The good news is that the Vandals are back at home. The bad news is that Nevada is another WAC team that has been on a terror this season. With a loss to Hawaii as their only blemish, the Wolf Pack will come in hungry for the kill. And it's not like the Vandals have had any luck beating Nevada since joining the WAC.
Nevada's defending WAC Offensive Player of the Year may not be getting all the Heisman press, but everyone in the conference knows who the most dynamic player is; Colin Kaepernick. One of the most underrated players in the nation, Kaepernick is in the middle of his swan song and he hasn't disappointed. He has always played well against the Vandals and none better than last year when he rushed for 230 yards and threw for 178 yards accounting for 4 touchdowns. Idaho will need to play their best game of the year if they plan on stopping Kaepernick and crew. This should be a shootout from start to finish, and Vandal fans will need to be the 12th man if Saturday is to be a victory.
When the Vandals Have the Ball
Simply put, the Vandals need to score a touchdown on their first possession. No more driving the ball right down the field only to put up three points. They need to finish strong, and punch it in. They also need to prepare for a shootout, which is something they failed to do last week. The WAC has always been a showcase for offensive firepower. If the Vandals want to compete, they will need to learn how to answer in high scoring affairs. They've shown they can do it in the past, but this season has been a different story.
Nathan Enderle had a forgettable day last weekend; a day in which he threw two early interceptions, putting the Vandals in a hole and ultimately scored no more than the 3 points from the first drive. He threw for 207 yards on 23-of-41 attempts. Enderle's early mistakes deflated the team before they had a chance. There were times he locked in on his receiver, and there were times he threw into triple coverage. Considering his talent level and his arm, there is no reason for Vandal fans to push the eject button just yet, but Enderle needs to be more consistent. And not all of this lands on Nate's shoulders either.
The offensive line troubles continue to haunt the Vandals. Poor pass protection, no running game, and missed assignments have plagued this unit all season long. Fans continue to hold out hope for some sort of improvement, but there hasn't been any – at least none to the naked eye. There could be a shakeup this Saturday. Jordan Johnson continues to see time, but there could be other areas on the line that could see some new faces. Until then, Matt Cleveland, Sam Tupua, Clell Hasenbank, Tyrone Novikoff and Tevita Halaholo need to figure something out. The running game actually improved a bit against Hawaii (Johnson started ahead of injured right guard Halaholo), but they only rushed the ball 15 times. A lot of that has to do with the early deficit, but the bottom line still remains; the Vandals need to find a way to establish the run. The leading rusher last week was Deonte Jackson with 56 yards on 11 carries, while the leading receiver was Kama Bailey who went for 62 yards on four catches.
When the Vandals Are on D
Colin Kaepernick embarrassed the Vandal defense last year. That should be motivation enough. The key to stopping Nevada's offense is stopping Kaepernick. There should be a man on him at all times, and the line of scrimmage needs to be clogged. This means the defensive line needs to play strong, filling the gaps and pushing plays to the outside. Jonah Sataraka, Michael Cosgrove and Fonomanu Sekona need to have solid outings. This will allow the defensive ends and outside linebackers to take away the big runs from Kaepernick. Aaron Lavarias, Andre Ferguson, Robert Savaii and Homer Mauga will also need to have very good showings.
If this happens, then Kaepernick will be forced to throw. While his arm has become more dangerous this year, you'd rather him throw than run. This will put some pressure on Tracy Carter, Kenneth Patten and Aaron Grymes, but all showed they can cover last week. They just need to be more consistent. Regardless of assignment, Shiloh Keo will most likely have his eye on Kaepernick, so the last line of defense should be shored up.
The Vandal defense has been hurting their cause with careless penalties. There needs to be more discipline. They'll have a good defensive series and be just about to go three and out, and then some careless late hit or some other stupid penalty keeps them on the field. It was a major reason why the Vandals lost last weekend. If those penalties continue, the defense will continue to tire itself out by not getting off the field. In a game where the offense is playing poorly, the defense needs to be disciplined enough to stop a drive, get off the field and rest. Careless penalties only added to the already poor play of the entire team.
Scouting the Wolf Pack
Did we mention Colin Kaepernick? No disrespect intended to the rest of the Wolf Pack, but Superman has been running the offense for the past few years. Kaepernick is a dual threat quarterback, and his arm has shown much improvement this year. The Vandals need to be aware of him at all times. This is a senior laden offense, so there is plenty of experience. They have nine returning starters.
They also have a talented running back in Vai Taua back in action. The 5-10, 220 pound back has speed, power and quickness. He'll share duties with Mike Ball, a sophomore with a similar build and skill set. But everyone on this team rushes the ball, and you can expect the receivers to get a handoff in misdirection plays. Through the air his favorite targets are Rishard Matthews, Brandon Wimberly, Tray Session and Malcolm Shepherd. All four have good size and speed, and have played with Kaepernick long enough that the connection is a true threat. The offensive line consists of two seniors and two juniors with one sophomore, averaging 6-5, 310 pounds across the board; lots of size and experience up front.
On defense, the Wolf Pack returns seven starters including the WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Dontay Moch. Ryan Coulson and Moch are probably the best rushing tandem in the WAC. Both have motors, but Moch has proven to be unstoppable. They also have some size and speed at linebacker, led by strong side backer Brandon Marshall and middle backer James Michael-Johnson. The defensive backfield for Nevada has two good cover corners in senior Doyle Miller and junior Isaiah Frey. Both started last year. The Wolf Pack defense has progressively gotten better through the season, and considering the sack numbers the Vandals have yielded, this will be quite a challenge for Idaho this Saturday.
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.) Stop Colin KaepernickIt's good to be back in the Dome. There's no doubt this team plays better in front of a home crowd. But more importantly, the Vandals need to get back to the fundamentals of the game. That's the running game on offense, and stopping the run on defense. It's also taking care of the football and eliminating careless penalties. And when you're trying to get better, there is no place like home. It's good to be home in the Dome.
2.) Stuff the run
3.) No careless penalties
5.) Prepare for a shootout
Vandal fans are in for a treat. Nevada is a very good football team, and this is an opportunity to show the Wolf Pack that the Dome is a very difficult place to play. That means the 12th man needs to show up and shake the walls of the Dome with noise. Sitting at 4-4, the Vandals are still in the hunt for a bowl game, but the window is getting smaller. Upsetting the Wolf Pack in the Dome is exactly what this team needs. It would bring us one step closer to a bowl game and provide momentum into the final games of the season. But the only way that will happen is if Vandal fans show up and support the Silver and Gold.
It's now or never Vandal fans. Fill the Dome!