GAMEWEEK: Idaho at Wyoming

ON THE HEELS OF A FRUSTRATING LOSS at North Texas last Saturday, the Vandals will look to regroup as they hit the road again this weekend to take on Wyoming of the Mountain West Conference (1pm PST kickoff, live on ROOT Sports). Both teams enter this game 0-1, but the Cowboys are coming off a thrilling performance at Nebraska that left them just three points short against the 18th ranked Huskers.

The 2013 season kicked off last weekend as Idaho traveled to North Texas to take on the Mean Green in the season opener. Although Idaho got things started quickly, jumping out to 6-0 lead after going 75-yards on the first drive of the game and scoring on a 6-yard touchdown completion from Chad Chalich to Jake Manley, things quickly changed when Idaho missed the ensuing PAT. From that point on the North Texas defense stiffened, Idaho committed numerous gaffs that made creating any meaningful offensive production difficult, and the Mean Green offense built a 26-6 lead going into halftime.

In the second half North Texas padded their lead with a touchdown in the third quarter and another in the fourth, and Idaho (0-1) would be sent packing with their second consecutive loss to UNT (1-0) in the 10 game series (UNT holds a 6-4 lead over Idaho all-time).

Individually there were bright spots for the Vandals. Chief among them was the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Chalich making his first career start as a Vandal. Under heavy pressure and seemingly needing to constantly be digging out of hole created by penalties, the Coeur d'Alene product completed 19-of-27 pass attempts (70.4%) for 230 yards and one touchdown. More importantly he threw no interceptions in his debut. Although he clearly was more antsy in the pocket when starting quick tackle Cody Elenz and Rimington Trophy watch list center Mike Marboe were both lost in the first half, he finished with 42 yards rushing on the night on 16 carries. Obviously he would take the win over anything, but for an initial performance it was solid.

Marboe was able to make it back onto the field in the second half, though he was hobbled by the first half injury and is hopeful for this weekend's matchup at Wyoming. Elenz never did make it back into the game, and his return this week is more uncertain. Redshirt freshman Calvin White came in for Elenz and played admirably considering this was the first game action for the youngster, but the UNT rush was relentless (picking on both White and strong tackle Jesse Davis throughout the game), and exposed Idaho's inexperience. When Marboe went down, strong guard moved Dallas Sandberg moved to center and senior Larry Dugan moved into the guard slot for much of the second quarter. All in all, there was some serious shuffling going on with an already thin Vandal line to begin with, and more can be expected as Idaho rebuilds its line for this week's game (more on the status of Elenz and Marboe as this week progresses).

Defensively, the Vandals played about as anticipated with a completely rebuilt linebacking unit, none of whom had ever played a down of football at the FBS level before, plus starting a true freshman in Jordan Grabski at strong safety and a JC transfer in Delency Parham at cornerback. UNT's quarterback, Derek Thompson, not known for putting up big numbers, had a field day in this game as he went 23-of-27 for 349 yards and two touchdowns (no picks). Behind a veteran offensive line he was rarely touched. When the Vandals were able to mount pressure, he was still able to scramble and find an open receiver. In one instance he was flushed from the pocket, scrambled to his right, and hit a wide open receiver (blown coverage between cornerback and safety) before getting popped. The scoring play went for 85 yards late in the second quarter.

Senior tailback Brandin Byrd rushed for 57 yards on seven carries (8.1 yards per carry), as the Mean Green piled up 187 yards overall on the ground.

The Vandals have some regrouping to do this week as they prepare for Wyoming, which lost a surprisingly close game as they fell 37-34 at Nebraska Saturday night. Idaho's secondary and linebacker unit have several kinks to work out as they will be facing their first prolific passing attack of the season. There were far too many blown coverages and open receivers for Idaho to sustain the aerial attack headed their way this Saturday, and the defensive line, Idaho's most veteran unit led by ends Maxx Forde and Quinton Bradley, must find a way to get to the quarterback faster, whether that's in the form of a four man rush or a blitz. For this defense to work, all units (front, linebackers, and secondary) have to be playing at a high level. Saturday there were too many breakdowns all-around for this young, rebuilding unit.

Offensively, step one is eliminating (or at least reducing) the penalties. Few teams are strong enough to dig themselves out of holes series-after-series, and really the hallmark of a good offense is one that doesn't shoot itself in the foot. The penalties aside, Chalich had a good first game under center. Tailback Jerrel Brown, also making his FBS debut after transferring in from junior college, rushed for 70 yards on just six carries, aided by an impressive 47 yard rush that boosted his average to 11.7 yards per carry. On the receiving end, Dezmon Epps (also making his FBS debut) led Idaho with 89 yards on seven receptions. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Deon Watson averaged 8 yards per reception on three catches. Senior Najee Lovett averaged 11.5 yards per reception on two catches. And the tightends for Idaho were impressive, paced by a fit-and-trim Mike LaGrone who outran almost everyone on a 70-yard catch and run on the game's first drive. Senior Clayton Homme, named a captain for the season opener, added a nifty pass reception for 14 yards, leaping over a defender like a hurdler along the way.

The pieces are there for Idaho to have an effective offense. But eliminating the set backs caused by costly penalties and miscommunications is crucial and will go a long way towards giving fans an opportunity to see what these athletes can really do.

A LOOK AT WYOMING: The Cowboys shook up the college football world a bit Saturday night as they also put Nebraska's 28-year nation-leading record of winning openers in jeopardy. With the Cornhuskers up 37-21 late in the game, Wyoming rallied on two fourth quarter turnovers to make the game a 37-34 nailbiter with just 1:32 left. The Cowboy defense held, and Wyoming's offense got the ball back with 1:07 left in the game. But the Cowboys couldn't get close enough to try a field goal attempt, and the 37-34 score held.

And with it, a massive sigh of relief from the Cornhusker faithful.

Wyoming returns home this week to take on the University of Idaho in spruced up War Memorial Stadium.

Along the way Wyoming's offense was stunning. Junior quarterback Brett Smith continues to impress, and he obviously wasn't swayed by Nebraska's Memorial Stadium crowd. The elusive QB passed for 383 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys generated a whopping 602 yards of total offense (the eighth most yards ever given up by a Nebraska defense). Although he threw a pick Saturday, he also broke the Mountain West record of consecutive passes without an interception, throwing 183 passes without a pick dating back to last October. In addition to his passing prowess, he also added 92 yards rushing for the Cowboys, accounting for 475 yards total offense in the opener.

With numerous offensive weapons to aid Smith, the Cowboys were not a one-dimensional team Saturday. Junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran caught 11 of his passes for 120 yards, while senior Robert Herron caught a 47-yard touchdown strike that narrowed the game to the final 37-34 score. Sophomore tailback Shaun Wick rushed for another 101 yards, one touchdown, and averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

Defensively this week, Idaho will be facing a Cowboy defense that played well enough against 18th ranked Nebraska to make it a ball game, including coming up with two key turnovers late in the game. Senior free safety Marqueston Huff was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week following an 18-tackle performance that was elevated by him stripping Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez of the ball late in the fourth quarter, which was converted into a Wyoming touchdown three plays later and the final 37-34 deficit.

Aside from Huff, the Cowboys were also led by defensive end Eddie Yarbrough and his 13 tackles. Overall the Cowboys accounted for two forced fumbles and an interception, and six tackles for loss (no sacks in the game).

The Cowboys, like Idaho, are starting a true freshman at punter this year. Ethan Wood, in his first career start, averaged 52.2 yards per punt, ranking him No.1 in the nation for the first week of the season. Two were placed inside the Nebraska 20, and two went for touchbacks.

It is an understatement to say Idaho will have their hands full again this weekend. The Cowboy offense that Smith leads is impressive, and the Wyoming defense has the tools needed to keep the Cowboys in most games.

Idaho lost an overtime thriller last year to Wyoming, falling 40-37 in a game that saw five lead changes. Idaho racked up 509 yards of offense (306 passing, 203 rushing), while Wyoming generated 445 yards of their own (including 365 yards passing and five touchdowns for Smith). But little can be drawn from that matchup a year ago, as this is almost a completely new Vandal team this year.

Idaho's focus has start with cleaning up the miscues on both sides of the ball first, then seeing what they can do from there.


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