Wildcats Kickoff 2019 at Dangerous Hawaii

The Wildcats travel to Honolulu for the first time since 1998, but history won't matter much in this one

Posted on August 22, 2019

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports



Arizona (0-0, 0-0) at Hawaii (0-0, 0-0)

Saturday, August 24
7:30 p.m. PT, CBS Sports Network
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii

Straight-Up: Arizona in a closer-than-expected win
Against the Spread: Hawaii (+11)


Overview: This is not going to be your run-of-the-mill opener. Not with both teams honoring former coach Dick Tomey, and desperately needing to start fast. The Wildcats travel to Honolulu for the first time since 1998, after hosting Hawaii in 2016, but history won’t matter much in this one. The Rainbow Warriors will be looking to build on their 8-6 record of a year ago; they’re confident they can do better than last season’s fifth-place finish in the Mountain West (5-3), and a disappointing loss to Louisiana Tech in the Hawaii Bowl. The Wildcats, meanwhile, just want to do what they didn’t do last year: Take care of business in the opener.

Hawaii Mini-Preview: Hawaii returns 18 starters from last season, and is piloted by dual-threat quarterback Cole McDonald. The junior signal caller threw for 3,875 yards and 36 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season, adding 359 yards and four more scores on the ground. The Warriors deploy a “Run and Shoot” offense, throwing the ball all over the field to a group of speedy receivers. It’s a difficult offense to stop, as evidenced by Hawaii’s 310 yards per game passing last season. By contrast, the Rainbows managed only 109.6 yards per contest rushing. An experienced offensive line may help improve on that number in 2019.

Arizona Mini-Preview: Arizona is led by explosive quarterback Khalil Tate, the centerpiece of their perennially prolific offense. But when their star is not 100 percent, the Wildcats are not the same. A series of injuries hampered Tate last season, netting a disappointing 5-7 season, with a 4-5 record in the Pac-12. After starting 0-2 in 2018, the Wildcats can’t afford to get off to another slow start under second year head coach Kevin Sumlin. Instead, Arizona will look to expose the Rainbow Warrior defense, which gave up 35.1 points per game last season. Its front line seems especially suspect, allowing 204.6 yards per contest on the ground. The Cats have superior running back speed on the edge, which should also provide opportunities to burn Hawaii deep with the run-pass option.

Predicted Outcome: This matchup has all the makings of a high scoring affair, with both teams exchanging scores early. Eventually, however, Arizona figures to overpower the Warrior defense with its one-two punch of Tate and running back J.J. Taylor. The travel time, island distractions, and home crowd could make this a closer game than expected, with upset potential if the Wildcats turn the ball over in the second half. But Sumlin likely won’t let that happen. Look for the Wildcats to pull away late, cementing their first road victory of the new season.

Notes: Arizona leads the all-time series 5-0, including a 3-0 record in Honolulu. The last time the two teams met, Arizona won 47-28, showcasing their sleek gray jerseys to honor the U.S.S. Arizona. Brandon Dawkins threw for 235 yards and a touchdown in that game, while also rushing for 118 yards and three more scores. J.J. Taylor put on a highlight-reel performance, racking up 168 yards. Arizona won the 1998 matchup in Honolulu as well,  27-6, and scraped out a 17-10 road victory in 1977. This is the first time the Wildcats will open the season on the road since 2010, when they defeated Toledo 41-2 in Ohio. Arizona is 83-27-5 all-time in the first game of the season, winning nine of the last 11. In those 11 contests, the Cats have outscored opponents by a cumulative 431-150, or an average of 39.2 to 13.6 points per game. The Rainbows went 5-3 in Aloha Stadium last year, and hold a slim 11-10 advantage at home over the last three seasons. 

—More from Dane Miller—