The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is always a fan favorite in the bowl season. It’s a cold weather bowl, played on Boise’s famous blue field with both the mountains and the campus visible from the stadium.
It’s also been the site for some fantastic and close games between MAC and Mountain West sides, even though the Sun Belt’s Idaho recently also played in said bowl. Of course, there’s Spuddy Buddy, too. Everyone loves Spuddy Buddy.
This year’s bowl promises to be a high-flying one, as the Central Michigan Chippewas (8-4, 6-2 MAC) take on the Wyoming Cowboys (7-5, 5-3 MWC) in a rare battle that will feature two of the more well-rounded teams in the Group of Five playing for a bowl of spuds.
We got together with Jesse Tachiquin, Wyoming beat writer for The Mountain West Wire, to discuss what to look out for from a Mountain West perspective.
Needless to say, your average CMU fan probably hasn't seen a Wyoming football game. What should fans expect in terms of how the Cowboys play on offense and defense?
Offensively, Wyoming will run a pro-style offense that includes a tight-end and fullback. On the season, Wyoming has run the ball about 60% of its offensive plays. The running game has been mostly ineffective and midway through the season, QB Josh Allen began to rack up more rushing attempts. Coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen believe in running the ball and Wyoming will attempt to run between the tackles as frequently as possible. Even though Wyoming has Allen who will likely be selected early in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the loss of 5 offensive starters from last season, 4 of whom are currently on NFL rosters, has had a dramatic effect on the offense.
The defense has been the strength for Wyoming this year as they were second in the nation in takeaways. Wyoming will play a 4-3 with 2 deep safeties. Carl Granderson is a very good pass rusher and the secondary is the strength of the team. Overall team speed on the defensive side is a weakness and has been exposed in their 2 losses to Power 5 schools this year.
Josh Allen, who many consider a first-round pick in next year's draft, is questionable heading into the game. How different does the team look without him? Do you think he'll play?
I would expect Josh Allen to play. From all of his press conferences during bowl season, it sounds like he wants to play and he was participating in the Potato Bowl activities earlier this week. If he’s cleared to bowl, I’m pretty sure he will be cleared for the game.
The offense with Josh Allen this year has been tough to watch but the offense without him can make Wyoming unwatchable. Allen has taken a lot of criticism in how he’s played this season but he hasn’t had much of a supporting cast. He was able to provide enough offense to get the team to 7-3 and had arch-rival Colorado State held on to their 14-point lead with 2 minutes remaining against Boise State, Wyoming would have had a good chance to play in their second straight Mountain West Conference Championship game.
The threat of him dropping a 60-yard bomb on a dime can keep the defense honest enough to open up shorter yardage plays.
Without Allen, the Cowboys offense looked lost in a 13-7 defeat to eventual MW runner-up Fresno State and struggled to finish drives in a 20-17 loss at San Jose State who entered the game at 1-11.
Who are some other playmakers on offense and defense for CMU fans to key in on?
On offense, the main threat other than Allen would be WR Austin Conway. He was a standout football and basketball player in Colorado and had Division 1 offers in both sports. He chose Wyoming for basketball and after a season with that team, decided his passion was football and stayed to play on the football team. He is an explosive athlete who can run, catch and occasionally pass. Wyoming likes to run a lot of jet sweep action with him and he is always a threat to break a punt return for a big gain.
The defense is loaded with talent this season but the 2 names to watch would be safety Andrew Wingard and defensive end Carl Granderson. Wingard leads the teams in tackles with 111 and is tied for the lead in interceptions with 4. Granderson leads the team in sacks with 7.5 and is 3rd in tackles. He had a great start to the 2016 season before a knee injury midway through ended his campaign. He has comeback even stronger this year.
If I were a Wyoming fan and I looked over at CMU, what would I most be worried about?
Central Michigan leads the country in takeaways this season. Wyoming has done a good job of protecting the ball as they lead the country in turnover margin but every turnover they make is magnified due to their offensive inefficiencies. While I think Wyoming might be able to get a takeaway or two, I don’t think Wyoming has the offensive ability to overcome any points they might allow due to short fields for the Central Michigan offense.
Finally, how do you see the game playing out?
I think Wyoming will win a close game, something like 24-20. I see Wyoming at least breaking even in the turnover battle and Josh Allen having a solid game to end his college career. Historically, Wyoming has struggled in bowl games and nothing has come easy this year but I think the extra bowl preparation for a very young offense will be just enough to get the Cowboys the win.
Many thanks to the writers over at The Mountain West Wire for helping us out with this Q&A. They can be followed on Twitter @MWCWire. Jesse Tachiquin can be followed on Twitter @JesseTachiquin.