The Wyoming Cowboys (6-6) will take on the Kent State Golden Flashes (7-6) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho at 1:30pm MT on Tuesday afternoon. What must the Cowboys do on the blue turf to finish the season with a winning record? Read on to see our keys to the game both on offense and defense but first let’s talk about the number one factor in any bowl season matchup, motivation.
Which team is excited and motivated to be playing in a bowl game? The Pokes are coming off a very disappointing home loss to Hawai’i while Kent State suffered defeat in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. Will the Golden Flashes be motivated after such an important loss? For Wyoming, I normally wouldn’t be questioning their motivation under Bohl but this season Wyoming had four games where it looked like they thought they could just show up and win the game. Those games were the road loss at Air Force and the home losses to Fresno State, New Mexico and Hawai’i.
One would think both schools would be motivated to play in an extra game but it’s hard to gauge this factor without knowing the internal mood of each team.
Offensive Keys To The Game
Run The Ball
We all know Wyoming will run the ball because that’s just what they do but in this game, they have even more motivation to do so. Entering the bowl season, Kent State ranks 106th in rush defense allowing 190 yards rushing per game. Wyoming this season ran the ball for 195 yards per game this season so this is a match-up Wyoming will no doubt look to exploit. The specific number to note is 150 yards, the Cowboys are 6-1 this season when rushing for over 150 yards and 0-5 when rushing under 150 yards this season. To win the Potato Bowl for a second time Wyoming will need some production from Valladay and Swen on the ground and there’s a good chance they will do just that given the match-up.
Wyoming’s passing efficiency will have a better chance for success if Wyoming and offensive coordinator Tim Polasek don’t force QB Levi Williams to be a pocket passer. The best passing game of the season for Williams was the Utah State game where he was 12-15 for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns. In this game, Wyoming rolled the pocket and often and Williams was able to make simple reads that really complimented the running game.
Don’t Turn The Ball Over
In yesterday’s Bowl preview, the big then that jumped out to me when looking at the team stat comparisons was the turnover margin difference, Kent State is +13 on the season while Wyoming is -3. When looking at the trends this season, the Pokes are 5-1 when even or winning the turnover battle and just 1-5 when losing it. For a team that often struggles to score points, this should come as no surprise. Wyoming will have to be smart with the ball in the passing game to make sure they don’t give the Golden Flashes any short fields against the Wyoming defense.
Defensive Keys To The Game
Stuff The Run
Kent State is a good team when it comes to running the football. The Golden Flashes rank fourth in the nation, averaging 243 rush yards per game. They’re led by sophomore running back Marquez Cooper who rushed for 1,080 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Dustin Crum is also a capable rusher who piled up 633 yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns as well. The Kent State offensive line is a large and talented line, getting backfield penetration will be difficult. Wyoming, on the other hand, has at times not contained the rush, giving up nearly 170 yards per game. This could be a mismatch for the Pokes if they aren’t up to the physical challenge. There doesn’t seem to be much of a trend here for Wyoming as the Cowboys went 3-4 when allowing under 170 yards and 3-2 when allowing over 170 yards.
The Cowboy secondary gave up 177 yards per game this season through the air, which ranked them seventh nationally. I think the Cowboy defensive backs are up to the challenge to play another game of solid pass defense that will allow the Pokes front seven to be better equipped against the rush. The wildcard in this is that Kent State QB Dustin Crum while not classified as a dual-threat QB by the recruiting services coming out of high school, has developed into a very good at picking up yardage with his legs and has rushed for over 1,500 yards in his career. The Cowboys game plan will have to have a way to address that threat using a spy or more zone defense.