—across the defense. Jonah La ‘ulu is a pocket disrupter as a speed tackle.

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