BOISE — When Boise State takes the field against Hawaii on Saturday (9 p.m. MT, CBS Sports Network), it will mark the third time the Mountain West rivals have met in a little more than a year.
The Broncos and Rainbow Warriors met twice last fall — once in the regular season last October and again in the conference championship game in December. Both games were in Albertsons Stadium, and Boise State emerged victorious in both.
Boise State is 14-3 all-time against Hawaii, but the team the Warriors put on the field at Aloha Stadium will look a little different than in past years.
Former head coach Nick Rolovich took his run-and-shoot offense to Washington State, and former starting quarterback Cole McDonald and three of the team’s top four wide receivers were lost to graduation or the NFL.
After stints as the head coach at Arizona, Pittsburgh, Tulsa and Rice, Todd Graham took over at Hawaii this year, and he’s brought more balance to the offense.
Last fall, the Warriors ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West with 337.1 passing yards a game. So far this season, they’re No. 6 with 239.5 a game. They were No. 9 in the conference last year with 133.9 rushing yards a game, and this season, they rank No. 6 with 150.5.
New starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is a threat to run the ball, and he’s joined in the backfield by last season’s leading rusher, Miles Reed, and dynamic transfer Calvin Turner.
But no matter how different Hawaii’s offensive scheme is, Boise State’s players know they’re going to face athletes explosive enough to score points in a hurry.
“They like to take shots,” Boise State cornerback Jalen Walker told the media Thursday. “The ball is going to be in the air, so I’ve got to make sure I’m on my P’s and Q’s every play.”
Keys to victory
Take some early shots: The Broncos have put up a lot of points in the first half of games this season, and that needs to continue this weekend. In four games, Boise State has outscored its opponents 101-40 in the first half. Last week, the Broncos led Colorado State 42-7 by halftime. Whether they’re calling trick plays or pushing the ball downfield with vertical passing routes, the Broncos need to take some chances and put points on the board early Saturday, which will force Hawaii to abandon its game plan in an effort to catch up.
Win the turnover battle: Boise State didn’t turn the ball over in its first two games of the season, but the Broncos lost the turnover battle in their lone setback — a 51-17 loss to rival BYU. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos created just one turnover until last week’s blowout of Colorado State (interception, 3 blocked kicks). Hawaii has been susceptible to turnovers this season (4 INTs, 5 fumbles lost), and the Broncos need to be aggressive and force a few more Saturday.
Get in the QB’s face: Boise State has been successful this season when putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks with creative blitz packages (see a 42-13 win over Utah State in the opener). The same can’t be said about when it relies on the defensive line to create pressure, as it did against BYU. Linebackers and maybe even a couple of defensive backs need to be in Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro’s face Saturday. He has been susceptible to mistakes this fall (5 TD passes, 4 INTs), and if he has to make decisions on the run, he’s likely to make a few more.
Hawaii WR Jared Smart vs. Boise State CB Jalen Walker: Senior Jared Smart is Hawaii’s top returning wide receiver from last season, and he has yet to catch fewer than four passes in a game this fall. He leads the Rainbow Warriors with 21 receptions and is second on the team with 185 receiving yards, but he has yet to find the end zone. Boise State’s top cornerback Jalen Walker is fourth on the team with 18 tackles, but he has yet to record an interception.
Hawaii RB Calvin Turner vs Boise State’s LBs: One of the newest additions to Hawaii’s roster has done a little bit of everything on offense. Senior Calvin Turner — a transfer from Jacksonville University — is officially listed as a running back.
He’s posted 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but he also leads the team with 227 receiving yards and two more scores, and he has lined up at quarterback in every game this season, though he has attempted just one pass. In two seasons at Jacksonville, he accounted for 1,171 passing yards, 2,811 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns and saw snaps as a defensive back.
Turner is going to be a big part of Hawaii’s game plan this weekend, and Boise State linebackers Ezekiel Noa and Riley Whimpey are going to have to keep track of him on every play.
Boise State is a 14-point favorite, according to Las Vegas, with an over/under of 58 total points. The Broncos are 15-5 in their last 20 regular-season games as the favorite on the road and 12-7-1 against the spread (ATS).
Hawaii is 5-15 in its last 20 regular-season games as an underdog at home and 7-13 ATS.
My pick (4-0 straight up, 4-0 ATS): The Broncos seem to be clicking on all sides of the ball. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s return sparked an offensive explosion last week, the defense shut down Colorado State and special teams produced three blocked kicks. Hawaii doesn’t have the same high-scoring offense it put on the field last season, and the Rainbow Warriors don’t have anyone on defense who can run with Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas. Boise State 35, Hawaii 10.
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (4-0 straight up, 3-1 ATS): “(Hawaii’s) weakness right now is they can’t run the ball much, but on defense, they give up a lot of running yards and I don’t know if Boise’s running game is up to snuff. They’re good, but not what we’ve seen from past teams. Also it was an inside out win last week. All the different turnovers (Boise State) turned into touchdowns were incredible, but in the end, that usually catches up to you and Hawaii seems to play much better as an underdog. Their quarterback Cordeiro hits on big plays and they have seven or eight receivers they move in and out, so it’s tough to figure out what they’re going to do. I think Boise wins the game, but right now, I’ll take the 14 points and Hawaii.” Boise State 38, Hawaii 31.