SPECIAL TEAMS A STRENGTH FOR BOTH
Utah State and Akron have made big plays in the kicking game this season, and those could make a difference in what may be a low-scoring affair. Utah State had a punt return touchdown in a 12-9 win over Southern Utah on Sept. 3, and a kickoff return touchdown in a 31-27 win over Nevada on Nov. 21. The Aggies have blocked two extra points and two punts. The Zips have blocked two punts themselves and are No. 9 in the nation in kickoff return defense, allowing 17.2 yards per return. The teams are a combined 23-of-36 on field goals.
TURNOVERS TURN THE TIDE FOR AGGIES
Utah State is one of the better teams to force opponents into mistakes, creating 24 turnovers this season. In their six wins, the Aggies have forced 17, but just four in their six losses. Expect Utah State to be aggressive in trying to force Akron to cough the ball up, especially since the Zips aim to control the ball. Akron has completed fewer than 50 percent of its passes and has been intercepted 11 times. The Aggies have been successful with the blitz, producing 26 sacks, but the Zips have allowed just 15.
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GROUND GAME LIFTS AKRON
The Zips recommitted themselves to the run game this fall, a large reason for their turnaround and first bowl appearance since 2005. Akron ran for 124 yards per game last season during a 5-7 campaign. This fall, Akron averages 170.3 yards on the ground. The Zips are 7-1 when rushing for more than 150 yards and 0-4 when held to fewer than 150 yards. A line made up of five seniors with a combined 116 college starts has paved the way. Akron coach Terry Bowden said they may not win a lot of individual awards, but they work well together. “You know the old saying,” he said, “you don’t need five pennies. You need a nickel.”
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: UTAH STATE VS. AKRON
▪ When: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN
▪ Records: Utah State (6-6, 5-3 Mountain West); Akron (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American)
▪ Coaches: Utah State, Matt Wells (25-15, third year); Akron, Terry Bowden (18-30, fourth year; 158-92-2, 22nd year overall)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Vegas line: Utah State by 6 1/2
▪ Tickets: $20-$90, at ticketmaster.com; $24 for FitOne Family Field Day (pre-game NFL combine-type event at 10:30 a.m., lunch and game ticket)
▪ Kickoff weather: Mid 30s and partly cloudy, with 8 mph winds and a 15 percent chance of rain.