UNLV looks to improve its winning streak to three games with a win against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Sept. 30 at Allegiant Stadium to kickoff Mountain West Conference play.
The winner of the Ninth Island Showdown receives the Pineapple trophy. Rainbow Warriors currently have the Pineapple Trophy and lead the series against the Rebels; however, the Rebels have won the trophy since its inauguration in 2017 in two of its three home games.
The Rebels enter the matchup against Hawaii on a two-game win streak, defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores in a thrilling nail-biter at Allegiant and a road victory against UTEP Miners.
Hawaii is flying to the ninth island off of a come from behind win against the New Mexico State Aggies. The Rainbow Warriors at halftime were down 17-3 and scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to win 20-17.
Keys for the Rebels defend the ninth island
If UNLV wants to bring the Pineapple back, they will need to do it on the ground. The Rebels have won each game they have rushed over 100 yards for. In addition, the Rebels have won by at least two scores in each game that they have rushed over 200 yards in.
The defense for UNLV has been excellent in the turnover column in Weeks 3-4, creating four against Vanderbilt and three against UTEP. The Rebels defense in the previous two games had totaled seven sacks and 13 pass break ups. A key for UNLV to bring the Pineapple to the mainland is to continue creating turnovers and disrupting the Hawaii offense’s flow with sacks and pass breakups.
How Hawaii can defend the Pineapple
For a deep dive into the Rainbow Warriors, Scarlet & Gray Free Press reached out to Tanner Haworth, the Sports Editor of the University of Hawaii Student Newspaper (Ka Leo).
“We have to play perfect,” Haworth said. “We are not a very talented team.”
Haworth pointed out that Hawaii’s offensive line does not give quarterback Brayden Schager enough time in the pocket; however, the passing game for Hawaii needs to be quick to defeat the Rebels.
The most important key for Hawaii to defeat the Rebels if the defensive line holding the Rebels ground attack.
“With the added depth for the defensive line, if they can stop the run and our passing game can start off quick and strong, then I think there is a chance [Hawaii] beats UNLV.”
Players to Watch
Jayden Maiava made his first college start in Week 4 against UTEP and will make his first home start against Hawaii. Maiava earned a win in his first start; however, the surrounding parts of the Rebels roster eased Maiava’s pressure, recording over 300 rushing yards and three takeaways on defense. In the Ninth Island Showdown, Maiava will need to be a field general accompanying his defense and ground attack to win the Pineapple back.
The four-headed monster of UNLV’s running back room includes Jai’Den Thomas, Donavyn Lester, Courtney Reese, and Vincent Davis. Fourteen of the Rebels’ 15 touchdowns on offense this season have been on the ground.
Haworth pointed out a few players from the Rainbow Warriors for UNLV fans to watch out for in the Ninth Island Showdown.
Breakout redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock is a receiver who was under the radar over the spring and fall camps. Haworth was expecting Ashlock to be a receiver to watch in his season preview, and Ashlock has exceeded expectations, recording over 400 yards in his first five games of the 2023 campaign.
“He runs the slot back position, which is basically the slot position of receiver, Haworth said. “He’s been so vital and so explosive in the run & shoot offense.”
On the defensive side, Haworth has liked how the secondary has looked. Defensive back Cam Stone is a transfer from Wyoming who Haworth says would make a good matchup against Ricky White.
Another lockdown defensive back in addition to Stone on the Rainbow Warriors is Verdel Edwards II. Edwards is a transfer from Iowa State who missed Week 4 against New Mexico. However, he will be a difference-maker if he straps on the pads against UNLV.
Haworth thinks highly of the secondary but is skeptical about how the Rainbow Warriors defensive line would look against the Rebels ground attack.
“Typically, the last couple of years Hawaii defensive have been one of the worst run defenses in the nation,” Haworth said.
The players Haworth believes can flip the narrative on gameday are Daniel “Sauce” Williams and linebacker Jalen Smith.
“Jalen Smith’s athleticism will be important for this defense to at least get a touch at one of these running backs,” Haworth said.
How to watch/listen to the game
The Ninth Island Showdown will be available to watch on Silver State Sports & Entertainment Network and will be available to listen on ESPN 1100 AM & 100.9 FM.
Kickoff for the UNLV Rebels first conference game of the season against Hawaii will be on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m.