NCF Nation: Potato Bowl 2012

No. 22 Utah State capped off a terrific season with a 41-15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho on Saturday. The Aggies finished the season 11-2 with their lone losses, to BYU and Wisconsin, by a combined five points. Here’s how the WAC champion Aggies knocked off Toledo, who finished 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the MAC.

How the game was won: Toledo made three trips to the red zone in the second half but scored just three points. Utah State got an interception, forced a turnover on downs and forced Toledo to settle for a field goal while protecting a 13-6 lead in the second half.

It was over when: USU running back Kerwynn Williams galloped 63 yards for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. After fumbling on the Aggies’ previous possession, Williams made up for his mistake, using a combination of patient running, vision, strength and speed on his long touchdown run. Williams’ touchdown gave Utah State its first double digit lead, 20-9, with 6:57 left in the game.

Game ball goes to: Williams. The senior finished with 18 carries for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Williams’ dynamic day included two fourth-quarter runs of 50 yards or more. His combination of speed and strength proved too much for the Rockets defense in the final 15 minutes. He had seven carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game: 11.2. That’s the average yard per rush for Utah State. The Aggies offensive line did a terrific job controlling the trenches, allowing Aggie ball carriers to break game-altering runs. In addition to William’s long runs, quarterback Chuckie Keeton scored the first touchdown of the game on a 62-yard run in the first quarter. USU finished with 31 carries for 347 yards and five touchdowns.

Turning point: Toledo lost running back David Fluellen and linebacker Dan Molls, two of their top players, to injuries during the game. Molls entered the game with 166 tackles but left the game after taking a blow to the head on the opening kickoff and Fluellen, who rushed for 1,460 yards this season, left with a ankle injury in the first half. Those losses handcuffed the Rockets on both sides of the ball throughout the contest as Toledo was forced to move standout receiver Bernard Reedy to the backfield at various times with Fluellen out of the game and the Aggies ran all over the Rocket defense with Molls sidelined.

Unsung hero: Keeton. Williams’ terrific fourth quarter overshadowed the Aggies quarterback, who passed for 227 yards and rushed for 92 yards and one touchdown. He managed the game terrifically through three quarters, protecting the ball and the lead to allow USU’s offensive line to wear down the Rockets in the final quarter.

Potato Bowl keys

December, 15, 2012
Three things to watch in today’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between Toledo and Utah State:

1. Offense vs. defense: Which is better -- an explosive offense or a stifling defense? Toledo comes in averaging 456.1 yards and 32.9 points per game. The Rockets have playmakers at running back and receiver, and their offensive line was one of the best in the Mid-American Conference this season. That matchup with Utah’s front seven on defense will be one to watch. The Aggies rank 15th nationally in total defense, allowing 322.7 yards per game, and were especially stingy in the red zone. They’re fourth nationally in red zone defense and allowed just 13 touchdowns in 39 trips by opponents inside their 20-yard line.

2. Ball hawking: Utah State cornerback Will Davis is one of the best stories in college football. He enters the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl having intercepted a pass in five straight games and will be critical in helping to shut down Toledo’s big-play receiver, Bernard Reedy. Davis started his career at Division II Western Washington and played only one year of high school football. He’s been invited to play in the Senior Bowl. His ability to lock down one side of the field and play man coverage provides the Aggies with a lot of flexibility on defense. Davis leads the country with 21 passes defended.

3. Running to glory: Both teams have running backs capable of dictating the flow of the game, so it might be a race to see who can get their guy going the quickest. Toledo’s David Fluellen is the centerpiece of the Rockets’ offense. He has rushed for 1,460 yards this season and hit the 200-yard mark in three games. He missed the last game, against Akron, with an ankle injury, but should be rested and healthy for this game. His Utah State counterpart, Kerwynn Williams, is 11th nationally in all-purpose yardage (163 yards per game). He has rushed for 1,277 yards and 12 touchdowns and leads the team with 43 catches for 663 yards and five touchdowns. Williams has five touchdowns of 50 yards or longer this season.

Pregame: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

December, 15, 2012
Toledo (9-3, 6-2 MAC) vs. Utah State (10-2, 6-0 WAC)

WHO TO WATCH: Toledo receiver Bernard Reedy. The speedy junior stepped in for record-setting Eric Page this season as the Rockets’ go-to receiver and carved out a mighty impressive season of his own. Five-foot-9, 175-pound Reedy has 82 catches for 1,051 yards and six touchdown receptions. When he’s not catching touchdowns, he’s returning them. Reedy has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 91-yarder in the 29-23 win against Cincinnati, and he also has returned a punt for a touchdown.

WHAT TO WATCH: Toledo coach Matt Campbell has indicated he plans to use both of his quarterbacks in this game. Junior Terrance Owens missed the regular-season finale against Akron with an ankle injury, and senior Austin Dantin stepped in and passed for 327 yards and five touchdowns. Owens had been the starter for 10 games this season until his injury. Both guys will get their chances, and Campbell likely will go with whoever has the hot hand. Either way, the Rockets have responded to both quarterbacks.

WHY TO WATCH: Utah State could easily be unbeaten right now. The Aggies lost 16-14 to Wisconsin on a missed field goal as time expired and dropped a 6-3 decision at BYU. They’ve won 15 of their past 18 dating to last season and are riding a six-game winning streak. They don’t have much of a track record in bowl games, though, and have won only one bowl game in their history -- and that was back in 1993 against Ball State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah State enters this game ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll. A win against Toledo would assure the Aggies of their first Top 25 ranking in the final polls in 40 years.

PREDICTION: Utah State 34, Toledo 20. Campbell is no stranger to this stage. He stepped in at the last minute a year ago when Tim Beckman left for the Illinois job and led Toledo to a 42-41 win against Air Force in the Military Bowl. Utah State would like to forget the disappointment of last season in this same bowl, when the Aggies fell 24-23 to Ohio. Thanks to the Aggies' rock-solid defense, they’ll be able to do so, and reward coach Gary Andersen for his loyalty with only the second bowl victory in Utah State history.