Make no mistake about it, the game in Lincoln was the butt-whooping Vandal fans feared. But the Cornhuskers were no paper champion, unlike some top 20 teams.
Nathan Enderle and his receivers had a forgettable day. The team showed signs of the 2007 and 2008 Vandal squads with a second quarter meltdown that brought back recent Vandal memories. While it's best to take Coach Akey's advice and "kick this one to the curb," it's more than obvious the Vandals still struggle with containing an athletic quarterback, and the WAC just happens to boast some of the best in Utah State's Diondre Borel and, of course, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.
Despite the setback to Nebraska last week, Idaho (1-1) looks to get back on the winning track this Saturday when they take on the UNLV Runnin' Rebels (0-2) in the Kibbie Dome Saturday evening (7:30pm PST kickoff). This is the 6th meeting between these two teams with UNLV leading the series 3-2.
When the Vandals have the ball
The offense needs to rebound after last week's poor performance. Nathan Enderle did not have a good game but his receivers didn't help much. Enderle was under pressure all afternoon, causing his throws to be rushed and a little off. The Vandals receivers were bullied by the Cornhusker defensive backfield, resulting in two picks sixes. The emphasis going into this weekend has to be protecting Nate, running crisp routes, and fighting for the ball. Enderle was 16-for-31 with one touchdown and a whopping five interceptions on the day. Not the homecoming he would have liked.
But if Enderle possesses anything, it's his ability to forget the last play, the last game. That maturity is what this team needs and will be counting on.
On the positive side, Deonte Jackson's running was reminiscent of his freshman year. Shifty, hard-to-find and hard to bring down, Jackson gained positive yards every time he touched the ball, ending with 67 yards on 11 carries and a long of 20. He also brought in two receptions for 31 yards. Jackson outplayed Princeton McCarty with one less carry, so it should be interesting to see who gets the starting nod on Saturday. Enderle and Daniel Hardy continue to grow their quarterback to H-Back connection. Daniel Hardy led all receivers with a 5 catch, 75 yard day. Lastly, Brian Reader did a fine job in relief of Enderle. Reader led a 10 play, 98 yard drive in the 4th quarter, hitting Armauni Johnson for a 19 yard touchdown to cap it. Johnson has a touchdown in each game, and both have been thrown by Reader.
Protecting Enderle is becoming an issue. And again, this is more than the offensive line's problem. 1.) Quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long, 2.) backs not picking up the blitz and 3.) linemen missing their assignments; these are all variables in what seems to be a problem with the Vandal offense. Tevita Halaholo left the game with a shoulder injury, giving way to Jordan Johnson seeing significant playing time at guard. Johnson performed very well in place of Halahalo, giving fans a glimpse into the future. But come Saturday the line will be back to LT Matt Cleveland, JC transfer Sam Tupua at LG, senior Clell Hasenbank at center, Tevita Halaholo at right guard with junior Tyrone Novikoff at right tackle. This group must step up. It's crunch time. With conference play right around the corner, the offense needs to do a better job in all phases of the game.
While UNLV does have a good defense, it won't be of the same caliber as Nebraska. This should give Vandal fans a better indication on where the offensive side of the ball stands. The unit did take a hit, losing speedy receiver Marsel Posey for the remainder of the season, but there is plenty of depth among the retrievers. Posey has more speed than most, so his absence will be felt. It's time for the passing game to show something, so all eyes will be on Preston Davis and Maurice Shaw. Probably the most talented duo of the group, they virtually disappeared against Nebraska. With Deonte Jackson and Princeton McCarty carrying the load at runningback, it's still anyone's guess on when we'll be able to see sophomore Troy Vital for more than one play; One of the many mysteries behind an offense that has yet to define itself.
When the Vandals are on D
The score may not look like it, but the Vandal defense made huge strides against the Cornhuskers. They held a dynamic offense to 24 points. If not for a few big plays, the day could have been an outing to remember. But still, there are some interesting tidbits to know on the defensive side of the ball. The Vandals are ranked 1st in takeaways and fumbles recovered, ranked 15th nationally in pass defense and 12th in pass efficiency defense. Individually, senior safety Shiloh Keo is 3rd in the nation in interceptions. Linebacker Robert Siavii is ranked 14th in tackles for loss and 2nd in forced fumbles. Yes, it's early in the season, but this laundry list is noteworthy because this is the unit that needs to improve if the Vandals want to win the WAC.
The emergence of Homer Mauga, Aaron Grymes and Robert Siavii is changing the face of the Vandal D. In a defense already featuring players like Shilo Keo, JoJo Dickson, Aaron Lavarias and Jonah Sataraka, this unit is becoming even more formidable for opposing offenses. At linebacker, newcomer Mauga is a one man wrecking crew. He closes fast, and brings the wood every time. The maturation of Robert Siavii is paying huge dividends for the D. His growth, plus understanding of the game has his year off to an impressive start. Aaron Grymes is another player that is coming into his own. Grymes is bringing speed, cover skills and run support that the Vandals haven't had in years. He lowered the boom a few times against the Cornhuskers.
However, even with the defense improving, the running quarterback still seems to be the nemesis of this D. It illustrates how much more improvement is needed if they plan on beating some of the better teams on their schedule. The defensive line and linebackers have got to get better at disrupting the option, and wrapping up when they have the quarterback for a loss. They can't afford to let the quarterback go untouched on keepers. That's calling on JoJo Dickson, Treshawn Robinson, Saivii, Mauga, Aaron Lavarias, Sataraka, Cosgrove and Andre Ferguson/Benson Mayowa. Responsibilities on man, gap and contain cannot be taken lightly as the Vandals face another running quarterback in UNLV's Omar Clayton.
Scouting the Rebel
In his first year at UNLV, Coach Bobby Hauck is a familiar face to Idaho. Hailing from the University of Montana, he's the winningest coach in Division 1 FCS. Needless to say, an 0-2 UNLV Rebel team is hungry for a win, and most likely relieved to be facing Idaho after opening with Wisconsin, and playing Utah last Saturday. Hauck is an exceptional coach, so the Vandals will have their hands full come Saturday night.
Much to Idaho's chagrin, UNLV has a fleet footed quarterback in senior Omar Clayton. Clayton has 24 starts under his belt, and can run the football. He'll also be throwing to junior WR Phillip Payne. Payne is exactly that, a pain. He's a big target and has a knack for the endzone. Speedster Michael Johnson is the other wideout and leading receiver for the Rebels, while Austin Harrington and Anthony Vidal rotate at tightend. At runningback, C.J. Cox has been the most consistent back. The 205 pound junior has speed and power. But the Rebels are young and Coach Hauck has no problem infusing youth into his lineup. For leadership on the offensive side of the ball, UNLV does have three senior linemen (2 sophomores as well) giving them good experience in the trenches.
On defense, the Rebels are a lot like the Vandals with seniors and juniors all over the field. In fact, they have seven seniors, three juniors and one true freshman starting. Of note, defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui is a massive 6-foot-4, 315-pounds anchoring the defense. Aaitui is not only the leader of the defense, he's the entire football team's leader. The Rebels also boast three seniors at linebacker; WLB Starr Fuimaono (6-0, 220), MLB Ronnie Paulo (6-2, 235) and SLB Calvin Randleman (6-0, 200). Junior cornerback Will Chandler is a playmaker. He has exceptional speed and seems to be wherever the ball is, ready to cause a turnover or at least fall on a fumble.
What the Vandals Need To Do
In order for the Vandals to win, they will need to do a few key things in this football game.
1.) Protect Nathan Enderle. Once again the jury is still out on the Vandals ability to do this.It's time to get back on the winning track. Hosting the Rebels is exactly what the Vandals need; a home game against a team with similarities in their makeup. The Rebels will test the Vandals on both sides of the ball. It should be interesting to see how this team responds the week after a loss.
2.) Win the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball. This should be a great battle.
3.) Fundamental football. Fundamental football eliminates mistakes.
4.) Running precise routes. The receivers have to rebound from such a poor performance.
5.) Exploit special team mistakes. UNLV's punting unit has been costly to them.
6.) No missed field goals. Trey Farquhar forquayed a 30 yard field goal to the right.
Vandal fans need to do their part and pack the Dome and provide the "12th Man" advantage. Nothing is louder than the Dome when it's packed. With a packed Dome, a first year coach and a younger team, this should be a Vandal victory Saturday night as the Rebels and Vandals kick off at 7:30 p.m. in a live, nationally televised event on ESPNU.