Game Day preview: Hawaii vs. Nevada

Rainbow Warriors offense

Quarterbacks Chevan Cordeiro, a co-captain who did not play in the previous game because of an injury, and Brayden Schager, a true freshman, bring different skill sets. Cordeiro is more successful at stretching the field (44.1 % completions on 20-plus-yard throws from the line of scrimmage ) and on the move (6.4 yards per non-sack scrambles and keepers ). Schager is efficient on passes up to 9 yards (84.6 %). Schager’s threat as a rugged runner—he continued playing after suffering a broken jaw and four chipped teeth in a high school regional—sets up his play-action passes (55.6 % precision ). Four-back Calvin Turner said Schager has shown improvement in practices after leading three fourth-quarter scoring drives in an upset of Fresno State. “I feel (Schager ) has learned a lot from Chev, ” Turner said. As for replicating his U-turn rushing patterns, Turner said, “Brayden’s not ready for that one yet.” Since the middle of the 2020 season, opponents have tracked Turner, employing their version of the tackle-box-and-one scheme. Sometimes, a “spy ” will call out “Seven, ” like a defender announcing the matchup in a pickup basketball game at Crane Park. “It gets me excited before every game because I know … they’re going to have something to try and slow me down.” Offensive coordinator Bo Graham has kept Turner on the go or at different at-the-snap spots to throw off defenses. In 406 offensive plays, Turner has aligned in the backfield, alongside a tackle, in the slot, wide, and 27 times as the wildcat QB. Turner averages 7.1 after-catch yards and 3.7 after-contact yards on runs.

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Rainbow Warriors defense

In football instruction, playbooks have gone the way of flip phones. The syllabus calls for studying videos shot from behind the defense, players drawing the schemes in meeting rooms, and repeated on-field reps. The visual teaching techniques are needed for a defense with several coverages, each coming with several variations. The foundation is the corners pressing the receivers, and the back end in a two-or three-safety umbrella. And then the Warriors unleash the all-point blitzes—to both the backfield and run gaps. In last year’s victory over Nevada, cornerback Cortez Davis led the way in limiting Romeo Doubs to one catch for 10 yards. But Nevada has widened the options to a tight end who is money on back-shoulder catches and quick-out patterns, a stocky running back who averages 4.3 yards after contact, and a quick-release quarterback. “One, two, three, they’re getting the ball out, ” defensive end Jonah Laulu said. “It’s really frustrating. You really can’t get your rush off yet, and they’re already passing the ball.” The Warriors solved that dilemma against Fresno State, using the mid-tier defenders to bring heat. Khoury Bethley often starts as a middle safety, giving him a panoramic view of the offense. Bethley has played in the box, on the line, in the slot, as a safety and a cameo at cornerback. Receivers are averaging 1.4 post-catch yards when Bethley is guarding.

Rainbow Warriors special teams

In eight of the past nine years, Wyatt Tucker has been accurate on special-teams snaps. Trick answer : He redshirted in 2018 after transferring from Whittier College. In the 30 games since, Tucker has not misfired on 39 field-goal attempts, 110 PATs and 113 punts. He also has raced down to make four tackles on punt coverage. After mishandling a kickoff against Portland State, Calvin Turner is averaging 24.6 yards on five error-free returns since.

Wolf Pack Offense

No wonder Nevada has the nation’s seventh-best aerial attack (357.0 yards per game ). Jay Norvell parlayed his one season as Arizona State’s pass-game coordinator—under Todd Graham—into this head-coaching job. Receivers coach Tim Chang is a former record-setting QB at UH. And offensive coordinator Matt Mumme’s father is co-creator of the Air Raid. It begins with QB Carson Strong, who is accurate (69.3 %) and quick-triggered (2.17-second release when blitzed ). “He has a ton of great zip on the ball, ” tight end Cole Turner said of Strong. “Nothing is ever late. He’s a really confident thrower. He trusts his arm, and he’s going to make throws.” Strong had set a goal of an 80 % game. Against New Mexico State last week, Strong misfired on four of his first six passes, then went 23-for-26 (88.5 %) for 366 yards and six TDs after that. Wideout Romeo Doubs, who is expected to play after missing the NMSU game with an injury, is a favorite receiver (13.8 yards per catch on 7.8 targets per game ). Harry Ballard is the long-ball threat (26.5 yards per catch ). In his second season at motion tight end after moving from wideout, Turner has developed a game shaped for a 10-yard-by-30-yard rectangle. Turner has caught 80 % of passes on targets under 10 yards. The past two seasons, 11 of his 13 red-zone catches were touchdowns. “That’s definitely where I feel comfortable, ” Turner said. “Carson trusts me a lot down there.” Turner’s basketball background is useful in posting up shorter defenders, blocking and then rolling to open areas, and using only his hands to clamp passes. “Catching so many basketballs in practice, you get used to catching with only your hands, ” Turner said. “You can’t body-catch a basketball.”

Wolf Pack Defense

When it comes to defensive form, Nevada shows off its ” Sacks Pack.” Defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who received a glowing job recommendation from UH coach Todd Graham, has crafted a front-loaded defense that hungers after QBs. Nevada has accumulated 22 sacks, including 18 rattling hits on QBs, and 65 hurries. The most disruptive are two off-the-sideline defenders. Pass-rush specialist Tristan Nichols, a Saint Louis alumnus, has a team-high six sacks. Dalyan Henley, who splits time with weak-side linebacker Lamin Touray, is a tackle-box denizen (92.5 % of snaps within 5 yards of line of scrimmage ) who averages a tackle every 5.4 plays. Dom Peterson uses below-pad moves to fill and attack gaps. Sam Hammond represents the d-line’s workmanlike approach. He grew up in Yerington, a 75-minute drive from Reno. Yerington has a grocery store, one McDonald’s, one stoplight and few Division I football opportunities. Hammond, whose graduating class was 87 students, starred in football as a tight end, wideout, defensive lineman and punter ; ran in the 4 ×400 and 4 ×800 relays ; and hurled a discus 172 feet. Hammond joined the Pack as a walk on, earned a scholarship two years later, and now is a force as a combo 3-tech lineman and rush end. “Coming out of a small town, we really just learned how to work, ” said Hammond, who has four sacks and six hurries. “I took that into my college career and really just ran with it. It was a lot of hard work, for sure, and keeping my head to the grindstone, and keeping after it.”

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Wolf Pack special teams

If he had any free time, Julian Diaz would spend it hunting. But Diaz has been kept busy with kickoffs (67 % were not returned ), punts (4.5-second hang time in Reno ), and holds ( Brandon Tolton is 10-for-12 on FGs, 20-for-20 on PATs ). Romeo Doubs averages 25.5 yards per punt return against Power Five opponents. Backup QB Nate Cox can punt left-footed and kick FGs with his right foot.

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