Idaho's tussle with long-time rival Washington State Saturday night was an example of how much the team has improved since last season, and what needs to improve with the rest of the season. Under second year defensive coordinator Ed Lamb, the Vandal defense looked faster and more aggressive than they have looked in years. In front of over 50,000 fans (the vast majority of which were Cougar faithful), Idaho limited the Cougars to 10 first half points, while turning back the Cougars deep in Vandal territory on a tipped ball interception in the endzone in the first quarter (see photo sequence below).
Ted S. Warren (AP)
Rajah Bose (AP)
|Idaho middle linebacker Patrick Libey (40) deflects a 1st quarter pass in the endzone to WSU tightend Harvey (88), while Idaho safety Darryl Murphy (23) picks off the tipped ball.|
Given the amount of time the defense spent on the field last night, they did a truely admirable job. The front seven was aggressive all night, and the defensive backfield showed significant improvement against the run.....for the most part. Obviously, you give 300+ yards on the ground and its not generally considered a banner rush-defense day. But, Wazzu had 4 lengthy runs that amounted to 129 yards (89 on 2 first half carries), and amassed their 331 yards over the course of 50 carries. And, in the redzone, the Vandal defense stood tall giving up just 2 TDs and forcing 4 fieldgoals. An impressive effort given Wazzu's 7 minute edge in time-of-possession on the game.
Idaho rotated at least 2 deep at every defensive position. Among the more notables, RS-Fr defensive end Andrew Stobart saw signficant playing time, while JC transfer cornerback Chris Nathan started opposite Rod Bryant and played well.
The kick and punt return teams also looked good last night. Following Wazzu's 2nd quarter touchdown, JC transfer wide receiver speedster Matt Miller took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 64 yards to the Cougar 33 yard line. But as appeared to happen most of the evening, Idaho was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. From the Seattle Times article on the game:
"After allowing a first down, the Cougars defense stopped the Vandals. Isaac Brown jolted Malfred Shaw for a 2-yard loss, Shaw dropped a pass, Harrington overthrew Orlando Winston in the endzone and Boyd blocked an attempted 49-yard field goal and teammate Karl Paymah fell on it."Idaho would have another excellent opportunity to score late in the second quarter following impressive long receptions by Bernal-Wood and Cedric Thompson. After driving to the Cougar 26 yard line with :26 remaining in the half, Idaho receiver Bernal-Wood was pushed out of bounds near the endzone by the cornerback on a mysterious non-pass-interference call (even the Fox announcers were surprised no call was made) on a well thrown pass by Harrington into the endzone. Two plays later, Harrington hit receiver Matt Miller in the chest on about the 5 yard line after Miller had run a perfect in-out pattern gaining 4 yards separation from the cornerback, but Miller was unable to make the catch.
For the first time in awhile, Idaho didn't appear to have a speed problem at wideout. There were some impressive catches, including Bernal-Wood wrestling away a 3rd quarter reception mid-air in the third quarter, Thompson's diving 2nd quarter grab, and Winston's third quarter leaping grab in traffic. Twice Winston blew past the Cougar defensive backfield with nothing but open field in front of him, but on both occasions the ball was delivered just out of reach. With Winston, Miller, Thompson and Labita, getting separation shouldn't be a major problem. Out of the backfield Shaw ran hard up the middle and showed some burst running off tackle. Starting fullback, sophomore Keith Greer (3 catches 20 yards), is out indefinitely with (reportedly) a broken leg, and will force Yarno, Lampos and Sipoloa to step up to the challenge of replacing him. The tightends were a factor as well, with both Luke Smith-Anderson and Mike McCoy occasionally in the game simultaneously with one lined up in the slot (it looked like Luke was hobbled a bit during the game...we will keep our eyes open for an injury report). And, for a sophomore making his second career start, Harrington looked impressive at times under heavy pressure. His ability to roll out of the pocket and buy time will be an asset, and, to make it clear, he had his fair share of dropped passes on the night. In front of him, Idaho's rebuilt offensive line with 2 redshirt freshmen making their first start (Jade Tadvick at weak guard and Nate VanderPol at strong tackle, with Hank Therien rotating in with Nate throughout the night) is working out its own kinks to gel as a unit.
Untimely mistakes (fumbled snaps, penalties, dropped passes) worked heavily against the Vandal offense this evening, ultimately resulting in too many short offensive series, and long defensive stands. But the improvement in the defense was impressive and noticeable Saturday, especially in their agressiveness. When the offense sorts things out and can keep the defense off the field, the Vandal defense looks like it will prove to be a team strength in 2003.
This coming Saturday (Dad's Weekend in Moscow) Idaho opens up their home schedule with a visit from Eastern Washington University. The Eagles narrowly lost at San Diego State University Saturday, 19-9, giving up 2 back-to-back second half touchdowns to the Aztecs. That should be a good indicator that EWU will bring the house when they take on Idaho in the Dome (kickoff is at 4:30pm PST, and the game will be aired LIVE on Fox Sports NW). The Eagles are convinced they could have beaten SDSU, and will give it everything they have to prove it in Moscow.
|Sunset in downtown Seattle.|