VANDAL GAMEDAY: Idaho heads to Arkansas State

THIS WEEKEND IDAHO GETS A GLIMPSE at the future when they head to Arkansas State in a Sun Belt Conference primer, with Idaho preparing to join the SBC in 2014. Coming off a rough home loss to Fresno State, and two weeks removed from beating Temple for Homecoming, the Vandals (1-5) look to rebound against an ASU team that is 2-3 (1-0 SBC) and coming off a bye week (4:00 PM PST, LIVE on ESPN3).

This Saturday the Idaho Vandals (1-5) look to rebound from last weekend's loss to Top 25 ranked Fresno State when they head to Arkansas State (2-3, 1-0 SBC) as 24-point underdogs (4:00 PM PST kickoff, live on ESPN3). This weekend's tilt is a precursor to the 2014 season, when the Vandals will rejoin the Sun Belt conference with New Mexico State, and will also be joined by FBS newcomers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.

Leading the charge for Idaho will be redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Chalich, a dual-threat athlete who has earned the respect of his teammates and Vandal fans alike with his gritty play behind Idaho's evolving line. Chalich will likely see all snaps Saturday following the shoulder injury sustained by backup Joshua McCain last weekend against the Bulldogs. Top target, junior Dezmon Epps, has hauled in 38 passes this season (No. 1 on the team) for 402 yards (also No.1) with one touchdown and is averaging 67 yards per game. Senior Najee Lovett is second with 224 yards and 19 receptions, followed by redshirt freshman Deon Watson with 14 receptions and 143 yards.

Idaho's tailback by committee season continues, with senior James Baker earning significant carries the last three weeks. Baker is currently the team's No.2 rusher with 198 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 3.4 yards per carry (Chalich is Idaho's leading rusher with 212 yards on the year). True freshman standout Richard Montgomery has played in all six games and has gained 96 yards on 28 carries with one touchdown so far.

Defensively the Vandals are anticipating the return of their top rushside defensive end Quinton Bradley this weekend after he missed several weeks with an undisclosed injury. Junior strongside defensive end Maxx Forde is off to an impressive start this season as he has started all six games for the Vandals and is the defensive line's leading tackler with 30 takedowns on the year (21 solo), including three tackles for loss, two sacks, two pass knockdowns, four quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Inside, senior defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley leads the team with six tackles for loss, while safety Bradley Njoku leads the Vandal defense with 47 tackles and one pick on the year

Saturday Idaho will focus on getting back to the basics by playing disciplined football with fewer mistakes and a more focused effort. The pieces came together a couple weeks ago when the Vandals topped Temple in Moscow for Homecoming, and Idaho will try to recapture that effort Saturday as they seek their first road win of the Petrino era.


A FEW THINGS ABOUT ARKANSAS STATE

This is not the same Arkansas State team the Vandals faced years ago when they were conference mates in the Sun Belt and Big West conferences. The all-time series record is knotted up at 4-4, with the last meeting in 2004 resulting in a 45-31 Vandal victory. But since these two teams last played each other ASU has enjoyed a steady rise in success. They are the two-time Sun Belt Conference champions, and are coming off a 2012 season in which they finished with a 10-3 (7-1 SBC) record and beat Kent State 17-13 in last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Officially the Red Wolves put together back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.

Arkansas State's Liberty Bank Stadiuim.

For those not familiar with the Red Wolves name, ASU changed their mascot in 2008. Previously ASU was known as the Indians (named after the Osage tribe that inhabited the area until the 1800s). But changes in Civil Rights opinion led to sweeping changes across the nation during the last decade, leading to ASU making the mascot change.

The Red Wolves are on their fourth coach in four seasons. When Steve Roberts' nine-year tenure ended in 2010, offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze took over, guiding Arkansas State to a 10-2 record before leaving for Mississippi. Freeze's successor, Gus Malzahn, went 10-3 in his only season before returning to Auburn. Former Boise State and Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin now leads the Red Wolves.

Looking more closely at the 2013 edition of the Red Wovles, offensively ASU is a team that wants to run an up-tempo offense. Out of the backfield the Wolves boast Tennessee transfer David Oku (joined the program in 2011), a bull of a back that rushed for 1061 yards in 2012 for the Wolves, and is currently averaging 3.9 yards per carry this fall with 327 total rushing yards and four touchdowns. Nationally ASU's rushing attack is ranked 30th with 213.2 yards per game.

Under center Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy (6-5, 215) is putting first year head coach Harsin's offense into motion. Kennedy spent a couple years with the Aggies following a successful JC career, then qualified as a four year college transfer (often called a 4-4 transfer) and was able to transfer to another FBS school this season without having to sit out a year (similar to Russell Wilson transferring from North Carolina State to Wisconsin after spending four years at State). Right now Kennedy is playing well, completing 67.8% of his passes and has thrown for 1,199 yards with three touchdowns and two picks on the season. Nationally, the Red Wolves rank 55th averaging 251.4 yards through the air per game.

Kennedy has three top targets, led by Julian Jones who has 33 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Next up J.D. McKissic has hauled in 26 receptions for 228 yards and one touchdown, followed by Allen Muse with 12 receptions for 212 yards and an impressive 17.7 yards per catch.

Up front the Red Wolves return pretty much the right side of offensive line, but have given up 16 sacks on the season. Three weeks ago Memphis registered seven sacks in ASU's 31-7 road loss, which could be a focal point for the Idaho attack, particularly if Bradley is back in the lineup. But the line recovered the following week at Missouri, paving the way for 435 total yards against the Tigers, including 318 yards through the air.


KEY MATCHUP
Senior nose tackle Ryan Carrethers (6-2, 330) is the leader of the Red Wolves defensive line. He's an athletic freak with NFL talent and has recorded three sacks and four tackles for a loss on the year (31 total tackles, No.2 on the team). Bruce Feldman's 2013 "Freak List" article had this to say about him:
A 2012 First Team All-Sun Belt Conference player, Carrethers certainly seems like he could be a force at any league in college football. The redshirt senior, who will be playing for his fourth head coach this fall, isn't just some sloppy, bad-body guy. His 16 percent body fat for a guy measuring in at 6-2, 332 is impressive. As are his 400-pound power clean, his 664-pound squat and 400-pound incline bench press.
This weekend's matchup will be a significant challenge for Idaho's rebuilding offensive line, which has battled injuries throughout the 2013 season. The ability of the Vandal front line to contain Carrethers and crew will go a long way towards determining how competitive Idaho is in this game.



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