College football's 2021-22 bowl slate continues on Tuesday afternoon with Kent State and Wyoming meeting in Boise for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Golden Flashes bring a high-powered offense led by quarterback Dustin Crum to the blue turf, hungry to rebound after losing to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. The Cowboys can counter Kent State's explosive offense with a standout defense and a ground game that can control the pace of the game.
Kent State is a program trending up under fourth-year coach Sean Lewis. The Golden Flashes are 19-23 under the former Wisconsin tight end, but 17 of those victories have come over the last three seasons. Also, Lewis guided the program to its only bowl victory in 2019 and the first MAC East title by the school since '12. With a win over Wyoming, Kent State would notch just its fourth season of more than seven victories in school history. The Golden Flashes started 1-3 with a tough non-conference slate featuring games at Texas A&M, Iowa, and Maryland. Although the Power 5 opponents were a good measuring stick for Lewis' program, MAC play was a better gauge of progress. Kent State proceeded to go 6-2 in league action, which included key victories over Northern Illinois (52-47) and Miami (Ohio) (48-47) in November. The Huskies got the better of Lewis' team in the MAC title game, but a division crown and bowl trip is still a successful year for this program.
Tuesday's game in Boise is the fourth bowl trip for Wyoming under coach Craig Bohl. The Cowboys started 6-18 under Bohl from 2014-15 but have won at least six games in five out of the last six years. Additionally, the program has made four bowl appearances in that span, including a trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in '17. Bohl's team started 4-0 this year but was unable to maintain that momentum in conference play. A sluggish offense was primarily to blame for the 2-6 finish in Mountain West action, but the defense still ranked among the best in the conference, allowing only two opponents to score more than 30 points all season.
Wyoming and Kent State have never met on the gridiron. The Cowboys are 8-8 in all-time bowl appearances and have won their last two postseason trips. Kent State is 1-2 in previous bowl games.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State (7-6) vs. Wyoming (6-6)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho)
Spread: Wyoming -3
When Kent State Has the Ball
The "Flash Fast" offense is the primary reason why Kent State won the MAC East and has a winning record coming into Tuesday's matchup. The Golden Flashes rank seventh nationally in plays run (974) and average around 75 snaps a contest. The tempo and talent in place around Crum has lifted this group to an average of 6.4 yards per play and 32.6 points a game.
Crum is the catalyst for this offense, and Kent State's hopes of a second bowl victory under Lewis will hinge on his performance. The senior earned first-team All-MAC honors this year after throwing for 2,922 yards and 16 touchdowns and adding 633 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Over his last 30 games, Crum has just 10 interceptions and also boasts a 66.8 completion percentage for his career.
A strong group of skill players helps Crum act as the point guard for the high-powered offense. On the ground, Marquez Cooper (1,080 yards) and Xavier Williams (812) will team with Crum as primary ball-carriers. Cooper is Kent State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Dri Archer in '12. Dante Cephas (78 catches for 1,124 yards), Keshunn Abram (46), Nykeim Johnson (47), and Ja'Shaun Poke (24) form one of the deepest collections of receivers the Wyoming defense has faced in '21.
When Crum and Kent State's offense is on the field, it should be a strength versus strength battle. The Cowboys have been stingy on defense all year, limiting teams to just 5.1 yards per play and 22.5 points a game. This unit doesn't give up much in the way of big plays and ranks second in the Mountain West in pass efficiency defense. However, Bohl's group has been a bit more vulnerable versus the run (169.2 yards a game) and ranks near the bottom of the conference in third down and red zone defense. Linebacker Chad Muma (129 stops) is quietly one of the nation's top defenders and will be counted upon to keep Kent State's offense in check.
When Wyoming Has the Ball
Wyoming hasn't averaged more than 27 points a game in a season since Josh Allen was throwing touchdowns in Laramie in 2016. First-year coordinator Tim Polasek hopes to reverse those fortunes, but this unit is a work in progress after the former Iowa assistant guided this unit to an average of 23.2 points a contest and 5.6 yards per play this year.
It's no secret what Wyoming wants to do when it has the ball. The Cowboys recorded 490 rushing attempts to 286 passes this year, giving the offense a 63 percent split on rushing calls compared to forward passes in '21. Xazavian Valladay has paced the team in rushing for three consecutive years and rushed for 984 yards and five scores this fall. He should eclipse 1,000 yards for the season on Tuesday, but Titus Swen is also going to handle a chunk of the workload against Kent State. The junior ran for 737 yards and seven scores this year, which included two 100-yard efforts over the last four contests. The Golden Flashes have struggled to stop the run in '21, allowing opponents to average 190.1 yards a contest and 4.7 yards per carry. This defense allowed six opponents to eclipse more than 200 yards as well.
Wyoming doesn't throw it often (23.8 attempts a game), and there's not much in the way of big plays from the passing game (just four plays of 40-plus yards). Sean Chambers started the first seven games but was replaced by Levi Williams for the second half of '21. Williams is connecting on 57.8 percent of his throws and has a better average per attempt than Chambers (7.9 to 6.4), but the overall production or efficiency for this offense hasn't changed much. Williams also offers another weapon on the ground, recording 282 rushing yards over 56 carries this fall.
Kent State ranks third in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and hasn't allowed many big plays on the back end (just six of 40-plus) this year. Even though Wyoming may not have an efficient passing game, the defense will have to pay close attention to receiver Isaiah Neyor (20.3 per catch and 11 TDs), along with Ayden Eberhart (21) and Joshua Cobbs (23). If the Cowboys can get the ground game on track, Williams should have some shots off play action to Neyor and others downfield.
Kent State enters the bowl season giving up 35.1 points a game and 6.1 yards per play. As a result of the struggles this year, Lewis dismissed Tom Kaufman as coordinator and promoted C.J. Cox to the interim role in early November. The Golden Flashes are vulnerable on this side of the ball, so it's key for this unit to win on early downs and get Wyoming into obvious passing situations. And if Kent State's offense can jump ahead on the scoreboard early, that will alleviate some of the pressure on this group.
The contrast in styles should make for an interesting battle in Boise. Will the speed and flash of Kent State win out over Wyoming's power on offense and strength on defense? Turnovers are likely to play a huge role in this game. The Golden Flashes are plus-13, while the Cowboys are minus-three. Wyoming's margin for error is small considering its struggles in the passing game, so controlling the pace and flow of the matchup with its ground attack is a must. The Cowboys win some battles on defense, while Valladay and Swen have their moments on the ground. However, Crum's playmaking ability comes through in the second half, lifting Kent State to a close victory.