Even though the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl doesn’t have the star power of a BCS game or the Cotton Bowl, this year’s game could be one of the best pre-New Year’s Day matchups. Utah State finished the regular season at 10-2 and unbeaten in WAC play. The Aggies were just a couple of plays away from a 12-0 record, losing to Wisconsin by two points and to BYU by a field goal. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati and fell to Arizona in overtime, while losing two games in MAC play by a touchdown.
The Aggies return to the blue turf in Boise looking for revenge. Utah State fell just short of a bowl win in this game last season, losing a 24-23 heartbreaker to Ohio in the final seconds. Toledo is making its first appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but this will be the Rockets’ third consecutive postseason trip. Toledo knocked off Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl last year.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams, and this game also features two of the nation’s top rising stars in the coaching ranks – Toledo’s Matt Campbell and Utah State’s Gary Andersen.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Toledo (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)
Date/Time: Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Boise, Idaho
When the Utah State Aggies have the ball:
In terms of national rankings, Utah State is as balanced as they come. The Aggies rank 37th nationally in rushing and passing offense, while averaging 34.4 points a game. The catalyst for the offense is quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The sophomore recorded 3,671 yards of total offense and 34 overall scores in 2012. Keeton finished the regular season on a high note, throwing for at least 300 yards in three out of the final four games, including a huge 340-yard performance against Louisiana Tech to decide the WAC title.
Although Keeton is one of the nation’s top non-BCS quarterbacks, he doesn't have to carry the offense just on his shoulders. Running back Kerwynn Williams averaged 163 all-purpose yards per game and led the team with 663 receiving yards. The senior averaged 6.4 yards per carry and recorded an 86-yard touchdown scamper against San Jose State.
Williams will catch his share of passes out of the backfield, but the Aggies also have dependable receivers in Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, Cameron Webb and tight end Kellen Bartlett. Austin is the team’s top big-play threat, averaging 15.5 yards per reception.
Stopping Utah State’s offense is going to be a big challenge for Toledo. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game and ranked near the bottom of the nation in pass defense. If there is any good news in the defensive statistics, Toledo gave up a lot of yards but held opponents to just 27.3 points a game. The Rockets forced 25 turnovers this season and they will need a couple on Saturday afternoon to knock off Utah State.
When the Toledo Rockets have the ball:
The Rockets averaged 32.9 points a game this season but will have their hands full trying to move the ball against Utah State’s defense. The Aggies ranked 15th nationally in yards allowed (322.7 ypg) and points allowed (15.4 ppg). In addition to holding opponents to less than 330 yards a contest, Utah State was active around the line of scrimmage, recording 3.3 sacks per game.
Although Utah State has been stingy on defense, Toledo is getting some reinforcements back for the bowl game. Quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen both missed the season finale due to injuries but are expected to play on Saturday afternoon.
Fluellen was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2011 and rushed for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. The junior is expected to be close to 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury late in the year but faces a tough test against an active Utah State front seven. The Aggies allowed only six rushing scores all season and rank 12th nationally against the run.
Considering how tough it has been to run against Utah State this year, Toledo needs a big game from its passing attack. Owens is ready to return to the lineup, but senior Austin Dantin may see some snaps in this game. Regardless of whether Owens or Dantin is under center, the Rockets’ receiving corps will test Utah State’s secondary. Bernard Reedy is the No. 1 target for Toledo, catching 82 passes for 1,051 yards and six scores this year. Freshman Alonzo Russell didn’t match Reedy’s catch total (54) but led the team with an average of 17.1 yards per reception.
Reedy and Russell will be a good challenge for Utah State’s secondary, which features three All-WAC performers. Cornerback Will Davis was a first-team all-conference selection, picking off five passes and recording 16 pass breakups.
Three out of the last four meetings in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl have been decided by a touchdown or less. Barring a complete collapse by one team, another tight game should be expected. The Aggies have already set a school record with 10 victories and expect to have a large contingent of fans make the trip from Logan. Toledo is capable of pulling off the upset, but Utah State is better on both sides of the ball and has plenty of motivation as it tries to erase last season’s disappointing loss in this bowl game.
Prediction: Utah State 34, Toledo 27
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