This year’s Arizona Bowl will feature two teams who made their biggest mark this season on opening weekend. The Wyoming Cowboys will face off with the Georgia State Panthers in Tucson on New Year’s Eve. Each of these two programs began 2019 with an upset victory over a team from the big bad SEC. The Cowboys scored 27 second-quarter points and ran for nearly 300 yards as they took down the Missouri Tigers in Laramie. The Panthers used a 17 point fourth quarter to upset the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
Wyoming Faces Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl
These two teams also both scuffled down the stretch, with each losing three of their last five contests. They both enter the Arizona Bowl with a 7-5 record. For Georgia State, this will be their third bowl game in the past four seasons. Not bad for a program that has only existed since 2010, and has only been in the FBS since 2013. For the Cowboys, this will be the 16th bowl appearance in school history. They are looking for their fourth bowl victory in the last six tries, after a stretch that saw them not win one from 1966 to 2004.
Wyoming is led on offense by tailback Xazavian Valladay. The sophomore rushed for over 1000 yards this season and was named first-team All-Conference in the Mountain West. This team likes to run the ball, with either Valladay or quarterback Sean Chambers. The fleet-footed signal-caller has over 500 yards and 10 touchdowns with his legs in 2019 but has less than 1000 passing yards for the year. They will look to shorten the game and wear out the Panthers defense with their ground game. If this game becomes a slow-paced slugfest, it will favor Wyoming.
The Cowboy defense enters the Arizona Bowl allowing just 17 points per game. Linebacker Logan Wilson and safety Alijah Halliburton were both first-team All-MWC performers. Wilson had 98 tackles and four interceptions, giving him 10 for his career. Halliburton led the team in tackles with 119. The pair also combined for 17.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Defensive end Solomon Byrd had six and a half sacks as a freshman, to go along with two fumbles forced and one recovered. When this unit is playing well, they are affecting the opposing quarterback and forcing turnovers.
Head Coach Shawn Elliott is trying to build this young program almost from scratch. This will be his second bowl appearance in his third season at the helm. The Panthers will want this game to be more of a shootout than their more deliberate opponent would prefer. This offense has been solid all season, putting up 32 points and 446 yards per game. They are also more balanced on this side of the ball than the Cowboys. Dan Ellington has thrown for 2200 yards and 21 scores as a senior. He has also chipped in with nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns with his legs.
If he struggles, he always has the option to hand the ball to the explosive Tra Barnett. The senior tailback averaged six yards a carry on his way to almost 1400 yards rushing. Cornelius McCoy and Sam Pinckney are the biggest threats in the passing game. The pair has over 100 catches and 1000 yards combined.
Defensively, Georgia State has struggled all season. They allow 450 yards and 36 points per contest. Tackling has been an issue, as has making plays in the opponent’s backfield. Hardwick Willis leads the team with both eight and a half tackles for loss and four and a half sacks. Safety Remy Lazarus is one of the defense’s leaders, but he has been out with an undisclosed ailment. His status for the Arizona Bowl is undetermined. This unit is allowing over 200 yards on the ground, which could lead to trouble against a Wyoming team that leans on its rushing attack so much. The Panthers need to find a way to get off the field and get the ball back to their dynamic offense.
Pace vs Power
This match-up breaks down quite simply. Wyoming wants to take advantage of Georgia State’s pour run defense and wear them down in a slugfest. If they have success rushing the football, it could make for a long day for Coach Elliott’s bunch. On the other side, the Panthers will look to score early and often, and test whether the Cowboys have the firepower to keep pace. Whichever team can establish their plans early will have a great shot at leaving Tucson with an Arizona Bowl victory.