By Lew Patton
Akron Zips vs Utah State Aggies
Tuesday – December 22 – 2:30 pm CT
Albertsons Stadium – Boise, Idaho
Records Before the Game:
Akron Zips (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
Utah State Aggies (6-6, 5-3 Mountain West)
How did they get here?
This is just the second bowl appearance in the history of Akron football – losing 38-31 to Memphis in the 2005 Motor City after stunning Northern Illinois for the MAC championship. It’s been a rough fight for head coach Terry Bowden, who’s been trying to resurrect his career after doing a wonderful job at North Alabama for three years, and now 16 years removed from his time at Auburn. He took a dead Akron program and got it close to bowl eligibility over the last two years, and then this season he finally put it together in his fourth season.
Utah State has become a regular in the bowl world with this being its fifth straight appearance, winning the last three. This wasn’t the season the Aggies expected, struggling to come up with any sort of consistency offensively and not cranking out the normally dominant defense, especially against the run. But even though there wasn’t a Mountain West title, and even with losses in three of the last four games, getting to a bowl still matters to a program that was stuck in a vicious run of 12 straight horrible losing seasons. A loss would mean the first losing season since 2010, and while the program is in a better place now, a loss would be a disaster after winning 30 games in three seasons.
The run defense has been a monster. The pass defense hasn’t been too awful, but no one has been able to generate much of anything against an attacking front seven full of all upperclassmen on a defense that starts seven seniors. Oklahoma was held to 100 yards, Pitt ran for 127 and Bowling Green 112. On the year, no one ran for more than 161 – Eastern Michigan got that in a blowout loss – and the 2.83 yards per carry allowed is among the lowest in college football. The pass rush is just okay, and the 75 tackles for loss were solid, but it’s the strong play of the veteran front wall that’s been getting the job done. This group just doesn’t make a whole slew of mistakes, and it should be disciplined and it should be ready for Utah State’s spread attack. The Aggies are 4-1 this year when running for 200 yards or more, but that’s not going to happen in Boise. Akron is going to make Chuckie Keeton throw to make the O go.
Utah State Aggies
While the Akron offense improved a bit when the competition became lighter, overall the Zip offense has been a disaster. Granted, part of the idea is to run the ball, don’t turn the ball over, stay conservative, and let the defense win games, but there’s nothing happening with the downfield passing game on a regular basis. There’s little explosion with the running attack not doing enough to hold its own. The Aggie secondary has been stellar, allowing just 180 yards per game, while the run defense has had its moments. It’s not the dominant force it’s been over the last few years, but it’ll be good enough against an offense that averages just 24 points per game and managed a grand total of 38 points in the five losses.
The Mountain West has dominated the MAC in the last three Potato Bowls, but this one should be a bit of a slugfest. Akron’s defense is too good and too disciplined to let this get out of hand, but the Utah State defense should go back to its old form against a middling Zip attack that won’t go anywhere. Don’t expect any type of a pretty game, but enjoy fantastic linebacker play and a low-scoring battle that should stay close well into the fourth. Final Score: Utah State 21 – Akron 10