The best of college football bowl season’s first day
The most interesting numbers from the five-game opening Saturday of bowl season, highlighted by the Camellia Bowl’s wild final 10 minutes.
Only once in its previous 10 games had Colorado State averaged under 6.1 yards per play. The Rams averaged 10.3 against Wyoming, 9.3 against Tulsa, 8.6 against New Mexico, 8.2 against Hawaii, and 6.1 against a good Air Force defense.
But the Rams had no answer for Utah’s aggressive front four. It eventually doomed them in a 45-10 Las Vegas Bowl loss to their former conference mates.
CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson was only sacked three times in 37 pass attempts (it seemed more like six), but he was constantly uncomfortable. He completed seven of 10 for 110 yards to All-American receiver Rashard Higgins, but he was otherwise 13-for-24 for 117 yards. He was forced to pass because the run game was non-existent. Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards (at 6.1 per carry) in 2014, gained 34 yards in 13 carries.
After gaining 54 yards in its first five first-down snaps, Colorado State gained 68 in its next 18. Constant second-and-longs doomed the Rams, and after scoring 10 points in their first three possessions (including a touchdown off of a 39-yard pass to Grayson), they only advanced into Utah territory two more times. They averaged 5.1 yards per play, and it was only that high because of Higgins.
The Rams’ defense, decent but not great, could only keep up for so long. It was 31-10 when the turnovers began, and Utah scored twice off of short fields early in the fourth.
CSU’s offense wasn’t the only disappointing one. Nevada had been held under 4.0 yards per play just twice in seven seasons — by No. 8 Boise State in 2011 and national champion Florida State in 2013 — but averaged 3.7 against Louisiana-Lafayette in a 16-3 loss. And while it wasn’t a surprise to see UTEP get shut down by Utah State (3.9 yards per play, six points), it still happened.
Bowl season is not known for offensive duds, but in the first three games, only one team topped 21 points. Luckily, the evening games made up for it.
A year after going 2-10, Air Force finished 10-3.
With no major staff changes and no way to recruit a turnaround class, coach Troy Calhoun’s tenure in Colorado Springs had looked like it would come to a quiet end. Instead, the Falcons flipped their record 180 degrees and took what was basically the Redemption Bowl from Western Michigan (1-11 in 2013, 8-5 in 2014), 38-24.
Stick a bowl game in Boise in December, and you might fall victim to iffy weather. The temperature was 43 degrees at kickoff, and the light rain was steady throughout. Between that and a strong Air Force defense, Western Michigan’s offense was too inconsistent to keep up.
The WMU defense corralled Air Force’s option attack on the blue field; Air Force did rush for 284 yards, but it took the Falcons 64 carries, and they only averaged 4.9 yards per play. But in the first half, WMU’s Zach Terrell completed seven of 15 passes, and star running back Jarvion Franklin had six carries for 21 yards. Then, in the third, Terrell went 1-for-7.
Terrell completed five of his first seven in the fourth, and a dynamite 35-yard pass to Corey Davis (who had 42 percent of WMU’s receptions and 59 percent of its receiving yards) made the score 23-17. Air Force went three-and-out, and WMU got the ball into Air Force territory, ready to take the lead. Then Spencer Proctor stripped Terrell on a scramble with 10 minutes left. Dexter Walker picked up the loose ball in stride and raced 60 yards for basically the game-clinching touchdown.
It would have been impossible to keep up the early pace of silliness in the Las Vegas Bowl.
In under 10 minutes, the Las Vegas Bowl has featured two trick plays, an onside kick, and four touchdowns.
— SB✯Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) December 20, 2014
The Camellia Bowl gave us 11 plays that gained at least 23 yards and seven that gained at least 40. After a day that began with Under beating Over three times, we were desperate for late-night fireworks. We got them.
Despite nothing happening in the middle two quarters, South Alabama and Bowling Green combined to gain 915 yards and provide increasingly ridiculous back-and-forth action. USA, down 20-7 at halftime, scored midway through the third, then gave up a response. The Jaguars got within 27-21 with 11:23 left, and after BGSU missed an 18-yard field goal (!), Jaguar quarterback Brandon Bridge hit Danny Woodson for a 44-yard completion to set up a 28-27 lead with 1:20 left.
Coming back from down 13 in the fourth quarter, only to lose anyway, is a heart-breaking way to go down in your first bowl. South Alabama’s gameplan was “Screw it, let’s go deep,” and it almost worked. But finishing with six wins for a second straight season after joining FBS in 2012 is undeniable progress.
So is finishing with a win after a late-season fade. Bowling Green wasn’t able to win a second straight MAC title in Dino Babers’ first season as head coach, but the Falcons got to eight wins for the third straight year.
From 2002 to 2010, Utah State won 39 games and lost 99. The Aggies bounced from the Big West to independence to the Sun Belt to the WAC. They were as directionless as any program. But then Gary Andersen came to town. After going 8-16 in his first two years, he lifted USU to 7-6 in 2011. And since then, the Aggies are 30-11 with three bowl wins.
Total wins in the last four seasons: 37.
Andersen left in 2012, as did ace defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. No matter. Matt Wells took over, and despite losing multiple quarterbacks to injury — three in 2014 — the Aggies have continued to win.
On Saturday in Albuquerque, USU had too many weapons for UTEP. Miner running backs averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and quarterback Jameill Showers managed 116 yards (including sacks) in 26 attempts. USU quarterback Kent Myers left the game briefly with injury (naturally) and completed five passes with four sacks, but USU rushed for 302 non-sack yards and eased away, 21-6.
Terrance Broadway went out with a unique performance. The Louisiana-Lafayette senior completed 26 of 31 in the Cajuns’ 16-3 win, a robust 83.9 completion rate. Granted, the passes rarely went anywhere (8.7 yards per completion), and Broadway was sacked four times. Including sacks, Broadway averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. But combined with a predictably strong effort from Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris (29 carries, 169 yards), UL was able to simply move the ball forward. Nevada was not.
The game kicked off at 8:00 a.m. Nevada time, and the Nevada line never seemed to wake up. The game remained close because the Cajuns kept settling for field goals, but the outcome wasn’t in doubt. The Cajuns’ defensive line dominated, holding Don Jackson and James Butler to 40 rushing yards in 15 carries and forcing Cody Fajardo to pull off magic acts just to get first downs. And because of the trenches, Broadway’s career ended on a happier note than Fajardo’s.
A starter for most of three years, Broadway has been the face of the Cajuns’ sustained success. But the defense was the driver on Saturday, and UL’s athleticism advantage was obvious. After winning 38 games in eight years pre-Mark Hudspeth, the Cajuns now have 36 wins and four New Orleans Bowl titles in four seasons.
Huspeth is intense — every time I watch a Hud interview on television, I get the urge to do push-ups — and he has built a team in his image. And with the coaching carousel just about done spinning, it appears he will be in Lafayette for a fifth year next fall. He’s losing a lot of seniors, but depth might give the Cajuns a chance at a fifth straight nine-win season.
There are approximately 364 days until the Potato Bowl mascot is part of your life again.
Yeah, they showed the replay of Joey Jones getting kicked in the face just a few times last night. And here it is on endless loop!