The 24th ranked Hawaii Warriors will face the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes at Aloha Stadium for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu. Both teams have a very good chance to win the battle on paper. Let’s look in between the lines and see what the Keys to the Game really are.
Quarterback Bryant Moniz is one of the country’s top passing threats. Hawaii leads the nation in total offense and is ranked 10th in passing efficiency at 161.94. The Hawaii offense has posted an average of 39.9 points per game. Moniz stepped up this season, passing for 36 touchdowns. Greg Salas and Kealoa Pilares will get the lion’s share of the attempts, but Royce Pollard also seems to pop open for important 3rd down conversions and “the third receiver" that many defenses overlook.
Who Has the Better Offense?
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Running back Alex Green rushed for well over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. Green is a powerful runner capable of big gains on his own, but the success of the passing game has opened up some huge holes in more than one defense. Chizzy Dimude is also a back that can hit a hole with speed and accelerate into the defensive backfield. A balanced attack, or at least enough power running to keep the pass rush honest, is going to be important for the Warriors to maintain to win.
Quarterback G.J. Kinne is a dual threat QB who took the reins of the Tulsa completing 60 percent for 3,307 yards and 28 touchdowns. Kinne is also their leading rusher, running up 557 rushing yards. Kinne ended up being voted the Conference-USA's Offensive Player of the Year.
Wide receiver Damaris Johnson is the second leading rusher on the team with 462 yards and leads the team with 771 yards receiving. Look for Trey Watts, Trae Johnson and Ja’Terian Douglas to make contributions to the scoreboard as well
It is important to note that Tulsa is an extremely balanced ball club. Nineteen different players accounted for at least 100 yards either running or receiving. None however went over 557 yards rushing or 771 yards receiving for the season. The Golden Hurricanes rank among the top 15 nationally in passing and rushing yards per game. If they can mix in the run and sustain drives, they will be able to control tempo. It will also help in negating the home team crowd advantage.
The Warriors have a fair defense overall but it will take extra work on the linebacker corp to stop the Golden Hurricane. Hawaii is the No. 1 team in the nation in pick-offs, averaging an adjusted 1.8 per game.
UH also can bring pressure to bear on quarterbacks, and Kinne has been sacked 24 times in 429 attempts ranking 83rd nationally in pass protection. This indicates the chance for effective blitzes to work. Corey Paredes, Richard Torres, Vaughn Meatoga, Kamalu Umu and Mana Silva have their work cut out for them, but appear to have a ripe hunting ground.
The Warriors will need to continue on the same road they have been on all season with the exception of the Boise State loss. A proper balance of blitz and cover packages should keep the Golden Hurricane offense off balance and prone to making the turnover mistakes.
Tulsa's pass defense has not looked very good all year. Tulsa won against a lot of poor passing teams but lost to three of the top 25 passing teams with one scoring 65 points on them. They defeated No. 8 Houston but the Cougars had to play their freshman quarterback that they intercepted five times. Tulsa has had some trouble keeping their opponents off the scoreboard giving up nearly 30 points a game.
Tulsa's defense will need to step up and concentrate on making defensive stands that yield little or no points regardless of the passing yardage. Tulsa gave up only 21 points against June Jones’ SMU Mustangs. The game was still a loss, but while still allowing 381 passing yards the game was still in the realm of winnable.
The Golden Hurricane is 34th in red zone defense, so defensive stands with at least two picks in the game is their best shot at a win. Tulsa is also 91st against 3rd downs and a great deal of improvement will be needed here as well. Marco Nelson, Dexter McCoil and Cody Wilson will have to have top play all game.
Tulsa's best bet is to try to intercept Moniz and force him into bad passing decisions. He has 11 interceptions for the year, which is actually very good for quarterback that has so many attempts per game. Tulsa gets its share of interceptions mainly from McCoil and Nelson, with six pick-offs each. The Hurricane pass rush is good enough to pressure Moniz, who has been sacked 30 times in 508 attempts. That’s not bad when you consider how much Hawaii airs the ball out.
Hawaii Special Teams
Hawaii moved away from Greg Salas returning kicks but has had average success on kickoff returns with Dustin Blount, averaging just over 24 yards per return. Punt returns have been a different matter with Hawaii managing only 4.5 yards per run-back. The Warriors are giving up an average of 14 yards on returns, including one for a touchdown.
Kicker Scott Enos has been reasonably accurate at 17 of 21 on field goal attempts. His longest 40 yards. Punter Alex Dunnachie is averaging 43.1 yards.
Tulsa Special Teams
Tulsa has been very good on punt coverage, giving up a stingy 2.1 yards per return. Two touchdowns were also surrendered on kickoff returns on the other hand. Tulsa also has had five kicks blocked which haven't helped the field goal unit. Kevin Fitzpatrick has hit only 14 of 22 field goal attempts with a longest of 47 yards. Punter Michael Such is averaging 42.9 yards.
Damaris Johnson is college football's current all-time leader in kick return yardage with 3,308 yards. Johnson is 12.1 yards on punt returns and just over 27 yards on kickoffs. He has recorded one touchdown return for each.
Home Field Advantage
Home field advantage in a bowl game usually is not a factor as bowl games are normally played at a “neutral” site. This is not the case for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The whole idea of the Hawaii Bowl was to have a bowl game that Hawaii could play in, if Hawaii produced a bowl-eligible record. Hawaii always plays a lot better at home. Even more so than many teams.
The first reason is that opponents generally play worse due to travel time and time zone. Many teams fall into “vacation mode” which only adds to their disadvantage. Combine that with a better than expected attendance for the game and the advantage is clearly to the Warriors.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
All in all Tulsa has an outside chance of winning this bowl game, but it is really somewhere between slim and none. Tulsa has to rely mainly on Kinne to win this game for them.
This offense has to keep the Warrior offense off the field with a controlled, balanced, time consuming attack on every offensive possession. Try as they might, the Tulsa secondary does not appear up to the task of covering the talented receiving cadre of Salas, Pilares and Pollard.
Major contenders like Nevada and Army have both discovered how quickly Hawaii can strike for a score. The Hawaii offense made its presence known in both the USC and Colorado games. They were able to score and actually had a chance to win both games but fell short. The Golden Hurricane will be looking closely at how Boise State contended with the Hawaii passing attack.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is really in the catbird’s seat, so to speak. The main task would be to disrupt G.J. Kinne at every turn and don’t give up the cheap score. As always, turnovers will play a big factor in the battle. Hawaii must not be forced into making bad plays. Patience will pay off dividends for the offense.
If the Warriors keep to the game plan, protect the ball and keep everything in front of them defensively, the scoring opportunities will be there.
I look for Tulsa to put up a respectable fight, but in the end, it should be a Hawaii win. Most statistical info leads me to predict a 45-21 final score in favor of the Hawaii Warriors.
For more articles on the University of Hawaii, visit Doc's website: www.hawaii.sportsrap.com