VANDAL GAMEDAY: Idaho hosts Fresno State

The University of Idaho Vandals will open WAC play this afternoon in the Dome (2pm kickoff) against a team they have yet to beat since joining the WAC: the Fresno State Bulldogs. Since this is Fresno's final year in the WAC, it's now or never. The Vandals have struggled with consistency through the first three weeks, and it will take everything they can muster to come away with a win today.

In addition to seeking that elusive win against the Dawgs, it has also turned into a must win situation for the Vandals if Idaho plans on fielding a competitive team for the remainder of this 2011 football season and play in a bowl. Up to now, the team just hasn't lived up to the hype. And if the season is to be a success, it starts this weekend in the Kibbie Dome.

With the exception of the second half against North Dakota, Idaho has generated little to no offense, leaving the defense to play most of the games. Brian Reader hasn't looked all that good at quarterback. But either has the offensive line, the runningbacks or the receivers. In fact, the only positive from last week's loss at the hands of Texas A&M, is that the Vandals didn't turn the ball over. Idaho ended up punting 10 times against the Aggies.

If the Vandals are going to win, they will need the entire offensive unit to play better. Reader must start the game hitting receivers. It seems to take him a while to warm up and that can't be the case against Fresno State. The offensive line needs to play hard every down. There seems to be let downs that plague their play. Whether its not giving Reader enough time or not creating holes for the backs, the offensive line is not playing up to their potential. They've shown they can block, but lack the consistency to make the offense click.

The runningbacks, tightends and receivers could also you a dose of consistency. Whether it's blocking assignments, route running or just making a play, this group needs to play better if the Vandals want to turn this season around. Ryan Bass and Princeton McCarty have been running well, but Troy Vital may have made an argument for a few more carries per game. Vital hit the hole hard against A&M, and found the endzone in the fourth quarter. Receiver Mike Scott continues to be a pleasant surprise for Vandal fans. Scott led the Vandals in receiving yards once again. With Justin Veltung seeing more action, the passing attack will get a much needed boost from the speedster.

Vandal Offensive Line – LT Matt Cleveland (6-4, 308, Sr.) LG Sam Tupua (6-2, 330 Sr.) Center Mike Marboe (6-2, 303 RFr.) RG Bilal Liggins (6-2, 288 Jr.) and RT Tyrone Novikoff (6-7, 304, Sr.) note – A.J. Jones (6-1, 282, Jr.) will see time at guard.

The Vandal defense is having a hard time catching its breath, because the offense can't seem to sustain a drive. They played tough against A&M, but succumbed to the talented Aggies offense. Defensive end Andre Ferguson played a great game, as did linebackers Treshawn Robinson, Homer Mauga, Conrad Scheidt and Korey Toomer. The group flies around the ball and makes plays. Safety Quin Ashley also put together a nice game, leading the team in tackles against A&M. But much like the offense, the defense needs to be more consistent. If they don't learn to pressure the quaterback more, they will continue to be burned on third down.

Vandal Defensive Front – DE Charles Smith 6-6, 272 Sr.) Nose Tackle Karel Kearney (6-2, 274 RFr.) DT Michael Cosgrove 6-4, 300 Sr.) and DE Benson Mayowa 6-3, 250 Jr.) or Andre Ferguson (6-4, 256 Sr.)

Fresno State features the younger brother of David Carr, Derek Carr, at quaterback. The 6-3, 190 pound Carr has looked good as the new signal caller for the Bulldogs. His favorite targets are senior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170), sophomore Jalen Saunders (5-9, 170), junior Rashad Evans (5-11, 190) and redshirt freshman Josh Harper (6-2, 190). All are explosive play makers that can take it to the house. Saunders scored on two explosive plays last week against North Dakota, scoring from 86-yards and 52-yards. Fresno State always fields a good running back, and Robbie Rouse (5-7, 190) is no exception. Rouse is a full time back, carrying the ball 25 to 30 times a game, and he will catch the ball out of the backfield as well. Rouse ran for 169 yards against Nebraska, so the Vandals will need to be ready to stop the run. His fullback, Austin Raphael, is a 6-1, 240 pound experienced lead blocker. Senior tightend Ryan Skidmore is a 6-5, 250 pound bruiser. Mostly used for blocking, Skidmore will be targeted a few times in every game, because he is a receiving threat.

Bulldog Offensive Line - LT Bryce Harris (6-6, 300, Sr.), LG Trevor Richter (6-4, 280, Jr.) Center Leslie Cooper (6-4, 320, Sr.) RG Austin Wentworth (6-5, 305, So.) and RT Cody Wichman (6-5, 310, RFr.)

On defense, the Bulldogs have a dominant defensive tackle in Logan Harrell. The 6-2, 280 pound junior is excellent at penetration, stopping the run, and gobbling up quarterbacks. Outside linebacker Travis Brown (6-2, 235 Jr.) and middle linebacker Jeremiah Toma (6-1, 220 Sr.) are both athletic and can cover a lot of ground very fast. Returning starter and senior safety Zak Hill (6-2, 205) leads the defensive backfield. They run the same defense Idaho does (a 4-3 alignment), stuffing the run lanes and allowing the linebackers to roam and make plays.

Bulldog Defensive Front – DE Matt Akers (6-2, 245, Jr.) Nose Tackle Chase McEntee (6-2, 275, Sr.) DT Logan Harrell (6-2, 275, Sr.) and DE Nat Harrison (6-2, 240, So.)

Both the Vandals and Bulldogs are coming to the same point, at the same time, in the 2011 football season. It's a must win for both programs. It's still early in the season, but the Vandals have been mediocre on offense, and spotty on defense. The Bulldogs played Nebraska tough, only to follow it up with a close game against North Dakota. Both teams are looking for more and are having a hard time defining who they are, so this has now become a statement game.

The good news is that the Bulldogs are coming to the Dome. The Vandals will need every advantage if they want to win this WAC opener and get this season going in the right direction. This includes the Tribe from the North showing up in force. Vandal fans need to flock to the Dome and give their team the twelvth man they deserve.

Let's send the Bulldogs out of the conference with a loss they won't forget.

Go Vandals!

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