Well, we'll take it. Idaho hit the road last weekend for a rugged non-conference season opening game at Florida and came out with an unblemished 0-0 record to start the season. Obviously, having the game with the Gators cancelled due to weather and unplayable field conditions for the team, many of whom are Florida natives, was a frustrating end, as this was going to be a grand opportunity to go back to the home state and make a stand. But, for the all-important final season standings, coming out unblemished could pay dividends in the end.
This weekend the Vandals rekindle their Sun Belt Conference alliance with a relatively rare early-season conference game. The Vandals will be taking on the University of Louisiana-Monroe, a team they've faced five times since 1993 and hold an overall 3-2 record against. But the Warhawk team Idaho will face this time isn't the same ULM team of yore. This club is tough, and is coming off a solid 17-10 home victory over Wake Forest last week, and a 6-6 (4-3 SBC) 2013 season. Suffice it to say that this rebuilding Vandal team will have their hands full.
Idaho released an official depth chart for the game, and it can be viewed by CLICKING HERE. There are some interesting surprises here, especially with a couple true freshmen that could see some significant action Saturday.
SPECIAL TEAMS CAPTAIN: Safety Tom Hennessey
KEYS TO THE GAME
The match-up today is intriguing, in part because it is the second game of the season and the team is as big a mystery this week as it was last weekend. Will a QB emerge as "the leader" from the duo? Has Idaho's D added the right pieces to be more stingy than last year? Has Idaho's offensive line really progressed as much as they appear to have in practice?
Lots of questions, and today hopefully a few answers.
ESTABLISH A RUSHING ATTACK
The Warhawks are smallish across the defensive front in their normal 3-3-5 alignment. But they are plenty agile, fast, and strong, and this will pose a challenge for the Vandals up front. The Warhawks held Wake Forest to just 94 total yards last week, and -3 rushing. We'll find out this week how much of that was because ULM is that strong, and how much of it was Forest's ineptness. Either way, the Warhawks D has to be respected going in.
Idaho is breaking in a new starter, true freshman Jordan Rose, a 6-foot-6, 323-pound mauler who originally verballed to Washington State before ultimately signing with the Vandals this past February. He'll be surrounded by experience, starting with 4th year starting center Mike Marboe, a 3-time Rimmington Trophy Watch List honoree who will captain the Vandal line. Opposite Rose is second year starter Steven Matlock who himself broke into the Vandal starting line last year as a true frosh and can give the rookie some pointers. Next to Rose at quick tackle is the gigantic Mason Woods, a 6-foot-9, 355-pound redshirt sophomore who broke into the starting line last fall. The front will be rounded out by a couple seniors at strong tackle, either Nick Von Rotz (6-5, 302) or Jesse Davis (6-6, 298).
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. This unit has some of the best size and strength on a Vandal front in years, and being able to establish a potent rushing attack will be crucial.
MAKE WARHAWK OFFENSE ONE-DIMENSIONAL
Easily Idaho's most experienced unit, the Vandal front seven needs a strong showing up front to disrupt the Warhawk offensive attack. Last weekend against the Deacons, ULM's O was effective (352 total yards) and balanced (189 yards passing, 163 yards rushing). It didn't produce a tone of points, but they came from 10-0 down at halftime to score 17 unanswered and walk away with the W.
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 benefited 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.
It goes without saying that one of the most anticipated aspects of this fall is the heralded arrival of highly regarded defensive line recruit Alfonso Hampton, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound monster ranked the No.9 JC prospect in the nation by ESPN for this last recruiting cycle. If Hampton emerges, he should give Idaho a fourth interior option and virtually no drop-off in the rotation - a key to keeping fresh legs on the field defensively. Look also for additional JC transfers Max Martial (6-4, 318) and Glen Antoine to be called into action if available.
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 Anthony Rice (6-2, 259), who plays with speed on the strongside, sophomore Zach Cable (6-3, 232) as the No.2 rush end who plays with a high-motor, and versatile senior Marius Burgsmueller (6-6, 264), who will rotate in at multiple positions.
POISE UNDER CENTER
Well, because of poor conditions last weekend, we did not get to see Idaho's ongoing battle at QB get played out in the live action of a game. So this week, all eyes will again be trained on Idaho's returning starter, sophomore Chad Chalich, and newcomer redshirt freshman Matt Linehan, as they extend their battle to the turf at Malone Stadium. 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 the road in a conference-matchup is a challenge, but with his pedigree (the son of Vandal QB Scott Linehan, 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 this weekend at ULM.