7:30 PM EST, ESPN2 – Line: Utah State -7, Over/Under: 65
With the Regular Season in the rearview mirror the Bowl Season is now upon us, ladies and gentlemen, and to kick things off we have the Utah State Aggies meeting the Kent State Golden Flashes in the aptly titled, Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl, from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. On one side, we have Utah State (7-5, 6-2 in MWC), who have concluded an uneven campaign that they managed to close out in strong fashion, winning three of their final four contests. Following last year’s superb 11-2 finish that saw former Head Coach, Matt Wells, leave for greener pastures at Texas Tech, the school decided to bring back a familiar face in the form of Gary Andersen, who after spending the last three years at Oregon State, welcomed the chance to return to the program that had put him on the map in the first place. After spending eleven of the previous twelve years as an assistant with crosstown rival, Utah, Anderson would take over the Aggies in 2009, in which he would spend the following four years patiently building the team into an 11-2 outfit in 2012, which of course led to his hiring at Wisconsin. This is when things took a turn for the 55-Year Old, who spent just two, yet successful seasons in Madison (19-7, .731), jumping at the opportunity to move to Oregon State, where matters deteriorated, leading the Beavers to a miserable 7-23 record (.233) in just under three years. Now looking to rebuild his reputation, Andersen has reacquainted himself rather well all things considered, even if some people view Utah State as one of the more underachieving teams in 2019. However, after achieving such success under his predecessor, there was really nowhere to go but down for the Aggies, and particularly Junior Quarterback, Jordan Love (60.6%, 3,085 YDS, 7.1 Y/A, 17 TD, 16 INT), who served as the primary reason as to why so many pundits were bullish on the club in the first place. And why not? Love was sensational as a Sophomore, bursting onto the scene with Thirty-Nine Total Touchdowns as the focal point of the second-highest scoring team in the country (47.5 P/G), averaging a whopping 498.6 Total Yards per Contest. The Signal-Caller came into this term as a potential dark horse candidate for the Heisman while also seeing his profile raise considerably among NFL Scouts, but after watching him in 2019 the general opinion is that he needs to return to Logan , Utah, for one more season. Simply put, this hasn’t been finest of showings for Love, who has seen his production drop significantly, completing 60.6% of his Passes for 257.1 Yards on 7.1 Yards per Attempt, which are all steep decreases from the previous term. The biggest difference though, is his decision-making which has been very questionable, with Seventeen Touchdowns and Sixteen Interceptions, which is four more than he tossed in his first two seasons combined. Furthermore, after rushing for seven scores as a Sophomore, he has yet do so as a Junior, prompting many to suggest that he simply isn’t a proper fit for the Offense. Of course, this has affected the unit as a whole; Utah State has averaged just 28.2 Points per Game (69th Overall) on 428.2 Total Yards, committing the same number of Turnovers as Takeaways (23). With that said, there are still playmakers to be found here, with Senior Tailback, Gerold Bright (161 CAR, 827 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 8 TD), a converted Receiver factoring into the Passing Game out of the Backfield, totaling 1,034 Yards from Scrimmage and Nine Touchdowns on 5.4 Yards per Touch, and Sophomore Wideout, Siasoi Mariner (56 REC, 874 YDS, 15.6 Y/R, 8 TD), a transfer from Utah, stepping in immediately as the team’s top target, reeling in Fifty-Six Receptions for 874 Yards and Eight Touchdowns. The Defense, Andersen’s specialty, has also taken a step backwards, though this has been mainly due to injuries; Senior Defensive Lineman, Fua Leilua (3 TKL), was lost for the season after the Opener with a torn ACL, while the unit’s leading tackler, Junior Linebacker, David Woodward (93 TKL, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 4 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD, 2 PD), has been out since late October with an unspecified malady. As a group, the Aggies have allowed 29.0 Points per Game (76th Overall) on a disappointing 431.9 Total yards, relinquishing an average of nearly 200.0 Yards on the ground where they have been routinely pummeled by the opposition. In their last two games alone, a 21-56 blowout loss at home against Boise State, and 38-25 victory on the road at New Mexico, they were throttled for 573 Rushing Yards on 5.73 Yards per Carry. Fortunately, they’ve been proficient at forcing Turnovers, which has certainly helped compensate for the myriad of yards that they’ve permitted. Case in point, though the Lobos managed to churn out 276 Yards on Fifty-Four Carries against the in the Season Finale, the Aggies racked up Four Takeaways, most of which came in the First Half, allowing them to establish a commanding 31-6 lead at Halftime. Though he was far from efficient in completing just 18-of-35 Passes, Love did throw for a season-high Three Touchdowns with an Interception, as the aforementioned Bright rolled through New Mexico’s Defensive Front on his way to accounting for 113 of his side’s 196 Rushing Yards. Senior Cornerback, D.J. Williams (71 TKL, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 7 PD), logged his first Two Interceptions of the season, as the host’s Trae Hall, committed three on the night. With a win tonight, Utah State can end this inconsistent first year under Andersen on a high note, putting together consecutive 8-Win Seasons for just the third time in the last forty-five years, and building some precious momentum heading into 2020. This will be an interesting showing for Love, who for all intents and purposes should return to school for another season, though may end up declaring early for the NFL Draft, due to promising physical gifts.
On the other side we have Kent State (6-6, 5-3 in MAC), who very well may be simply happy to be in a Bowl, with this postseason appearance marking only their third in the history of the program, and their first since the 2012 Go.Daddy.com Bowl. Granted, the Golden Flashes really had to rally in order to reach this point, for they found themselves languishing at a dreadful 3-6 just six weeks ago. However, Sean Lewis’ charges showed their growth, winning each of their final three games of the term setting up an opportunity to not only win their first Bowl in school history, but their ninth winning season, and just their third since 1977. After two years serving as Co-Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach at Syracuse, Lewis returned to the Mid-American Conference where he had previously spent five years as an assistant at various stops. His first season in Kent, Ohio went no better than that of his predecessor, with his kids stumbling their way to a 2-10 finish, and while Year Two certainly felt like it would end in a similar manner, the club caught fire in the final three weeks, building some precious momentum heading into Year Three, which should give up all a better idea of the job he’s done. Though they got off to a slow start offensively, the Flashes have been much better on this particular side of the football over the second half of the campaign, averaging 32.0 Points per Game on 434.8 Total Yards, coinciding with the emergence of their own Junior Quarterback, Dustin Crum (68.2%, 2,333 YDS, 8.2 Y/A, 18 TD, 2 INT), whose versatility has served as the catalyst for this unit’s ascension. After meandering through his first seasons with the program, Crum has been a welcomed surprise in 2019, completing an efficient 68.2% of his Attempts for an average of 194.4 Yards per Game on 8.2 Yards per Attempt, with Eight Touchdowns in comparison to only Two Interceptions, while rushing for another 560 Yards and five scores 145 Carries. Accounting for over 61.0% of his team’s production offensively, the dual-threat has carried the attack over the duration of the final six games, with Sixteen Total Touchdowns in that span. Furthermore, he was instrumental in pushing the Golden Flashes towards Bowl Eligibility. Of the final three victories, the first two of which came against Buffalo (30-27) and Ball State (41-38), were decided by a combined six points, which is where Crum really made a name for himself. Against the Buffaloes, he rallied his side back from a seemingly insurmountable 6-27 deficit midway through the Fourth Quarter, running off Twenty-Four Unanswered Points to win the game, including a pair of Touchdowns within three minutes of one another. A week later against the Cardinals, he accounted for 309 Total Yards (including 101 Rushing) and a career-high Four Touchdowns in an epic shootout that featured five lead changes a whopping 1,173 Total yards of Offense. Kent State racked up a staggering 635 in that victory, with Crum hooking up with his favorite target, Sophomore Receiver, Isaiah McKoy (51 REC, 767 YDS, 15.0 Y/R, 7 TD), on six occasions for 159 Yards and Three Touchdowns. Fellow Wideout, Mike Carrigan (38 REC, 534 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 5 TD), had a game-high 178 Yards on Eight Catches. With a trip to Eastern Michigan the last remaining obstacle left in their path to Bowl Eligibility, Kent State came out swinging in the First Half, putting up a 24-14 lead heading into Intermission, before Senior Defensive Back, Jamal Parker (58 TKL, 3 INT, 9 PD), returned the Opening Kickoff of the Second Half Ninety-Eight Yards for a Touchdown, breaking the game wide-open. Though the hosts would make it a closer affair late, a final Field Goal would give the visiting side their third straight victory and access for the postseasons for the first time in seven years. Once again, Crum made things happen with his feet, rushing for Fifty-One Yards and Two Touchdowns, while Tailbacks, Will Mathews (106 CAR, 514 YDS, 4.8 Y/C, 2 TD) and Xavier Williams (80 CAR, 374 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 3 TD), added a combined 153 Rushing Yards and a score on Twenty-Six Attempts, propelling the Rushing Attack to a total of 253 Yards on Fifty-One Attempts. This newfound consistency on the ground, 259.5 over the last two games, needs to continue in this looming matchup with Utah State, for at this stage in their development, Kent State’s Defense simply isn’t equipped to slow down any semblance of quality opposition. Defensively, the Flashes have relinquished 31.1 Points per Game (91st Overall) on a miserable 471.7 Total yards, including 250.3 Yards against the Run on 5.2 Yards per Carry. They’ve been gashed for 250 or more Rushing Yards on six occasions thus far, including 330 in that affair with Ball State, 348 in a trip to No. 11 Wisconsin, and a season-worst 467 in a showdown with No. 9 Auburn back in Mid-September.