8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Brigham Young -1.5, Over/Under: 64
Happy holidays from everyone here at Oracle Sports, as the Bowl Season takes an exotic turn on Christmas Eve, with the Hawai’i Warriors playing host to the Brigham Young Cougars in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Over the years, this Bowl has served as the concluding destination for Hawai’i (9-5, 5-4 in MWC) quite frequently, with the school now participating in it’s festivities for the ninth time in the last seventeen years, and for the third time under the current regime. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve enjoyed much success despite the advantage of playing on their home field, for they’ve four out of their last five postseason affairs on the island. Case in point; last year’s Hawai’i Bowl pitted the Warriors against Louisiana Tech, who were far from the most well-mannered of guests, overcoming a 3-7 deficit at Halftime en route to scoring Twenty-One Unanswered Points in the Third Quarter, leading to a convincing 31-14 victory last December. The hosts struggled to get much of anything going offensively, managing a disappointing (certainly by their standards) 226 Total Yards, including a meager 168 of the passing variety, with their Quarterbacks, Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro, combining for Three Interceptions. Nick Rolovich & Co. will try their hand once more, though this time they appear to be a much stronger side than the one that backed into the Postseason as losers of five of their final seven outings. Now in his fourth year at his Alama Mata, the former Quarterback (2000-2001) is looking to lead the Rainbows to their first 10-Win Season in a decade, and their first since joining the Mountain West Conference back in 2012. In comparison to 2018, this current incarnation of Hawai’i finished strong down the stretch, winning five of their final six contests before getting bested by Boise State in the MWC Championship Game (10-31). As is usually the case with this school, the Offense is the driving force behind their success, though they’re a bit more balanced than they’ve been in past seasons; the Bows have averaged 33.6 Points per Game (33rd Overall) on a robust 469.6 Total Yards, including 325.9 Passing Yards and another 143.6 Yards Rushing. McDonald (64.1%, 3,642 YDS, 7.8 Y/A, 29 TD, 14 INT), now a Junior, once again plays the role of trigger man for the attack, leading the Mountain West with 3,642 Passing Yards, which is also good for Eighth Overall in the country. However, don’t sell him short as simply a distributor of the football, for he’s made plenty of plays with his legs in this variation of the Run ‘N Shoot, rushing for another 391 Yards and Six Touchdowns on Ninety-Two Carries. Surrounding him is a bevy of capable targets, evidenced by the fact that this is only team in the country with four different players totaling over 800 Receiving Yards. Chief among them is Senior Receiver, Cedric Byrd (95 REC, 1,068 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 10 TD), the MWC leader in Receptions (95), though there have been plenty of balls to go around, with the likes of fellow classmen, JoJo Ward (58 REC, 975 YDS, 16.8 Y/R, 11 TD) and Jason-Matthew Sharsh (80 REC, 823 YDS, 10.3 Y/R, 4 TD), alongside Junior, Jared Smart (80 REC, 987 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 3 TD), racking up the statistics. With that said, it’s ironic that the thing keeping this group from being revered amongst the elite in the country is themselves, for this has been one of the most mistake-prone groups that you’ll find in 2019. On the season, Hawai’i has committed a staggering Thirty Turnovers, which is fourteen more than their own beleaguered Defense has managed to force. Believe it or not, fifteen of them came in the first four games, including a season-high six in the Season Opener against Arizona, an affair that they found a way to win 45-38, no less. After tossing Ten Interceptions last season, McDonald has been even more erratic in 2019, throwing fourteen picks in as many games, though nine of them came in that wild four-week span to open the campaign. His decision-making has improved greatly since then, with Sixteen Touchdowns opposed to Five Interceptions over the final nine outings. Rolovich will no doubt be looking for a cleaner performance than that of the MWC Championship Game, in which his Quarterback really struggled against Boise State’s fearsome Defensive Front; McDonald completed just 20-of-36 Passes for 241 Yards and an Interception, while proving to be a complete non-factor in the Running Game, losing Eleven Yards despite Twelve Carries thanks in large part to suffering Three Sacks. Tonight’s meeting with Brigham Young also serves a rematch of sorts from last season, in which the Warriors traveled to Provo, Utah, and were blasted in a 23-49 loss. McDonald was far from disastrous, completing 22-of-38 Passes for 248 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, but he could do little to keep pace with the Cougars, whose Offense did absolutely whatever they wanted against the visitor’s inept Defense, piling up 474 Total Yards, including a ridiculous 280 Rushing Yards and Four Touchdowns on Forty-Seven Carries. If you’re looking for a revolution on Defense, then you’re going to have wait yet another year, for Hawai’i has unsurprisingly struggled in this department this season, yielding 31.7 Points per Game (97th Overall) on 426.4 Total Yards, which hasn’t been helped one bit by the persistent mistakes made by their teammates on the opposite side of the football.
Meanwhile, another school to overcome a slow start to the season en route to securing Bowl Eligibility is Brigham Young (7-5, Independent), who were plagued by a rash of injuries early in the campaign. It also didn’t help matters that the Cougars also went up against one of the toughest schedules in the country from a Non-Power 5 outfit, let alone an Independent. Kalani Sitake’s charges faced instate rival and No. 14 Utah in the Season Opener (12-30), followed by a road trip to Tennessee (29-26), and back-to-back home dates with Pac-12 denizens, No. 24 Southern California (30-27) and No. 22 Washington (19-45). In hindsight, mustering a 2-2 record after that stretch is rather remarkable for a team dealing with so many injuries, though they would eventually succumb to the mounting ailments during a dismal midseason swoon which saw them lose three straight games, dropping them to 2-3, and in very real danger of missing out on the postseason for the second time since Sitake took over at his Alma Mata four years ago. However, they managed to shock Mountain West Champion and No. 14 Boise State in a 28-25 affair in Provo on October 19th, igniting a five-game winning streak before falling at San Diego State in the Season Finale (3-13). The visiting side had no trouble moving the football against the Aztecs, compiling 416 Total Yards while the Defense relegated the hosts to just 269 Yards and a dozen First Downs. The problem though, was they kept shooting themselves in the foot, committing Three Turnovers, two of which were Interceptions thrown by Sophomore Quarterback, Zach Wilson (62.7%, 2,108 YDS, 7.6 Y/A, 11 TD, 7 INT), who struggled mightily in his third game back from an injury that shelved him for over a month. The former Transfer from Southern Cal threw the football a whopping fifty-three times, which isn’t necessarily the Game Plan that Sitake wanted to implement. So what do we make of BYU, who for large portions of the term haven’t enjoyed a full run of health? One would have to figure that they’ll be well prepared for this postseason matchup with Hawai’i, particularly given the strength of their schedule; the Cougars went 2-2 against ranked adversaries this season, though were dreadful during the middle of their campaign with Wilson sidelined. His Freshman understudy, Baylor Romney (63.5%, 747 YDS, 8.8 Y/A, 7 TD, 2 INT), managed to captain their side to that aforementioned victory over the Broncos, but before anyone could light the flames of a potential Quarterback Controversy, the Underclassman suffered a nasty case of Turf Toe, leaving his availability in question for tonight’s contest. When these two teams met last season, Brigham Young plowed their way to an easy 49-23 victory that was never in question, with the home side trampling the Warriors to the tune of 280 Rushing Yards, with four different players registering a Touchdowns. Wilson had himself arguably the game of his life since arriving in Provo, completing 16-of-24 Passes for 194 Yards Three Touchdowns and an Interception, rushing for another score to boot. With that said, it’s debatable as to whether he’s the best fit for this Offense; in eight games with him leading the attack, they averaged 26.5 Points on 421.6 Total Yards, but in the four without him they managed 31.0 Points on 476.5 Total Yards, though as we outlined earlier, the former came against some much tougher opponents. Either way, there is a feeling that Sitake, whose position within the program isn’t the safest at the moment, could use this affair as an opportunity to showcase three different Quarterbacks, with Wilson, Romney, and another Redshirt Freshman, Jaren Hall (67.0%, 420 YDS, 9.1 Y/A, 1 TD, 0 INT), in an attempt to get a head start on what is sure to be a competition for the Starting Gig over the Spring and Summer. In the meantime, there are plenty of other players to keep an eye on this Bowl, namely Junior Tight End, Matt Bushman (41 REC, 597 YDS, 14.6 Y/R, 4 TD), one of the most consistent at his position over the past three years, and versatile Redshirt Junior Linebacker, Kavika Fonua (78 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF, 2 INT, 2 PD), who leads the team in Tackles with seventy-eight, often lining up in multiple positions, including the Secondary.