Ohio Football: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Keys to Victory

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BOISE, ID — Every year, there are many bowl games where the winners and losers are decided by one simple factor that is rarely present in the regular season…

Do both teams want to be there?

It’s pretty evident in a bowl game when one of the teams is there for the vacation or would have rather been in a bigger, better game. Will either Ohio or Nevada fall victim to that in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl? If their press conferences were to be believed, no.

So instead of trying to figure out which team is more likely to phone it in on Friday afternoon, let’s look at a few other things that will decide who gets to take home the bowl of potatoes.

When Nevada Has the Ball

The Wolf Pack come into the game with an offense that ranks towards the bottom nationally at 103rd, averaging just 360 yards per game and scoring just 21 points per game.

The Nevada air attack leads the way for the team, but still ranks near the middle of the pack at 61st in the country and their ground game is near the bottom at 115th in the country.

But, all that being said, the Bobcats haven’t exactly been stalwarts on the defensive end this season. Prior to shutting down the hapless Akron Zips in the regular season finale, the Bobcats were on pace to have their worst defensive performance under Frank Solich.

Giving up only 74 yards to Akron cut their yards per game average down from 431.5 to 401.7.

This matchup could very well come down to which team brings their A game. Over the course of the season, both units have had their ups and downs and that reflects in their statistical rankings. 

One last factor into the “Nevada Offense vs Ohio Defense” matchup will be whether or not the ‘Cats, who rank 116th at generating turnovers, will be able to create any takeaways against a Wolf Pack offense that ranks 111th in the country when it comes to turning the ball over.

A season after generating 32 takeaways, the Bobcats only managed 13 in 2019, but Nevada turned the ball over 22 times this season. It’s anyone’s guess what side prevails in the turnover department.

But the side that does, whether it be Ohio getting takeaways or Nevada avoiding turning the ball over, will give their team a better chance to win.

When Ohio Has the Ball

This is the one aspect of the Potato Bowl that anyone who has studied the game and the stories around it has no clue about.

Following their season finale in early December, Nevada let go three members of their defensive coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

“We were not sure and we still aren’t sure how that’s going to play out with what transpired with their coaching staff…not real sure whether they’ll keep the same system, new system, something in between,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “Everybody has got ideas, and so how that will all work will be something that we’ll have to deal with as the game goes on.”

During the regular season, under Casteel, the Wolf Pack ranked 72nd in total defense nationally, but surrendered more than 400 total yards to five of their eight Mountain West conference opponents.

Nevada has also not seen a rushing attack like the one Ohio will trot out onto the field Friday.

“I mean, it’s really just schemes. Once you learn them and everybody buys into it, it’s just practice. As far as Ohio, they’re talented,” Nevada linebacker Lucas Weber said. “They run their 11 and 12 personnel, and they have some good plays off of it, plays we’ve seen in the past.”

“As far as the new staff, everybody is bought in. They’re very similar to the last staff schematically and everything,” he added.

The Wolf Pack defense is certainly one that the Bobcats should be able to navigate. Offenses that ranked around where Ohio ended up nationally have had success against Nevada all season.

During the pregame press conferences, both head coaches seemed confident that their teams would come out ready to play on Friday afternoon. 

“It’s about just finishing strong, closing out. It’s been a terrific season, despite the record and the losses that we had, we had a lot of tough losses, a lot of close losses, but we’re the type of ballclub that always looks forward and leaves the past in the past,” Ohio safety Javon Hagan said. “So I’m looking forward to finishing off strong with my brothers for sure, man.”

“We’re going to have to play our best, and it’s just like a lot of the games down the stretch the last month of the season,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. “We’ve got to outplay them. It’s really that simple.”

Even the venue, Albertsons Stadium, the home stadium of Boise State, means a lot to both teams. 

Nevada is 2-18 in the stadium and haven’t won there since 1998, but none of those games were a bowl game.

On the other side, the Bobcats won their first ever bowl game on their last trip to Boise. This time around, they can set a new milestone: winning a bowl game in three consecutive seasons.

Both teams get a chance at ending the season with a win on Friday at 3:30 p.m.