Game Day Preview: Hawaii vs. New Mexico State

  • Calvin Turner Jr. and the Rainbow Warriors are on the road this week, facing New Mexico State. (AP Photo/Darryl Oumi, file)

RAINBOW WARRIORS OFFENSE

The perception is the Warriors are too ground-oriented predictable on second down, but the numbers show otherwise. The majority of their second-down plays are passes. While they average 4.9 yards per play on first down, their second-down average is 6.8 yards. The Warriors also are more successful running on second down (4.7 yards) than first down (3.38). Running backs Dae Dae Hunter (eight 10-plus-yard rushes) and Dedrick Parson have shown breakaway potential, as well as Ziploc blocking. Neither has allowed a sack. Establishing any sort of a running attack has collateral benefits for the passing game. UH averages 9.5 yards per play-action pass. As quarterback Chevan Cordeiro grows with the run-and-gun offense, he is making better use of his boundaries. In previous seasons, Cordeiro often would scramble out of pocket. This year, Cordeiro has remained in it a skosh longer, and will use the guard-to-guard area as the escape hatch. Cordeiro is averaging 6.4 yards on non-sack scrambles and keepers. He also has been able to manage the thermostat, connecting on 53.8% of throws when facing heated pressure. Cordeiro’s overall accuracy is skewed by 16 drops in four games. Four-back Calvin Turner is Cordeiro’s favorite receiver with 11 targets per game. In UH’s first two games, wideout Nick Mardner caught seven of 10 passes in his direction. In the next two, he caught 11 on 19 targets, with a post-reception average of 4.4 yards. Mardner has credited contact lenses and a glare-reducing shade for his improvement.

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RAINBOW WARRIORS DEFENSE

In his fifth year at UH, Eugene Ford has been on a relentless hunt for ball-carriers and the perfect taco. He’s been more successful on the field, with only one missed tackle in four games. Ford is listed as a hybrid defender, but he views himself as a safety willing to battle in the box. “If I have to make a play in the hole, I will,” said Ford, who has aligned as a free safety, slot safety and edge defender this year. He also has fully recovered from a leg injury that sidelined him for seven games in 2020. “The more reps you get, the more I started to get in my groove,” Ford said. “I attack it every play.” The Warriors, who are coming off their best defensive game, have had three-level success. In 201 plays at corner, Cameron Lockridge has allowed only nine completions. Linebacker Darius Muasau missed the first two quarters last week, but his replacement, Isaiah Tufaga, played 38 snaps without an error. The defensive front also made a recent impact. Defensive tackle Pita Tonga has attracted double teams because of his first-step quickness and strength. Rush end DJuan Matthews, who has not missed a tackle, has been a nuisance to quarterbacks, compiling a sack, two hits and nine hurries. “You’ve seen the big boys up front?” Ford said. “They’re getting after it. They set the tempo.”

RAINBOW WARRIORS SPECIAL TEAMS

Freshman Kyler Halvorsen has displayed a strong leg and precise placements on 17 kickoffs. Eleven were not returned (five touchbacks, five fair catches, one out of bounds). Of the six returns, the average drive started at the 20. The Warriors entered the season with a streak of 154 games without allowing a blocked punt. Two were deflected this season — one for a touchdown, another to set up a half-field scoring drive.

AGGIES OFFENSE

In the mid-2000s, traveling man Hal Mumme set up his Air Raid offense in Las Cruces, then sped away, like his four-vert routes. But Mumme left behind enough samples for head coach/offensive coordinator Doug Martin to reconstruct the spread-and-shred passing offense. Chase Holbrook, a quarterback and then assistant coach under Mumme, tutors the NMSU passers. Out of four-wide or empty sets, the Aggies will attack horizontally and vertically. The most confounding are the tandem routes — two-layered arcs or opposite-side wideouts criss-crossing. Think a double slant is tough to defend? The Aggies will run a double-double slant, with stacked alignments on both sides of the formation. Missouri transfer Dominic Gicinto was a prolific receiver until suffering a broken arm. Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (after-catch average of 9.5 yards) is now the favored receiver (6.7 targets per game). Tight end Thomaz Whitford is a linebacker hunter, especially when he sets up as a slot to get a running start, and a difficult matchup on second-tier routes. Left tackle Sage Doxtater was the Toronto Argonauts’ second-round pick in this year’s CFL Draft. Doxtater has not allowed a sack in 301 snaps this year. Jonah Johnson, who won the starting QB job exiting training camp, appears ready after recovering from a wrist injury suffered two weeks ago. Dino Maldonado, a freshman walk-on, started against FCS’s South Carolina State, passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Aggies’ lone victory.

AGGIES DEFENSE

The Aggies have a pseudo 4-3 look because Michael Bowe, a stand-up end who plays the “money” position, attends linebacker meetings. “He’s something else,” assistant head coach Oliver Soukup said of Bowe. “He’s a great-effort guy, a high-motor guy. I love what he brings to the table every day in terms of his work ethic. You can coach him hard and he doesn’t back down from it.” Bowe, who has played a team-high 283 snaps, can be found at either end, then dropping into the flats, attacking the pocket, or curling into the rush lanes. Weak-side linebacker Josh Ferguson leads in tackles, and strong-side backer Chris Ojoh has five quarterback hits and four hurries. The play-caller is middle linebacker Trevor Brohard, who had progressed every season since suffering a knee injury in 2018. Brohard also has hit the books, earning a bachelor’s and master’s. He is working on his second master’s degree. “He could be the first Ph.D. to play for an NCAA program,” said Soukup, noting Brohard has at least two seasons remaining. Cornerback Syrus Dumas, a JUCO transfer, was activated last week after missing the first three games while the NCAA Clearinghouse reviewed his eligibility. Dumas can play both corner spots. “It was bummer,” Dumas said of sitting out, “but I kept working.”

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AGGIES SPECIAL TEAMS

Kickoff returner Juwaun Price is waiting for the next big thing. During the spring season, Price scored on a 94-yard return. This year, two of his three returns have gone for 39 and 58 yards. The Aggies have returned seven of 25 kickoffs. “I definitely feel like I’m close,” Price said of another TD return. “It’s hard because Coach says they might not want to kick to you. We always have to keep the mindset they’re going to kick to you every time.”

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