Utah State vs. Toledo recap: Aggies win Potato Bowl with Bama-esque defense

USA TODAY Sports

The numbers that mattered from Utah State's Potato Bowl win.

And no, none of the numbers below have to do with creepy potato references ... of which there were plenty.

1.8. Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens' average yards per pass attempt. Owens completed just six of 17 passes for 30 yards against Utah State and was stuffed on a key fourth-and-1 attempt in the fourth quarter. His counterpart, senior Austin Dantin, fared better, but only so much. Dantin was 12-for-21 for 132 yards (decent), but threw two picks and was sacked three times (bad). As I mentioned in the game preview, this year's Toledo offense wasn't the crazy, full-MACtion offense of 2011, but it was good, and the Rockets simply couldn't move the ball consistently. And when they did, it only resulted in field goals because their starting field position was so bad (best starting field position in the first three quarters: their own 32), and Utah State's defense stiffened brilliantly when the ball entered their territory. Toledo's offense made five trips inside USU's 40 yard line; they kicked three field goals, turned the ball over once, and got stuffed once on fourth-and-1.

4. Utah State tackles for loss. There are a lot of ways to craft a dominant defense. USU head coach Gary Andersen chose the Alabama route -- reactive 3-4 defense with the speed and extreme discipline to swallow up every play for a two-yard gain -- and has basically created the mid-major version of Alabama's defensive dominance. The Aggies did not spend a ton of time behind the line of scrimmage, but they didn't need to. They simply reacted and swarmed. Toledo attempted 16 first-down rushes; only two went for more than six yards, and only six went for more than four. The Rockets also attempted 14 first-down passes; they completed only five, and they gained more than eight yards only once. The USU secondary was as good as advertised -- Toledo receivers Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell caught just a combined eight of 18 passes -- and the run defense, led by outside linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu (9.5 tackles, one sack, one pass broken up) was too tough. It was as if Toledo started every drive in second-and-9.

11. Utah State's S&P+ ranking heading into bowl season. Now, I'm not going to try to convince you that the Aggies are actually the 11th-best team in the country -- that seems a bit high to me, even though I'm as big an Aggie advocate as you're going to find -- but let's just say that the 11th-best team in the country would have probably done to Toledo what Utah State did on Saturday. It took the Utah State offense a little while to find fifth gear, but with that defense, oh, that defense, it had time.

205. Yards gained by Utah State's offense (mostly running back Kerwynn Williams) in its final eight plays from scrimmage. The Aggies had averaged 7.0 yards per play even heading into the home stretch, but thanks to a couple of stalled drives and plenty of iffy field position of their own, they had just a 13-9 lead to show for it. With their defense, it appeared that might be enough, but the offense finally stepped up to the plate, and ... wow. Williams broke off a 63-yard touchdown run up the middle. 20-9. After a three-and-out for Toledo, Williams took off for 56 yards, which set him up for a five-yard touchdown run. 27-9. Austin Dantin was intercepted by Brian Suite, and on the second play of the ensuing drive, Williams broke left for a 25-yard touchdown. 34-9. Toledo returned the proceeding kickoff for a touchdown (it was the only way they could reach the end zone), recovered the onside kick, went four-and-out, and then Williams rushed off right tackle for 32 yards. Joe Hill followed with a 24-yard touchdown run off right guard. Perfection.

1993. The last time Utah State had won a bowl game until Saturday. It is amazing how quickly Gary Andersen has altered reality. Everything about Utah State feels like a winning football program now. The Aggies of 2012 had a deep backfield, strangely impressive line depth, and the best mid-major defense in the country (and one of the best, period, mid-major or not). There is talent, depth and passion in this program -- watching the Aggies celebrate after big plays reminded you of watching a high school team: not a lot of showboating, just raised arms, jumping and hugging -- and it is very, very difficult to remember that, just two years ago, Utah State was mired in a long stretch of mediocrity (or worse). The Aggies had gone just 8-16 in Andersen's first two years and had won just 15 games in the six years before he took over. They had finished with a winning record just twice since 1980, and perhaps as important, they had lost 12 straight to Utah.

Well, in 2012, they beat the Utes, won the WAC (despite having to play on the road against both Louisiana Tech and San Jose State), and capped an 11-win season with a 26-point bowl win (and a 28-point fourth quarter). After 15 wins in six years, they have won 18 in two. Well done, Coach Andersen.

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