IDAHO INSIGHT: Vandals head to Ruston

BACKED BY WHAT IS SHAPING UP TO BE ONE OF THE BEST VANDAL DEFENSES IN OVER A DECADE, and led by senior defensive end AARON LAVARIAS (6-3, 260), the Vandals open the WAC season on the road at Louisiana Tech (kickoff at 1pm PST Saturday, carried live on ESPN GamePlan). Idaho will face a Bulldog offense that finally found its running game last week in an impressive victory over Utah State.

INSIDE SLANT

The Vandals enter the Western Athletic Conference portion of their schedule with a 3-2 record and in pretty good health. Idaho only has lost one player, backup slot receiver Marsel Posey, to a season-ending injury. And coming off a bye week, coach Robb Akey expects all of the "bumps and bruises" to feel better for the eight-week stretch that will define whether the 2010 season is a success for the Vandals.

Idaho has three games in October that are crucial in determining if Akey's team can become bowl eligible for the second year in a row. The Vandals play at Louisiana Tech on Oct. 16, then return home for the first time in a month to take on New Mexico State. A trip to Hawaii closes the month. The Vandals need seven victories to reach bowl eligibility. That means Akey's team must finish 4-4 in WAC play, a reasonable yet challenging goal.

Idaho is playing games in five time zones this season. This month, Idaho will have played games in four time zones.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho plays at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, and Ruston, La., is one of four WAC stadiums where the Vandals have won a conference road game. San Jose State, New Mexico State and Utah State are the others.
--The Vandals' 4-4 record in WAC play last season was their best since joining the conference in 2005. Idaho needs to go 4-4 this season to become bowl eligible.
--This is the third season in a row where the Vandals have opened conference play on the road. They are 2-3 all-time in WAC openers.

SERIES HISTORY: Louisiana Tech leads Idaho 3-2 (last meeting, 2009, 35-34 Idaho).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Idaho has been efficient in the passing game despite yielding 21 sacks in five games. A key to Idaho's success has been QB Nathan Enderle's ability to spread the ball around to as many as 10 receivers in a game. Coach Robb Akey would like to see a little more production in the running game and better pass protection.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: With the exception of a hiccup a few weeks ago at Colorado State, the Vandals have been solid on defense. They've already recorded more sacks in five games this season than they have all of last year. Idaho ranks in the top half of the WAC in all defensive categories.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're done with our preseason, and now it's time to play our conference season." -- Idaho coach Robb Akey on the Vandals finishing their season with eight consecutive WAC games.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Idaho at Louisiana Tech, Oct. 16 -- These teams have been extremely competitive in conference play in recent seasons. Idaho will be playing its second of three homecoming games in a row. The Vandals won at Western Michigan on Oct. 2 and have their own homecoming on Oct. 23 against New Mexico State.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Idaho's pass defense will be tested by Tech's wide-open attack. But Idaho can't sleep on the run this week, as the Bulldogs ran the ball effectively in a win over Utah State. Offensively, Idaho will try to give QB Nathan Enderle more time to throw against one of the WAC's best defenses.


PLAYERS TO WATCH:

S Shiloh Keo -- He leads the WAC in punt returns, averaging 7.2 yards per return.
DE Aaron Lavarias -- He has five sacks to rank second in the WAC in that statistical category.
LB Robert Siavii -- Siavii leads the WAC with three forced fumbles. He earned the conference's defensive player of the week award for his play Oct. 2.


ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Princeton McCarty (finger) is expected to play Saturday at Louisiana Tech.
--G Sam Tupua (concussion) is expected to play Saturday at Louisiana Tech.
--G Tevita Halaholo (stinger) is expected to play Saturday at Louisiana Tech.




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