Aloha will become a familiar term for the New Mexico State Aggies in the coming weeks.
NMSU will host Hawaii on Saturday to start an unusual in season home-and-home football series against their former Western Athletic Conference rivals. The Aggies play in Honolulu on Oct. 23.
Scheduling quirks are just part of the landscape for New Mexico State as an FBS independent. The Aggies played home-and-home series with Liberty for back-to-back seasons before losing all of their 2020 fall season to COVID-19.
But the NMSU-Hawaii series has its own share of oddities.
⋄ Saturday’s game will be homecoming for the Aggies (1-3), who also played at home last week.
⋄ The Warriors (1-3) haven’t played in Las Cruces since 2010, but visit New Mexico frequently to face Mountain West foe UNM. The Lobos are not on their schedule in 2021.
⋄ Hawaii is also the defending New Mexico Bowl champion – but that 2020 bowl game was played in Frisco, Texas.
Nonetheless, the first of six NMSU-UH matchups scheduled over the next five seasons will feature two teams in need of a win. The Warriors and Aggies each have victories over FCS opponents but are a combined 0-6 against FBS foes.
Hawaii has faced the tougher schedule, taking on UCLA, Oregon State and most recently San Jose State. The latter defeat, by a 17-13 margin, was enough to impress Aggies coach Doug Martin.
“Hawaii really held San Jose State down,” Martin said, “and San Jose State (the Aggies’ Oct. 2 opponent) has one of the best offenses in the Mountain West. Hawaii’s defense is right there with San Diego State as the best we’ve faced this year. This will be a big challenge for us.”
NMSU’s offense began to find its stride in last week’s 43-35 win over South Carolina State. Third-string quarterback Dino Maldonado passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns.
But starter Jonah Johnson, who suffered a wrist injury the previous week at New Mexico, could be ready to return Saturday, Martin said. Regardless of who starts, the Aggies go in as 17-point underdogs against a Warriors team that defensively has been stout against the pass and has 12 sacks already.
“Their secondary is really good, too,” NMSU running back Juwaun Price said. “I feel like that’s the key to their team. We need to have good balance and show we can run the ball. Hopefully, I can break one off.”
Price had 62 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week’s win.
Quarterback Chevan Coreiro is the focal point of Hawaii’s offense. The junior has passed for 1,184 yards and six touchdowns (five interceptions) and has a team-high 50 rushing attempts for 164 yards.
“Hawaii’s got some explosive guys, and their quarterback’s really good,” NMSU cornerback Syrus Dumas said. “We know this is a much different team than (South Carolina State). Everyone’s been focused in film study and I feel like we’re ready for a good game.”
New Mexico State hopes to start its renewed series against Hawaii by reversing a trend set when the schools were conference rivals. The Warriors lead the series 8-0.