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2021 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Wyoming Cowboys

Kent State’s first bowl win is already checked off the list. Can Sean Lewis and Co. make December victories a trend?

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Akron v Utah State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Tuesday, December 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN
  • Location: Albertsons Stadium — Boise, ID
  • Spread: Wyoming (-3)
  • ESPN FPI: Wyoming has 60.3% chance to win
  • All-time series: No previous matchups
  • Kent State’s last bowl: 2019 Frisco Bowl vs. Utah State (W, 51-41)
  • Wyoming’s last bowl: 2019 Arizona Bowl vs. Georgia State (W, 38-17)

Setting the scene

The iconic blue turf in Boise. A beloved smiling potato mascot known as “Spuddy Buddy.” An obligatory French fry bath for the winning head coach. What’s not to love about Idaho’s signature college football spectacle, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?

In a matchup which traditionally pairs the MAC and Mountain West, this year’s contest showcases the Kent State Golden Flashes (7-6, 6-2 MAC) and the Wyoming Cowboys (4-4, 2-6 Mountain West). Grab the potatoes, the French fries, the potato chips, the tater tots, and even the poutine as we dive deeper into the 2021 matchup in Boise.


Kent State Golden Flashes outlook

Two years ago, a longtime mission was finally accomplished. Kent State finally delivered its long-awaited bowl win, upsetting Utah State 51-41 in the Frisco Bowl to claim a piece of postseason hardware. After a COVID-shortened season prevented Kent State from participating in a 2020 bowl, the Golden Flashes are back in the postseason for the second time under head coach Sean Lewis.

Now, Kent State looks to make a trend out of winning in December. With a victory in Boise, the Golden Flashes can string together their first trio of winning seasons since 1972-74. Kent State missed out on the opportunity to clinch that feat the first weekend of December as the Golden Flashes fell 41-23 to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.

Defensive issues have been a theme for Kent State this season and the presence of those errors against Northern Illinois proved costly for the Golden Flashes. Kent State addressed such lapses by firing defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman after allowing 47 and 54 points in consecutive midweek November games. The Golden Flashes rank 123rd in passing defense and 106th in rushing defense, but there are areas of the unit which show promise.

Kent State is tied for eighth in the FBS in turnovers forced, with a specific knack for recording interceptions. Three defensive backs in the lineup have at least three interceptions on the season — Montre Miller, Elvis Hines, and K.J. Sherald. The former of the two — the team’s starting cornerbacks — combine for 18 pass deflections this year and both Miller and Hines broke up passes in crunch time to send Kent State to the conference title game.

Another game-changer on the defense is inside linebacker A.J. Musolino, who leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. Primarily a special teamer before this season, Musolino has become a regular around the line of scrimmage and he’s tied for second on the Golden Flashes with 86 tackles.

Where Kent State truly makes it mark is on offense. Coach Lewis runs his signature “Flash Fast” offense which features warp-speed tempo and heavy usage of RPO concepts. Having a crafty, mobile quarterback is essential to the success of this scheme and Dustin Crum is the quintessential operator of the Flash Fast movement.

As a passer, Crum exceeded the 300-yard mark in five contests this season, including a career-best 407-yard performance against Buffalo. He also displayed high-level decision making for most of the year, completing 10 consecutive starts without an interception. As a rusher, Crum attained a career-high 11 touchdowns to complement 633 yards, with the majority of those yards stemming from zone reads.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 MAC Championship Game - Kent State v Northern Illinois
Kent State QB Dustin Crum won MVP honors in the 2019 Frisco Bowl with 289 passing yards and 147 rushing yards in the Golden Flashes’ 51-41 victory.
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Crum is playing his final game of his storied college career, and he has a chance to make a splash in the record books. He is 78 passing yards away from becoming Kent State’s first-ever 3,000-yard passer. Additionally, he is 37 passing yards away from passing Josh Cribbs for second on the program’s all-time list.

With a mobile quarterback like Crum in the mix, it’s no surprise Kent State is fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game with 243.2. The First Team All-MAC quarterback is complemented by a slew of talented rushers, headlined by Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams. Cooper enjoyed six 110+ yard showings this year and went nuclear toward the end of the season with 517 yards in Kent State’s final four regular season games. Williams added versatility to the backfield and played a pivotal role in sealing the team’s MAC Championship Game berth by churning out 168 yards and two touchdowns in a critical game vs. Miami (OH).

To bolster the passing attack, a breakthrough season by wide receiver Dante Cephas was required, and the sophomore capitalized. He became Kent State’s first 1,000-yard wide receiver since 1997 and just the second different player to surpass that threshold in program history. Cephas is present across the nation’s leaderboards in the major applicable categories, ranking 24th in receptions, 22nd in receiving yards, and 38th in receiving touchdowns. He’ll operate as Kent State’s primary deep threat in a tempo offense which isn’t afraid to take downfield shots.


Wyoming Cowboys outlook

Wyoming already knocked off the 2021 MAC champion and 2020 MAC champion early in the season, upending Northern Illinois and Ball State in back-to-back weeks in September. Now, the Cowboys look to improve to 3-0 against the MAC and win their fourth straight against the conference. Wyoming’s prosperous win streak against MAC teams initiated in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when Josh Allen fired three touchdown passes in a 37-14 thrashing of Central Michigan.

This year’s Wyoming squad, which is slated for its second trip to Boise this season, is not an easy one to read. The Cowboys were one of the final 17 remaining undefeated teams, boasting a 4-0 record five weeks through the season. While a road win over Northern Illinois proved impressive, two of those wins were not as convincing — a 3-point decision against FCS Montana State and a 2-point margin of victory over UConn.

At the midseason point, Wyoming’s defense delivered high quality performances, but those coincided with one of the stranger offensive dry spells of the college football season. There was a two game stretch against Fresno State and New Mexico where the Cowboys yielded just three aggregate points and completed 23-of-60 passes mixed in with five interceptions.

Needing one win for bowl eligibility, Wyoming pulled out a shocker as the season drew to a close. The Cowboys decimated eventual Mountain West champion Utah State in 44-17 fashion on the road. In that contest, running backs Titus Swen and Xazavian Valladay generated 169 and 145 rushing yards, respectively, to assist the Cowboys in the dominant offensive showing. As a defense, Wyoming held Utah State below 50 percent in the completions department, producing three turnovers and four fourth down stops.

Wyoming’s rushing attack ranks in the upper quadrant of the FBS in terms of production. Valladay is 16 yards away from recording his second 1,000-yard season as a Cowboy and he double-dipped into the receiving game this season with 233 yards and the second highest reception total on the roster. Swen served as a viable second fiddle with career numbers across the board in a 737-yard, 7-touchdown season. These halfbacks will be Wyoming’s most instrumental players in Boise as the team faces a rushing defense which allows 190.5 yards per contest.

Wyoming v UNLV
Xazavian Valladay is no stranger to bowl success. The halfback accounted for 204 rushing yards, 91 receiving yards, and two touchdowns as the MVP of the 2019 Arizona Bowl.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Wyoming shuffled between Levi Williams and Sean Chambers at quarterback throughout the season, but Williams finished the year as the primary signal caller. The sophomore was instrumental in leading Wyoming to an Arizona Bowl victory over Georgia State in 2019 with 234 passing yards and 53 rushing yards while accounting for four total touchdowns. Williams hasn’t been called upon to air it out 25 times in a game once this season, but the quarterback can attack with a strong ground presence. Against Colorado State, he managed 116 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts, so containing the quarterback should be a focus for Kent State’s defense.

While Williams complemented Valladay and Swen to produce one of the conference’s top rushing attacks, Wyoming was among the bottom 15 in the country in passing yards per game. However, the Cowboys’ strongest facet of their 2021 team involves defending opponents’ aerial attacks. Wyoming holds the opposition to a 57.7 completion percentage and allows 177.5 passing yards per game — good for ninth in the FBS.

The Cowboys’ sudden improvement in passing defense was courtesy of C.J. Coldon’s breakout season. The cornerback led the unit with nine pass breakups, all while recording 48 solo tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Wyoming also received incredible contributions from linebacker Chad Muma in the coverage component. Muma registered a team-high three interceptions, including a pair of pick sixes, in addition to serving as the team-lead in total tackles and tackles for loss.


Prediction

It’s usually evident in the early moments of a game if Kent State is going to win or not. The Golden Flashes lost six games this season, and all six of those losses were by 18 points or greater. When Kent State remains competitive, good things happen for Sean Lewis and Co. The team fared 5-0 in games decided by 10 points or fewer in 2021.

Much will be expected of quarterback Dustin Crum as he prepares for a sendoff performance to a storied collegiate career. Crum shined in his last bowl game with 289 passing yards and 147 rushing yards in a 51-point performance. The dual threat quarterback will look to do the same against another Mountain West opponent.

Kent State exhibits a more multidimensional offense than Wyoming. But if the Golden Flashes want to emerge on top, they must stack the box and prevent Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen from taking over the game. Kent State’s rushing defense hasn’t consistently delivered in this aspect, but the Golden Flashes previously demonstrated the ability to hold high-powered rushing attacks below their season average — as seen in the first matchup against Northern Illinois.

Overall, Kent State’s offense is the difference maker in this one. With a top five rushing attack, creative play-calling, and a dose of tempo, the Golden Flashes’ offense will outdo that of the Cowboys to claim the program’s second-ever bowl victory in Kent State history.

Prediction: Kent State 38, Wyoming 28