Utah State coach Gary Andersen celebrates with MVP Kerwynn Williams. (US Presswire)
UTAH STATE WON: After three uneventful quarters, Utah State went off in the fourth, turning a tense defensive struggle into a lopsided track meet with four touchdowns in the final seven minutes for a 41-15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday. Three of those scores came on the legs of All-WAC tailback Kerwynn Williams , who nearly set a new career-high -- 198 yards, three touchdowns -- in the final quarter alone.
WHY UTAH STATE WON: The Aggies finished with 577 yards of total offense, 350 coming on the ground, where they averaged an astonishing 12.1 yards per carry. But the lion's share of both totals came in a brief burst at the end of the game: Midway through the fourth quarter, they led just 13-9 and had accomplished nothing in the running game aside from a 62-yard touchdown run by quarterback Chuckie Keeton in the first half. On his first carry of the fourth quarter, Williams fumbled, setting up an easy Toledo field goal; from that point on, his final five carries included gains of 63, 56 and 25 yards.
But the night really belonged to the Utah State defense, which bent but never broke against an attack that came in averaging 456 yards and 33 points per game. On five opportunities in the red zone, Toledo came away with just nine points, forced to settle for three field goals, an interception and a turnover on downs. The Rockets didn't crack the end zone until late in the fourth quarter, on an 87-yard kickoff return by Bernard Reedy, by which point a comeback was already out of the question.
WHEN UTAH STATE WON: Toledo had two golden opportunities to seize the momentum just before the Aggies broke the game open, but couldn't capitalize on either. Trailing 13-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Rockets embarked on their best drive of the day, a 14-play, 74-yard drive to the Utah State 9-yard line. Looking for the tying touchdown rather than a field goal, though, they came up empty when they were turned back on a fourth-and-1 run up the middle. On the next play, Williams fumbled, giving Toledo another shot from the USU 29-yard line; again, the Rockets were turned back and forced to settle for a field goal.
Two plays later, Williams was off to the races on his first touchdown run, and the Rockets were officially out of gas.
WHAT UTAH STATE WON: The bowl win is Utah State's first since the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, and only the second in school history. With that, it also clinched this as arguably the best season in school history: The 2012 Aggies won a conference championship, set a school record for wins (11) and are certain to finish in the final polls for the first time in 51 years. Along the way, they upset an in-state rival, Utah, and beat a ranked team on the road for the first time in an overtime win at Louisiana Tech. When Gary Andersen arrived as head coach in 2008, Utah State was coming off 11 consecutive losing seasons and would endure two more in 2009 and 2010. Two years later, all that was standing between the Aggies and a perfect season was two late, missed field goals in down-to-the-wire losses against Wisconsin and BYU.
WHAT TOLEDO LOST: The Rockets will miss out on their first 10-win season since 2001, but otherwise had nothing in particular at stake here aside from a good showing on national television. Even with the loss, the transition from Tim Beckman (now at Illinois) to the youngest coach in the FBS, 33-year-old Matt Campbell, looks like a success.