GAMEWEEK: Vandals Set To Battle Spartans

This Saturday Idaho heads to East Lansing to take on Michigan State of the Big Ten Conference in the season opener for both programs. A hefty 29+ point underdog, the Vandals will be taking on former Idaho head coach John L. Smith and his powerful Spartan offense, while legendary head coach Dennis Erickson returns to the Vandal sideline. Inside is a look at the matchups.

Spartan Stadium seats 75,000 fans.
When the Vandals take the field at Spartan Stadium this Saturday, they better bring their A game. This is no easy opener, and former Vandal Head Coach and now Spartan Head Coach, John L. Smith is looking to right his Michigan State ship. After beating Notre Dame and getting off to a 4-0 start, Michigan State finished with a 1-6 record in their final seven games, which sent Spartan fans grumbling. John L. and Michigan State are on a mission, and won't take this opener lightly. Michigan State returns a highly potent offense and John L. will want his team to win convincingly.

Signifying their first meeting, the Vandals must be ecstatic to be playing in Spartan Stadium. The stadium boasts 75,005 seats, and their fans are excited for the season! What a thrill for the Vandals to be taking on Big Ten football. The energy and adrenaline will be running high for Vandals and Spartans alike in this opener. Both coaches will reach into their long history of coaching together to out-scheme one another. Michigan State returns 6 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters, and should be poised to make some noise in the Big Ten. The Spartans will be a veteran group, making this an even taller order for the Vandals.

RB Jehuu Caulcrick (6-0, 260)

Slowing Down The Spartan Offensive Juggernaut

QB Stanton among top QBs in America.
Offensively, the Spartans return 5th year senior quarterback Drew Stanton (6-3, 230) who last season became only the second Spartan QB to hit the 3,000 yard mark, throwing for 3,077 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in '05. Idaho's secondary will be tested early and often. Seniors Jerramy Scott (5-10, 186, 9tds), Kerry Reed (6-2, 198, 5tds) and Matt Trannon (6-6, 235, 4tds) make for one of the more impressive receiving corps in all of college football, which also includes veteran depth.

To be blunt, the Vandal defensive backfield will spend the afternoon working to contain one of the nation's best passing attacks. Cornerbacks Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, jr) and Reggie Jones (5-10, 201, jr) have Vandal fans excited about the possibilities of this speedy duo. The safeties, Tone Taupule (6-1, 205, sr) and Shiloh Keo (5-10, 175, fr) will be tested in the pass and run. Taupule started eight games last year as a free safety for Idaho, while Keo is a true freshman who has come in and impressed immediately and earned the starting nod. The size and experience of the Spartan receivers could be the Vandals stiffest challenge of the year if MSU's offense continues last year's success.

RB Javon Ringer
The Spartan running back tandem featuring sophomore sensation Javon Ringer (5-9, 198, 5tds) and junior Jehuu Caulcrick (6-0, 260, 7tds) combined for 1,295 yards rushing in ‘05. MSU uses a three-back rotation, so expect to see red-shirt freshman A.J. Jimmerson (5-10, 205) get his first carries.

The 1-2 punch of Spartan tightends Kellen Davis (6-6, 255, 2tds) and Dwayne Holmes (6-0, 277, 3tds) will give the Vandal linebackers something to think about, especially near the goal line. Davis, a junior, started 4 games in '05 and saw action in every game while catching 15 balls for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He'll start. Holmes, a sophomore, saw action in every game and all three of his receptions resulted in a touchdown.

WR Matt Trannon (6-6, 235)
Vandal linebackers not only have to contain the talented playmaker, Javon Ringer, but they also have to stop the speed and power of 260 pound Caulcrick. This, while always being aware of their tightends' ability to score. Junior weakside LB David Vobora (6-1, 221), senior middle LB Robert Davis (6-4, 223, sr) and junior strong side LB Josh Bousman (6-2, 228) are up to the task. They will roam the mid field, with senior Jaron Williams (6-1, 217) and junior Brandon Ogletree (6-3, 224) providing experienced depth (Williams will see extensive playing time at middle linebacker and WILL). The Vandals need to establish early that they can stop, or at least effectively slow down, the run if they want to contain this offense.

Vandal Offense versus Spartan Defense

LB Kaleb Thornhill, Junior.
The leaders of the Spartan defense are a group of linebackers led by returning starters David Herron (6-1, 245, sr) and junior Kaleb Thornhill (6-1, 239) who accounted for 128 tackles in 2005. Steve Juarez (6-1, 231, senior) provides experience and depth. They will be roaming the mid-field trying to stop Idaho's runningback stable of Jayson Bird (6-1, 220), Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 242), and JC Gridwire All-American Brian Flowers (5-9, 190). Tracy Ford (5-8, 170) played RB for the Vandals at end of '05, and provided some nifty moves while consistently making defenders miss. A couple freshmen could also see playing time as well Saturday, including special teams.

Vandal fans are also excited about their own tightend 1-2 punch situation, as junior Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) shows promise to be one of the best in the WAC, and Keith Greer (6-2, 252) has been solid throughout his career.

Michigan State's defensive backfield includes junior SirDarean Adams (6-0, 230) who will be back as the Spartan's starting bandit. Starting all games in '05, he led the team in tackles-for-loss and interceptions, and is a sure tackler. Seniors Greg Cooper (5-11, 186) and Demond Williams (5-9, 174) will start at cornerback, but depth is a concern for the Spartans. JC All-American Nehemiah Warrick (6-1, 202) will enter the season starting at strong safety, while the free safety will be sophomore Otis Wiley (6-2, 209).

Idaho's senior quarterback Steve Wichman (2,746 yards, 15tds, 18 ints), another JC Gridwire All-American playing in this game, will have his first chance directing Dennis Erickson's offense in a game situation. Wichman has proven he has the arm, but he will be tasked with cutting back on the picks. Couple the relative newness of this offense with a receiving corps that has yet to have anyone emerge publicly as the "go-to" guy, and there are plenty of question marks for this opener.

Senior Wendell Octave (6-1, 187) has the most experience, and the Vandal faithful are counting on Octave to lead the group. But after that, there is an eclectic group of young and old talent. Vandal fans should see Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so), DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr), Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr), Wesley Williams (5-10, 167, so), Matt Askew (6-4, 205, sr) and a few others will try and establish a passing game. Erickson will use this game to rotate the group and see whoe emerges as a reliable receiver. This battle could continue throughout the year.

Down in the Trenches

C Kyle Cook, Senior.
MSU lost three starters on the offensive line. Returning left guard Kyle Cook (6-3, 295, Sr) makes the move to center, as senior Pete Clifford (6-7, 300) takes over left guard duties, while junior Mike Gyetvai (6-7, 307) makes the move from right to left tackle this season. Sophomore Roland Martin (6-5, 325) has a lock on the right guard spot and sophomore Jesse Miller (6-6, 306) will play right tackle. This is a whole new look for MSU's offensive line.

To battle the Spartans' offensive line, the Idaho defensive front will be anchored by defensive tackle Siua Musika (6-1, 293, Jr) and junior noseguard Jon Dominguez (6-3, 252), with redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301) and senior Ryan Davis (6-0, 267) expected to rotate in extensively during the game. At defensive end Idaho returns three of its top four from a year ago, including junior Ben Alexander (6-1, 235, started 9 games in 05 at rush end), senior Charles Campbell (6-3, 228, has played both ends), and talented true sophomore Josh Shaw (6-2, 254) starting at strongside defensive end. Shaw will be backed up by JC transfer George Fa'avae (6-2, 258), while redshirt sophomore Taylor Rust (6-3, 238) could see playing time as well.

DE/DT Cliff Ryan, Senior.
Michigan State's defensive line lost three starters from a year ago. The lone returning starter, senior Clifton Ryan (6-2, 302) will move from stud end to defensive tackle. Fellow senior David Stanton (6-3, 290) will line up next to Ryan, and junior JC Transfer Ogemdi Nwagbuo (6-4, 297) will provide depth at tackle. Sophomore Justin Kershaw (6-4, 254) will take over the stud position, and rush end will be sophomore Brandon Long (6-4, 244).

Idaho has the "luxury" of returning a group of exprienced starters on its offensive line and a full depth chart for the first time in years. Anchoring the left side of the line are a pair of seniors in left tackle Nate VanderPol (6-6, 306) and left guard Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315). Both have been starters at Idaho since their redshirt freshman season. At center is 11-game starter sophomore Adam Korby (6-3, 290), who was named this offseason to the Rimington Trophy Watch List. On the right side sophomore Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) started 9 games last year at guard, but moves to right tackle this season. Right guard will be manned by junior redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac (6-4, 290) or junior Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305) after a hard fought battle during spring and fall drills. Both are expected to see playing time Saturday, as is backup tackle Billy Bates (6-5, 275, soph).

Special Teams

MSU and UI both had similar struggles on Special Teams last year. Although Idaho's kicker was solid, he will miss the 06 season with an injury, leaving the field goal chores to JC transfer Tino Amancio. MSU recruit Brett Swensen has been impressive in Spring, and has won the place kicking job in blowout fashion. Both have never started for their respective teams.

Return duties for Idaho are not set in stone but Reggie Jones has seen the bulk of punt return duties and Max Komar has been in the kickoff return mix. The Spartans will have their runningback sensation Ringer return kickoffs and the experienced Terry Love (5-11, 177, jr) return punts.

Considering that both teams suffered from poor Special Teams play last year, pay close attention to how they respond Saturday. Coverage teams for both teams need to be aware of big play ability.

It's All Vandal

John L. Smith after MSU beat Notre Dame on the road last fall.
What's intriguing about this game is the coaching match up, and this especially applies to Vandal fans. Dennis Erickson and John L. Smith have an extensive history together in college football. John L. served as Dennis' assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at 3 different programs. They both coached at the University of Idaho, both experienced great success leading the Vandals, and as a result Vandal fans hold both coaches in high esteem. Not only did Spartan Head Coach John L. Smith coach at the University of Idaho, but MSU linebackers coach Mike Cox was a 3 year starter at linebacker for the Vandals (1983-1986) and played for Dennis Erickson. Cox also coached linebackers at the University of Idaho from 1987-1994.

What are the keys to this game for Idaho? Coach Dennis Erickson needs to chew the clock up with methodical drives...shortening the game will be a priority. Idaho must establish a running game, open up the short passing game, and chew the game clock up. If successful, Michigan State may find itself in a game. Michigan State's offense will score, so clock management and the run game is the key for Idaho's success. The rest falls under the adage of "that's why we play the games."

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