Mountain West rankings: Rolovich’s gamble pays for Hawaii
For the Nevada Appeal
Nick Rolovich took a huge risk this past weekend and it paid off.
“It was the toughest decision of my head coaching career,” the fourth-year Hawaii Rainbow Warriors head coach said.
Rolovich, the Nevada Wolf Pack’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15, benched starting quarterback Cole McDonald on Saturday against San Jose State and replaced him with freshman Chevan Cordeiro. The switch resulted in Cordeiro passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-40 Hawaii victory at Honolulu.
The victory over the Spartans moves Hawaii (6-4, 3-3) up two spots in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings to No. 6.
McDonald, a junior, started Hawaii’s first nine games this year and 22 over the past two seasons and still leads the Mountain West this year in touchdown passes (25) and total offense (349.9 yards a game).
“I spent a lot of my week (last week) looking at this decision from all angles,” the 40-year-old Rolovich said. “The decision wasn’t easy. I might have been taking the Player of the Year for the conference off the field. The decision wasn’t made until (Friday night). I understood the ramifications of it if Chevan wouldn’t have played well. But I just felt that Chevan gave us the best chance of winning.”
Cordero, who is from Honolulu, completed seven of his passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns to wide receiver JoJo Ward.
“Chevan played great,” said Rolovich, whose Rainbow Warriors lost three of their past four games before beating San Jose State. “It’s hard for me to find a mistake he made. He just had complete command of the offense.”
The 6-foot-1 Cordeiro isn’t your typical freshman backup quarterback. He played four games last year, completing 30-of-49 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns before redshirting the season. He also saw action in seven games this season before this past weekend, completing 26-of-51 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns. Cordeiro also was the backup as a junior in high school to current Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa when the two were at Saint Louis School in Honolulu.
“Chevan was great but I respect Cole so much for the way he handled it,” Rolovich said. “He told me, ‘I’ll be ready if you need me (against San Jose State) but I also want you to know that I’m going to win the job back next week.’”
San Jose State quarterback Josh Love also had a productive game, passing for 375 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii. San Jose State, though, left a lot of points on the field despite scoring 40, settling for four field goals from Matt Mercurio.
“I really felt that the three best quarterbacks in the conference (McDonald, Cordeiro, Love) were in the stadium tonight,” Rolovich said. “I really believe that.”
San Jose State (4-6, 1-5) remained at No. 10. The Spartans are 1-5 in Mountain West play but four of the losses (to Hawaii, Nevada, Boise State, San Diego State) have come by just 25 points combined.
There were just four games involving Mountain West teams last weekend as No. 11 UNLV and No. 8 Colorado State had byes and the game between No. 2 Air Force and No. 12 New Mexico was postponed to Nov. 23 because of the sudden death of New Mexico player Nahje Flowers last Tuesday. The cause of death for the 21-year-old from Los Angeles had not been released as of Monday morning. Flowers played his final college game at Mackay Stadium in a 21-10 loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack on Nov. 2 and had three tackles.
Boise State (8-1, 5-0) remained at No. 1 after a 20-17 overtime victory at home against No. 3 Wyoming (6-3, 3-2). The Broncos won on a 28-yard field goal by Eric Sachse to open the overtime. Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe then missed a 37-yarder in overtime that would have tied the game.
Wyoming was forced to play backup quarterback Tyler Vander Waal because of a season-ending knee injury to starter Sean Chambers (suffered against Nevada on Oct. 26). Vander Waal completed 15-of-23 for 160 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. Boise was also playing its backup quarterback (Chase Cord) because of an undisclosed injury to starter Hank Bachmeier. Cord was 19-of-30 for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Utah State (5-4, 4-1) moved up one spot to No. 4 after a 37-35 victory at Fresno State (4-5, 2-3). Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was 30-of-39 for 388 yards and two touchdowns and guided the Aggies on an eight-play, 41-yard drive that resulted in a 30-yard game-winning field goal by Dominik Eberle as time expired.
“This one stings a whole lot more,” said Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna, who completed 16-of-20 passes for 263 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Fresno State ran for 156 yards and five touchdowns.
“We still control our destiny,” said Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, whose Bulldogs will play at No. 5 San Diego State in a pivotal West Division game this Friday night. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t sit around and pout about it.”
The Nevada Wolf Pack (6-4, 3-3) kept its West Division title hopes alive with a 17-13 upset victory at San Diego State (7-2, 4-2). Wolf Pack wide receiver Elijah Cooks completed a 50-yard pass down the middle to fellow wide receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange to set up its game-winning score early in the fourth quarter, a 1-yard run by Devonte Lee.
The Wolf Pack moves up two spots to No. 7 with the victory.
“It’s hard to win a football game if you don’t score,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “Our offense is having unbelievable struggles scoring. I don’t have an answer for it or I’d fix it.”
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings for the week of Nov. 11-17:
1. BOISE STATE (8-1, 5-0). This week: vs. New Mexico, Saturday.
2. AIR FORCE (7-2, 4-1). This week: at Colorado State, Saturday.
3. WYOMING (6-3, 3-2). This week: at Utah State, Saturday.
4. UTAH STATE (5-4, 4-1). This week: vs. Wyoming, Saturday.
5. SAN DIEGO STATE (7-2, 4-2). This week: vs. Fresno State, Friday.
6. HAWAII (6-3, 3-3). This week: at UNLV, Saturday.
7. NEVADA (6-4, 3-3). This week: Bye.
8. COLORADO STATE (4-5, 3-2). This week: vs. Air Force, Saturday.
9. FRESNO STATE (4-5, 2-3). This week: at San Diego State, Friday.
10. SAN JOSE STATE (4-6, 1-5). This week: Bye.
11. UNLV (2-7, 0-5). This week: vs. Hawaii, Saturday.
12. NEW MEXICO (2-7, 0-5). This week: at Boise State, Saturday.