The Mountain West Conference has been a roller coaster ride all year, with Boise State at the top all year as they carried themselves to an 11-1 record behind some turmoil at quarterback. Their only loss was to an upstart BYU team. Meanwhile, the 2019 Mountain West Championship has to have another competitor, and that comes in the form of the explosive Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii has had its fair share of question marks, but an explosive offense has gotten them to this point. Now, as the two teams face off for the second time this season, it looks to be a close game that features lots of scoring.
Boise State, behind Coach Bryan Harsin, has gotten themselves to the top of the group five teams yet again, just like it has been for most of the 21st century at this point. But it has not been without adversity for them. They have switched between three quarterbacks, Hank Bachmeier, Chase Cord, and now, Jaylon Henderson. Henderson, a redshirt senior, has now started three games, and in those games, the Broncos have scored 129 en route to a 3-0 record and a 31-24 win last week over Colorado State.
Protecting Henderson will be Ezra Cleveland, an intriguing left tackle that was viewed as a potential top ten this Summer, but has fallen down boards now due to no fault of his own. Cleveland’s athleticism and ability to move in space are just a few reasons why some that have watched him have been impressed. The footwork he has is also great in pass sets. It has become evident that Cleveland needs to work on his hand usage and needs to get in the weight room to become stronger, but he has exceptional for the Broncos thus far on the year.
John Hightower brings the need for speed to this Broncos offense. Hightower has been the primary deep threat on the team. Against a Hawaii defense that has not stopped anyone that they have faced on the year, Hightower looks to be an incredibly dangerous threat, not just as a deep threat, but in the screen game as well. Here, he has excellent yards after catch ability with good contact balance and open-field vision. He also returns kicks and punts, to add to be opportunities for him to do damage.
Still, the most prominent player to watch in this game period is defensive end Curtis Weaver, who has been projected as a potential first-round player by me in my mock earlier this week. Weaver is a plug-and-play polished pass rusher due to his advanced football IQ and hand usage. He has a good pass rush plan as he takes angles and then counters well with inside moves. It is clear he does extensive film study as he plays to the tendencies of the tackle and then beats their weaknesses. Weaver could be a massive problem for Hawaii if they can not keep him in check.
Other Prospects: IDL David Moa, QB Jaylon Henderson
Hawaii is a fascinating case study of modern football. This is not like the Colt Brennan-led team that went undefeated back in 2007, but it is a similar offensive team with their explosive offense that has really yet to be slowed down by anyone other than Washington. Hawaii was held to a season-low 20 points in that Washington game, but it was mostly due to turnovers. The defense has not been outstanding this year, but they have still willed their way to a 9-4 record anyways.
The leader of that explosive offense is dynamic quarterback Cole McDonald. McDonald has dazzling arm talent as he makes absurd throws in tight windows and can push the ball downfield with incredible ease. Add in the fact that he has excellent mobility and improvisation out of structure, and McDonald makes some great plays overall. The mental lapses are just disturbing. He has a peculiar release that can hurt him when under pressure, even if he steps up in the pocket with decent pocket presence. He has some accuracy lapses as well. So, McDonald can win Hawaii games and lose them for them, but he is so much fun to watch.
His main target is a wide receiver, Cedric Byrd. Byrd has taken over John Ursua’s spot as the primary slot receiver for the Rainbow Warriors and has done a great job of doing it. Not only does he have a diverse route tree, but he runs route incredibly well. That is with good deception of defensive backs and releases off the line. Byrd plays through contact of press well again. Byrd, if not kept in check, can go off any given game.
On defense, they do have a number one cornerback in Rojesterman Farris, however. Farris has eight pass deflections and an interception on the year. Farris is the clear senior leader of this defense and plays with a contagious fire. He is a playmaker as well, with clear ball skills. He has excellent instincts and length as a potential press-man cornerback. The clear knocks are that his hips are tight, and he needs to become a far better tackler going forward.
Other Prospects: WR JoJo Ward, RB Dayton Furuta
This game, as far as I am concerned, hinges on one man — Cole McDonald. He had no turnovers when Hawaii last played Boise State but was erratic in the pocket and missed some open throws. It was, in fact, his least efficient game of the entire season even though Hawaii put up 37 points. If McDonald can step up and play a clean game of football with his dynamic ability, this game will be close. Boise State has had its fair share of close games, including against Florida State, Colorado State, and Wyoming. If the Hawaii defense can at least made a few key stops, the Rainbow Warriors have a legit punchers chance at this. Still, Jaylon Henderson has looked great since taking over as the Broncos quarterback, and I believe the Broncos roll behind Henderson’s performance.
Prediction: Boise State wins 45-38