2009 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl Preview
Idaho (7-5, 4-4; WAC) vs. Bowling Green (7-5, 6-2; MAC)
December 30th, 2009 @ 4:30 PM (EST) – ESPN – Boise, Idaho
Boise, Idaho's Humanitarian Bowl, now in its 13th year of existence, has become sort of an oddity among bowl games. Played in Boise in the dead of winter on a dark blue field, the game is often affected by freezing temperatures and snowfall. Not the ideal bowl destination for most, to be sure. However, that certainly doesn’t apply to one of the participants this year.
Idaho is absolutely thrilled to be part of the Humanitarian Bowl. An afterthought in their own state after moving up from D-1AA football thirteen years ago, the Vandals earned their first bowl berth since 1998 when they played in the 2nd Humanitarian Bowl. The Vandals started 2009 with a 7-2 record thanks to some good fortune as they won four games by four points or less. However, they faded down the stretch and their defense was especially porous in their final five games. Still, it was a great year for coach Rob Akey, whose previous two years had resulted in a combined 3-21 record and this season more than tripled his career win total.
Idaho’s offense was the driving force behind their strong year, scoring 31.8 points per game to finish 25th in the country! This was the byproduct of the country’s 11th best passing attack, averaging over 290 yards per game. Their running attack wasn’t terrible either, finishing 49th and in general the Vandals wildly exceeded expectations. The only negative to their performance was coughing the ball up 23 times.
However, Idaho was downright terrible defensively, finishing 112th in scoring defense by allowing 35.5 points per game, worst of any team that qualified for a bowl game. If that’s not bad enough, the Vandals gave up an average of fifty points per game in the season’s final five contests! They were particularly brutal in pass defense, finishing 114th overall and their 77th ranked rush defense looks good in comparison. To cap off a poor season, Idaho finished 113th with a mere 14 takeaways and 112th in sacks with a lowly 14. This is just an outright bad defense.
Bowling Green had a resurgent season in 2009 under 1st year coach Dave Clawson. The Falcons had a slow start to the year but their 1-4 opening featured three losses by a touchdown and every game came against bowl bound teams. With a major 6-1 run to close the season, BGSU is one of the hottest teams in the country and also boasts a victory over Sun Belt Champion Troy. This will be Bowling Green’s first appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl, though they did visit the venue in 2008 to play Boise State.
The Falcon offense was rather average statistically, finishing 62nd in scoring at 27.3 points per game. This included a virtually non-existent running game that ranked 114th nationally. However, the Falcons turned out to be quite adept at passing and they averaged over 300 yards per game to finish 8th in the country through the air on the golden arm of Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 3,665 yards and 23 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions. The Falcons also were dominant in the final eight games as they averaged 31.6 points per game and Sheehan accounted for 18 of his touchdowns. Another player who will factor into this game in a huge way is Biletnikoff Award finalist Freddie Barnes, who led the nation in receptions (138) and receiving touchdowns (16) and finished 3rd in receiving yardage. Bowling Green is one of the country’s best at throwing the ball.
Defensively, the Falcons are rather average, finishing 64th in scoring defense at a clip of 26.2 points per game. They were very bad against the run, giving up over 190 yards per game to finish 103rd. However, they were significantly better against the pass, finishing 34th through the air, though you have to wonder how much of that ranking was the byproduct of opponents’ dominance on the ground because the Falcons were ran against nearly 80 more times than passed on. While their defense wasn’t exceptional in the turnover department, they did force 19 takeaways this season. Finally, the Falcons were much improved in the 2nd half of the year, allowing only 21.3 points per game.
Clearly, we have a matchup of two exceptional passing offenses. Both rank in the top 11 in the country and both teams put up a ton of points down the stretch. However, the stretch run is also where these teams had highly divergent results: Idaho lost their final three games and four of their last five while Bowling Green finished the season on a 6-1 run.
There are also two other major indicators that seem to favor the Falcons. Bowling Green was significantly more responsible with the football (only 14 turnovers against Idaho’s 23) and their +5 turnover margin seems like a dream for Idaho, who finished -9. BGSU was also the more disciplined team this year and was called for far fewer penalties.
On the basis of their performances in the 2nd half alone, this game would seem to favor Bowling Green. However, I think that the location of the game really is going to hurt Idaho. Yes, they’re the de-facto home team but they still have to travel a couple hundred miles to Boise for the game, so it isn’t like they’re sleeping in their own beds. With such a long bowl drought, expect the players to be distracted with ticket requests and friends in town for the event and get caught up in the excitement of just being in a bowl game. Meanwhile, Bowling Green is going to feel neglected as all of the media attention will be on the Vandals and that could fuel their fire as the perceived secondary team in this game.
When it comes down to it, both teams are going to score a lot of points thanks to their powerful offenses. However, Bowling Green is less prone to mistakes and are much more adept at taking advantage of the multiple expected Idaho gaffes. The Falcons should win the turnover battle. Bowling Green also matches up a bit bitter to the Vandal offense as they’re certainly a solid pass defense while Idaho is going to be lost trying to stop Sheehan and Barnes. Furthermore, the individual brilliance of the country’s best receiver (in this writer’s opinion) is going to be next to impossible for Idaho’s 114th ranked pass defense to stop. Finally, the Falcons were simply the much better team down the stretch and I expect them to carry their high level of play into the Humanitarian Bowl and bring home the school’s first postseason victory since 2004.
Humanitarian Bowl Pick: Bowling Green 45, Idaho 35
by Matt Baxendell
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