Here are three keys for Fresno State and Northern Illinois in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl on Saturday in Boise, Idaho.
Fresno State (8-4)
1. Get the ground game going. Robbie Rouse has been hobbled for much of the season with various injuries. First it was an ankle. Now it’s a broken left hand and a rib injury. He will wear a cast on his hand and he has declared himself perfectly fit for the game after missing the regular-season finale against Illinois. When he’s healthy, he’s proved to be a dynamic back. When he’s not, he and the Bulldogs have struggled. If he is hobbled, watch for A.J. Ellis.
2. Make life easy for Ryan Colburn. That means getting the running game going, and protecting him. Colburn is coming off his best game of the season against Illinois, in which he threw for 300 yards, and is painfully aware that the last senior quarterback to win a bowl game at Fresno State was Jeff Tedford in 1982.
3. Play up. Fresno State has some big wins over teams from AQ conferences under coach Pat Hill. But it also has some uncharacteristic losses to non-AQs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fresno State is 0-6 against teams from non-AQ conferences but 5-2 against teams from AQ conferences in bowl games since 1990.
Northern Illinois (10-3)
1. Get the ground game going. Chad Spann is going to have to be productive for Northern Illinois to have a chance to win. In the MAC championship game against Miami (Ohio), he only had 54 yards rushing. But there is a reason Northern Illinois has the No. 7 rushing team in the nation and Spann is a big reason. He averages nearly 100 yards a game and has the school record with 20 rushing TDs. His offensive line has done a great job all season but struggled against the RedHawks. Both are going to have to step up.
2. Contain Chris Carter and Logan Harrell. Fresno State has the best sack duo in the country in Carter and Harrell, who have combined for 21.5 sacks. What has worked so well for Fresno State has been the way the inside linemen have been able to hold their blocks to give Carter and Harrell time to make tackles behind the line. Northern Illinois may have to use an extra back to help block them, depending how disruptive they are early in the game.
3. Score. No brainer, right? Well the Huskies have had big-time problems scoring in bowl games of late. They have scored a combined 20 points in their last three, including a field goal in a loss to USF in the International Bowl last season.