TLB Bowl Preview: Idaho Potato Bowl

Idaho Vandals (8-4) vs. Colorado State Rams (7-5)

Where: Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

When: Thursday, December 22, 7:00pm EST on ESPN

Idaho Vandals

How they got here:

After an opening week win over Montana State, the Vandals ran into a buzzsaw as they faced Pac-12 powerhouses Washington and Washington State in consecutive weeks. To prevent a 1-3 start, Idaho went into Las Vegas and knocked off UNLV in an 33-30 overtime win. Following the victory, the Vandals entered Sun Belt Conference play at 2-2. Much of their success down the stretch can be attributed to their defense. Idaho finished the season with four straight wins in which the defense only gave up 17.5 points per game.  A balanced offense led by junior quarterback Matt Linehan and running backs Aaron Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders scored a respectable 28.25 points per game. In order to gain a bid for a bowl game, Idaho rattled off four straight wins to finish the season with an 8-4 (6-2) record.

Why they can win:

The Vandals will have no problem being motivated for this matchup. With a move to the FCS coming in 2018, this will be one of the last bowl games the team will compete in. If Idaho is going to come out victorious, the defense will have to continue to play well. Colorado State averages 34 points a game, so the Vandals will have to keep the Rams high powered offense, which averages 29 minutes of possession per game, off the field. Idaho will also need to get to the quarterback and try to force turnovers. CSU has only allowed 13 sacks on the season, which ranks 13th in the nation, but Idaho finished with 25 on the season. If the defense can get to Rams’ quarterback Nick Stevens, it could easily disrupt Colorado State’s rhythm. The Rams’ offense may be tough, but their defense has weaknesses Idaho can exploit. Colorado State gives up about 28 points per game on defense and has allowed 2,882 rushing yards on the season. Idaho’s one-two punch of Duckworth and Saunders, along with third-string running back Denzal Brantley, combined for 1,426 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. The Vandals do not have a dominant passing attack, as Linehan only threw for 2,803 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, if they can run the ball successfully and wreak havoc on defense they can come out victorious in one of their program’s last bowl games.

Player to watch:  DE Aikeem Coleman

The junior defensive end could be the difference maker for Idaho in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. As mentioned before, Colorado State has been excellent at protecting their passers throughout the season. Coleman can change that. He leads the team with 8 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 7 quarterback hits. Coleman’s ability to get passed the line and make plays gives Idaho the chance to disrupt the Rams. If the Vandals’ biggest sack threat can get a few hits on Stevens, it could be a long day for CSU.

 

Colorado State Rams

How they got here:

The Colorado State Rams were able to ride an up and down season and finish with a 7-5 (5-3) record. The team lost some tough games, including a 44-7 blowout against rival No. 10 Colorado and a blown 14-3 lead over Wyoming that resulted in a 38-17 loss. However, the Rams seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Winners of four of their last five, they are coming off an impressive win, beating conference powerhouse San Diego State on the road 63-31. Redshirt junior Nick Stevens also solidified himself as the starting quarterback over Colin Hill after a nice stretch of games at the end of the season, including four touchdown passes in the finale. The Rams also have a solid running game thanks to halfbacks Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey. CSU has also been subject to defensive lapses at times as they allow 400 yards of offense per game and allow a 93 percent conversion rate in the red zone, but the Rams balanced offense did just enough to get them to a bowl game.

Why they can win:

Neither defense is very dominant, creating the potential for a high scoring affair, which is just what Colorado State should want. The Rams’ balanced offense can score on the ground and through the air, and the Vandals may not have enough on the defensive side to stop them. Idaho gives up close to 30 points and 415 offensive yards per game, while CSU averages 34 points and 450 yards per game. With an efficient quarterback who has only thrown three interceptions on the year to go along with a rushing attack that has accumulated 2,052 yards and 22 touchdowns, the Rams have more than enough firepower to put up points against Idaho. The defense may let up some scores of its own, but the Rams have a talented offense with a dominant offensive line, which means they will have no problem lighting up the scoreboard. In a bowl game like this, that may be the recipe for a victory.

 

Player to watch: WR Michael Gallup

Although Kevin Davis has been a rock for the Colorado State defense, this is an offensive team and so the edge goes to Gallup. The junior receiver will be the top target for the Rams in this game, as he has compiled 70 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Colorado State might not be a pass-first team, but if Idaho is going to stack the box and try to prevent the Rams running backs from getting loose, Gallup could have a big day against a Vandals team that does not have a true shutdown player in the secondary.