Toledo, Utah State poised for Potato Bowl matchup

Toledo, Utah State poised for Potato Bowl matchup

BOISE, Idaho (AP) In so many ways, 2012 has been a season of firsts for Utah State.

The No. 18 Aggies set new school marks with 10 wins and six home victories. They won their first outright conference title since 1936.

The Aggies (10-2) reached new heights behind one of the nation's stingiest defenses, an opportunistic offense and a senior class that has been one of the best ever recruited to campus.

Yet despite all the accolades and achievements, fourth-year coach Gary Andersen knows there is one more milestone yet to be crossed off this year's list.

``For me, this team will always go down as one of the special groups I've ever been around for what they've accomplished,'' Andersen said. ``What they've accomplished to this point, no one can ever take away from them.

``We've been able to get a couple of championships on our wall since we've been there. But we don't have a bowl game trophy up there yet, and we need to be able to get that done.''

The Aggies will get their shot when they square off with Toledo (9-3) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium in Boise. The game is one of two marking the kickoff of college football's frenzied bowl season.

In their first-ever meeting, Utah State is favored by 10 1/2 points. But if the history of this bowl game is any guide, this matchup between teams from the WAC and MAC will be fun to watch, tight and likely decided in the final minutes. Last year, Ohio scored a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to knock off the Aggies 24-23.

That loss left a bitter taste, but also laid the foundation for the team's goals and mindset heading into 2012, said senior cornerback Will Davis.

``Last year we didn't get it done ... now we're back in the same spot and it's like a second chance. You don't want to lose a second chance, a second opportunity,'' said Davis, who leads the Aggies with five interceptions.

For Toledo, it's a chance for coach Matt Campbell to put a stamp on his first full year at the helm.

Last season, Campbell, who at 33 is the youngest coach in FBS ranks, took over after Tim Beckman was lured away to Illinois and guided the Rockets to victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl. This year, Campbell has led a team that was supposed to be in rebuilding mode after losing a big batch of talented seniors. Campbell and his staff were also forced to deal with injuries to a handful of key players on both sides of the ball.

Yet the team found ways to win. During one stretch, Toledo won eight straight, including an upset of then-No. 18 Cincinnati, crept into national polls and for the first time in school history cracked the BCS standings.

``Last year we had a really talented football team,'' Campbell said. ``This year's senior class, there are a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. Maybe it's not the big-name guys, but their leadership ... has been outstanding. I really think it set the foundation for our football program for not only this year, but for years to come.''

Toledo's injury woes also occurred at quarterback. Junior Terrance Owens, the starter who threw for 2,677 yards and 14 touchdowns, missed the finale against Akron with an ankle sprain. Backup Austin Dantin ensured the offense didn't miss a beat, throwing for a career-best 327 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-23 win over the Zips.

Campbell said Thursday he wanted to see how Owens performed in practice before making a decision on his starting quarterback.

``I would expect to see both playing in the game,'' Campbell said.

Either way, the Toledo offense is likely facing its toughest challenge of the season against Utah State's defense.

The Aggie defense is ranked in the top 15 in points allowed (15.4), total yards allowed and rushing defense. The Aggies also average 3.2 sacks per game and have only allowed opponents 13 touchdowns in 39 trips inside the red zone.

``The most staggering statistic is the first quarter, and allowing only six points all season,'' Campbell said. ``They try to take away your best players and they do a good job of that.''

Toledo's offense is led by all-conference tailback David Fluellen. The junior has rushed for 1,460 yards, eighth among FBS running backs. He has 13 TDs and three games with more than 200 yards rushing. He's also a threat on passing plays, and his 32 catches are third best on the team.

``When you sit back and look at them and really break them down, you see they have a very powerful run game,'' Andersen said. ``They are able to run the ball consistently week in and week out, regardless of opponent. We'll have a good challenge for our defense.''

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

Most of the time in the NFL, successful offenses consist of schemes built around its player's strengths, rather than the other way around.

For much of the last decade in Washington, there's been a large difference between the offensive player's strengths and the scheme they've run.

But with new offensive coordinator Scott Turner now in charge, Rotoworld's Josh Norris no longer believes that will be the case in Washington.

Norris joined the Redskins Talk podcast in Miami and gave a lengthy example from Turner's first game as offensive coordinator in Carolina as a way of showing how the young coordinator came up with a game plan to fit his team's personnel.

"Curtis Samuel is one of the best receivers with the ball in his hands in the NFL," Norris said. "Yet, [the Panthers] were sending him on these vertical routes where he was creating separation and getting open, and the quarterbacks just couldn't get him the ball. It was awful."

Norris went on to explain that in Turner's first opportunity as offensive coordinator, he called three or four plays designed for Samuel out of the backfield during the Panthers' first two offensive series. 

"He understands where his players win," Norris said of Turner. "If they're not getting the ball enough, [Turner] seems willing to draw up plays each and every week to get his players the ball."

Last year, the Panthers' best wide receiver was second-year veteran D.J. Moore. The Maryland product finished the season in the top-10 in both receiving yards and yards per game, despite having a limited route tree, according to Norris.

With inconsistent quarterback play between Kyle Allen and Will Grier, Turner was able to design plays that catered to what Moore does best: catch intermediate passes across the middle.

"I think D.J. Moore is a very good player. Speaking of another Terp, he's no Stefon Diggs in terms of going out there, running the route tree, creating separation in isolation every single time," Norris said. "Moore right now is kind of a dig, a slant, a crosser, a drag route guy. He's not someone who can run this full, all-encompassing route tree. The Turners understood that, and gave him the ball, fed him the ball 7-10 yards from the line of scrimmage and allowed him to win in after the catch."

The success of Turner and the Redskins offense in 2020 will largely depend on the jump quarterback Dwayne Haskins makes from his rookie season to Year 2. The Redskins offense a year ago was not designed to suit Haskins' strengths. Washington was one of the most run-heavy teams in 2019, although the ground game brought them little success.

When the Redskins drafted Haskins, he was a raw product. Then-head coach Jay Gruden did not plan to play the rookie much in 2019. The Redskins planned to win in 2019 with their running game and defense — something they did well in 2018 before Alex Smith got hurt — but both units failed to live up to expectations.

Haskins was inserted into the lineup as the starter in Week 9 and seemed to improve each week. But it took a while for the Redskins to sway away from the offensive philosophy they started this season with to change into one that could get the most out of their rookie passer. Haskins only started to look like a competent, potential franchise QB in the final two games he played.

Like the Redskins, Turner underwent a lot of change last season in Carolina. One of the things that impressed Norris the most was his ability to alter his system.

"There's nothing more impressive to me, with Norv and Scott being around for so long, but willing to adapt and change," Norris said. 

During Turner's introductory conference call with reporters earlier this month, he emphasized the versatility of his system as one of his greatest strengths.

“If you look at the offense and the system that we have been a part of, talking about my dad and going back to him – the different places that we've been our offense has looked a little different," Turner said on Jan. 15. "It is still the same system, but we have versatility within our system where we're going to really fit and play to our player's strengths. So right now, as a coaching staff we're really trying to get to know these guys."

Turner also spoke highly of Haskins and seemed to have a solid plan of action to run a successful offense.

"Dwayne, you obviously see the big, strong guy who can stand in the pocket and really push the ball down the field," Turner said. "We're going to want to use a lot of play-action pass and then something also he's done a good job of in his past and in college too is just being able to get the ball out quickly and kind of distribute the football to the playmakers and let them make the plays for him."

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How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

If a college offered a How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, Mike Rizzo would be an apt choice to lead the course.

Rizzo has been a top executive with the Nationals since 2009, when he assumed the role of general manager. He's overseen Washington's rise from NL East fodder to NL East contender to, of course, now World Series winners. 

The process was arduous, but Rizzo was steadfast in his approach through it all and was committed to sticking to his values and his roster. He was the perfect leader to help elevate the Nats to the top of baseball, and he's also the perfect person to give advice to Ron Rivera and the Redskins as they try to make the same climb in football.

So, the Redskins Talk podcast searched for that kind of advice on Wednesday when Rizzo sat down with them in Miami at Super Bowl LIV.

Rizzo, who's actually already fond of Rivera since Rivera played for Rizzo's beloved Bears, looked back on the early days of his rebuild with the Nationals, stressing the importance of having a vision.

"It's very difficult. It's more difficult towards the fan base," Rizzo explained. "With them, we were honest and up front and kind of mapped out what our blueprint was for how we were going to develop this thing... From that day on we had a blueprint and a plan of how to do this. When I took over as GM in 2009, we started implementing the plan."

It seems as if Rivera is being allowed to begin his tenure in a similar way. The two-time Coach of the Year is the key component in what Dan Snyder has called a "coach-centric" structure, and so far, Rivera has brought in plenty of new figures at all levels of the organization. He'll likely do the same when free agency and the draft come and go.

That's just the beginning, obviously, which Rizzo discussed. It's rare for a franchise to flip its fortunes in a flash, especially when they're in bad as shape as the Curly Ws once were or the Burgundy and Gold currently is. But growth should happen, and that growth will hopefully lead to an eventual explosion.

"We saw small increments of improvement," Rizzo told Redskins Talk. "We went from 59 wins to 69 wins. From 69 wins to 80 wins. And then we went on our big runs."

Rivera is taking over a group that just went 3-13, and while there's plenty of optimism for what he can do, the progress may initially be slow. Six victories in 2020, for example, won't result in a playoff berth but would represent quite a jump. Yet even with what could be an uninspiring record in Rivera's debut season, there may be some vital developing going on.

"It happens most powerfully in places that nobody sees," Rizzo said. "It's down at the grassroots."

In the end, Rizzo has emerged from the Nationals' ascension understanding that making a team into a legitimate force is insanely difficult. However, the task becomes more doable if there's patience and unity between the people calling the shots. 

Essentially, in that hypothetical How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, the following quote from Rizzo would be the principle takeaway.

"Sometimes you have hiccups and take steps sideways or even take steps backwards," he said. "Ownership better be on board, you better have their support, they better have the blueprint in front of them and believe in the dream. And you better have the personnel in the front office and the decision-makers to make sometimes scary decisions. You can't be afraid to make big decisions and bold decisions to accomplish big things."

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