2014 Bowl Mania: Day 1 Recap

December 21, 2014

Since I have not yet gotten the go-ahead to begin publishing articles on Bleacher Report, I figured I’d add a new wrinkle to my bowl coverage on Around The Corn.

After each day of bowl action, I’ll post a recap of the day including game analysis, conference trends and the best individual performances.

Obviously this will be more interesting following days with multiple bowl games, but my plan is to include a recap for each day that there is a game.

Let’s jump right in with a recap of the action from December 20.

Game Analysis

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Result: UL-Lafayette 16, Nevada 3

There was far less offense in this game than I had predicted, thanks mostly to the UL-Lafayette defense. Cody Fajardo never truly found a rhythm in this game and Nevada’s front four wasn’t quite able to stop the bruising Alonzo Harris and speedy Elijah McGuire when it mattered most. Additionally, during the first quarter it looked like the Wolf Pack were affected by the early start time.

UL-Lafayette became the first school to win the same bowl game four consecutive times, which makes me wonder when head coach Mark Hudspeth is going to get a look from some of the bigger name programs.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Result: Utah State 21, UTEP 6

The key for Utah State was stopping UTEP’s Aaron Jones, and the Mountain West Conference’s best run defense did just that. By holding Jones to under 100 yards rushing, the Aggies limited the effectiveness of what was already an offense that didn’t light up the scoreboard. Not surprisingly, Utah State chose to employ a heavy dose of the run game led by quarterback Kent Myers.

In the end, the Aggies were simply too much for the Miners. Utah State is now on a three game winning streak in bowl games, the best run in school history.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

Result: Utah 45, Colorado State 10

Definitely the surprise result of the day, Utah came out and grabbed the Rams by the horns. It was a complete effort by Kyle Whittingham’s squad, with the offense putting up big numbers and the defense forcing two turnovers and holding the powerful Colorado State offense to just 278 total yards. Colorado State interim head coach Dan Baldwin wanted this to be the performance that would convince the school to keep him on as full-time head man, but it’s hard to see how this result could have helped his case.

With Utah’s win, Kyle Whittingham is now 8-1 in bowl games as a head coach, giving him the highest postseason win percentage ever.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Result: Air Force 28, Western Michigan 24

There were plenty of momentum shifts throughout this game, but in the end Air Force was able to assert itself on the ground and wear down the Western Michigan defensive front. Despite strong performances by both offenses, the turning point in the game came with a little over 11 minutes left in the game when Dexter Walker picked up a Zach Terrell fumble and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Falcons up by two scores.

The win was the tenth of the season for Air Force, capping one of the best turnarounds of any school in the FBS division this season.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Result: Bowling Green 33, South Alabama 28

The winner for the title of “most exciting game of the day”, the Camellia Bowl was not without some amazing moments, especially in the final minutes of the contest. After taking its first ever lead in a bowl game with just 1:45 to play, South Alabama gave up its second touchdown over the top on a 78 yard touchdown by Roger Lewis. A roughing the kicker call in the game’s waning moments assured that the Jaguars would not receive a final shot down the field.

In just its second year of bowl eligibility, South Alabama nearly got the job done in Montgomery. But Bowling Green was able to take advantage of a secondary which just didn’t seem to have the ability to lock onto receivers when it really needed to do so.

Conference Trends

Stock Up – Pac-12 Conference

The win by Utah was impressive for a couple of different reasons. The first is that Utah and Colorado State looked pretty even coming into this game and it was unknown if the Utes would be able to contain Garrett Grayson and the Rams’ potent passing attack. The second is that Utah finished fifth in the Pac-12 South division, suggesting great depth in the conference.

If you’re on the fence about Oregon against Florida State, keep in mind that the Ducks put up 51 points on a defense that held Colorado State to nearly half its average offensive output in terms of yards per game. If Utah’s performance is indicative of the rest of the conference, the Pac-12 will be dangerous over the next few weeks.

Stock Down – Mid-American Conference

Not that the MAC was all that highly regarded coming into bowl season, but the teams on display yesterday didn’t do the conference any favors. Western Michigan was unable to stop Air Force on the blue turf while Bowling Green struggled to put away a South Alabama team that looked offensively inept for the better part of the first half.

Looking out at the rest of the games on the slate, the MAC shouldn’t have any problem at least being competitive in its three remaining contests. But that says more about the relative strength of the opposing schools than the strength of the MAC. When a team that made the MAC Championship Game (Bowling Green) struggles against a .500 Sun Belt squad, it’s a sign that the conference has seen better years.

Top Individual Performances

Travis Wilson, Utah quarterback

The 6’7″ monster of a playcaller for the Utes was responsible for four touchdowns (3 rushing, 1 passing) in a rout of Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl. More of a gritty than pretty performance, Wilson’s performance is the perfect way for the junior to head into his final offseason. If he continues to play this way in 2015, the Utes could be a very interesting football team next season.

Roger Lewis, Bowling Green wide receiver

If not for Lewis’s speed, Bowling Green may have had a much more difficult time winning the Camellia Bowl than it already had. Lewis was able to get behind the defense not once but twice en route to a pair of 40+ yard touchdowns, one of which proved to be the game winner. Although Gehrig Dieter led Bowling Green with seven receptions on the night, without the big play threat of Lewis the Falcons may not have been able to get it done in the intermediate passing game with such ease.

– K. Becks

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