Toledo-Utah St. Preview
Coming off the most successful regular season in school history, Utah State hopes this trip to the blue turf in Boise goes better than last year's experience.
Standing in the way of its first postseason victory in 19 years is a Toledo team seeking its first 10-win season in more than a decade.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the No. 18 Aggies look for some redemption in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against the Rockets on Saturday.
A year ago, Utah State won its last five regular-season games to earn its first bowl trip since losing to Cincinnati in the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise. The location was the same last Dec. 17 as the Aggies were in good position for their second-ever bowl victory, leading Ohio by 13 late in the third quarter, but they lost 24-23 on a touchdown with 13 seconds to play.
Utah State (10-2) used that defeat as motivation, and after setting a school record for victories while winning its first outright conference title since 1936, the team returns to the Potato Bowl looking to close the deal.
"I feel like it's a good opportunity for us to go back to Boise," said receiver Matt Austin, who set career highs with 42 receptions and 652 yards in 2012. "It's going to be even better. We just need to win. That's our goal. It's a great bowl, we just didn't come out on top last year."
Winners in 15 of 18, the Aggies went 6-0 in league play to win the Western Athletic Conference championship in their final season before joining the Mountain West. Utah State's two losses were 16-14 at Wisconsin and 6-3 at BYU.
"These kids have come so far," coach Gary Andersen said. "They put high expectations on themselves at the beginning of the year."
Though Utah State's only bowl victory in seven tries came over Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, it has reason to be confident heading into this contest. Looking to win seven straight in a season for the first time since 1965, the Aggies have outscored their last six opponents 269-108.
"It's our chance to finish off the year right," senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu said.
Senior Kerwynn Williams has averaged 7.6 yards per carry during the six-game win streak and led the WAC with 1,277 rushing yards while scoring 17 touchdowns - 12 on the ground. He's recorded three straight 100-yard games, averaging 130.7 during that stretch.
Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton ran for 527 yards and seven TDs while finishing as the 13th-rated passer in the FBS. He completed 67.7 percent of his throws for 3,144 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Keeton was sacked just six times over the final six games while the Utah State defense totaled 25, including 13 in a 49-27 win over No. 24 San Jose State on Oct. 13. The Aggies finished among the national leaders in sacks (39), points allowed (15.4 per game) and total defense (322.7 ypg).
They'll need to be at their defensive best in this first meeting with Toledo (9-3), which averages 32.9 points and was ranked as high No. 23 this season.
"It's a good matchup - they're talented," Rockets safety Jermaine Robinson said. "They have a good running back and an athletic quarterback. Those two put together with their defense makes it a great challenge, but we're going to do what we have to do to win this game."
The preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference West title, Toledo beat then-No. 21 Cincinnati 29-23 on Oct. 20 as part of an eight-game winning streak. That run ended with consecutive losses to Ball State and Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois as the Rockets settled for third place in the West.
However, a win Saturday will give the program its first season of double-digit victories since going 10-2 in 2001.
Coach Matt Campbell guided the Rockets to a 42-41 victory over Air Force in last season's Military Bowl in his first game after replacing Tim Beckman, who left to take the Illinois job. Toledo is 9-3 in bowl games.
Campbell expects David Fluellen, who ranks 12th in the nation with 1,460 rushing yards, to return after missing a 35-23 win over Akron on Nov. 20 with a sprained ankle. It's uncertain if versatile quarterback Terrance Owens will play after missing the regular-season finale with an ankle injury.
Owens threw for a career-high 2,677 yards and ran for 381. Senior backup Austin Dantin was 29 of 35 for 327 yards and five TDs versus Akron.
Junior Bernard Reedy ranks among the national leaders with 82 receptions for 1,051 yards and six touchdowns.
The Rockets, however, have given up an average of 30.4 points over their last seven games and rank 108th in the FBS in total defense at 464.1 yards per game.