David Lombardi, ESPN Staff Writer 941d

Akron defense holds strong vs. Utah State, giving Zips first bowl win

Akron, which has been playing in the FBS since 1987 -- 28 years -- finally has its first bowl win. The Zips built an early 10-0 lead before overcoming a pair of Utah State rallies to beat the Aggies 23-21 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Their job wasn't easy: Playing in his final college game, Utah quarterback Chuckie Keeton led a desperation surge that gave Utah State hope until the game's very last play. But Akron's defense prevailed, and the Zips finally notched that coveted postseason victory.

What this win means for Akron: The Zips have won eight games for the first time since 1985. This bowl triumph is a huge deal, especially when the tough times in their recent past are taken into account. Consider that Akron went 1-11 in three straight seasons from 2010 to 2012. That's a combined record of 3-33. It's safe to say that head coach Terry Bowden has righted a ship that was in a desperate situation. This 8-5 campaign finished on a five-game win streak.

What this loss means for Utah State: The Aggies finish a season brimming with early promise with a losing record. There was much hope that Utah State could deliver a special year coming off last season's 10-win campaign, especially with Keeton returning for his senior year. The Aggies were competitive in early losses at Utah and Washington before blowing out Boise State at home. But they lost four of their last five, ending matters on a sour note.

Players of the game: This belongs to the entire Akron defense, which was able to disrupt Utah State's front throughout the entire contest and secure victory even though the Zips' own offense averaged only 3.9 yards per play. Akron recorded 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. Linebacker Jatavis Brown was the lead performer here, finishing with 8 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Stat of the game: Akron possessed the football for more than 34 minutes despite averaging only 2.4 yards per rush. That's a rare combination -- especially when the passing game isn't clicking either. But it's also a combination that illustrates just how solid the Zips' defense was: Akron forced three turnovers and held a dangerous Aggies offense to just 14 points until desperation time.

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