Its been an interesting two week stretch for Idaho, which is coming off a disappointing 34-17 home loss to Troy on November 15th in a rare game this season in which the Vandals were actually favored to win. During the bye week much speculation has been created about the future of sophomore quarterback Chad Chalich and his future in Moscow amid rumors he is considering transferring out of Idaho. A starter for the Vandals for the first seven games last year before a season ending injury, Chalich has spent most of this season watching from the sidelines as redshirt freshman Matt Linehan was Idaho's starting QB every week until this year's New Mexico State game.
Against the Aggies Linehan suffered a vicious concussion on the game's first series while sliding for a first down deep in NMSU territory. Chalich entered the game at that point and engineered Idaho's only win this season, a convincing 29-17 win over NMSU. Since then, Chalich had seen significantly more playing time until a hip injury suffered late against San Diego State kept him out of the Troy game two weeks ago.
Now, with the Vandals hitting the road to take on a significantly improved Appalachian State riding a 5-game win streak. The Mountaineers spent much of the last three years building for the transition from FCS power to FBS competitor. In this, their first season as an FBS team, they've turned a season that started 2-5 into a respectable 6-5 going into their final game of the season. With a win Saturday they should finish among the Sun Belt's top three teams.
The strength of the Mountaineer offense is their rushing attack which ranks 20th in the FBS with 244 rushing yards per game. Adept at putting it in the endzone, especially lately, ASU has scored 30 rushing TDs, tied for 14th in the nation. Look for runningback Marcus Cox to do most of the heavy lifting as he averages 117.5 yards per game, has accumulated 1,321 on the year (No.14 in FBS), and has scored 17 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Defensively Idaho defensive front will be led by senior defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley who will try to slow down the Mountaineer attack. Buckley currently ranks 13th in the country averaging 1.5 tackles for loss per game, and is tied with Baylor's Shawn Oakman. Also among the country's leaders is junior outside linebacker Marc Millan who is averaging 1.4 tackles for loss which ranks him 18th nationally. Millan, Idaho's leading tackler, has 60 solo tackles on the year (tied for 18th on solo stops per game) and 96 total tackles on the year. Idaho's ability to slow App State in this game is key.
Offensively, Chalich has been restricted from practices for much of the last two weeks as he continues to rehab his hip. How much he plays Saturday is uncertain. Earlier this season Idaho's offense was impressive at times behind the arm of Linehan. Much of that early season productivity led to the emergence of senior wide receiver Joshua McCain
as a dependable down-field weapon. His nine receiving touchdowns has him tied for 11th in national FBS rankings, his 1,123 yards has him ranked 9th nationally, and his 112.3 yards per game is good for No.7 national ranking. Finding a way to get McCain the ball has to be a priority for the Vandals.
On the special teams front, the Vandals have a gem in sophomore Austin Rehkow, who handles all kicking duties for the Vandals. His strength is as punter, where this week he was named one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award. For the second year in a row Rehkow leads the nation with 47.8 yards per punt, ahead of Alabama's JK Scott and Utah's Tom Hackett.
This is a significant test for Idaho's rebuilding program, as Idaho will be seeking its first road win since knocking off San Jose State on November 5th, 2011.