BOISE, Idaho — Playing in a familiar venue against an unfamiliar team, Utah State saw its streak of bowl wins and consecutive winning seasons snapped Tuesday with a 23-21 loss to the Akron Zips in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
It marked the Aggies’ first bowl loss since falling to Ohio, 21-20, in 2011 and their first losing season since 2010. For the Zips, it was their first bowl win in program history.
“Congratulations to Akron,” USU head coach Matt Wells said. “That was a good team. They didn't give us anything. I can say that we gave them things, but really they created it, and so my hat's off to them, and congratulations.”
Aided by three Utah State turnovers and an Aggie offense that couldn’t capitalize on good field position, Akron jumped to a 10-0 lead.
The Zips struck first when quarterback Thomas Woodson handed off to wide receiver Tyrell Goodman, then found himself on the receiving end of Goodman’s 14-yard toss.
Meanwhile, Utah State managed minus-5 yards in the first quarter on 12 plays.
With 2:53 left in the first half, a 33-yard field goal by the Zips’ Robert Stein — who connected on all three of his attempts and was named the game’s MVP — put Akron up 10-0. Then the Aggie offense woke up.
Devante Mays ripped off a 61-yard rush down to the Akron 10 on the first play of the drive. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Kent Myers connected with senior receiver Brandon Swindall for a 9-yard strike.
Senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton started the game for the Aggies but he and Myers rotated throughout. The pair completed 28-of-45 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
The Aggies appeared primed to tie or take the lead before halftime after forcing a quick three-and-out, but disaster struck.
In an eerily similar play to the end of the first half against BYU, Jatavis Brown sacked Myers after the Aggies had moved the ball to the Zips’ 28. He fumbled the ball, which was picked up and returned 56-yards by Rodney Coe to USU’s 12-yard line with four seconds remaining in the half.
Stein connected on a 29-yard field goal as time expired to put Akron up 13-7 at halftime.
Despite the setback, the Aggies began the second half marching for the go-ahead score. Myers connected with Hunter Sharp from 19-yards on a double move to put Utah State ahead 14-13.
A quick 3-and-out by the Zips gave the Aggies the ball back with all the momentum, but the turnover bug bit once again. Andrew Rodriguez fumbled with USU on the move and John Senter recovered for Akron at the Utah State 40-yard line.
That turnover became seven Akron points, and Stein added a 46-yard field goal with 8:15 remaining to stretch the Zips’ lead to nine.
With 1:12 to play, Keeton connected with Swindall on a 2-yard score to pull the Aggies within two, but USU’s onside attempt by Jake Thompson never had a chance.
“You've got to go make plays to win games at the end. We didn't do that,” Wells said. “We didn't do that early enough, and we didn't, obviously, do it late enough, all the way down to the onside kick. We don't even give ourselves a chance to recover it.”
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.