AKRON KICKER SHINES
Kickers don’t tend to get much time in the spotlight, but if one deserves it, it’s Akron senior Robert Stein.
Stein, who was named the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP on Tuesday, will always hold a special place in the heart of coach Terry Bowden.
Before his junior season, Bowden told Stein he was going to give his scholarship to freshman kicker Tom O’Leary. After O’Leary struggled to start the 2014 season, Stein got the starting job back, and this summer was told he could go back on scholarship.
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“There was big tears, and I cried, too,” Bowden said about taking away the scholarship. “When we came into this fall and (Stein) was clearly No. 1, I was going to have to call that other kid and say ‘Sorry, son, I just took your scholarship; I’m going to give it back to Robert.’
“(Stein) said, ‘Coach, I’m an engineering student, I’m going to graduate. I don’t need that scholarship; let him keep it and I’ll kick for nothing.’
“Robert will always be one of my favorites because of that.”
So, O’Leary redshirted, and Stein had an up-and-down season, making 12-of-19 field goals entering Tuesday’s game. But he ended his career on the strongest note possible, making field goals of 29, 33 and 46 yards, the longest of them pivotal because it gave Akron a 23-14 lead with 8:15 remaining. That kick also gave Stein a school-record 268 career points.
“I was shocked when I got the MVP because we’ve got so many great players on our team that it could have literally gone to anybody on offense and defense because they played a heck of a game,” Stein said. “The fact that I was able to end on this note as a fifth-year senior was really special.”
AKRON’S BROWN ADDS TO ONE RECORD, GETS ANOTHER
Linebacker Jatavis Brown, an NFL Draft prospect, recorded a sack-fumble that set up an Akron field goal to close the first half, then added another half sack to bring his single-season school record to 12, two ahead of four-time All-Pro Jason Taylor.
The MAC defensive player of the year also racked up 2.5 tackles for loss, giving him 20 this season and breaking Bill Hadden’s 1985 school record of 19.
“He’s a self-made man,” Bowden said as Brown wiped away tears in the post-game press conference. “He works as hard as anybody we got. He never misses a drill, never misses a workout. He leads by example.”
ZIPS CAN’T CONTAIN MAYS
Only one running back topped 100 yards on the Akron defense before Tuesday. But Utah State junior Devante Mays broke loose for 125 yards, topping the 112 yards Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson posted earlier this year.
“We just started changing it up, running it a little bit more on the perimeter with him,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “We weren’t moving those big guys around very much inside and had more success on the edge.”
Mays broke loose for a 61-yard run, a career long, in the second quarter on the way to his third 100-yard game of the season.
Utah State had won 20 straight games with a 100-yard rusher before Tuesday. Their last loss with a 100-yard rusher was in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Ohio.
VIGIL’S TACKLE STREAK ENDS
Utah State linebacker Nick Vigil entered the bowl as the only player in the country with at least nine tackles in every game this season. But he only tallied four Tuesday, including one for a loss.
He finishes his career with 324 tackles, 13th in Utah State history.
PETERSEN HIRES AGGIES ASSISTANT
Just minutes after the game ended, former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, now the head coach at Washington, announced he has hired Utah State defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe to the same position. Malloe will replace former Boise State assistant Jeff Choate, who was hired as Montana State’s head coach earlier this month. On Thursday, Utah State offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was hired to the same position at Missouri.
Akron defensive tackle Cody Grice made his 49th career start, a school record. He’s started every game since he was a true freshman and had 1.5 sacks Tuesday. … Thanks to a roll, Utah State punter Aaron Dalton had a career long punt of 69 yards, a Potato Bowl record, that pinned Akron at its own 3-yard line. ... Akron receiver Andrew Pratt had nine catches and a game-high 94 yards. He came into the game with 19 catches all season. … Akron coach Terry Bowden’s father, former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, joined the ESPN broadcast in the booth. … In Utah State’s four Potato Bowl appearances, all four opponents have come from Ohio — Akron, Toledo (2012), Ohio (2011) and Cincinnati (1997). … Former Utah State head coach and current Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen was in attendance. … The win improves Terry Bowden to 3-1 in bowl games. Utah State’s Matt Wells drops to 2-1. … Temperature was 37 degrees at kickoff. … Officials were from the Sun Belt Conference.