Cougs Roll

Saturday night, in a game shown LIVE regionally on FOX Sports Northwest, Idaho lost 49-8 to Washington State in Pullman in front of 35,858 fans. Although there are a number of issues this team is working to resolve (many the result of inexperience), the offense's struggle to find its identity in the passing game may be the most glaring.

Consistancy, composure, and execution. Three things critical to success at any level of athletics. Saturday night, despite some outstanding efforts accross the board, the Vandals struggled with all 3 elements of their game.

Defensively, for the most part, Idaho would have a great stand for a few plays, then struggle for a couple plays, too-often yielding big gains to the Cougs. Some things, like more consistent coverage and composure, are only going to come with playing time with so many young players on the field. Other things, like missed tackles (which continue to show noticeable improvement since the first game of the season) are something the team is working on aggressively, and are being addressed.

The Vandals gave up 286 yards on the ground (46 Wazzu carries), and 223 yards through the air. After the game the coaching staff was adament about not making excuses about Idaho's performance. The staff stated emphatically that the team simply struggled in a number of facets, and everyone, players and coaches, have to work to fix it. But, from an observers standpoint, a defensive line already dealing with depth issues to begin with this season, lost starting nose guard Siua Musika with a leg injury in the second quarter. After trying to battle through the injury after halftime, Siua would eventually leave the game before the 4th quarter started. At 6-1, 302 pounds and the biggest defensive lineman on the unit, his loss made clogging interior rushing lanes that much more difficult for Idaho. Backups Michael Togafau (continuing to recover from an injury) and James Coley saw significant playing time, but by the second half the Cougs were chunking out big yards on the ground.

Cougar QB Josh Swogger only completed 12 passes in the game (of course, he only attempted 19), but they were often big gainers (i.e. Wazzu's Hill caught 3 passes for 105 yards) as he posted 223 yards and 4 TDs. Idaho did not record any sacks in the game but did force 4 fumbles, recovering 1 in the second half. On misdirection play-action passing plays, Josh often had a 10 or 15 yard cushion to work within. Receivers often had a lot of room to operate after the catch, picking up most of their yards after the catch. Some of it can be attributed to blown coverage, some simply to execution. With 3 true freshman working the safeties, and 2 first year players working at cornerback, the defensive backfield is learning the 1-A game under some heavy fire.

Among the linebackers, true freshmen Ben Alexander and Shane Simmons saw extensive time in this game, backing up Robert Davis, Cole Snyder, and Nate Nichols. The continued development of Ben and Shane is critical for the linebacking rotation, and both appear to be coming along well. No group defensively was free of missed tackles, but this unit is coming along and looking stronger and stronger each week.

In the end, despite moments of excellent execution (particularly in the first half), and an obvious effort to play hard, the Cougs dominated this one in consistency, in play-after-play execution, and getting it in the hands of their game breakers for big gains.

Offensively, the running game continues to improve and impress. True freshmen Jayson Bird and Rolly Lumbala, behind some key blocking by the young offensive line, are truly looking impressive. These 2 backs combined for 140 rushing yards, despite the loss of starting left tackle Hank Therien in the 2nd quarter of the game (the extent of his injury was unknown, but reportedly may not keep him from the game against Oregon next week). Both backs had 1 key fumble each in the game, and in both cases they came when the offense was driving. But the speed and power these 2 bring to the field is unmistakable. Bird has nice vision for a freshman, and a growing ability to find seams in the defense that allow his speed to take advantage of it. He ended the game with 78 yards on 15 carries with a long of 18 yards (5.2 yards per carry), and was as solid banging it up the middle as he was running off tackle. Lumbala recorded 62 yards on 11 carries (long of 24 yards, 5.6 yard average), including being largely responsible for carrying the rock during Idaho's second quarter drive to Wazzu's 5 yard line. He's a powerful runner with deceptive speed. As these 2 backs continue to develop, they look like they could become a vicious 1-2 punch for the Vandals.

Also of note was the fact that Idaho went 3 of 3 on 4th down conversions. All were quarterback sneaks, but they kept drives alive.

The passing game, however, still continues to struggle mightily. On the night Harrington completed 67% of his passes, going 12 of 18 in 3 and-a-half quarters of play. But the passing game for Harrington netted only 66 yards in that span, no touchdowns, and 1 interception on Idaho's first offensive play from scrimmage. Also during that span, Idaho's top receiver, Bobby Bernal-Wood, averaged 7 yards per catch (7 receptions for 48 yards). Willie Sipoloa caught 2 for 15, and Wendell Octave caught 1 for 5 yards.

In the 4th quarter, with both teams substituting heavily, Idaho brought in redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Nooy. Brian would go 6 of 6 during his time directing the offense, putting up 78 yards with no interceptions. He led Idaho on a lengthy scoring drive, including a 46 yard strike to redshirt freshman Ryan Heacock. Brian and Ryan connected 2 more times on the drive, one for a 6 yard touchdown pass and again for a 2-point conversion.

Why the 2-point conversion with 17 seconds left down 43 points? Only the coaches can say. But it put some pressure on the offense to drive the ball into the endzone in just one play. How would they react? Could they handle pressure? Could they even do it? They did, and it could make a difference in how the team prepares in the weeks ahead. A little boost of confidence that not only can they get some yards when they need them, but that they can do it through the air as well.



HATS OFF TO THIS GUY...

One Vandal that continues to impress is true freshman strong safety D.J. Dykes. Statistically, he had 6 tackles on the night, including 2 solo take downs. Rarely does this player leave the field when the Vandals are on defense, and often is the last player separating the ball carrier from the endzone. For an athlete that was playing high school ball last season, he's developing into a rock that this defense can build around for the future.

Same also goes for redshirt freshman cornerback Eric McMillan who suffered an injury in the 3rd quarter and played through it to finish the game. The Cougars attacked his side of the field repeatedly (avoiding J.R. Ruffin's side throughout the night). Eric had his struggles at times facing some talented Cougar receivers, but he's a great prospect who looks like he will become a heckuva a cornerback for the Vandals.

Both Jayson Bird and Rolly Lumbala are impressive to watch carry the ball for Idaho. They ran extremely hard in this game, were rarely stopped for a loss or no gain, and are truly a couple of fighters on offense. They are definitely a pair of players, and game breakers, that represent a tremendous bright spot in the Vandal offensive future.

Finally, hats off to true freshman nose guard Siua Musika. Injured in the second quarter, he left the game and was carted to the lockerroom along with Hank Therien. He was retaped and came back on the field for Idaho in the third. He battled through the injury for much of the quarter but ultimately left the game before the 3rd quarter ended. It is unknown the extent of his injury, but he is a force on the Vandal defensive front.



PHOTO GALLERY (Photos by Pat Hauge, VandalVenue.com)

Below are a few images from the game. Click on the player's name to view the roster page we maintain on this site. Click on the picture to view a larger version of the same image.

Later this week we plan to put up a larger gallery with some action shots.


#58 Ben Alexander
6-1, 230, MIKE
True-Freshman

#58 Desmond Belton
6-4, 180, WR
True Freshman

#33 Shane Simmons
6-2, 215, OLB
True-Freshman

#51 Marcis Fennell
6-2, 280, OC
True Freshman

#86 Brandon Kania
6-4, 230, DE
Senior

#82 Brandon Ogletree
6-3, 205, SS
True-Freshman

Vandal offensive line, 1st quarter action.

Co-Offensive Coordinator Joel Thomas huddles the offense.

Redshirt freshman QB
#10 Brian Nooy under center.

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