The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl preview, one of five bowl games that get things started Saturday.
WHAT: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, December 20 – 5:45 p.m. EST (ESPN)
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium – Boise, ID
Both squads enjoyed a resurgence in 2014. Western Michigan looks to “keep rowing the boat” in their first bowl game since 2011. The Broncos, steered by 34-year-old Head Coach P.J. Fleck, piloted a tremendous turnaround after finishing a dismal 1-11 last year in his first season at the helm. Air Force also saw a major rebound, as the Falcons responded to last season’s 2-10 mark with a strong campaign, including wins over Army and Navy to secure the Academy’s first Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy since 2011.
When Western Michigan Has the Football
Fleck might attribute his team’s 2014 success to drawing Jarvion Franklin to Kalamazoo. And if he doesn’t, he should. The freshman running back piled up over 1,500 yards on the ground this season while accounting for 24 of the Broncos’ 28 rushing touchdowns. Franklin has racked seven 140+ yard games on the year including a 211-yard outburst against Idaho in September and a 182-yard explosion on Miami (OH) in early November.
Speaking of pyrotechnics, the freshman burst on the scene with this 61-yard TD run against Purdue in his first collegiate game:
The Falcons might have the defense to slow Franklin. Air Force gives up less than four yards per carry and only 140 rushing yards per game, placing them in the top 35 run defenses nationally. Linebacker Jordan Pierce and defensive lineman Troy Timmerman headline their stout front, with Pierce leading the Falcons in both tackles (102) and sacks (5). Timmerman ranks second for Air Force with 4.5 sacks, including this well-executed stunt against Utah State:
When Air Force Has the Football
Senior Kale Pearson leads the Falcon option attack and is a dual threat from the quarterback position. Handoffs often go to sophomore running back Jacobi Owens, who has rushed for 1,054 yards and five touchdowns this season. When Pearson infrequently takes to the skies, he aims for his two favorite receiving targets ‒ Jalen Robinette hauled in a team-high 40 passes for 716 yards and four touchdowns, while Garrett Brown grabbed 29 receptions for 421 yards and a team-leading six touchdown catches.
Despite their passing talents, Air Force is a run-first squad that averages over 270 YPG on the ground, eighth-best in the nation. Pearson’s feet are a huge part of this facet of their game, as he displayed a long option keeper in the Falcons’ win over Boise State. Shown below, once the QB decides to keep the football, he cuts hard inside and explodes upfield:
Pearson uses his speed to break downfield and cap off this 40+ yard run:
Defensively, linebacker Grant DePalma walked onto the Western Michigan squad in 2013 after a junior college stint at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. A year later, the junior leads the Broncos in tackles with 97. While the Falcons have the 35th-best rushing defense in the nation, hot on their heels sit the Broncos (37th).
Western Michigan’s Donald Celiscar, a cornerback known more for his physical play than speed or athleticism, might hear his name called on draft day. His teammate, center Jon Hoffing, garnered praise as a finalist for the 2014 Rimington Award, honoring the nation’s best player at the position.
Air Force’s Will Conant, a hybrid punter/placekicker, ranks in the FBS Top 20 with a 43.8-yard punting average. He finds himself on watch lists for both roles, though Academy cadets must fulfill a five-year military service commitment.
With two evenly matched teams, this year’s Potato Bowl figures to be a tight contest on Boise’s famous blue turf. We’ll give the edge to the service academy in this one.
Air Force 28, Western Michigan 20
All video and images courtesy ESPN and FalconVision.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.