IDAHO GAME DAY: Vandals invade Lincoln

FOLLOWING IDAHO'S SEASON OPENING 45-0 SHUTOUT OF NORTH DAKOTA in the Dome, the Vandals this week hit the road to take on Big XII power-house Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are 28-point favorites in a game that kicks off at 9:30am PST Saturday morning (televised live on FSN pay-per-view). Idaho field general NATHAN ENDERLE, a 6-foot-5 Nebraskan, returns home with a Vandal victory on his mind.

Now that the National Championship has been decided in week one and it apparently resides in Boise, the rest of the country will continue playing the entire schedule, including the Idaho Vandals.

This Saturday Idaho will travel to Lincoln to take on the Top-10 ranked (6) Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first meeting between the schools. In fact, this is the first time the storied program will play any team from the state of Idaho. Fresh off a 45-0 route of North Dakota, the Vandals will face a much different football team this Saturday. Idaho will need to shore up a few things if they stand a chance in Lincoln. Even though the Vandals put 45 points up while pitching a shutout there are still some areas of concern. The University of Idaho may be thinking upset, but the Cornhuskers showed they have a team on the rise in their own opener, thrashing Western Kentucky 49-10.

When the Vandals Have The Ball

This is a homecoming for Idaho senior quarterback and 4-year starter, Nathan Enderle. The Vandals plucked Enderle out of North Platte, Nebraska, and if you know anything about Nebraska, then you know there is God, corn, and Cornhuskers. Could you imagine what kind of hometown hero Nathan Enderle would become if he was to go into Lincoln and lead his team to victory? These are the storylines that create legends, and Nate has made a strong argument – through his performance - for becoming a Vandal great.

Enderle's 2010 debut was good, not great. He completed 24-of-37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. But he let a few float, overthrowing his targets. Not to mention the offensive line allowed four sacks in the first half. There had to be missed assignments that go beyond the offensive line. This means the entire offensive squad needs to work on its pass blocking, especially against a team like Nebraska. Protecting Enderle is the key to this game. The offensive line is in its infancy as far as being a cohesive unit, which probably has Vandal fans nervous for Saturday's game. But the usual suspects will continue to grow together – LT Matt Cleveland, JC transfer Sam Tupua at LG, senior Clell Hasenbank at center with the right side being manned by mountainous senior guard Tevita Halaholo and junior Tyrone Novikoff at RT. No doubt this offensive line has the tools and ability to protect Nate, and there is no better test than what awaits on Saturday.

There is no denying the chemistry Nathan Enderle has with his receivers. Daniel Hardy and Eric Greenwood are becoming staples in the passing game, and it goes without saying that Justin Veltung is explosive, lessening the impact of Max Komar's absence. Preston Davis, Maurice Shaw, Marsel Posey and newcomer Armauni Johnson all impress; the Vandals are loaded at receiver. From the "gone but not forgotten" list, Posey emerged in Week One showing excellent speed and elusiveness. The most pleasant surprise in this early season is Greenwood. At 6'7, the senior has put on even more bulk (220-pounds) and is playing with the confidence of a veteran. Greenwood's YACs should be impressive by season's end, as he is not easy to bring down.

The running game took a while to get going. Deonte Jackson was limited after re-injuring his ankle almost immediately, so his status for Saturday is uncertain. Considering his role in the trendy Wildcat, this could mean Vandal fans can breathe a sigh of relief, and not have to witness this formation on Saturday. But fear not, junior Princeton McCarty stepped in and led the way with 89 yards on 12 carries while Kama Bailey, another junior, added 50 yards. Bailey made the most of his carries showing off his quickness, patience and explosiveness. The running game isn't defined yet, and it won't be a repeat of last year's, but it's guaranteed to provide some highlights. A new goal line package features Derek Weiting at fullback and Troy Vital at tailback. But as the offensive line goes, so goes the running game, and all of this is a work in progress. Not exactly what you want heading into a game against Nebraska, but such is life in college football.

When The Vandals Are on D

Senior safety Shilo Keo led the defense to its first shutout since 1997. Even with last year's defensive reputation looming, the fact remains that this defense has some very good players returning. They forced four turnovers, keeping North Dakota scoreless, and all the usual suspects played a part in the mayhem, giving hope to a much better year defensively.

Keo had 8 tackles (7 solo), an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery while Treshawn Robinson led the team with nine tackles, including a huge stop late in the game. Joseph Dickson and Andre Ferguson made their presence felt with their solid play. Playing middle linebacker, Dickson intercepted a pass early in the game, putting the Vandals in easy scoring position on offense. Ferguson continued his hard hitting at defensive end, and gathered a fumble recovery for his efforts. Robert Siavii and Aaron Lavarias were relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback, and should sooner, rather than later, get the all elusive sack. Pressure on the quarterback still seems to be an issue with this defense. While they did log eight hurries and two pass breakups, the sacks continue to be out of reach for the Vandals on D.

Noteworthy was the performance of the defensive backfield. Led by Keo and Gary Walker, the rest of the cast played very well. Safeties Quin Ashley, Brandon Artz, and newcomer Thaad Thompson all played well for the Vandals. Ashley looks like he has finally found a home, as he made one of the best hits of the day, stopping the play for no gain. Isaac Butts, Aaron Grymes, Kenneth Patten, Matt Harvey and Tracy Carter all played well in the cornerback rotation. It looks like Butts and Grymes will be starting (Patten could start ahead of Grymes), but the rotation will continue, providing the "breathers" needed in this type of defense.

In fact, rotation in all facets of the defense is a luxury the Vandals haven't had in years. It can be directly attributed to the shutout. Fresh legs will do wonders for a defense, and it looks like the Vandals are finally seeing some depth on that side of the ball. The cornerback rotation will continue to be interesting to watch, as a true shutdown corner has yet to emerge. Equally as interesting is the defensive line rotation at end. Andre Ferguson, Benson Moyowa, Vincent Keener and Charles Smith are all trying to impress at defensive end. Although linebacker is set, it's still fun to watch Conrad Scheidt and TreShawn Robinson wreak havoc when they are in. Kudos goes to newcomer Homer Mauga for logging the Vandal D's first sack of the year in his first start as a Vandal.

Scouting the Cornhuskers

The Huskers opened the season with a 49-10 thumping of Western Kentucky. The Cornhuskers showed promise on both sides of the ball, none more important than the quarterback position. The Huskers gained 289 yards on the ground and 536 total yards, with redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez also completing 9-of-15 passes for 136 yards. Martinez is a classic dual threat quarterback poised to take Nebraska into the national spotlight for years to come. Quarterbacks that can run have always been a problem for the Vandals. This should be a good test to see how far the defense has come. Stopping Martinez's ground assault should be priority number one.

Sophomore I-back Rex Burkhead is also a dual threat. He rushed for 57 yards on five carries and also caught two passes for 47 yards. Other offensive weapons include senior receiver Niles Paul who caught five passes for 92 yards. Paul is on pace to be one of the most prolific receivers in Nebraska's history. In the opener, Paul accounted for 158 all-purpose yards, including a 58 punt return yards and eight rushing yards in addition to his 92 receiving yards. Junior receiver Brandon Kinnie is another target on Martinez's radar. He caught six passes for 59 yards. First-time starters on Nebraska's offense include: quarterback Taylor Martinez, left tackle Jeremiah Sirles, and center Mike Caputo.

In his third year, Coach Pelini has led an amazing defensive turnaround at Nebraska. Last fall, Nebraska was dominant on defense, leading the nation in total defense, and also claiming the nation's best scoring defense. Needless to say, the Vandal offense will have its hands full. First-time starters for the Nebraska D include: linebackers Lavonte David and Alonzo Whaley, defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, and defensive end Cameron Meredith. That should give you an idea of how much talent is returning to the Cornhusker defense, not to mention the injury bug that has bitten Nebraska's linebackers allowing David and Whaley to take over at their respective spots.

Returning starter Jared Crick is making a name for himself at defensive tackle, continuing his campaign of domination from last year. That goes for senior right end Pierre Allen and nickel Eric Hagg too. The Cornhuskers also have a defensive backfield boasting plenty of veteran leadership with three seniors and one junior.

What the Vandals Need To Do

In order for the Vandals to pull off a major upset, they will need to do a few key things in this football game.

1.) Protect Nathan Enderle. Allow Enderle some time, and he will pick apart any defense.
2.) Stop Taylor Martinez's run game. Martinez is exactly what causes the Vandal D fits.
3.) No big plays. The defense needs to stop any long runs or passes.
4.) No missed field goals. Trey Farquhar is usually money, but last week he was weak.
5.) Protect Nathan Enderle. It needs repeating.
Will this be an impossible task? No. The Vandals are not the same team. They've come a long way under Coach Robb Akey's watch. And while it is highly unlikely for the Vandals to travel to Lincoln and upset the Cornhuskers, they actually have the right ingredients to do so; a senior quarterback with plenty of experience, and a receiving core to match, along with a defense returning loads of veterans. There will be a difference in athletes on the field, but the experience the Vandals bring make them a very dangerous and battle tested team. Can Nathan Enderle return to Nebraska and lead his Vandals to a victory that will go down in Vandal lore? The plain and simple truth is yes.

The Huskers face Idaho this Saturday at Memorial Stadium when they kick off at 11:30 a.m. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net Pay-Per-View.

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