By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State (7-5) vs. Ohio (9-4)
Date: Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
The second matchup of bowl season features a battle on the blue turf in Boise. Although this game won’t register much interest on the national radar, this one could be one of the most entertaining pre-Christmas bowls.
The last four winners of this bowl have scored 40 points, so a shootout isn’t out of the question.
Although Utah State finished 7-5, it was a season of several close calls. The Aggies were unable to hold onto a lead late in the fourth quarter against Auburn, lost by one point to Colorado State, were defeated by three points to BYU and fell by a touchdown to eventual WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Since losing to the Bulldogs, the Aggies have won five in a row.
Ohio enters this matchup with victories in five out of its last six games. However, the Bobcats closed out the season on a disappointing note. Ohio led Northern Illinois 20-0 at halftime in the MAC title game, but the Huskies rallied for a 23-20 victory. Although two weeks have passed since that loss, it’s fair to wonder if the Bobcats will carry the disappointment from that loss to Boise.
This is Utah State’s first postseason appearance since playing in this bowl in 1997 against Cincinnati. The Aggies are 1-4 in bowl trips, with their lone victory coming against Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.
Ohio is 0-5 in bowl appearances, including a 48-21 blowout loss to Troy in last season’s New Orleans Bowl.
WHEN OHIO HAS THE BALL:
In first season as the starter, Tyler Tettleton has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC. The sophomore threw for 3,086 yards and 26 scores, while adding 635 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. His dual-threat ability has been a huge asset in the development of Ohio’s offense this year.
Tettleton isn’t the only player doing damage on the ground for the Bobcats, as running back Donte Harden is 61 yards away from getting to 1,000. The senior has only two rushing scores, but is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has caught 23 passes this year.
Senior LaVon Brazill is Tettleton’s go-to target in the passing game. Brazill caught 66 passes for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Riley Dunlop, Donte Foster, Jordan Thompson and Phil Bates will all factor into the receiving corps, giving the Bobcats a deep group of targets for their passing attack.
The Aggies gave up 28.3 points a game this year, but led the WAC in total defense and finished second in the conference against the run. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the nation’s top defenders from outside of the BCS conferences, recording 140 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions this season.
Stopping Tettleton is likely to be Utah State’s No. 1 priority on defense. However, it would be a surprise if the Aggies are able to completely shut down Ohio’s offense. Utah State’s defense held its last two opponents to 21 or fewer points, but gave up at least 31 in the three prior contests.
WHEN UTAH STATE HAS THE BALL:
Running back Robert Turbin missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but has showed no ill-effects from that injury. Turbin rushed for 1,416 yards and 19 scores on 229 attempts this season, while catching 16 passes for 164 yards and four touchdowns. Turbin is clearly Utah State’s go-to back, but Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams will also get touches. Both players add more big-play ability in the backfield, as Smith averaged seven yards a carry, while Williams averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
The Aggies will lean on their rushing attack (277.5 yards per game), but Ohio won’t be pushed around in the trenches. The Bobcats owned one of the MAC’s top defenses, ranking 30th nationally against the run and allowing only 11 touchdowns on the ground this year. Three Ohio defenders earned second-team All-MAC honors, including linebacker Noah Keller, who has to play a key role in slowing down Turbin.
Chuckie Keeton was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the nation before an injury against Hawaii forced him to miss the final four regular season games. Adam Kennedy assumed the starting job in Keeton’s absence, throwing for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in the final four contests. Keeton is expected to be available to play, but Kennedy will start.
With their success on the ground, Utah State has been averaging only 23 passing attempts a game this year. However, Kennedy and Keeton are capable passers and are averaging 12.5 yards per completion. The Aggies don’t have an incredibly deep group of receivers, but Matt Austin (34 receptions) and Stanley Morrison (25 receptions) are solid options.
Ohio kicker Matt Weller earned second-team All-MAC honors this season, connecting on 24 of 33 attempts. He displayed good long-range ability, nailing 6 of 14 attempts from 40 yards or more.
The Bobcats also got a solid year from Donte Harden on kickoff returns, as he averaged 26.3 yards on 21 returns.
Utah State kicker Josh Thompson attempted just nine field goals this season, but connected on six. Punter Tyler Bennett averaged 44.2 yards per punt and downed 19 inside of the 20.
Kerwynn Williams was one of the top kickoff returners in the WAC last season, but his averaged dipped from 27.2 per return in 2010 to 22.7 this year. Williams and Eric Moats will handle the bulk of punt return duties.
If you are hungry for college football action this Saturday, this should be the game to watch. Both teams aren’t lacking for talent on defense, but all signs point to a high-scoring affair. The Aggies seem to have turned a corner under coach Gary Andersen and a victory over Ohio would be their eighth of the season – equaling their best win total since 1979. Expect a back and forth game, but Utah State’s rushing attack will be the difference in the end.
Utah State 31, Ohio 27