Rockets excited for Utah State, Potato BowlWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
While Boise, Idaho is not as warm or exotic a location as what many teams often look forward to when it comes to a bowl selection, the game itself is what matters most to Toledo head coach Matt Campbell.
And, in the Rockets’ matchup with No. 18 Utah Sate for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 15, a formidable opponent is exactly what Campbell got.
“The biggest thing for me was [that we] get the best opponent possible, and that certainly landed in our laps,” said Campbell, who will be participating in his 10th postseason game as either a player or a coach. “I’m really excited about that opportunity because I think Utah State, what their program’s done instantly caught our kids’ attention when we had the opportunity to be selected in this game.”
In the Potato Bowl, Toledo (9-3, 6-2 Mid-American Conference) will be facing a physical Aggies squad that ranked No. 1 in the Western Athletic Conference in total defense (322.67 ypg), scoring defense (15.42 ppg), rushing defense (111.42 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (107.02 rating).
This year’s WAC champion, Utah State (10-2, 6-0 WAC) ranked in the top-15 of the country in all those same categories and also was No. 8 in the nation and No. 2 in its conference with 3.25 sacks per game.
“They’re a real physical team,” senior safety Jermaine Robinson said of the Aggies. Robinson garnered First-Team All-MAC honors after sharing the conference lead and ranking No. 19 in the NCAA with four interceptions. “They got a lot of Polynesians out there, so you know they’re always going to bring their ‘A’ game. And I mean, we’re both spread offenses that run the ball, so it’s going to be a physical game.”
When Toledo and Utah State square off, a combined total of 14 first-team all-conference performers will take the field. Though the Aggies are a stout defensive team, the Rockets will have their collective hands full with their offense, as well.
Utah State ranked second in the WAC in total offense (459.67 ypg), rushing offense (191.67 ypg) and had the conference’s third best passing offense (268 ypg). Offensively, the Aggies are led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Kerwynn Williams, both of whom earned First-Team All-WAC honors this year.
Keeton ranked No. 14 in the NCAA in passing efficiency (156.70 rating) and No. 17 in the nation in total offense (305.92 ypg), while Williams ranked No. 23 in the country and No. 1 in the WAC in rushing (106.42 ypg). Williams also was in the top-10 in the WAC in receiving, ranking eighth with 55.25 receiving yards per game.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said senior linebacker and First-Team All-MAC performer Dan Molls, who led the nation with 166 total tackles this season. “It’s two good football teams. Currently [Utah State is] in the top-25 and us being one that has been in the top-25, it’s a good matchup and it’s one that we’re excited about.”
The Toledo offense is expected to have junior running back David Fluellen and junior quarterback Terrance Owens back against Utah State. Both players missed the Rockets’ regular season finale against Akron due to ankle injuries.
Fluellen earned First-Team All-MAC honors after rushing for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, finishing eighth nationally with 132.73 rushing yards per game. Owens, meanwhile, threw for 2,677 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions, completing 62.8 percent of his passes. Owens also rushed for 381 yards on 99 carries with five touchdowns.
“I feel like anybody’s who hurt right now has an opportunity to play,” Fluellen said.
In addition to a quality opponent in Utah State, UT is also looking forward to a great atmosphere at the Potato Bowl. When fellow MAC-member Ohio defeated the Aggies 24-23 in last year’s Potato Bowl, a crowd of 28,076 turned out at Bronco Stadium, which has a capacity of 37,000.
“It’s a city where football’s really important,” Campbell said of Boise. “There’s a university there where their football program and what they do is extremely important, and I think they’ve really rallied around this bowl game to make it one of the most unique and really one of the most special bowl games across the country.
“All the feedback we’ve gotten from all the Mid-American Conference teams that have been out there has just been rave review about the experience, the opportunity to see Boise as a city in itself; and the opportunity to play a game in front of a [potential] sold-out crowd, I think that’s something that’s real important for our kids.”
Kickoff for the Potato Bowl is slated for 4:30 p.m. eastern time on Dec. 15. The game will air live on ESPN.