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The Pac-12 meets the Mountain West on Saturday night when Arizona visits Honolulu to take on Hawaii. These teams have not met since 2016 when the Wildcats were victorious at home, 47-28. The Rainbow Warriors are coming off an 8-6 season that culminated with a 31-14 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Hawaii Bowl. Arizona is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in Kevin Sumlin’s first year at the helm.
Tate the Great?
Arizona senior quarterback Khalil Tate is coming off an outstanding season, throwing for 2,530 yards with 26 TDs and eight picks. He’s the perfect fit for Noel Mazzone’s uptempo offense. However, he lost his effectiveness when he injured his ankle in midseason. He could have declared for the NFL draft but decided not to. First of all, he does need to improve his accuracy (56.3%).
“I knew I had a lot more to prove. I knew I left a lot on the table. I know what my ceiling is. I know what I can do.
“With the circumstances I was dealing with last year, I couldn’t really perform to the best of my ability and show the next level what I can do. Thankfully, I had another year to learn and refine myself in this offense.”
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) August 17, 2019
Offensively, Arizona was a juggernaut at times, putting up 202 rushing yards and 255 passing yards per game. The return of star runner JJ Taylor (5-6, 184) helps the cause. The first-team All-Pac-12 member rushed for 1,434 yards with six TDs (5.6ypc), while Gary Brightwell provided 525 yards. They also return four starters on the offensive line, so things are looking bright for the offense. The only question marks are at wide receiver with senior Cedric Peterson (18 for 268 yards) returning, but they lose the top four wideouts.
Defensively, this is a team that will rely on some jucos and freshman to infuse new blood. They certainly need some help, though you could say that about every other Pac-12 team. The Wildcats gave up 142 yards rushing per game, which is adequate. But against the pass, they allowed 63.9% completion rate and 270 yards per game. They had just 23 sacks but didn’t lose much to graduation. Junior Myles Tapusoa (6-1, 325) and junior Trevon Mason (6-5, 310) are junior college transfers now listed as starters on the defensive line.
The key will be the secondary, which returns three starters. Senior Jace Whittaker and junior Lorenzo Burns have starting experience and they will be tested in this one. This is a team that blew a big lead against rival Arizona State and lost, 41-40. They allowed 45 to Houston and 69 at Washington State.
“There’s new blood out there, some junior college guys, some high school guys,” Sumlin said. “A different energy. It’s just a different team (from last year). That’s kind of been the case in all three of these situations. I like where we are right now.”
McDonald shines despite injury
Junior Cole McDonald was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation last year. He threw for 3,875 yards and 36 TDs with just 10 picks. He led Hawaii to their first winning season since 2010, when they went 10-4. Amazingly, McDonald strained his MCL in the season opener against Colorado State (45-31 win).
“First game I strained my MCL, played through that,” McDonald said. “First quarter against San Jose State I took a shot to the side. The guy that hit me actually knocked himself out.”
In Hawaii’s 44-41 road win over San Jose State in midseason, McDonald said “I had some internal bleeding in my side that didn’t drain out properly. It was all in my scrotum. … I couldn’t walk for about a week. … I played hurt most of the season. It was pretty brutal.”
So he gutted through an outstanding season and the expectations should be even higher for a team that returns nine starters on offense and nine on defense. They would like to improve a running game that averaged just 110 yards per contest and 3.7 yards per attempt. Senior Dayton Furuta (5-11, 250) is back along with Fred Holly (6-0, 200). So are the top two of the top three receivers including senior Cedric Byrd (79 catches for 970 yds, 9 TDs).
For the Rainbow Warriors to go deep in the Mountain West, they need to improve a defense that yielded 56 to Utah State, 50 to Fresno State and 49 at BYU in losses. They allowed 205 rushing yards per game and 235 passing yards. Most of the defense returns but is that a good thing? Head coach Nick Rolovich will lean on 2nd team All-MWC DE Kaimana Padello, who had 8.5 sacks and five tackles for loss.
- 8-2 ATS last 10 vs. Pac-12.
- 5-0 ATS last 5 in August.
- 1-8 ATS last 9 on fieldturf.
- 5-16 ATS last 21 road games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Who likes to lay double digits on the road in the season opener? How about with a team that allowed 33 points per game last season? I love Tate but McDonald can sling the ball with anybody in the nation. Hawaii shocked Colorado State on the road and Navy at home to open their season last year. I think this squad takes another step this season with most of their starters back. Take the points.
Prediction: Hawaii +11
Full-Game Total Pick
Arizona finished going over in three straight and four of their last five games. Now, they are going to try and patch some of their holes on defense with juco players. Sometimes that works, but usually, it doesn’t. At least not in the first game against one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks. Hawaii has the same issue against Tate, who is finally healthy. Speed is usually a big issue when Mountain West teams face high-powered Power Five offenses. Hawaii is 12-4 Over their last 16 non-conference games.
Prediction: Over 70.5