Both Wyoming and Georgia State are looking to generate a little extra spark going into the offseason after late-season struggles. They will get that chance when they face off in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on New Year's Eve.
The Cowboys (7-5, 4-4 Mountain West) are appearing in their third bowl game under head coach Craig Bohl. They split the previous two games, losing to BYU in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl and beating Central Michigan in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. With a victory, Wyoming will finish with eight victories for the third time in four seasons.
The Panthers (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt) are playing in a bowl game for the third time since moving up to the FBS ranks in 2013. Georgia State previously played in the Cure Bowl on two occasions, losing to San Jose State in 2015 and beating Western Kentucky in 2017. The Panthers are looking to finish with an 8-win season for the first time in school history after clinching just their third winning season overall.
This will be the first time Georgia State and Wyoming have met on the football field.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming (7-5) vs. Georgia State (7-5)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Arizona Stadium (Tucson, Ariz.)
Spread: Wyoming – 7.0
When Wyoming Has the Ball
Anyone expecting to see offensive fireworks from the Cowboys better prepare to be disappointed. That's simply not how Wyoming operates under Craig Bohl. This is a team that's dedicated to controlling the clock with a methodical and punishing run game. It is a formula that works.
Whatever aerial attack Wyoming possessed got grounded when freshman quarterback Sean Chambers suffered a season-ending injury against Nevada in late October. While healthy, Chambers embodied the notion of dual-threat quite literally. Chambers struck an equal balance between making plays with his legs and with his arm. He piled up 567 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while throwing for 915 yards and seven additional scores.
In Chambers' absence, the Cowboys have not done many positive things in the passing game. Tyler Vander Waal struggled in the final four games of the regular season and put his name in the NCAA transfer portal ahead of the bowl game. Bohl announced Monday morning that seldom-used Levi Williams, another freshman, will get the start at quarterback.
What it means is that sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay will be the focal point of the offense again. Valladay is a backfield workhorse. He racked up 1,061 rushing yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry during the regular season. Valladay could have a big day against a Georgia State run defense that has allowed opponents to gain 200 or more rushing yards in seven games this season.
When Georgia State Has the Ball
A balanced offense helped the Panthers rise from the Sun Belt cellar. It also opened the door to reach a bowl game for the second time in three seasons.
Dan Ellington is a dangerous playmaker. His mobility and elusiveness helps keep plays alive. Ellington ran for 598 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 4.1 yards per carry, during the regular season. An injured knee hampered his running ability a bit down the stretch, but the senior is also a solid passer. That will be a big deal against a Wyoming defense that is much better defending the run than the pass.
Ellington threw for 2,291 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season, while producing three 200-yard games and a pair of 300-yard games. The Panthers are 4-1 this season when Ellington racks up 200 or more passing yards. His favorite target, Cornelius McCoy, has totaled 679 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 65 catches.
Tra Barnett is the top threat out of the backfield for Georgia State. If he can get on track against a rugged Wyoming run defense, he is plenty capable of doing damage. Barnett racked up 1,389 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground during the regular season. He racked up six 100-yard games and one 200-yard game so far this fall. The Panthers won five of those seven contests.
Both teams have lost three out of their last four games heading into the Arizona Bowl. Wyoming has sputtered on offense ever since Chambers was lost for the season. Still, two of those losses were to ranked Boise State and Air Force squads. The Cowboys are much more formidable on defense than Georgia State is on offense. They will make the Panthers grind out yards and points. That ultimately will play into Wyoming's favor down the stretch.
Prediction: Wyoming 20, Georgia State 17
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo by Troy Babbitt/UW Media-Athletics, courtesy of gowyo.com)