For the second year in a row the Vandals head into a season opener with the depth chart under wraps. No surprise here, especially given the opponent -- SEC power Florida -- and the number of newcomers on both sides of the line expected to play major roles this season.
Local sports writer Theo Lawson of the Lewiston Morning Tribune posted his projected depth chart with a slick graphic and it can be viewed by CLICKING HERE. Undoubtedly, with numerous additions this offseason, particularly from the junior college ranks expecting to make an impact this fall, there are bound to be a few surprises when Idaho takes the field Saturday.
SPECIAL TEAMS CAPTAIN: Safety Tom Hennessey
KEYS TO THE GAME
It goes without saying that Idaho's tilt at Florida poses an enormous challenge for the Vandals as they look to shake off a frustrating 1-11 2013 season as an FBS Independent. How the Vandals ultimately fare in their first visit to The Swamp will depend largely on Idaho's ability to establish a presence on both sides of the line of scrimmage. From there, the focus turns to Idaho's tandem of quarterbacks remaining poised under center in a harsh environment.
ESTABLISH A RUSHING ATTACK
The Vandal offensive line has been the site of some of the most hotly contested position battles this offseason. But it falls on the shoulders of this unit to create the openings Idaho's specialists will need to move the chains. If Idaho can't establish any sort of running game Saturday and becomes purely one-dimensional, it will be a long afternoon for the Vandal offense.
Fourth year starting center Mike Marboe has been the only lock to start, and his leadership up front will be key this fall. He'll be flanked on the weakside by sophomore guard Steven Matlock, a Boise native who plays with excellent pad level and toughness, traits that allowed him to break into the starting offensive line last fall as a true freshman.
After two years of rebuilding, the Vandals are startig to exhibit good size and talent throughout the OL depth chart. A group that took their lumps last fall, upper-classmen and JC transfers give this unit some grit. The Vandals aren't hurting for size on the outside, with tackles Mason Woods (6-9, 355), Nick Von Rotz (6-5, 302) and Jesse Davis (6-6, 298) fighting for starting duties. All three have starting experience and could all see playing time Saturday.
Inside, true freshman Jordan Rose (6-6, 323), who originally verballed to Washington State before signing with Idaho, made an immediate impact in fall camp after moving to guard from tackle after the first week. If he doesn't start against the Gators at strong guard opposite Matlock, look for him to get his reps and seriously push for a starting job as the season progresses. JC transfer Jeff Travillion has also seen extensive reps with the ones at strong guard this fall after working at tackle in the spring. Slowed by some bumps and bruises, Travillion will be competing with Rose for starting duties.
SLOW GATOR OFFENSIVE ATTACK
Much like the Vandal O-line will be leaned on to provide a balanced offensive attack, Idaho needs the defensive line to compete against a solid Gator offensive line. This is arguably Idaho's most experienced unit, and the Vandals need a strong showing up front to disrupt the Gator offensive attack and put pressure on Florida quarterback Jeff Drikel.
Although the starters from last fall's line have are back, including the unexpected extra year of eligibility for senior defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley (6-4, 305), this group benefitted enormously (literally and figuratively) from this year's recruiting class. Up front Idaho will start two seniors and two juniors, so the group will not be hurting for experience. Inside Buckley and Ryan Edwards (6-3, 320)are expected to lead the charge, but don't count out sophomore Tueni Lupeamanu (6-1, 298), a motivator on the line with a great motor. This group will be pushed by newcomers, Alfonso Hampton (6-5, 340), the No.9 rated JC prospect in the country by ESPN for the 2014 recruiting class. Others, including juniors Max Martial (6-4, 318) and Glen Antoine could be called upon to contribute.
On the outside senior Defensive Captain Maxx Forde (6-4, 270), the leader of the defensive front, will top the depth chart at strongside defensive end, while junior rush end Quinton Bradley (6-3, 254) gives Idaho size and experience off the edge. These bookend starting ends are have earned well-deserved accolades this off-season, and Saturday will be a major test. Behind them, Idaho will bring a trio in rush end Anthony Rice (6-2, 259), who plays with speed, strongside end Marius Burgsmueller (6-6, 264), who gives Idaho versatility, and sophomore Zach Cable (6-3, 232), a high-motor player who plays with determination.
POISE UNDER CENTER
On the heels of a heavy competition throughout both spring and fall camps, returning starter sophomore Chad Chalich and redshirt freshman Matt Linehan will both see the field Saturday against Florida. Both have their own strengths and have had their moments to shine in camp, but neither created enough separation to take ownership of the starting role.
Chalich is coming off an injury that cut his 2013 season short early in the 7th game of the season against Arkansas State. Idaho's offense struggled in Coach Petrino's first season, but Chalich led Idaho to their only victory, a 26-24 win over Temple where he completed 60% of his passes for 310 yards through the air and 52 yards rushing. A leader both on and off the field, Chalich is a tough competitor whose athleticism gives Idaho a dual-threat quarterback.
Linehan, a 6-foot-3 athlete, brings a strong arm to the Vandal offensive attack. His strength is a quick release and accuracy on deep throws. Breaking in a first year QB on a stage like The Swamp is a challenge, but with his pedigree (the son of Vandal QB Scott Lnehan, former head coach of the Rams and current passing game coordinator of the Cowboys) Matt should have access to plenty of advice with how to deal with what he will see.