The Vandals will travel to Fort Collins to take on the winless Colorado State Rams. The Vandals are in the early stages of defining their 2010 team. They are far from showing up to a game and expecting to win. But they are even further away from announcing every game on the schedule as "the most important game in program history" like their instate rival seems to do weekly.
The Vandals must approach this game as a must win, and not rest on the games of yesterday. As Vandal fans are finding out, Coach Akey can light a fire under his team and get them ready for any battle, and this Saturday will be no different. Colorado State is in for a big surprise Saturday as this Vandal team is more solid than the one they faced last year in the Dome.
And the WAC had better watch out. The Vandals are starting to believe.
When the Vandals Have the Ball
Nathan Enderle bounced back from a very pedestrian outing against Nebraska to record a much better performance against UNLV. Enderle was on-target, throwing 15-for-27 for one touchdown, but keep in mind that two of his receivers dropped touchdown scores. Still, the offense showed well in both facets as junior Princeton McCarty led all rushers with 63 yards on 12 carries, and senior Deonte Jackson scored on a pair of 1 yard runs.
Some other positives come in the form of mammoth 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive guard Jordan Johnson. Stepping in for senior Tevita Halaholo, who sat out last Saturday with a sore shoulder, redshirt freshman Johnson played an exceptional game. This is evident with the push in between the tackles and the two scores by Deonte. The offensive line was dominant. What great news for Vandal fans, as depth on the offensive line is a luxury, and the jury was still out coming into this season in case of an injury. Some questions have been answered, but some still remain. The current offensive line is still coming together, but one can't help but be excited for the future of this front wall. This unit promises to be strong for years to come.
Saturday in Fort Collins the offense should have Halaholo back in the lineup. His strength and nasty demeanor brings a certain attitude to the line of scrimmage and to the running game. And sophomore tailback Troy Vital finally got some carries outside of the goal line. Against UNLV he looked powerful and fast, but chose to flare a couple runs outside that were intended to be off tackle. Vital, a beast at 6-foot-0, 223-pounds doesn't need to "look" for positive yards. He could fall forward and get them. But his promise is more than obvious. He's a big, physical back and every carry inches him towards understanding his position better. And he isn't the only runningback looking good. With Princeton and Deonte carrying the load, it takes some eye-popping snaps to break the lineup, and that's what junior Kama Bailey has been doing quietly. Bailey is making a strong statement with his running ability. He continues to get touches at the slot receiver position and at tailback. His role is increasing and this can only mean bigger and better things for the offense.
The receiving unit still needs a little help. Considering the loads of talent and experience this group has, it's easy to be a little hard on them. Eric Greenwood and Armauni Johnson both dropped sure touchdown passes. These are two of the best receivers playing for the Vandals, and the drops are unusual, so it's not time to panic.
But catching the ball isn't their sole responsibility, and like every player on the team last week, they played very physical ball. Maurice Shaw seems to enjoy blowing up corners on run plays and given his size and speed, the receiving end of those hits can't be fun. There were a few rare sightings, as redshirt freshmen Taylor Elmo (tightend) and Michael LaGrone (H-Back) each logged a catch for the Vandals. Again, more young guys showing Vandal fans what the future holds. But the connection between Daniel Hardy and Nathan Enderle's continues to be unstoppable for reasons unknown the college football world. It's the passing game's proverbial "ace in the hole."
When the Vandals Are on D
One minute and twenty nine seconds from a shutout. The Vandal defense played lights out football last Saturday. They smothered the UNLV offense, holding them to 187 net yards, a good 70 of them coming on their last drive. The performance earned Aaron Lavarias WAC Defensive Player of the Week. Fewer things are more overdue; Library books, the second coming… and then Lavarias being recognized for a stellar defensive performance. He had four tackles, three of those were for a loss, which included two sacks, a forced fumble and quarterback hurry. Needless to say, Lavarias was a beast.
But this defense features more than one player. The depth, size, and speed of the Vandal D is proving to be a handful for opposing offenses. Having seniors Shiloh Keo and Joseph Dickson as your two field generals doesn't hurt either. Keo is quickly approaching elite levels of safety play. Not only can he stop run plays with tremendous hits and shut down routes around him, he also has the knack for intercepting the ball. Idaho has the best safety in the WAC, and his name is Shiloh Keo.
JoJo Dickson's move to the middle has solidified a stubborn core. Dickson is a heady linebacker, which allows him to utilize his speed and power in every situation. It's just a matter of time before he logs another interception. But until then, just focus on the hits he's handing out to backs that want to run up the middle. Speed is power, and Dickson arrives with nothing but bad intentions.
More good news on the depth of Vandal football arrived on the defensive line. Jonah Sataraka fell ill, shifting the massive Michael Cosgrove over, and making room for senior Fonomanu Sekona to enter the starting lineup. Considering this was the best performance the defense has had this year, suffice it to say that both played very well. There wasn't much going on for UNLV anywhere, but up the middle was especially tough. All of these adjustments do nothing but grow a football team, and gain confidence in every player that hits the field. The linebacking unit is no exception as it's filled with talent. Top backups Treshawn Robinson, Conrad Scheidt and Paul Senescall are every bit the playmakers as the starting three, and should continue to see significant snaps throughout the games.
The defensive backfield is still a work in progress. Keo and Gary Walker are holding the strong safety and free safety spots, respectively. But newcomer Thaad Thompson continues to turn heads, and at 6-foot-3, 212-pounds, it's no wonder. At one cornerback position senior Isaac Butts is still holding strong, but sophomore Aaron Grymes and his stout play earned him the starting nod over junior Kenneth Patten last week. It doesn't look like Keo, Grymes or Butts will lose their spots, but with the talent all around the backfield the rotation is still heavy. Junior Quin Ashley, senior Brandon Artz and redshirt freshman Trey Williams will continue to see time at safety, while Patten and redshirt freshman Tracy Carter will see time at corner. It should be noted that Isaac Butts has improved his cover skills. At 6-foot-0, 185-pounds, Butts has always brought the wood, but his cover skills outside the redzone have historically been so-so. He's turned it around this season, and he's quietly having an exceptional senior year.
Scouting the Rams
Coach Steve Fairchild is in his third year and the Colorado State Rams are not off to a good start. They have a number of players to replace so the youth movement is in full effect in Fort Collins. At 0-3, the growing pains of this team are evident through the games they've played. Vandals know all about this being one season removed from going though the same thing. However, this is the Rams first home game, and could easily turn into the dogfight no Vandal wants to see. There's a reason why the games are played and the Vandals want to shut those reasons down early.
On offense, true freshman Pete Thomas will start. Thomas can throw the ball. He logged 305 yards and a touchdown last week. But the protection and lack of a run game has the Rams offense searching for answers. This has caused an upheaval on their offensive line to try and find the best athletes for the job. This means the Vandals will face a different unit. Fairchild is emphasizing blocking on everyone's part. And if anyone knows Colorado State football, then you know they recruit big offensive linemen. This line will average 300 to 305 pounds, and 6-foot-4 in height.
Raymond Carter leads all rushers with 39 yards in three games. You heard me. Byron Steele (6-3, 211) is their top receiver with 212 yards on 14 catches. Matt Yemm is another receiving threat, accounting for their sole touchdown on the season. Other than that, the offense has been unable to run the ball, protect the quarterback and has also been turnover happy. Thomas is a lot like Enderle, and utilizes all of his receivers. Vandal fans should remember Tyson Liggett and Lou Greenwood from last year. Both had good games. Fullback Zac Pauga could see an increase touches as he has played well for the Rams. On defense, there is a little more veteran talent to contend with. The defensive line returns Guy Miller Ty Whittier and Nuku Latu in the middle, but their defensive ends are young. This should be shored up by the Rams' veteran linebackers. Mychal Sisson logged seven tackles and a sack against the Vandals last year. Ricky Brewer, Alex Williams and Sisson are all seasoned football players and should pick up the slack for Colorado State. This goes for the defensive backfield. Elijah-Blu Smith should be another name the Vandals remember. A hard hitting safety, Smith leads a veteran group of hard hitting defensive backs.
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.) Establish physical play early. Take the fight out of CSU immediately.It's time for Vandal fans to stop being nervous for games we have no business losing. This CSU team is no match for the Vandals. They're too young on offense, and not old enough on defense.
2.) Dominate the line of scrimmage. Idaho should win on both sides of the ball.
3.) Pick up from last week's defensive performance. This CSU offense should be nervous.
4.) Catch the ball! If Nate throws you the ball, catch it.
5.) Trey Farquhar, WAC Special Teams Player of the Week for his outstanding performance against UNLV, showed how good he is in all facets of his game. He went 3-for-3 on field goals, missed no missed extra points, and his kickoffs orbited the Dome. The Vandals have a kicking game, and punter Bobby Cowan is no slouch either.
But the cellar dweller Vandal teams of seasons past have everyone on high alert. That's fine. It will probably take a few games to convince fans that our players are good, our coaches are good, and together they could be great.
So until then fly, drive, or run to Fort Collins with your Silver and Gold on full display. And if that's impossible, tune into the radio or find a way to break through the Mountain West's lack of a television contract. Just find a way to cheer for the Vandals, because this Saturday will bring plenty to cheer about.