In addition to exchanging gifts, the holiday season is a time for family and old friends to get together.
It’ll sure seem like a reunion of sorts when BYU and Hawaii face off in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 in Honolulu.
The Cougars and Rainbow Warriors will be meeting for the 32nd time dating to 1930. The two former Western Athletic Conference rivals — Hawaii joined the Mountain West in 2012 and BYU competes as an independent — faced off 22 times between 1978 and 2003.
BYU holds a 23-8 advantage in the series, including a 13-8 record in Hawaii.
The Cougars (7-5) will be looking to win their third straight bowl game. The Rainbow Warriors (9-5) will be making their ninth Hawaii Bowl appearance. They lost 31-14 to Louisiana Tech in last year’s game.
The last time Hawaii beat BYU, quarterback Nick Rolovich threw eight touchdown passes in a 72-45 win to spoil the Cougars’ perfect 12-0 season in 2001. Rolovich is now in his fourth season as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors.
Rolovich’s BYU counterpart, Kalani Sitake, is a Tonga native but spent plenty of his youth in Hawaii having gone to elementary and junior high school on the North Shore of Oahu.
And like Rolovich, Sitake, a former Cougars running back from 1997-2000, is coaching at his alma mater.
So this game has a feel of a pair of old friends reacquainting, and the rivalry remains strong.
“I think I came out of the womb not liking BYU,” Hawaii QB coach Craig Stutzmann told West Hawaii Today. “Just understanding the games against BYU makes a big difference. If they’re not ready to play BYU on national television, they’re not true competitors.”
The Cougars defeated the Rainbow Warriors in 2018 in Zach Wilson’s first start at quarterback for BYU. He threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another score.
“I would say we’ve grown a lot since that last game, as a team and an offense,” Wilson told KSL.com. “Personally, as a player, I’ve gotten so much better.
“That’s based on my personal overview of watching the game. … I think for this bowl game, everyone has to have the energy and want to go out there and win that game.”
Wilson began this season throwing for more than 1,300 yards and five touchdowns in five games before a thumb injury and surgery forced him to the sideline.
After a seven-week layoff, Wilson reclaimed his starting job and finished the regular season completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,108 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Cole McDonald leads the Rainbow Warriors offense. He ranks fifth in the nation with 3,642 passing yards, and he has thrown 29 touchdown passes. Four of his receivers have each cracked 800 yards in receiving.
Despite being from California, the importance of beating BYU is not lost on the redshirt junior.
“There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of emotions from past players until now,” he told West Hawaii Today. “We’re always going to be ready regardless the stage, what team we’re playing. It’s always going to be us out there playing the Hawaii football we know how to play.”
The Hawaii offense doesn’t center on McDonald’s arm. The Rainbow Warriors can lean on running back Miles Reed, who has rushed for 891 yards and eight scores. McDonald has 393 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Sitake says stopping McDonald is of the utmost importance.
“We’re going to have to find ways to make the quarterback uncomfortable,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s the name of the game.”
–Field Level Media