Rude Introduction

Idaho introduced a first year coaching staff last night, along with what turned out to be a DOZEN true freshmen seeing significant playing time, as BSU unveiled what looks like another stellar Bronco football team. This was truly a brutal way to usher in the Holt era, with BSU rolling to a 65-7 shellacking of Idaho. But, it sets the stage for just how much work this young Vandal team has ahead of it to get to the next level.

Despite an absolutely perfect, sunny, southern Idaho evening last night for a college football game, Saturday was a nasty introduction for this YOUNG Vandal team. How young? Twelve TRUE freshmen saw extensive playing time last night, with at least 7 on defense alone. What that means is that 12 Vandals were playing high school football last year. Those kids will typically be playing against collegiate redshirt sophomores, juniors and seniors this year, including last night in Boise. It is a transition, to say the least, and should not be understated. These players will turn the corner, but its not going to happen over night.

The rest of this Vandal team is mostly constructed with redshirt freshmen and sophomores, particularly on the offensive line and throughout the linebacking corp.

We won't take anything away from BSU and their accomplishments in this one. They won this game handily, and they took it to Idaho all night. They have a truly impressive football team this year, one loaded with speed and depth across the board.

For Idaho, it's a young team learning a completely new system, and doing it mostly under fire and on the road this year. This game was most certainly an eye-opener for the many Vandals making their first collegiate start tonight at the 1-A level. That level is fast, its disciplined, its well-prepared, and its relentless. This Vandal team will get there, but its going to take some time and some game experience across the board to get there.


OFFENSE

One of the last things the Vandal offense could tolerate this year were injuries or losses on the offensive line. For this opening game, the Vandals had one of the worst scenarios come to fruition when Hank Therien (6-7, 321, RS-Soph), arguably Idaho's #1 offensive linemen, was suspended for the game. The loss forced Idaho to move Nate VanderPol (6-6, 296, RS-Soph) from right tackle to left tackle, and experiment with linemen at different positions throughout the week leading up to this game. Then, on the first offensive play from scrimmage, VanderPol injured his leg. He stuck it out throughout the 1st quarter, but by the beginning of the second quarter left the game during an Idaho series and stayed the sidelines for the rest of the game. Who did Idaho turn to to fill the void? Two TRUE freshmen in Desmond Clark (6-3, 300), who started the game at right tackle, and Marcis Fennell (6-4, 280) who played both guard positions during the game. The line played admirably despite how green they were for such a huge rivalry game against what should be another stellar Bronco football team. At times the pass blocking was outstanding, giving Harrington plenty of time to find a receiver. At times, the defenders poured in, forcing Harrington out of the pocket. At one point last night, our offensive line consisted of 4 players who had NEVER played a single down in a college game before. At center was Jerrod Schulte, a former walk-on and scout team player last year making his debut as our starting center. At guard was the oft-injured Ryan Waage, who missed most of the last 2 seasons with back injuries. Senior Tony Kiel, who has seen quite a bit of game time over the last couple seasons as a backup, made the start at right guard next to true freshman Desmond Clark.

Hats off to RS-soph Jade Tadvick (6-5, 320), a 12 game starter at guard last season who started the game at left guard, then moved to left tackle to fill in for the loss of Nate VanderPol. Jade's shown impressive versatility, and is a huge asset to this line. When healthy, the line of Therien, VanderPol, and Tadvick with the rest of the supporting cast should come along well as the season progresses. Until then, however (it is unclear at press-time the extent of VanderPol's injury), this group will be learning under fire.

The youth of this offensive line, coupled with BSU's defensive strength, made for difficult running lanes for Idaho's backs. Sophomore Cliff Mason and senior Justin Wall started the game at RB. Both had occasional good gains, but often appeared to run into a wall at the line of scrimmage. Not until the fourth quarter, with the game well decided and both teams making serious substitutions did things start to open up. True freshman Jayson Bird got a couple carries early in the game, but saw only spot playing time until the second half. Idaho's other true freshman, Rollie Lumbala, didn't see playing time until the fourth quarter. Rollie's first couple of carries were a bit tentative and generally resulted in no gain, but by his 4th carry he was getting more comfortable with the higher level of play and ended up with 20 yards on 5 carries. But it was Bird (77 yards on 4 carries) who brought Idaho's only fire-works, busting off right tackle for a 71 yard touchdown sprint with less than a minute remaining, allowing Idaho to avoid its first shut-out loss to BSU ever. An impressive run that show-cased the rookie's speed.

The passing game never did seem to get untracked. You can credit a large part of that to BSU's defensive backfield, which was on the Idaho receivers like glue most of the night. Junior quarterback Michael Harrington definitely struggled in this first game of the season. He got off to a good start, completing his first pass of the game, a 6-yard pickup to TE Willie Sipoloa. But for the night Harrington went 13 of 27 for just 91 yards, 1 interception and no touchdowns. Five receivers recorded receptions last night, with sophomore Wendell Octave leading the way (6 catches for 40 yards). Bobby Bernal-Wood caught 3 for 34 yards, while tightend Willie Sipoloa caught 2 for 11 yards.

Sophomore tightend Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 250), sporting a cast on one hand, played occasionally throughout the game, making a 4 yard reception early in the 3rd quarter. Fellow sophomore TE Keith Greer (6-2, 250) also made an appearance late in the game for Idaho, an excellent sign given his heroic return to the playing field this spring. Getting both these guys back in the TE rotation would be outstanding for our depth at that position...a TE position that has been hammered by injuries for 3 consecutive seasons at Idaho.


DEFENSE

In a phrase, last nights game was "A true freshman show-case." Granted, the only true freshman to start for Idaho was strong safety D.J. Dykes out of Los Alamitos high school in California. But 7 in all saw significant playing as the game progressed. Dykes led all tacklers on the night with 11 takedowns. Shane Simmons, a true freshman linebacker out of Kent, Washington had six tackles, including one tackle for loss. Ben Alexander, a middle linebacker out of southern California recorded 4 tackles. Reggie Jones, a true freshman cornerback out of Washington had 2 tackles. Siua Musika saw extensive playing time at nose guard and had 1 tackle and forced a fumble. Add in David Vobora, a true freshman out of Oregon at linebacker, and Evan Ruud, a true freshman DE out of Washington, and the impact of this recruiting class of Coach Holt's is significant. In fact, without these true freshmen cutting their teeth now, our depth would be in serious trouble.

The defense spent extensive time this fall working on creating turnovers, and they did just that on BSU's first drive, causing a fumble inside the Idaho 20. On the next BSU series, Idaho rotated true freshman Siua Musika in at nose guard, giving Idaho 2 true freshman on the Vandal defense (combined with starting strong safety D.J. Dykes), and a redshirt freshman at cornerback (Eric McMillan, wearing a cast on one hand). Even with Siua's excellent size and good agility, the Vandal defense was beginning to show signs that it would have trouble stopping BSU's running attack. For the second year in a row, BSU would pile up huge yards on the ground, and ironically didn't score a single touchdown through the air. Five Broncos would go on to score on running plays.

However, when BSU needed a big play, they often turned to the air, passing to TE Derek Schouman on several occasions for big gains. His speed alone, for a TE, makes him a challenge to defend. Factor in youth, a new defensive system, and a lot of new faces, and he found himself typically with a 5 or 6 yard cushion with which to operate.

Starting free safety and team captain Simeon Stewart tied with sophomore linebacker Robert Davis with 9 tackles on the night. Three Vandals recorded sacks, including CB/S Herb Cash (a JC transfer this year), Jeff Edwards, and Brandon Kania. Junior defensive end Mike Anderson was relatively quiet on the night, at least stat-wise, recording one tackle (which was a 1 yard tackle for loss).

Senior cornerback J.R. Ruffin, who doubled as the team's kick returner, recorded 4 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and one interception which he returned 17 yards.

In the end, there were a lot of missed tackles in this game. And nobody on the Vandal D was immune, whether it was a two year veteran and one of Idaho's top tacklers from a year ago, or a true freshman, this was not a good tackling night for Idaho. As stated in the post game interview, it was the kind of stuff that can be, in part, associated with learning a new system and knowing where your supposed to be and BEING where you're supposed to be. It's the kind of stuff that can only be practically learned in a real game situation, and can only come with time.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Other than having one punt partially blocked in the first quarter, sophomore Mike Barrow did a nice job punting last night…and he had plenty of practice in this game alone. On several occasions he appeared to "out-kick" his coverage, booming punts 45 or more yards. As frequently as it seemed to happen last night, tightening down on punt coverage will be one thing the team has to resolve as the season progresses.

Barrow had just one opportunity in the entire game at a field goal, but missed just right on his 43-yard attempt. He did, however hit the PAT after Bird's 4th quarter sprint, and kicked off deep into BSU territory on both of his kickoffs.

The Vandal kick-off return team struggled in this game, resulting in Idaho starting within their own 20 yard line on virtually every possession. This may have been one of the biggest show-cases of BSU's team speed, as their unit prevented Idaho's returner J.R. Ruffin from going anywhere.


THIS WEEK…

Idaho heads to Logan, Utah to take on Utah State University in the first Sun Belt Conference game of the season. Idaho won the game last year in Moscow to end the 2003 campaign. This week, the Aggies also opened their season with a loss on the road, falling to Alabama on the road 48-17. For Idaho, Hank Therien is expected to return to the Vandal offensive line. If VanderPol can make it back as well (at the right tackle position opposite Therien), then Idaho's offensive line play should improve significantly this week, which will hopefully open the door for a stronger running attack and better pass protection.

Defensively, the youngsters have a mile of video tape to review from this week to work on their game. It will be interesting to see how much progress this unit can make in a week, and how they come out in a game that is critical for their Conference aspirations.

Hopefully, for the team, that will come sooner rather than later.




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