Instead, the game of football continued to serve up life lessons no one wanted to learn. Lessons filled with excitement, disappointment and karma it seems. It permeates the game.
So much is said about these lessons learned in football, and nothing exemplifies it more than Colorado State beginning its losing streak with Idaho and ending it with Idaho, giving their fan base excitement, hope and closure. Even if that hope is placed in the midst of 20,000 people sitting in a 35,000 seat outdoor stadium. The Vandals even their season at 2-2 after dropping a game in which they were favored. Favored AT Colorado State, no less...
Last week's loss is a team loss. There were coaching mistakes, player mistakes and a CSU team that was looking hard for their first win. A desperate team at their home opener; fewer things are more dangerous on the gridiron. Is that cliché'? Yes, but realize division 1 football isn't to be taken lightly. Ask Texas. And they surely had way more to lose than the Vandals last weekend. Then again, try explaining that to a livid Vandal. This loss, to the diehards, stings.
That's because this Vandal football team has expectations. Still a program on the rise, there is no room for error, and that's lost it for the Vandals. There really is a reason they play the games. As stated before; there were coaching mistakes, player mistakes and then, the impending fan meltdown followed. The only way to temper such a meltdown is by focusing on the positive so that is what we will try to do, heading into the second of a long string of away games. The Western Michigan Broncos are up next. How will the Vandals respond to such a disappointing loss?
When the Vandals Have the Ball
Wow. Nathan Enderle was on fire. The young slinger passed for 347 yards and three scores on 25-of-30 efficiency last week at Colorado State. Pretty tough to beat! His receivers obviously played their part in a passing attack and showed why it's so dangerous. It was running on all cylinders for the Vandals. Enderle, once again, hit several different receivers. One of his strengths is his ability to make multiple throws down the field. And make no mistake about it, the receivers are fighting for the ball and excelling in route running. This is a great sign that the unit learned from the frustrations of the Nebraska game. Senior tightend/H-Back Daniel Hardy will always be Enderle's money man, but Eric Greenwood and Maurice Shaw are running a close second. The chemistry these players are forming is undeniable and should bring plenty more highlights.
The running game is gaining momentum as well. It seems like Deonte Jackson is just getting warmed up. The senior is running with a purpose, and is showing off his vision, shifty cuts and power, all reminiscent of his freshman year. It's understandable why they give Deonte the ball in Wildcat situations, but opposing defenses are starting to key on him. Deonte is running the ball well, and the Wildcat seems to put him behind the proverbial eight ball. Frankly, his Wildcat carries need to turn into regular formation carries. Jackson would likely get more yards. Kama Bailey is another back that continues to impress with his shifty moves and speed; all positives for an offense that features the threat of Princeton McCarty taking it to the house on every carry. This unit is still molding, because the offensive line is still a work in progress.
The one knock on the offensive unit is the inability to protect Enderle. While Enderle's habit of holding onto the ball too long isn't helping, the offensive line still needs to do a better job protecting him in the pocket. Enderle's arm is huge and his football smarts are off the charts, yet he still has a habit of hanging onto the ball too long. This has got to stop. His ability to recognize and release the ball early is crucial. It cost the Vandals a touchdown and the lead before the half last week. The offensive line takes heat for the sacks (as they should), but Enderle does hold onto the ball too long. The Vandal offense is far from their potential, but even in last week's loss, Vandal fans can see that there is plenty of scoring capability in the very near future.
When the Vandals Are on D
Last Saturday's loss at Colorado State had some very good defensive performances throughout, but some costly mistakes and penalties spelled doom for the unit. Bottom line, this defense is birthing some stars. Idaho already has some all WAC performers on defense, starting with senior safety Shiloh Keo. And there are others who have garnered recognition like Jo Jo and Jonah Sataraka, but there is much more going on. Aaron Lavarias' hard work and dedication is blossoming into a a fantastic senior season. His motor, football smarts and athleticism makes him a premiere defensive end in the WAC. If Lavarias stays healthy, he's on pace for a monster year and a shoe in at first team All WAC.
Robert Siavii is another name that seems to be emerging on D. His speed and play making ability is flourishing in Criner's defense. Siavii is just beginning his reign of terror in the WAC. But no one is more of a surprise than Homer Mauga. Mauga plays fast, hits hard and has a knack for making big plays. These two linebackers compliment Dickson, rounding out one of the better units in the WAC. There's lots of speed, lots of hitting and a lot of play making out of this unit, and every week seems to get better. The lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks seems to be behind the Vandals. Aaron Grymes is another defensive star on the rise. His speed, cover skills and run support has brought an additional swagger to the Vandal defensive backfield.
Yes, the defense is taking most of the blame for last week's loss, but like the offensive unit, it is nowhere near reaching the potential of the 2010 season. In 2009, the Vandal defense could not get a quarterback sack, a fumble or interception. There was pressure, there were forced fumbles and there were pass breakups, but takeaways were never in the picture. That has all changed. This defense is much different. As it matures through the season, Vandal fans should have plenty to cheer about. The defense is good, with the potential of being great.
Scouting the Broncos
The Western Michigan Broncos are fresh off a bye week, ready to host a Vandal team that isn't so sure it can win on the road. And make no bones about it; Western Michigan is better than their record. It wasn't too long ago the Vandals hosted the Broncos in their very first meeting, losing that battle in the Dome 35-20. This time the Vandals will face a stiffer challenge, traveling to Kalamazoo looking to even up the series 1-1, and trying to serve up a little life lesson of our own.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Carder is an excellent passer. Hey threw for over 400 yards against Toledo last week and ranks 5th in the country on passing yards per game while leading the nation in completions per game. But the Broncos running game ranks 112th in college football at just over 75 yards per contest. The senior duo of Jordan White and Juan Nunez has lived up to expectations in the MAC. Both White and Nunez rank in nation's top 5 in receptions per game. White leads the team with 27 catches for 392 yards and three scores, with Nunez adding 25 receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown. This passing attack is a very good test for the Vandal's defense. There should be ample opportunity to pick the ball off. There is depth at runningback with juniors Aaron Winchester and Jaron Deshazor sharing duties. Even though their 2010 season isn't off to a great start, look no further than last week to forget performances to this point.
On defense, the Broncos are young. Safety Jamail Berry is the only senior starting for Western Michigan. The defensive line isn't the biggest, averaging 250, but there is plenty of fight to make up for the size difference. At linebacker, the Broncos have Mitch Zajac at WLB, Deauntay Legrier at MLB and Chris Prom at SLB. There is no size issue with this group, as they average 6-2 and 233 pounds and fly around the field making plays. The most veteran group is the defensive backfield. Again, plenty of size and speed to play with the Vandals and they have two solid safeties in Berry and FS Doug Wiggins.
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.) Put last week's game behind them.
2.) Protect Nathan Enderle.
3.) And Nate, get rid of the ball.
4.) Play with a purpose. This game is a must win.
5.) Fundamental football. Fundamental football eliminates mistakes.
6.) Trey Farquhar – he's a weapon.
Its games like this that defines a team. Coming off an away game they were supposed to win and realizing there is no such thing as a game you are "supposed" to win in division 1 football, is a bit of a humbler. This game will be a major test. Traveling to Kalamazoo and finding a way to beat a hungry Western Michigan team will not be easy. This is the 2010 Vandal football team's gut check. Can they rebound and win?
Coach Akey should have the Vandals focused and ready to compete. The players need to come out and execute with urgency. The fans need to put a halt to the meltdown and get ready for another Saturday of cheering the hearts out for Vandal football. Last week could be the wakeup call the Vandals needed. And this week could be the game that sets the tone for the rest of the season. No matter, Vandal fans will be bracing for what unfolds Saturday morning, waiting for the Tribe from the North's reaction to last week's heartbreaker. This should be a game that answers a lot of questions.