San Diego State Aztecs vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors – Week 10/Game Preview

Credit: AP Photo

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex – Honolulu, HI

Kickoff: Saturday, November 6 @ 8 pm

TV: Fox Sports 1

San Diego State, ranked 24th in the College Football Playoff Rankings, looks to rebound from its first loss of the season when it plays Hawaii on Saturday night. 

The Aztecs have not lost consecutive conference games in the same season since 2018 and responded with double-digit victories following their last five conference losses. 

The Aztecs are currently tied in the loss column with Fresno State and Nevada in the West Division standings, but Fresno State holds a half-game lead over both due to one additional win. Fresno State defeated both teams already and thus controls its destiny. The Rainbow Warriors are in fifth place in the division at 1-3. 

While the Aztecs have had great success against Hawaii in the past, the Rainbow Warriors were on a two-game winning streak until the Aztecs beat them 34-10 last season behind a dominant performance. Led by Greg Bell, SDSU rushed for 326 yards. In addition, their defense recorded seven sacks and three turnovers, including a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Segun Olubi.

After playing their home games at Aloha Stadium for the past 46 seasons, Hawaii currently plays its home games on campus at the retrofitted Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex while awaiting future plans for a new stadium. The stadium seats approximately 9,000, with plans to increase seating to 15,000 next season. 

“I’m definitely going to miss Aloha Stadium,” said Aztecs center Alama Uluave. “I played my high school games in that stadium.”

This week’s game will be the first Hawaii home game with a maximum capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic. Due to COVID-19 regulations, fans were not allowed to attend the first three home games this season, and only a maximum of 1,000 were allowed for the last home game. 

“I’m excited that all my teammates don’t have family in Hawaii, so I get to take all their tickets, and hopefully, I can fill out a little sliver in the stands with my family,” said Uluave. 

The game pits two sets of brothers against each other. Aztec defensive linemen Darrion Dalton and Jonah Tavai square off against Rainbow Warrior defensive back Donovan Dalton and defensive lineman Justus Tavai. 

The Aztecs are seven-point favorites in the matchup. 

Opponent Information

Team: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

City: Honolulu, HI

2021 Record: 4-5 (1-3)

Series Record Against SDSU: 11-22-2

Opponent

Hawaii hired former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham in January 2020 to be its 24th head coach. Known as an offensive genius, Graham’s impact on the program was hampered last season by the lost practice time due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, Hawaii was 78th in the country, averaging 384 yards per game last year. Before Hawaii and Arizona State, Graham also coached at Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Rice, and West Virginia. 

Hawaii completed their non-conference schedule, 3-2, which included two road losses to Pac-12 schools, UCLA and Oregon State, and a rare in-season home-and-home sweep of New Mexico State.

Their lone victory in conference play was at home against Fresno State, the current leader of the West division. Hawaii outscored Fresno State 17-0 in the fourth quarter to come back from a 24-10 deficit. 

Since that win, Hawaii’s two conference games resulted in blowout losses at Nevada and at Utah State. They surrendered 85 points combined in those two games and allowed season highs in points (51) and total yards (564) against Utah State last Saturday.  

Starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro returned against Utah State after missing three games due to an upper-body injury and finished 23 of 39 for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. On the season, Cordeiro has thrown for 1,706 yards and ten touchdowns. With 64 rushing yards, Cordeiro will become the third quarterback in school history to reach 1,000.

In last year’s 34-10 loss against SDSU, Cordeiro completed 17 of 35 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. 

Credit: AP Photo

Hawaii’s running back can be dynamic at times, having rushed for more than 200 yards in four wins this season. Under coach Graham, they are 6-0 when rushing for greater than 200 yards in a game. 

Hawaii averages 157.7 rushing yards per game behind a stable of running backs. Dae Dae Hunter leads the team with 558 rushing yards, including scoring runs of 75 and 81 yards against Nevada, but has missed the last two games due to an injury suffered in the Nevada game.

Backup Dedrick Parson, a transfer from Howard, stepped in for Hunter and did not miss a beat rushing for 161 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico State. However, the running game was a non-factor against Utah State once Hawaii fell behind by two touchdowns early in the game. 

On Tuesday, Aztec defensive end Cameron Thomas said that “Hawaii has a very good and physical offensive line,” and it will be a good matchup for them. Coach Hoke noted their offensive line is “guys who can get in front of you and create holes.”

Statistically, the Rainbow Warriors excel in one crucial facet of the game: forcing turnovers. They are second in FBS with 20 turnovers forced, split evenly between fumbles recovered and interceptions. They have returned four of those turnovers for touchdowns, including three in the last two games. However, the Rainbow Warriors offense gave the ball away 22 times to the opposition, leading to an overall -2 turnover margin on the season. 

Players to Know

Senior running back/wide receiver Calvin Turner (#7). 

The super senior hybrid running back/wide receiver was selected as a punt returner in the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team. Turner is an explosive player who can make plays as a rusher and receiver on offense in addition to his kick return prowess. After transferring from Jacksonville University, Turner led the Mountain West with 11 total touchdowns in 2020 and was named Second Team All-Conference at wide receiver. One of his eleven touchdowns last season came on a 75-yard catch and run against the Aztecs.  

This season, Turner has posted two 100+ yard receiving games and scored a team-leading ten touchdowns. He also leads the team with 52 receptions and 1,167 all-purpose yards. Against Oregon State, he scored three touchdowns (two rushing and one receiving) for the second time in his college career. 

Junior linebacker Darius Muasau (#53). 

Muasau was selected as a linebacker in the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team after leading the country with 68 solo tackles and seventh with 104 total tackles last year. This season, he leads the team with 72 total tackles, along with 7.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks, two pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble, and three quarterback hurries. He returned his lone interception 75 yards for a touchdown and has five games with at least ten tackles this season.  

Aztecs

The Aztecs defense now sits at sixth in FBS, allowing 92 rushing yards per game, 12th in FBS, allowing only 17.5 points, and 13th in FBS, allowing 304.9 total yards per game. 

Junior defensive end Cameron Thomas has the best defensive rating in the nation per Pro Football Focus among players with 375 snaps, leads the nation with 15 quarterback hits, and is second with 44 quarterback pressures. 

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Due to his stellar play, Thomas was named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award this week, the award handed out to the best defensive player in the country. “It’s an honor to see your name on that list, but when I came to San Diego State, the only trophy I was worried about was winning the conference championship trophy, and I still have not earned one of those,” said Thomas.  

The defense comes off its worst performance of the season, giving up 30 points and a bevy of big plays in both the run and pass game. “We knew we had to affect the [Fresno State] quarterback, and that’s something we didn’t do enough,” said Thomas. “We left our secondary out to dry for that, and as you saw, that really affected us as a team.”

Thomas insists the defense will be ready this week and will come in fired up to make sure they do not get off to another slow start. 

For the third consecutive game, the Aztecs offense was unable to reach 200 rushing yards after doing so in each of the first five games. Their season average has dipped to 200.8 yards per game, 31st best in FBS. 

The four talented running backs for the Aztecs totaled only 92 rushing yards on 22 carries. The two Aztec quarterbacks rushed for 70 yards on only ten carries, including starter Lucas Johnson, who extended drives with his feet as the pocket broke down. 

Johnson committed all three turnovers in the game for the Aztecs, throwing two interceptions and fumbling a read-option handoff to Bell. He passed for a career-high 220 yards and one touchdown. He racked up the majority of those yards on jump ball, and back shoulder throws to wide receiver Elijah Kothe. While those plays help the offense move the ball down the field at times, they are not as sustainable over the course of a game or for a season. 

The calls from fans and media to start true freshman Will Haskell became louder after the first loss of the season that saw Haskell finish the game and lead the Aztecs to a touchdown drive on his only possession. 

Coach Hoke is sticking with Johnson, insisting that “[he] gives us the best chance to win right now,” while noting that he would like him to be more decisive, especially with tucking the ball and running with it.  

Matt Araiza, who has quickly become a national media hero in the past two weeks, saw his FBS leading yard per punt average drop to 52.2. This was due in large part to kicking five of his six punts from midfield which would not allow him to kick a punt more than 50 yards. He also missed a 55-yard field goal at the end of the first half. 


Injury Updates

Wide receiver Kobe Smith continues to miss action after suffering injuries from a car accident before the Towson game, and his future status remains unknown. 

Running back, Dae Dae Hunter, who has missed the past two games for Hawaii, is expected to return against San Diego State. 

Opponent’s San Diego Connection

  • Senior tight end Kolby Wyatt was born in San Diego
  • Senior defensive back Quentin Frazier attended Mater Dei Catholic High
  • Senior tight end Caleb Phillips attended Solana Beach High 
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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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