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Akron, Utah State meet Tuesday on blue turf
By Brian Graham

AKRON ZIPS (7-5) vs. UTAH STATE AGGIES (6-6)

‘Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Albertsons Stadium – Boise, ID
Kickoff: Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Line: Utah State -6.5, Total: 47

Akron seeks its first ever bowl win on Tuesday when it clashes with Utah State on the blue turf in Boise for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

The Zips (7-5 ATS) lost their only postseason appearance in the 2005 Motor City Bowl by a 38-31 score to Memphis and are matched up with an Aggies team (5-7 ATS) that has three bowl wins in the past three years. But while Terry Bowden’s Akron squad is currently playing great football with four straight victories (SU and ATS), Matt Wells and his Utah State team has four consecutive ATS losses (1-3 SU). However, the Aggies are 6-0 ATS under Wells after a bye week, and the Zips fall in the category of underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points with an excellent rushing defense (100 YPG or less) after allowing 1.5 YPC or less in their previous game going 49-19 ATS (72%) since 1992. Injuries will not be a big factor for Tuesday’s matchup, with only Akron RB D.J. Jones questionable with an undisclosed injury.

Akron’s offense is not very potent with only 24.0 PPG and 366 total YPG, but it does hold the football for an average of 32:27 per game with a quality ground attack. The Zips have rushed for at least 210 yards in three straight contests to increase their season average to 172 rushing YPG on 4.2 YPC. Senior RB Conor Hundley leads the team with 883 rushing yards (4.7 YPC) and 10 TD, but hasn’t rushed for 100 yards in six straight contests. Senior RB Donnell Alexander has only 476 rushing yards (4.9 YPC) this year, but has racked up 216 yards on 37 carries (5.8 YPC) with 2 TD over the past three games. Akron needs to pound the football, because it doesn’t throw very well with a horrendous 49.7% completion pct. for 194 YPG and 6.8 YPA. Sophomore QB Thomas Woodson has completed only 53% of his throws for 2,034 yards (7.3 YPA), 16 TD and 10 INT this season, but has 5 TD and no picks over the past two games. The 240-pound Woodson is also a valuable runner with 544 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and 3 TD this season. The Zips are propelled by a top-notch defense that allows only 21.5 PPG on 329 YPG (4.8 yards per play), including a mere 16.3 PPG on 304 total YPG (4.6 YPP) in the past three games. While the passing defense allows a subpar 239 YPG on 6.6 YPA, the run-stop unit is downright nasty in holding teams to 90 YPG (3rd in nation) on 2.8 YPC. In the past five contests, Akron opponents have rushed for a pathetic 67 YPG on 2.5 YPC. The Zips also know how to strip the football with 25 takeaways this season, including 12 during their four-game win streak. With the Aggies turning the ball over 13 times in the past six contests, Akron will certainly stay aggressive.

Utah State’s offense is better than its Tuesday opponent, averaging 29.7 PPG on 371 total YPG. The team has good balance with 168 rushing YPG (4.5 YPC) and 203 passing YPG (6.8 YPA). Oft-injured Aggies QB Chuckie Keeton (61 career TD passes) is finally healthy, and he will try to close out his career in style. Keeton’s last bowl game actually occurred in Boise when he led Utah State to a 41-15 pounding of Toledo with 321 total yards (229 pass, 92 rush) and a rushing touchdown. In Keeton’s last healthy season in 2013, he threw 18 TD and only 2 INT, but in the past two injury-marred campaigns, the fifth-year senior has just 5 TD and 10 INT. The team’s No. 1 target is senior WR Hunter Sharp who has exploded for 27 catches, 344 yards and 4 TD over the past three games. On the ground, the Aggies rely most heavily on junior RB Devante Mays (153 carries, 842 yds, 5.5 YPC, 9 TD) who has carried the football at least a dozen times in six straight games, and ripped off 133 yards and 2 TD in the team’s most recent win on Nov. 21 versus Nevada. Defensively, Utah State has allowed a respectable 27.0 PPG on 337 total YPG this year, but those numbers have ballooned to 37.7 PPG on 401 total YPG in the past three contests. For the season, opponents have rushed for 156 YPG on 3.7 YPC, while passing for 180 YPG on 7.0 YPA. What the Aggies haven’t done well lately is create turnovers, as they have just three takeaways over the past six games combined, which is a far cry from their 17 turnovers in the previous four contests.