Toledo (9-3) vs. (18) Utah State (10-2)
Saturday, December 15, 4:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 18th-ranked Utah State Aggies are back in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to face the Toledo Rockets on Saturday, the game being played on the Blue FieldTurf at Bronco Stadium in Boise.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for us to be chosen to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to represent our program and our city in front of a national audience," said Toledo head coach Matt Campbell.
The Rockets are playing in their third consecutive and 13th overall bowl game after posting a 9-3 record in the regular season. In his first year as a head coach, Campbell had his team in position to book a trip to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game before it lost to the BCS bound Northern Illinois Huskies. Toledo began the season with just one loss in its first nine games, and cracked the Top-25 soon after upsetting Cincinnati before falling to Ball State and then NIU. Campbell guided the team to a win over Air Force in the 2011 Military Bowl in his head coaching debut last season.
As for Gary Andersen's Aggies, they enter this clash on a six-game winning streak after sweeping through the Western Athletic Conference. Utah State finished the regular season with a 10-2 overall record, its only two losses coming at Wisconsin (16-14) and at BYU (6-3). The Aggies scored 38-plus points in each of its last six games and have not trailed at any point during their last five outings. Utah State played in this same bowl game last year, dropping a 24-23 decision to another MAC program, Ohio University.
This bout marks the first meeting between these two schools on the football field.
Toledo's offensive attack revolves around its star tailback David Fluellen. The junior running back finished eighth in the FBS with 132.7 ypg, which accounts for 67.2 percent of the team's rushing yardage. He did not play in the team's season finale versus Akron due to an ankle injury, but he will be ready to go for this game.
With Fluellen out against the Zips, senior halfback David Pasquale saw the most action of his four-year career, coming off the bench to rush for 93 yards on 15 carries, while adding seven receptions for 110 yards.
Coach Campbell began the season rotating junior Terrance Owens and senior Austin Dantin at quarterback. Owens took control of the job and finished with 2,677 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 209-of-333 passing. Dantin was under center for the senior game versus Akron and completed a highly-efficient 29-of-35 attempts for 325 yards and five TDs against only one interception. Owens is still recovering from a nagging ankle injury, making the possibility Dantin sees some action rather realistic.
Whichever QB is dropping back will have a pair of dynamic options at his disposal. Freshman Alonzo Russell and junior Bernard Reedy are both reliable targets at wideout. Reedy tallied a team-high 82 receptions for 1,052 yards and six TDs, but Russell's big-play ability yielded five scores and 925 yards on just 54 grabs.
The Rockets gave up a lot of yards (464.1 ypg) to rank 10th in the MAC in total defense, but they placed fifth scoring defense (27.3 ppg) due to their knack for forcing turnovers.
The Rockets are led by the nation's leading tackler, Dan Molls, who has recorded 166 total stops. Molls logged 18 tackles and notched his third sack of the season last time out. The senior linebacker has the respect of the opposing coach in this one.
"He is always around the football and he is a very good tackler when he gets the opportunity to make plays. He is sideline to sideline, he is behind the line of scrimmage, his intensity is motor," said Andersen of Molls. "It sounds like he is kind of a self made guy, tougher than nails."
Jermaine Robinson has made some spectacular plays as well and is tied for second in the MAC with four picks, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
"It says a lot of good things about how much work we put into the off season and the things that we try to accomplish around here," said Robinson. "The sky is the limit for us and we just have to stay focused and keep doing what we're doing."
Utah State will give Toledo's defense plenty of trouble, and the Rockets' head coach knows his squad will be tested by the Aggies' talented quarterback.
"They're really balanced on offense," Campbell said. "Chuckie Keeton does a great job. He's extremely athletic and has the ability to beat you running the football, but also has the innate ability to throw the ball all over the field. He's one of the premier quarterbacks in the country."
Keeton had a sensational sophomore season with 3,144 yards, 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions with a .676 completion percentage. The second-year QB was named to the All-WAC First Team for his efforts.
USU's leading receiver, running back Kerwynn Williams, also picked up First- Team All-WAC recognition after posting 663 yards and five scores through the air to go along with 1,277 yards and 12 TDs on the ground. The senior tailback is on a three-game streak with at least 100 rushing yards.
Keeton has a few more traditional targets in senior wideouts Matt Austin (42 receptions, 652 yards, five TDs) and Chuck Jacobs (36 receptions, 550 yards, five TDs).
The Aggies offense was not asked to do too much due to the tenacity displayed by the team's defense. Utah State ranks 15th in the FBS in total defense with only 322.7 ypg, and eighth in scoring defense with just 15.4 ppg.
"Statistically they are ranked in the top-20 in just about every (defensive) category," said Campbell. "They are extremely well-coached. They do a lot of different things but they have the ability to stay simple. They know where to align and assign at all times."
Senior cornerback Will Davis was a big-time playmaker this season as he picked off five passes and returned one of them for a score. Junior linebacker Jake Doughty anchored the unit with a team-best 101 tackles, and senior defensive tackle Al Lapuaho was also named a First-Team All-WAC performer for his work in the trenches.
Both teams had very impressive regular seasons and they appear pretty evenly matched. Although Utah State has the more impressive stats, the WAC offered a lower level of competition than did the MAC this season. Toledo's success will depend on how healthy Owens and Fluellen will be come game time. The Aggies' offense may have caught up with its defense just in time to claim a seventh win in a row.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah State 34, Toledo 28
12/12 13:07:38 ET