On Monday, coach Matt Wells said "the jury is out" on the Utah State secondary entering the game. Even though the Aggies' pass defense is still the best-ranked in the Mountain West, giving up big passing plays has been a struggle when the team has fallen: In three of Utah State's four losses, they've given up at least 278 yards passing.
Against the No. 21-rated passing offense in the country, and a well-regarded offensive mind in Norm Chow, the Aggies will be tested. Hawai'i throws the ball about 60 percent of its snaps.
"If stuff that we can defend and really need to get cleaned up," safety Brian Suite said. "We've addressed it in meetings, and we've worked on it."
Against Boise State, Wells cited a few issues with the unit's zone coverage that allowed Broncos receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes to make big gains after the catch for a total of 150 receiving yards.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson has already spent the weekend sizing up the Rainbow Warriors' leading receiver, Chris Gant, whom he called a big playmaker. The senior receiver averages 18.7 yards per catch, one of the more explosive averages in the conference.
"You gotta work at whatever you can to stop that guy's strengths," he said. "He stands out on film."
Run game takes on greater role
Utah State has said in recent weeks that it hasn't changed the offense for freshman quarterback Darell Garretson, but there's no doubt that the Aggies' starter hasn't had to shoulder as much load as Chuckie Keeton did.
When Keeton was healthy, he attempted at least 40 passes in every game except against Weber State, when he sat out after leading the Aggies' to a 49-0 halftime lead. Against Boise State and New Mexico, Utah State has just attempted a combined 55 passes.
Some of that shift can be explained by emphasis on the run game, which rung up a season-best 337 yards against New Mexico. Although rushing has long been in Utah State's DNA in the last few years, without Keeton, running the ball is as critical as ever.
Senior running back Joey DeMartino said running the ball has been a way for the Aggies to establish an identity early in games with a veteran-heavy running back group and offensive line. That's what they'll try to do against a Hawai'i squad that allows 176.3 rushing yards per game.
"If the run opens up, the pass usually opens up," he said. "I think me and the linemen take it upon ourselves to start the game off right and declare physicality at the line of scrimmage."
Hawaii at Utah State
O Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • CBS Sports