Allen fuels Wyoming to Potato Bowl victory
BOISE, Idaho -- While Wyoming junior quarterback Josh Allen stood on stage accepting the game MVP trophy and declaring for the NFL Draft, defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan was envious.
“I was looking mad,” Ghaifan joked. “He got the trophy. As a whole defense, we wanted it.”
The Cowboys defense certainly deserved any award available Friday afternoon -- forcing eight turnovers to lead the team to a 37-14 victory over Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Cowboys won a bowl game for the first time in eight years and finished 8-5. That record improves to 8-3 when you remove the two games that Allen didn’t play at the end of the regular season.
Wyoming lost three-point decisions in the Mountain West championship game and Poinsettia Bowl last year.
“We really preached to our football team that we’ve got to figure out how to win (a postseason game),” coach Craig Bohl said. “To beat a really solid program like this, convincingly, it’s going to put us in good position for next season.”
The Cowboys should have a strong defense again -- they forced a national-best 38 turnovers this season -- but they’ll have a major question mark at quarterback. Allen declared for the draft with teammates chanting “do it” from below the stage, but that decision was never in doubt. He was honored on senior day.
Allen played after missing two games with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He rejected any thought of skipping the bowl to protect his arm.
“I want to say thanks to Josh Allen,” Bohl said. “... If any NFL team is looking for a competitor out there, you’re not going to find anyone more competitive or team-oriented.”
Allen was 11 of 19 for 154 yards and three touchdowns against the Chippewas (8-5). He was under duress much of the game from the stout Central Michigan defense.
The Wyoming defense was even better, rattling quarterback Shane Morris with constant pressure (five sacks). Morris was responsible for six turnovers, including four interceptions. The miscues made irrelevant his 329 yards passing.
“I don’t feel that today’s performance was indicative of the type of team we have,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said. “The storyline obviously is eight turnovers. You’re not going to win many football games against any decent opponent turning it over that many times. ... We just played a very sloppy game today, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.”
Wyoming, leading 30-14, clinched the win with a 58-yard fumble return by defensive end Carl Granderson early in the fourth quarter. Morris had fumbled on a sack by Ghaifan.
“I was just thinking. ‘I’ve got to get to the end zone this time,’ ” Granderson said. “I looked at the scoreboard. Nobody was around me, so I had to take it to the house.”
Wyoming opened a 27-7 halftime lead that should have been much larger.
The Cowboys started five drives in Chippewas’ territory -- four because of turnovers. The mistakes resulted in just 13 points on a touchdown, two field goals and an empty possession that ended with a punt.
Wyoming enjoyed a major boost from the return of Allen. With John Elway of the Denver Broncos among the NFL representatives in attendance, Allen started hot. He was 6-for-7 for 104 yards and those three touchdowns in the first quarter. He fired a laser over the middle for a 23-yard touchdown to Jared Scott, scrambled and threw to Austin Conway for an 11-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone and lofted a pretty deep ball to C.J. Johnson for a 45-yard score.
Central Michigan didn’t snap the ball in Wyoming territory in the half but got a touchdown in the first quarter. Jonathan Ward slipped free down the left sideline. Morris found him and Ward beat the Cowboys defenders to the pylon for the 74-yard score.
Wyoming led 21-7 after the first quarter. It didn’t reach the end zone again until Granderson’s scoop and score.
“There were some things we accomplished this year that were significant,” Bonamego said. “These guys have done a good job all year leading. I hurt for them, the senior class, going out this way.”
NOTES: Central Michigan wore “Oh My!” helmet stickers in honor of alum and legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg, who died Thursday at age 82. ... Denver Broncos general manager John Elway wasn’t the only NFL executive in attendance. At least one NFL team owner was scheduled to attend the Potato Bowl, likely to evaluate Allen. ... Wyoming WR Jared Scott opened the scoring with a touchdown catch. It was his second catch of the year, both touchdowns.