I have picked apart the Hawaii Bowl like the leftover turkey after Thanksgiving, examining these teams on everything from offense and defense to special teams and coaching. Everything on paper can write the framework of how a game is expected to go, but ultimately the players are the ones who decide who leaves Hawaii with a victory. The game has too many dynamic matchups to go over, so it was extremely difficult to decide on just three. Ultimately, I chose them based on which three would impact the game the most in relation to the final score. Here are three players and their matchups to lookout for.
Hayden Moore vs. A Top 25 Pass Defense
The San Diego State Aztecs have the 22nd best pass defense in the country, averaging a stingy 176.8 yards per game. This would be the second best pass defense the Bearcats have played, with the best being that of Connecticut (whom they beat). In comparison, the Bearcats' offense averages 373.1 yards per game through the air, which happens to be more than double what the Aztecs are used to giving up. This is a dynamic matchup considering the inconsistent quarterback play from Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore (who is starting in place of Kiel) this season.
The question for nearly every fan is whether they will see the dynamic passing attack Moore led against Memphis or the overwhelmed redshirt freshman from the BYU game. The long and the short of it is that this game ultimately rides pretty heavily on the back of Moore. Offensively speaking, it rides entirely on his back to distribute the football and score a lot of points. The question I keep asking myself is similar to that of what a scout might be asking; can Moore handle the pressure against a defense of the Aztecs caliber?
Donnel Pumphrey vs. The Bearcat Front Seven
An under-the-radar guy that should have been on everyone's radar out west, Pumphrey, has exploded onto the scene in San Diego and made a name for himself. He is an explosive player with the ability to handle the majority of the offensive workload for the Aztecs and showed that during their season this year. His final tallies for the regular season came out to be 284 carries for 1,554 yards and 16 touchdowns. For the record, that gives him a 5.5 yard per carry average and he is 10th in the nation in total rushing yards (before the bowl game). He faces a Cincinnati front seven that ranks 94th in the country and gives up almost 200 yards a game on their own. They have yet to face a running back of Pumphrey's caliber this year. The closest running back in comparison being Marlon Mack, who ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati's worst defeat this year. The Bearcats have numerous problems on defense that I can imagine Tuberville will do his best to hide, but given the Aztecs' passing attack being one of the worst in the country, I can't imagine anything less than eight guys in the box. It will definitely be a matchup to watch going down the stretch.
Momentum vs. Resilience
There are at least 20 other matchups I looked into using for the third and final spot that featured star players like Shaq Washington or even Maxwell Smith, but none of them really clicked for what really would matter in this game coming down the stretch. Both of these teams are young and both of them find themselves with big wins against good teams like Miami (FL) for Cincinnati and Utah State for San Diego State, yet they also find themselves in big losses like Cincinnati's disaster against USF or the Aztec destruction when they played California. The key factor in both of these games was these teams' ability to ride the momentum of good or bad play. Both teams rely heavily on that going down the stretch, which is why one team will have to find resilience to make a stand and climb back into the game when they are down one or two scores. The question here is which of the two teams will make the plays and take the reins for the end of the season.
Prediction: Bearcats 31, Aztecs 21