3 keys to beating the Flashes
BOISE, Idaho -- Which Wyoming team will show up?
Craig Bohl isn't too sure. You probably aren't either.
The Cowboys take on Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Tuesday afternoon inside Boise's Albertsons Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. MT.
Will the team that knocked off eventual conference champions, Northern Illinois and Utah State, make an appearance on the famous blue turf, or will it be the squad that fell at home to lowly New Mexico and closed out the regular season with a whimper in a 38-14 loss to Hawaii?
That, Wyoming's head coach said, is the "million dollar" question.
Here's another inquiry to chew on -- which coaching staff is going to come to the yard?
The one that led a brilliantly balanced offensive attack in that stunning 44-17 victory in Logan, Utah or the one that helped perpetuate 10 punch-less quarters of football that produced just a single field goal?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Here are a few things we do know. If the Cowboys hope to clinch the ninth postseason win in program history, they might want to do this:
Tim Polasek's first season as a play caller since 2016 has produced its share of ups and downs.
The good: Wyoming averaged nearly 35 points per game while going 4-0 in non-conference play. The Cowboys rolled up 385 rushing yards against Border War rival Colorado State and reclaimed the Bronze Boot for the fifth time in six seasons.
You already read about that win over the Aggies. That night inside Maverik Stadium, UW's offense chalked up 604 total yards.
The bad: You already know about the midseason scoreless streak and unthinkable home losses to the Lobos and Rainbow Warriors. Turnovers and head-scratching penalties played their part, so did overall poor play across the board.
The play calls, mostly uninspiring.
The results, maddening.
This program as a whole needs this victory in Boise for many reasons, morale right near the top of the heap. As you know, this season wasn't supposed to culminate with a trip up north. The word championship was tossed around in the preseason like it was inevitable. It wasn't.
Polasek also needs this win. This is a chance to give weary fans a glimmer of hope heading into a long winter and an offseason sure to be filled with plenty of skepticism.
"We had a robust discussion this morning. I mean, a long, robust discussion saying, 'OK, look at what we've done this year. We started out (fast). These are the things that we've done well and these are the things that we are less than pleased with," Bohl said of a meeting with Wyoming's offensive coordinator. "We need to either throw that stuff out or we have to improve on that stuff."'
This fall, we have all watched as freshman wide receiver Isaiah Neyor has become one of the top deep threats in the country. He snagged just 39 passes. Eleven of those went for scores. He also added a touchdown on the ground.
Titus Swen has shown flashes of power and speed out of the Cowboys backfield. The sophomore is averaging nearly six yards per carry. He has 737 rushing yards on 124 attempts. Swen also found the end zone seven times.
Levi Williams, who replaced Sean Chambers under center in Week 8, has also progressed with each start. The redshirt freshman is completing nearly 58% of throws and has tossed eight touchdown passes. Williams has also rushed for 282 yards and another score.
This Texas trio is the future.
Polasek needs to get all three involved Tuesday afternoon.
Kent State statistically has one of the worst defenses in college football. They give up nearly 200 yards on the ground per outing. The numbers are even worse in the air, where the Golden Flashes are allowing 276 per. That ranks them 123rd out of 130 FBS teams.
Polasek and this offense don't need to reinvent the wheel in Boise, but showcasing a balanced offense should be the priority. Let your play makers do exactly that.
Easier said than done.
Kent State's quarterback has been a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. Dustin Crum wasn't named the MAC Player of the Year on accident.
The senior has thrown for 2,922 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing better than 64% of his passes. He has also added 633 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground.
Crum's photo should be in the dictionary next to the word "dual threat."
"He's a gutsy player," Bohl said. "... He's got good feet and he runs well. He's a tough runner with vision. You know, he's not going to fake slide and he's not going to run out of bounds. He's a competitive quarterback.
"We're going to need to have an answer for him. You know, he's just kind of the straw that stirs their drink. He makes a lot of plays for them."
UW has shutdown some of the top drop-back passers in the nation this season. Running quarterbacks, however, have caused the Pokes fits. San Jose State's Nick Nash knifed through the Cowboys for 111 yards on just 11 carries. Hawaii's Chevan Cordeiro amassed 86 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushing attempts.
That can't happen again.
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS:
* QB Dustin Crum straw that stirs Kent State's drink
And it certainly doesn't help Wyoming's cause that safety Esaiais Gandy won't play (injury) Boise and nickel back Keyon Blankenbaker is in the transfer portal.
Still, the Cowboys must have an answer for Crum's wheels.
This could be a time for freshman Isaac White to show that he is the free safety of the future in Laramie. Already playing in place of Gandy, White could be tasked with "spying" the flashiest Flash on the field.
The secondary is the Cowboys strength. Let Azizi Hearn and CJ Coldon worry about pass coverage.
If there's one aspect of Kent State's fast-paced offense that can be exploited it's on the offensive line. That unit has allowed 36 sacks through 13 games. That ranks them 106th in the FBS.
If UW's pass rush can get to Crum and make him uncomfortable, mistakes can happen. In the Flashes' last two outings -- an overtime win over Miami (Ohio) and a 41-23 loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game -- Crum was sacked seven times and tossed four of his six picks on the season. The RedHawks and Huskies also held him to just 73 rushing yards on 26 carries.
You know Wyoming's second-year defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel has poured over that tape.
SEASON OF GIVING?
Kent State's defense isn't great, but its opportunistic.
Led by cornerbacks Montre Miller, Keith Sherald Jr. and Elvis Hines, the Golden Flashes have picked off 16 passes this fall. That trio has snagged 10 of those. Four other defenders -- Nico Bolden, Zayin West, Adin Huntington and Matt Harmon -- have each forced a pair of fumbles. Kent State has nine of those.
If you're keeping track at home, that's 25 total turnovers.
The offense has handed the ball to the other team just 12 times -- six fumbles, six interceptions -- in 13 games.
That ranks this squad second in the nation with a plus-14 in that category.
Can you guess where I'm going with this?
Kent State isn't going to beat themselves with turnovers. During the October portion of the 2021 campaign, Wyoming was one of the most generous teams in the country, handing its opponents 11 freebies. During that four-game skid, the Cowboys recovered just one fumble.
Those numbers improved over the last four games, but Bohl's bunch still wrapped up the regular season under water at a minus-2.
Kent State lost the turnover battle just three times this fall. All three were losses.
Wyoming fell short in that category six times. They won just one of those, escaping with a 24-22 road win over UConn despite a pair of interceptions off the right arm of Chambers.
The numbers don't lie, the winner of this typically stands on the podium postgame tossing potatoes to teammates below.
The last time the Cowboys played in this very bowl game, the defense forced eight Central Michigan turnovers -- four picks and four fumbles -- in a 37-14 rout of the Chippewas.
Maybe the Flashes will be in a giving mood just four days before Christmas. That would be the perfect gift for a defense that has done mostly everything right this season.
A bow on top would be a Chad Muma interception to seal the deal before he rides off into the sunset and across the stage at this spring's NFL Draft.