Despite a solid offensive effort last weekend and over 400 yards of offense coupled with 33 points on the scoreboards, the Idaho defense struggled from the opening play to the final whistle. This weekend the Vandals (0-2) face a tough opponent in Ohio University (1-2), itself coming off a tough loss at Marshall and looking to get its season record back to .500. The Vandals will take their 32 points per game average into Peden Stadium, while looking for answers to shore things up on the defensive side of the ball.
For the third weekend in a row Idaho's game will be televised on an ESPN affiliate, with today's game being carried live on ESPN3.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Today the Vandals aren't lining up against a Top 25 team, but they will be playing a Bobcat team that has established itself as a group under head coach Frank Solich (10th season at Ohio) that plays the game tough. Idaho first played Ohio back in 1972, a 17-14 Idaho victory in Moscow, followed by a 35-0 Vandal loss at Ohio in 1976.
There are still a lot of questions for Idaho defensively, and today hopefully a few more answers.
The Vandal offense under first-year starting quarterback Matt Linehan, a redshirt freshman, has been impressive, averaging 32.0 points per game in its first two contests. The Idaho passing attack is ranked 13th nationally, averaging 343 yards per game through the air. They are also ranked 49th nationally in red zone offense (.875). With uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball for Idaho, the Vandals will have to keep moving the chains.
The Vandal line, behind senior center Mike Marboe, has played well in its first two games. Today the Vandal OL will face a major challenge in stopping sensational defensive end Tarell Basham who earned All-American recognition last year as a freshman. With Rose potentially out this week, starting guard duties could be handed over to Dallas Sandberg who played extensively last weekend.
The Vandal passing attack has been potent through the first two games this season, led by quarterback-turned-wideout Joshua McCain and runningback-turned-slot Richard Montgomery. The two have combined to give Vandal fans some electrifying moments. Also getting off to a great start this season is sophomore Deon Watson and redshirt freshman Jacob Sannon. Combined, this group gives Linehan some weapons to choose from, and the rookie has been effective checking down through his progressions.
Coming into the season, Idaho was considered to have the potential to have one of its best defensive units in a while. Heavy with juniors and seniors across the board, many felt this unit would be able to keep games in control as Idaho's rebuilding offense found its legs.
The reality is that it has been the polar opposite.
As has been the case in the first two games, the Vandals - with what appears to be an offense with some punch - needs the Vandal defense to make the stand many forecast just a few weeks ago. Easily Idaho's most experienced unit, the Vandal front seven needs a strong showing up front to disrupt the Bobcat offensive attack. And we're not talking about a high-flying offense either. Ohio is averaging just 11 points per game so far this season. If Idaho is going to be successful in Athens, the Vandal D can't let this be a breakout game for the Bobcats.
One of the bigger disappointments so far this year is the lack of rotation on the interior defensive line. Two JC transfers that were in for spring, Max Martial and Glen Antointe, were anticipated to help bolster the interior DL rotation. Plus, not having massive Alfonso Hampton, a Top 10 recruit rated by ESPN, in the mix has been a set back. Without these three highly touted recruits in the line-up, the load falls entirely to Idaho's three returning veterans.
On the interior defensive line Quayshawne Buckley (6-4, 305)and Ryan Edwards (6-3, 320) are expected to lead the charge, but don't count out sophomore Tueni Lupeamanu (6-1, 298), a young athlete with a great motor. Buckley was granted an extra year of eligibility this offseason, a thankful development considering the current rotation limitations.
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. Also look for newcomer Kaylyn Ayers, a 6-2, 244-pound JC transfer that could emerge as the season progresses.
ESTABLISH A RUSHING ATTACK
Whether it was the Western Michigan defensive front, or the fact that the Vandals were in a shootout from the opening kickoff, Idaho was unable to get much going on the ground. If the Vandal defense progresses this week and gets some much needed stops, the Vandals can't likely be as effective if they are one-dimensional. With reliable senior Jerrel Brown carrying the rock, and JC transfer Elijhaa Penny getting more carries this week, the Vandals need to have a way to mix things up and keep the Bobcat defense on its heels.