New Mexico Bowl Game Preview: Three Keys to a Hawaii Win vs. Houston
The Warriors will look to cap their 2020 season with a win over Houston. Here’s our preview of how Hawaii can beat the Cougars.
The Warriors get one final test.
NEW MEXICO BOWL: Hawaii Warriors (4-4) vs. Houston Cougars (3-4, 3-3 AAC)
WHEN: Thursday, December 24 — 12:30 PM PT/10:30 AM HT
WHERE: Toyota Stadium; Frisco, TX
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes ESPN, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast through ESPN Honolulu.
RADIO: The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN Radio affiliates. The Hawaii broadcast can be found on ESPN Honolulu, 1420 AM and 92.7 FM, as well as 97.3 FM (KRKH) in Maui, 670 AM (KPUA) on Hawai‘i
Island, and 99.9 FM (KTOH-HD3) in Kaua‘i. The Houston broadcast can be found on 950 AM (KPRC).
SERIES RECORD: Hawaii leads the all-time series 1-0. In the lone previous meeting on December 25, 2003, the Warriors defeated the Cougars in triple overtime, 54-48, in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
LAST GAME: Hawaii beat UNLV at home, 38-21, while Houston lost on the road to Memphis, 31-27.
ODDS (as of 12/21, via Bet MGM): Houston -13
SP+ PROJECTION: Houston by 13.6 (78% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Houston by 8.6
The Hawaii Warriors are once against college football’s gift to America on Christmas Eve, as they head to the mainland for a battle with the Houston Cougars in the New Mexico Bowl.
In keeping with many other things across this strange season, however, this year’s New Mexico Bowl isn’t actually in New Mexico. Instead, the game will take place in Frisco, Texas, which amounts to something approaching a home game for Dana Holgersen’s Cougars. They’ve had their own challenges, as well, with eight different games canceled by COVID-19 concerns, so you can imagine that both teams will want to end their adventurous seasons on a high note.
Here’s how Hawaii can win the New Mexico Bowl against Houston.
Three Keys to a Hawaii Victory
1. Don’t let the running game get loose.
The Warriors have often struggled to bottle up opposing rushing attacks this fall, allowing 5.38 yards per carry and ranking 115th nationally by both Opportunity Rate and Power Success Rate, but there’s a chance for them to turn that around. Houston likes to be balanced on offense, throwing on just 51.2% of plays, but their own rushing attack is fairly bland.
Other than a breakout game against South Florida, the Cougars failed to crack 4.5 yards per carry in every other game this fall. With just seven runs of 20-plus yards in seven games, Houston isn’t that explosive, either, so the Warriors’ interior defensive line duo, Blessman Ta’ala and Jonah Laulu, have a big opportunity to influence the game.
2. Keep the focus off of Chevan Cordeiro.
As we’ve mentioned before in these previews, no one has played a bigger role in Hawaii’s fortunes this fall than its sophomore quarterback. In the Warriors’ four wins, he’s averaged 360.5 yards of total offense at 7.63 yards per play; in their four losses, he’s been held to 238.8 yards and 4.57 yards per play.
Houston boasts a strong front seven that could pretty easily bottle up Cordeiro if the Warriors aren’t prepared, though the Cougars will go into battle without many of their stars. Defensive end Payton Turner and linebacker Grant Stuard, who led the team respectively in sacks and total tackles, have both elected to opt out of the bowl game in favor of preparing for the NFL Draft. Another linebacker, Terrance Edgeston, elected to enter the transfer portal yesterday.
That doesn’t even account for the continued losses to COVID-19 and academic ineligibility, which could surpass 20 players according to the Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte. Under normal circumstance, then, it could be much tougher for the Hawaii offense to find some traction. In this game, however, it’ll be very disappointing if they can’t.
3. Limit Houston’s passing explosiveness.
This is another area where Hawaii will benefit from a recent defection because Houston wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, who led the Cougars with 15.3 yards per catch and four receiving touchdowns, has also opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Unlike on defense, however, Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune still has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Stevenson also led Houston with six catches of 20-plus yards, but a quartet of other players — receivers Tre’von Bradley, Keith Corbin, and Nathaniel Dell, as well as tight end Christian Trahan — had at least four such catches themselves.
Though Hawaii did push San Jose State’s Nick Starkel to his worst game of 2020, both Boise State and Nevada didn’t have much trouble moving the ball through the air, so while the Warriors did make big strides and have proven they can be opportunistic with a Mountain West-best nine interceptions, Houston might end up being the best overall passing game they’ve faced all year.
A lot will depend on how many haymakers the Hawaii offense can land against what appears to be a diminished Houston defense, but they also need to prove that they can do so with leaning on Cordeiro to do all of the heavy lifting. It will be a big spot, for instance, for freshman running back Dae Dae Hunter, who is replacing Miles Reed after Reed’s departure for the transfer portal. It’ll also be a big chance for Jared Smart, Rico Bussy, and Melquise Stovall, all of whom have failed to crack a meager nine yards per catch in 2020.
Even if they do, the Cougars offense just looks like it’ll be better overall. Hawaii seems likely to cover the substantial spread, but they probably won’t get the win they want.
Houston 38, Hawaii 28