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December 29, 2009

Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Idaho

MORE: Bowl schedule/results

Idaho fans might not be happy about playing in their archrival's stadium in the postseason, but then again, just being in a bowl should make those fans ecstatic.

The Vandals meet Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl on Wednesday; the game is at Boise State's Bronco Stadium.

Idaho's seven victories this season equals the number of wins in the past three seasons combined for the Vandals. This is Idaho's second bowl in school history; the first appearance was in the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl, a 42-35 victory over Southern Miss that occurred in the school's third season in Division I-A (now called the FBS). Idaho moved from I-AA in 1995.

While coach Robb Akey is understandably proud about guiding Idaho to the postseason in his third season at the school, he's still cognizant of the Boise State-Idaho rivalry. Idaho is the designated home team for the bowl, but the Vandals will use the visitor's facilities at Bronco Stadium so as not to have to use Boise State's locker room.

"I don't think my guys need to be sitting there and seeing all of the Boise State stuff on the locker-room wall," Akey told the Idaho Statesman newspaper.

Senior running back DeMaundray Woolridge likes the decision.

"This is one of the only bowls that doesn't change names of the teams in the end zones," he told the Statesman. "It keeps their logo, and it happens to be our rival. You have to keep your pride."

As for Bowling Green, Dave Clawson is one of eight first-year coaches to have guided his team to the postseason. This is the Falcons' fourth bowl this decade and the first since the 2007 season.

Bowling Green comes in having won six of its past seven games, and Clawson and his players are prepared for a hostile environment.

"I'm sure it will be like an away game for us," Clawson told reporters.

HUMANITARIAN BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Bowling Green rush offense vs. Idaho rush defense: The Falcons are anemic on the ground, with just four 100-yard games as a team this season. But three of those 100-yard games came in the final three regular-season games, when the Falcons scored 10 of their 17 rushing TDs for the season. Chris Bullock and Willie Geter share time at running back. Idaho's run defense is mediocre, though the stats are skewed somewhat by a 484-yard, eight-TD performance by Nevada.
Edge: Idaho

HUMANITARIAN BOWL

Bowling Green (7-5)
vs. Idaho (7-5)

WHEN: 4:30 p.m., Wednesday.
WHERE: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho.
TV: ESPN (Eric Collins will do play-by-play, with Brock Huard as the analyst).
THE LINE: Bowling Green by 2.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Bowling Green 1-5, Idaho 1-3.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Bowling Green 63rd, Idaho 108th.
BCS RANKING: Both are unranked.
REFEREES: A crew from the Pac-10.
COACHES: Bowling Green - Dave Clawson (first bowl); Idaho - Robb Akey (first bowl).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Uhhh, give us a minute to answer this. Oh, you're still waiting? There isn't a real reason to watch. Idaho is a nice story, but that doesn't necessarily equate to "must-watch game." Still, neither defense is all that great, so the potential exists for a high-scoring game.
KEY STATS: Bowling Green is eighth in the nation in passing offense at 310.2 yards per game and Idaho is 11th at 290.6 yards per game. But Bowling Green is 34th in pass defense at 201 yards per game and Idaho is 114th at 268.9 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Bowling Green WR Freddie Barnes has 138 receptions, putting him five away from setting a single-season record. Houston's Manny Hazard currently owns the record, set in 1989. And Idaho senior G Mike Iupati is worth watching, too. He may be the best interior lineman in the nation.
Bowling Green pass offense vs. Idaho pass defense: Freddie Barnes, with 138 catches, is five shy of setting an NCAA single-season receptions record. He should break the record in the first half; heck, he might get it in the first quarter against the Vandals' porous secondary. QB Tyler Sheehan has thrown 23 TD passes and just six interceptions. Adrian Hodges and Chris Wright are solid complementary receivers, and Geter is a receiving threat out of the backfield. Idaho has been shredded through the air frequently; five opponents threw for at least 300 yards and five more threw for at least 200. Idaho has allowed 30 TD passes and come up with just six picks. The pass rush has been non-existent, as the Vandals have just 14 sacks.
Edge: Bowling Green

Idaho rush offense vs. Bowling Green rush defense: Good news for Idaho is that Bowling Green's rush defense is awful. The Vandals go three-deep at tailback, and former 1,000-yard rusher Deonte Jackson now is the third-leading rusher. DeMaundray Woolridge is the leading rusher with 854 yards, and he has scored 16 rushing TDs. The Falcons have held just two foes to fewer than 159 rushing yards, and every opponent except Akron - which ran for 171 yards - has scored at least one rushing TD on the Falcons. In all, Bowling Green has allowed 25 rushing touchdowns.
Edge: Idaho

Idaho pass offense vs. Bowling Green pass defense: This is the key battle, as Bowling Green needs to stymie Idaho's passing attack at least a bit. Vandals junior QB Nathan Enderle made big strides this season. Despite missing two full games and parts of a few others, Enderle has thrown for 2,666 yards and 18 TDs. He had three 300-yard games and tossed nine TD passes in those outings. Backup Brian Reader is adequate. WR Max Komar is the Vandals' go-to guy; he was one of the best receivers in the WAC this season. He is one of five Vandal wideouts with at least 28 catches. BG played solid pass defense for most of the season, but the secondary did have some issues in the final three games. Still, the Falcons won all three of those games and came up with five of their picks in that stretch. The pass rush isn't much.
Edge: Even

Bowling Green special teams vs. Idaho special teams: The Falcons' return and coverage teams are average. Idaho's coverage teams are awful, ranking among the nation's six worst in both kick and punt coverage. The Vandals' return teams are OK (punts) and mediocre (kickoffs). Bowling Green has used two kickers, Jerry Phillips and Matt Norsic, and they're a combined 12-of-20, including just 7-for-13 from between 30 and 39 yards. Norsic took over the field-goal duties late in the season. P Nick Iovinelli averages 37.2 yards per boot. Bowling Green has blocked four punts this season. Idaho freshman K Trey Farquhar has a strong leg and is a threat out to 55 yards. P Bobby Cowan has had a good season, though he has had two blocked.
Edge: Bowling Green

Bowling Green coaching staff vs. Idaho coaching staff: Dave Clawson is in his first season at Bowling Green, and he and his staff did a solid job tweaking the spread offense run by predecessor Gregg Brandon. The defense needs a talent infusion. Robb Akey did a great job getting Idaho into a bowl; the Vandals were picked to finish last in the WAC in the preseason coaches' poll. Coordinator Steve Axman and quarterback coach Jonathan Smith, a former Oregon State standout, did a great job with Enderle. The Vandals faded down the stretch, but - frankly - the staff squeezed all the wins they could out of this group.
Edge: Even

X-factor: Don't expect a defensive slugfest, as both offenses should be quite productive. Turnovers and big plays on special teams will determine the outcome. That gives Bowling Green the advantage.

Bowling Green will win if: It's hard to see Bowling Green slowing Idaho's rushing attack, which means it's vital that the Falcons hold Enderle, Komar and the Vandals' passing attack to less than 200 yards. BG is going to get its yards - and its points - and is equipped to win a shootout. But making Idaho somewhat one-dimensional is huge.

Idaho will win if: The Vandals will be feeling good if they can get their rushing attack cranked up. Effectively running the ball will make Bowling Green's safeties cautious, and play-action passes could wreak havoc. Defensively, the goal should be to keep Bowling Green around 30 points; if that happens, Idaho can win.

EXPERT PICKS
Olin Buchanan: Bowling Green 38, Idaho 24
Tom Dienhart: Idaho 39, Bowling Green 28
David Fox: Idaho 35, Bowling Green 28
Mike Huguenin: Bowling Green 36, Idaho 27
Steve Megargee: Bowling Green 24, Idaho 21

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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