A former quarterback and offensive coordinator at Boise State, football coach Bryan Harsin has seen his share of battles with Hawaii. He knows what to expect Saturday when the No. 14 Broncos host the Rainbow Warriors for the first time since 2015 (8:15 p.m., ESPN2).
“We’ve got what is in our opinion the best football team we’ve faced all season,” Harsin said Monday. “Offensively, they’re firing on all cylinders and they’ve got a lot of firepower. Defensively, they’re a veteran group. They’re seniors and juniors, so they know how to play and they show that on film.”
Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding echoed Harsin’s sentiments Monday when asked if Hawaii’s will be the best offense the Broncos have faced all season. The Warriors are 2-1 against Pac-12 opponents this season.
“Air Force obviously had its own challenges, but I think there’s no question in my mind right now looking at this offense,” Schmedding said. “I think they’re good in all areas.”
Schmedding isn’t concerned about Hawaii’s tempo. Florida State ran plays at a faster clip. He more compared preparing for Hawaii’s run-and-shoot scheme to getting ready to face the option.
“It’s kind of like watching the option downfield. I mean, those guys are running their routes off your leverage,” Schmedding said. “They’re using space. It just looks 100 percent different than the option, but there are option aspects to it.”
The Mountain West Conference rivals last played in 2016 when the Broncos (5-0, 2-0 MW) went to Hawaii and dominated the Warriors, 52-16. The highlight of the game was Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich getting so fed up with his team that in the second half he ordered the benches removed from the sidelines.
In their most recent meeting, Boise State limited Hawaii to 125 passing yards. But on Saturday, the Warriors (4-1, 1-0) will bring a passing attack to Albertsons Stadium that is cut from an entirely different cloth.
The top two offenses in the Mountain West will clash on the blue turf. Hawaii leads the conference with 37 points a game and 356.8 passing yards per contest. Its 480.6 yards of total offense is second only to Boise State’s 482.2, while the Broncos are No. 2 with 32.6 points and 323 passing yards a game.
Hawaii comes in with wins over Pac-12 programs Arizona (45-38) and Oregon State (31-28), and the Warriors’ lone setback was against Washington (52-20). In their past two games, they’ve combined to score 89 points and rack up 925 yards of offense, and the Warriors are coming off a bye week.
Boise State boasts the Mountain West’s best passing defense, and the 178.2 yards it’s giving up a game ranks No. 14 in the country. But on Saturday, the Broncos will face an offense that doesn’t mind trotting four or five wide receivers onto the field and a quarterback in Cole McDonald who is completing 68.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,629 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“They’re very good about how they’re executing their offense and who they want to get the ball to,” Harsin said. “I don’t think we have to change too much of our style. We have to face a different offense that does throw the ball very well, so we have to be prepared to execute what we do at a high level.”
Central to the Broncos’ game plan will be slowing down Hawaii wide receiver Cedric Byrd II, who leads the nation in receptions (40), receiving yards (498) and receiving touchdowns (9). He opened the season with 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona and, in the Warriors’ win over Nevada, hauled in three touchdowns.
The Broncos’ defenders know they can’t focus too much on Byrd, though. He’s one of four Hawaii wide receivers with at least 20 receptions, including 5-foot-9 slot receiver JoJo Ward, who has six receiving touchdowns on the season.
“Usually when you see these teams, there are just a couple guys who stand out. They really share the ball with everybody,” Boise State cornerback Avery Williams said. “That just goes to show that everyone is dangerous on this team. And just watching film, they all have speed, they all have hands and run good routes, so we can’t take them lightly.”
HAWAII AT NO. 14 BOISE STATE
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer, Lauren Sisler)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 5-0 overall, 2-0 Mountain West; Hawaii is 4-1, 1-0
Series: Boise State leads 12-3 (last meeting: Boise State won 52-16 on Nov. 12, 2016, at Hawaii)
Vegas line: Boise State by 12
Weather: 63 degrees, mostly sunny, 5-10 mph wind