WAC Home Opener vs. Hawaii

At last! The game, the season, and the Conference we've all been waiting for has arrived. Saturday night Idaho opens their Western Athletic Conference football season at home against the University of Hawaii in a game that will air NATIONALLY on ESPN-U from the ASUI Kibbie Dome. It is the sixth meeting between the two programs, with Hawaii holding a 3-2 advantage.

The University of Idaho football program enters an entirely new competitive era when they host the University of Hawaii Warriors in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday. A festive pre-game will precede a 7:00 P.M. kickoff.

Idaho and its fans have good reason to celebrate this particular game. It is the first game in the Western Athletic Conference, which the Vandals joined a few months ago. It is the first time that Hawaii has played in the Kibbie Dome. It is Idaho's first home game of the season. It is the fist time that Vandals fans can get excited about the opponent and what the outcome of the game means for the season. It is the first time Idaho has played a game in a conference where the opponents made sense both geographically and financially. It is the first time Idaho has a bona-fide chance of producing a home sellout in years. It is the first game where both teams are hungry for their first win. The Kibbie Dome will present a first for a Hawaii team that is accustomed to playing outside. Saturday's contest is the first time an Idaho football game will be televised on ESPN-U; another major benefit of WAC membership for the Vandals.

Saturday's game is not the first time the Vandals have met the Warriors on the gridiron. Idaho closed their 2004 season with a 52-21 defeat in Honolulu. The upcoming game is the sixth meeting between the two schools. The all time record for Idaho against Hawaii is 2-3.

Hawaii enters the dome with plenty of talent and a pre-season ranking that is higher than Idaho's. However, the Vandal squad is favored by three points and historically the Warriors do not fare well on the road. But there is more than point spreads and expert rankings in this story.

Idaho wants to prove that it can compete in the Western Athletic Conference; especially with Karl Benson, the WAC conference commissioner in attendance and participating in the pre-game hype. The Vandals want to bolster recruiting and their televised image by winning their home and WAC opener. The Vandals battled Washington State in the season opener in Pullman, and traded leads with UNLV before falling to the Rebels on the final play of the game. Last week's lopsided loss at the University of Washington was disappointing, but a large number of youngsters saw action in Idaho's last non-conference game of the year.

Hawaii wants to prove that they are much better then their blowout loss to USC or their recent loss at the hands of Michigan State. Both opponents are ranked in the Top 25 and hung hefty point totals against the Warriors.

The game has the potential to become a classic battle. As is almost always the case, and in particular with Hawaii, the battle will be decided in the trenches on BOTH sides of the ball.

Offensively, if Idaho can establish solid play and a good running game with their young offensive line, then things could open up through the air as Vandal quarterback Steve Wichman makes his home debut. Idaho's Daniel Smith is currently ranked 13th in the nation with 7.3 catches per game (1st in the WAC) and 18th nationally with 104.7 yards per game, and will be one of Steve's primary targets along with Matt Askew, Wendell Octave and a young receiver rotation.

Defensively, Idaho welcomes back second year starting nose guard Siua Musika (true sophomore) to the defensive line after he missed the Washington game last week. Idaho's line played admirably against the Huskies (and well against Washington State and UNLV to start the season), and will lead the charge for the Nation's #2 tackler, middle linebacker Cole Snyder. The defensive backfield has improved each week, and welcomed back sophomore free safety Jevon Butler against the Dawgs in his first start of the season.

Idaho will face a solid Hawaii team that plays a physical, tough brand of football in the trenches across both lines. They have plenty of speed at every specialist position on the field, they ALWAYS have an explosive offense under head coach June Jones, and will be bringing in defensive coordinator Gerry Glanville (former NFL coach) and his improving Warrior defense.

It's time. This is what we've been waiting for as Vandal fans, and the team will need a strong, boisterous Idaho crowd behind them to meet this first challenge of their WAC tenure.

We (at VandalVenue.com) are in...are YOU?


Trench warfare on the offensive line... Much has been made of Idaho's O-line struggles against UW last weekend, and for good reason. The Vandal line had played extremely well in Idaho's first two contests, battling always rugged Washington State in Pullman, and taking UNLV to the final play of the game in Las Vegas. Against the Dawgs, Idaho went into battle without starter Hank Therien and backup Matt O'Donnell. During the UW game, starting left tackle Nate VanderPol went down in the third quarter, as did starting right tackle Desmond Clark. That forced some heavy shifting as redshirt freshman Kris Anderson saw his first action EVER at right tackle, while true freshman Billy Bates assumed the role of top-dawg at left tackle. Now, Billy has practiced with the first O all season, and you got the feeling the tough youngster out of Oregon (the #6 prospect in the state of Oregon this past recruiting season, to be exact) was going to be seeing the field soon. He came in, and from our vantage point actually did a nice job, battling a rugged Husky defensive line for two quarters.

The moves made to cover for the injuries were immense, and the young but talented group that had played so well in the first two games dealt with some adversity against an immensely talented foe. But it's in the rearview mirror now, and the unit learned from that challenge. The loss of ironman Jade Tadvick is another set-back this week, but the team will be prepared for the battle. Bates will start at LT, Therien will be back to start at RT, Clark will start at RG, Korby will start at C, and Anderson or Fennell will start at LG (whichever one doesn't start will see PLENTY of playing time in this one). The right side of the line is essentially the group that started against WSU and UNLV. On the left, Anderson has started all 3 of Idaho's game (albeit at RG). Bates gets his FIRST collegiate start and got a good idea of what the 1-A game is all about.

We think this group, although very young, will be ready this week for an equally physical battle in the trenches. We don't expect them to dominate (UH is just too good up front). But they should be able to give the backs a bit of a seam to run, and give QB Steve Wichman just enough time to get the ball to his cast of receivers. If that happens, this should be an immensely entertaining ball game.

Back in the fold on offense... True-freshman H-Back Eddie Williams will make his way back to the Vandal offense this week after sitting out the UNLV and UW game with an injury. The talented youngster scored his first collegiate TD in the opener at WSU, and gives Idaho an added receiving and blocking threat up front. You will want to keep an eye out for #29 Saturday...he's going to be a good one for the Vandals before it's all said and done.

Back in the fold on defense... We learned after the fact that senior outside linebacker Mike Anderson was slowed by an injury last week and saw very limited duty against the Dawgs in Seattle. Redshirt sophomore Josh Bousman, last week's starter in place of Anderson and Idaho's 2004 Special Teams Player of the Year, is having a spectacular breakout season, and will be reluctant to give up the starting job. That said, we expect Anderson to see a bit more action Saturday.

Who will carry the rock... Idaho head coach Nick Holt has been on the Vandal running backs this week, in particular since starter Jayson Bird was lost for the season in the first series at UNLV. Since then, Holt hasn't seen the production, or the running intensity, that he demands. Well, our sources who have seen practices this week suggest you might see true sophomore Rolly Lumbala running with a little more authority this week. He's looked good in practice, and is bringing it harder than we've seen him run so far this fall. That said, we've also seen true freshman Jason Brown getting more and more reps in drills. If both these kids put it together, they could be a strong backfield presence for the Vandals Saturday. And against a rugged Warrior defensive front, these backs will need to run with authority. Lumbala has a size advantage against all of Hawaii's linebackers, and Brown brings a nice combination of size and speed out of the backfield. Idaho will need both, offset by speedster Antwaun Sherman to be successful.

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