Game on...

After 35 games, and a dead-even 17-17-1 record Boise State and Idaho meet this Saturday to determine more than their grudge match. The winner will lead the series yes, but will also lead the WAC. And while Boise State is ranked in the top 20 and is dreaming of a BCS Bowl, Idaho fans would like nothing more than to rain on their parade. Yes, the Idaho/Boise State rivalry is very much alive..

LAST WEEK: Boise State looks to continue their winning ways after emerging from a tougher than expected New Mexico State game unbeaten, but not unscathed.  Once again, Boise State ran off on a scoring streak on an opponent, this time going for 21 straight points in the first quarter.  However, unlike previous games of the 06 season, Boise State was outscored from that point 19-28 as New Mexico State 's Chase Holbrook completed a WAC record 49 passes in 65 attempts for 526 yards and 2 TD's.  That kind of success against what has been a fairly stingy Bronco defense made the natives restless and drew the ire of Head Coach Chris Petersen.

LAST WEEK: This is Idaho's second season in the WAC, and last Saturday the Vandals registered their first win over a WAC opponent other than Utah State or New Mexico State. Idaho has not lost to either of those teams since joining the WAC, and last weekend beat Louisiana Tech 24-14 in Ruston. The game itself represented much of this season for Idaho - some solid and opportunistic defense combined with offensive performances that are hot and cold. Although the Idaho defense forced two La Tech turnovers on the Bulldogs' first two drives, the Vandal O could not produce a scoring drive. Then, two drives later, the Idaho offense marched 80 yards and looked impressive in the process. Only once so far this season (two weeks ago against NMSU) has Idaho's offense "clicked" on virtually every series of a half, let alone a whole game. For Idaho fans, the good news is they're 3-0 in WAC competition and have not played a complete game yet. The question is whether that complete game, on both sides of the ball, will finally happen this weekend or not.

KEY INJURIES:

  • RG Pete Cavender (Achilles-out for season)
  • LB Mike Altieri (Knee-out for season)
  • OL Ryan Keating (Broken leg-out for season)
  • TE Sherm Blaser (Foot-out for season)

KEY INJURIES:

  • TE Keith Greer (questionable)

  • WR Lee Smith (questionable)

  • LB Joartis Ratti (knee, out several weeks)

  • RB Brian Flowers (questionable)

  • DT Ryan Davis (questionable)

  • PK Mike Barrow (out for season)

   

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WHEN BOISE STATE IS ON OFFENSE: Boise State lives and dies with their QB Jared Zabransky.  A Hermiston Oregon product, Zabransky is a very gifted natural athlete, who can just as easily beat you with his legs as he can his arm.  Not a prototypical drop-back passer, he is at his best when he is moving around in the pocket.  Behind Zabransky is Super-Soph Ian Johnson.  Johnson was 2nd on the team in rushing last year, despite being the lone non-senior to get more than a handful of rushes, however he has vaulted to the lead in the WAC, and is 3rd overall in the NCAA in rushing with 998 total yards, averaging 142.5 yards per game.  He is tied for 1st in the Nation in rushing TD's with 14.  Johnson is your Jack-of-all-trades rusher, not the fastest, but fast enough, not the strongest, but strong enough.  Boise State also boasts 3 experienced, talented WR's in Jerard Rabb, Legedu Naanee, and Drisan James.  Tight End Derek Schouman has also returned to his former status as a legitimate threat, as he is 4th on the team in receiving and also boasts 2 TD receptions.

 

WHEN IDAHO IS ON OFFENSE: With the off-season coaching change this year came the installation of a new offense at Idaho. Although Dennis Erickson's offense has shown signs of being explosive this fall, consistency has been an issue. QB Steve Wichman got off to a good start at Michigan State, then went through a brutal stretch against Washington State and Oregon State - a stretch in which he threw 6 of his 8 interceptions on the season. Since the OSU game, when a QB change was considered, Wichman has been solid. He's thrown just two picks in the last three games, all Idaho victories. The running game has been both hot and cold this year, and has been manned by committee. For the season Idaho has netted 1,026 yards (119 yards per game). Duties have been virtually split between sophomore Idahoan Jayson Bird and JC Gridwire All American Brian Flowers. Flowers is questionable for this weekend's game, and a replacement will need to emerge. Expect sophomore Tracy Ford and true freshman Raymond Fry to get their shots. The ‘backs operate behind a line featuring four returning starters from last season. Seniors Nate VanderPol and Jade Tadvick anchor the left side, sophomore Rimington Trophy Watch List center Adam Korby is in his second year as starter, and the right side is manned by second year starter sophomore Kris Anderson at right tackle. The passing game, on the other hand, is still looking to take flight. Two new wide receivers, Marlon Haynes and Tariq Ikharo, joined the program in August and have emerged as reliable targets, joining flanker Wendell Octave. Look for Wichman to distribute the ball generously to WRs and TEs. Erickson made his name with a tremendous passing game, so expect Idaho to take their shots down field.
WHEN BOISE STATE IS ON DEFENSE: Boise State has been known as an offensive juggernaut in recent years, but this year if appears that the strength of the team lies on the other side of the ball.  With only 2 losses to its 2-deep roster from a year ago, the Broncos have the horses to keep most teams frustrated offensively, however just as important as the returning players may be the new coaching philosophy that has been implemented.  While not a new system, the Broncos have openly stated their goal is to become more physical, especially in the defensive backfield.  To accomplish that, CB Gerald Alexander, (6' 208lbs) has moved to safety, joining All-WAC 2nd teamer Marty Tadman.  Orlando Scandrick returns at one CB spot, while the other side has been manned by senior Quinton Jones, although a rough weekend last week may see him give way to RSFreshman Kyle Wilson from New Jersey .  The LB'rs have been ranked one of the 10 best in the Nation by the Sporting News.  Headlined by 4th year starter Korey Hall and 3rd year starter Colt Brooks, those 2 dynamos are joined by a 2-headed Sophomore tandem in Kyle Gingg, (6' 220lbs) and David Shields, (6'2 225lbs).  Hall is on more watch-lists than Paris Hilton, yet ironically Brooks might be the more dynamic and vital to the team.  Along the DLine, the Broncos are senior heavy.  All-WAC DT, (and Oregon native) Andrew Browning anchors the line while fellow Senior Dennis Ellis is turning in a monster season, much to the delight of Bronco fans who eagerly awaited his emergence after hearing much about the former Texas A&M signee.  Joining Edwards in the rotation has been Soph Phillip Edwards, who has made incredible strides in his 2nd playing season.  The outside boasts no fewer than a 6-man rotation with Nick Schlekeway, Mike Williams, and Mike Williams, (yes, a pair of Mike Williams') taking the lions share of the snaps.  (Mike G Williams and Mike T Williams).  The Broncos boast one of the youngest Defensive Coordinator's in the Nation in 1st year DC Justin Wilcox, (formerly Cal LB coach), but he is flanked by a bevy of experienced coach, including former Montana State Defensive Coordinator, and BSU All-American Pete Kwiatkowski at DL Coach. WHEN IDAHO IS ON DEFENSE: Two years ago Idaho led the nation by fielding a whopping 17 true freshmen, and that youth is beginning to pay off now. The catalyst for the Vandal D is junior WILL David Vobora. David joined the program as a true freshman in 2004 and played immediately. A little undersized then, he's now 6-1 and a solid 230 with good speed, great instincts, and is a tough competitor. He is second in the WAC in tackles per game, averaging 11.71 per game. He leads the nation in solo tackles per game (8.00). The linebacker corps is Idaho's strength, with veterans Josh Bousman or Brandon Ogletree starting at SAM, and Jaron Williams starting at MIKE. The unit took a big hit this week when JC Gridwire All-American Joartis Ratti went down in Ruston with an injury. He's out for a few weeks, and the load will fall onto Williams. Up front Idaho has shown some steady improvement week-to-week. The interior DL will be manned by a steady rotation of Siua Musika, Alex Toailoa, Marvin Jones, and Jon Dominguez (questionable this week is senior Ryan Davis). The ends are relatively small but have good speed. At strongside end is true sophomore Josh Shaw (6-2, 253) backed up by junior George Fa'avae (6-2, 255). Off the weakside is true junior Ben Alexander (6-1, 235) and Charles Campbell (6-3, 235). The entire front four rotates generously. One group that has had a surprisingly solid start to the '06 season is the defensive backfield. Cornerback has been a strength with Stanley Franks, Reggie Jones, and Kiel McDonald getting most of the reps. If Jones is unable to play Saturday, McDonald will start in his place. Last weekend Franks picked off his sixth pass of the season, and he has a 98 yard TD return under his belt. The safeties are a combo of youth (true freshman Shiloh Keo at SS) and veteran leadership (Tone Taupule at FS). Keo rarely leaves the field, while JC transfer Chris Smith is emerging in a solid rotation at FS.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Boise State has been a Special Teams demon over the past 7 seasons, but this season has seen the Broncos struggle in the return game.  Returner Quinton Jones was named All-American by no fewer than 3 publications, (Athlon (2nd Team), Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook (1st Team), SI (Honorable Mention) prior to the season, but has yet to regain his All-American form of a year ago and may give way to Junior Marty Tadman for punt returns.  On the kicking scene, Senior Punter Kyle Stringer has one of the strongest legs you'll see in a 5'8 player, and lost his National lead in punting just last week, although he is still the 2nd ranked punter nationally.  Stringer routinely pushes nearly 5 seconds on hang-time, making him a very effective weapon.  Kicker Anthony Montgomery is a solid kicker who, after missing his first FG of the season, has been perfect, despite missing 1 extra-point at NMSU. SPECIAL TEAMS: The Vandals took a huge blow this off-season when First Team All-WAC placekicker Mike Barrow was lost for the year just weeks before the season started. Walkon sophomore Tino Amancio has stepped into his place and played remarkably well, which began when he converted a 49-yarder in his first Division-1 kick against Michigan State. In week 5 he was awarded WAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors and at the time was good on 86% of his attempts (including conversions of 49 and 42 yards). Against NMSU he struggled a bit, going 0-2 on two 45+ yard attempts, and missed his first attempt at LTU in the first half. But he got back on track in the second half, converting a 23 yard attempt that gave Idaho a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter. On the year he's connected 7 of 11 attempts. Kick returning duties are handled by committee, including Raymond Fry and Stanley Franks, both of whom have explosive speed, while true sophomore punt returner Wesley Williams, a sprinter on the Idaho track team, has not yet had a chance to stretch his legs.
BOISE STATE CAN WIN IF: The Broncos can win if Jared Zabransky has another stellar performance and Ian Johnson can remain healthy on the unforgiving Kibbie Dome turf.  The Boise State Offensive and Defensive lines should control the game by dominating the line of scrimmage, which would lead to a comfortable if not unspectacular win.  However.. whenever Boise State plays Idaho in the Dome, you can throw out all the physical and pure athletic talent advantages.  Idaho gets up for Boise State like no other, which makes them especially dangerous given their resurging confidence.  If the Broncos allow the Vandals to hang around too long it could spell upset with a capital U. IDAHO CAN WIN IF: The crowd is loud, the offense plays one of its best - most consistent - games of the year (more than 3 or 4 TDs will be required), and the team keeps its composure throughout the game. Obviously an effective substitute for Flowers will have to emerge, and the offense must keep its focus from beginning to end. BSU will score their points...Idaho can't afford to go into a slump or panic (offensively or defensively) when the Broncos stick it in the endzone. Defensively Idaho has proven on several occasions that they can keep things together and play well for four quarters. The offense will have to prove that this week.
BOISE STATE WILL LOSE IF: The Broncos will lose if Jared Zabransky reverts to his 2005 ways.  He has not shown any hints of his Junior struggles, which bodes well for the Broncos, however the Dome is a very inhospitable place to play, and Idaho frustrated Zabransky last year nearly as much as Georgia did.  Another circumstance that would spell doom for the Broncos is the health of Ian Johnson.  Johnson was injured earlier this season, but after taking a break against both Utah and LaTech, he returned to form against New Mexico State and finished the game relatively unhurt.  However Idaho plays on one of the last remaining astro-turf surfaces in the Nation.  That ugly field cost Quinton Jones the remainder of his Freshman season when the Broncos last played in Moscow , and the fear is that should Ian go down there is not much behind him in the stable. IDAHO WILL LOSE IF: 1) The Vandals take too many series to get into the game, 2) personnel losses from last weekend turn out to be bigger issues than anticipated, and 3) the crowd is silent. Idaho likely can't afford to fall 2 or 3 TDs behind early and play in catchup mode. This team will also have some serious problems if the D gets crossed up for extended stretches. The loss of Ratti (and possibly Davis) will affect rotations at each position, and that is something these two units have not had to deal with much so far this fall.
BOISE STATE LINKS:
Two-deeps | Roster | Schedule | Message Boards
IDAHO LINKS:
Two-deeps | Roster | Schedule | Message Boards
 Kevin Hiatt may hang an Idaho sheepskin on his vanity wall, but it's outnumbered by his degrees from the good guys. Pat Hauge is one of the administrators for VandalVenue.com and reminds all Vandal fans to wear black gear to the game this weekend.


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