The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, will play host to an interesting Group of 5 matchup, as the Ohio Bobcats will take on the Nevada Wolf Pack. These two teams will be looking to end the season on a positive note and use this game as a springboard to hit the ground running for the 2020 season.
Ohio (6-6, 5-3 MAC) comes into this game with plenty of confidence under the direction of head coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats won their final two games of the regular season in dominating fashion over Bowling Green and Akron by outscoring those two teams 118-27. Their .500 record is a bit misleading since Ohio has lost all six games by a combined total of just 41 points. Ohio is also on a roll in bowl games of late with wins in the 2017 Bahamas bowl and 2018 Frisco Bowl. This will also be the second consecutive bowl game against Mountain West Conference opponent for the Bobcats, as they shut out San Diego State 27-0 last December in the Frisco Bowl.
Nevada (7-5, 4-4 Mountain West) head coach Jay Norvell and the Wolf Pack will be looking to get a very bad taste out of their mouth after losing in overtime to rival UNLV 33-30 to end the regular season. Losing to your in-state rival is always painful, but to add insult to injury, there was a postgame skirmish with the Rebels that led to multiple suspensions. Safety Austin Arnold was suspended for two games, including the 2020 season opener against FCS opponent UC Davis. Arnold ignited the brawl by blindsiding Rebels quarterback Kenyon Oblad. Cornerback Daniel Brown and defensive tackle Hausia Sekona saw their careers come to an end with one-game suspensions. Linebacker Gabriel Sewell will sit out the first half against the Bobcats.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada
Kickoff: Friday, Jan. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho)
Spread: Ohio -8
When Ohio Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke will be leading the Bobcats offense and will be looking for his 24th career win in this bowl game. Rourke has put up pretty good numbers in 2019 with a 61.4 percent completion rate, 2,676 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Expect Rourke to attack a Nevada secondary that is allowing 259.8 yards per game through the air.
The wide receiver group does have some nice talent and depth for Rourke to utilize in this game. Isiah Cox has caught 36 passes for 590 yards, and two touchdowns. Shane Hooks has caught 26 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns. O’Shaan Allison and De’Montre Tuggle will need to grind out yards and move the chains to keep the Nevada defense honest. Allison and Tuggle have combined for 1,370 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns so far this season.
When Nevada Has the Ball
Redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong will be looking to build upon a strong November; Strong completed 100-of-151 passes for 957 yards last month. Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs will need to have big games against a vulnerable Ohio defense that has surrendered 223.8 yards per game through the air. Cooks leads the Wolf Pack with 62 receptions, 729 yards, and seven touchdowns.
It will be interesting to see if Bobcat safety Javon Hagan spends a bunch of time being matched against Cooks or he is moved around to cover Doubs as well. Hagan is the best playmaker for Ohio on defense with 99 tackles and five pass breakups. Toa Taua will need to get at least 20 carries; the Bobcats can be run on, as they are allowing 177.8 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.
Taking the care of the football is going to be critical for both teams, especially after a long layoff. Another advantage for Ohio is having more stability in its coaching staff and a quarterback in Rourke that has the motivation of closing his career out on a high note. Meanwhile, Nevada has three interim coaches on the defensive side of the ball after Norvell let go of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, secondary coach David Lockwood, and safeties coach Mike Chamoures. Thus, you have to wonder how locked in the Wolf Pack defensive players will be in this bowl game with so many interim coaches. The suspensions on defense are a problem as well that the Bobcats will be able to take advantage of right away from the opening kickoff. Look for Ohio to get off to a fast start and hang on late as Strong and the Nevada receivers make it interesting to keep it a one-score game.
Prediction: Ohio 34, Nevada 27
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of @OhioFootball)