Vandals / Cougars to Decide Palouse Supremecy

This Saturday marks the 89th meeting between Washington State University and the University of Idaho. The "Battle of the Palouse" has been dominated by WSU, which holds a 68-17-3 series advantage. Idaho won back-to-back Battles in '99 and 2000, then lost convincingly from '01-'04. Idaho tightened the gap last year, and Saturday's game should be a good one. Here is a look at the matchups.

One week after facing Michigan State of the Big Ten, the Vandals will cross the border and play their PAC-10 neighbor and rival, Washington State University, who is a mere eight miles away (in case you aren't a Cougar or Vandal). The rivalry is one of the longest in both school's rich histories, and Wazzu clearly owns it with 68-17-3 advantage. Despite this lopsided ledger, on occasion the Vandals (who have not been conference mates with WSU since the 60s, thus adding to the Cougars dominance) rear up and beat the Cougars, and it usually happens in consecutive years.

But this doesn't keep this contest from being taken seriously by the athletes. One thing is for certain in every "Battle of the Palouse" - there will be some big plays, and there will be some big hits. As we all know, football players have plenty of pride, and when they live eight miles apart their paths often cross.

The Vandals are coming off a disappointing loss to Michigan State, as it was a 7 point game and Idaho had the ball with around 5 minutes to go. They would finally succumb to MSU in a 10-point loss, with 27-17 final score.

The Cougars traveled to Auburn and suffered a different kind of loss, dropping 40-14 to the Top 10 Tigers, although it was a 12 point game in the 3rd quarter. Both teams are hungry for a win, so don't think for a moment that it won't show in Martin Stadium come this Saturday (at 12:45pm for those of you tuning in on Fox Sports Northwest).

Cougars Balanced O

Junior quarterback Alex Brink threw for 2,891 yards with 24 TDs and 13 interceptions last year, and is looking to build on his legacy this fall. There is no better way to do that than to have a weapon like senior WR Jason Hill (6-2, 208). The All-American candidate has break away speed and great hands. As a junior he hauled in 62 catches for 1097 yds, 17.7 ypc and 13 tds. Senior Chris Jordan (6-1, 210) and junior Michael Bumpus will bring veteran experience to the receiving corps, making this passing attack quite dangerous. Add senior tight end Cody Boyd (6-8, 257) into the mix, and you can see the Cougar QB has weapons. Case in point, Boyd caught a 50 yard TD pass against Auburn from backup Cougar QB Gary Rogers (6-5, 241). Don't be surprised to see the sophomore gun slinger in action this Saturday also, which gives the Cougars a different look at quarterback. Rogers had a nice 90 yard drive against Auburn, going 5 for 5 on the scoring series.

Cornerbacks Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, jr) and Reggie Jones (5-10, 201, jr), as well as safeties Tone Taupule (6-1, 205, sr) and Shilo Keo (5-10, 175, fr) will face yet another solid passing attack to contain. Having a game under the belt against a solid Big Ten offense should help. By now Idaho coaches and players have gone over film to improve their techniques in field position and defending the pass. True freshman Shilo Keo showed he can hit, but he also showed at times his inexperience. This group has great potential, and should be fun to watch mature throughout the season. They play with passion and speed, and they all can hit.

Keeping defenses honest, Cougar runningback DeMaundrey Woolridge (5'8, 233) will start (if healthy, an uncertainty at press time), bringing in 52 carries for 312 yds and 2 TDs from '05. Woolridge has the explosion and strength to take it to the house on every carry, and in fact broke a 42 yarder on Auburn last week. However, second year freshman Dwight Tardy (5'11, 208) will look to get the starting nod if Woolridge is unable to play due to a deep thigh bruise. Backing him up are juniors Derrel Hutsona (5-10, 185) and J.T. Deidrichs (6-2, 236). Woolridge or Tardy will be their feature back.

Vandal linebacker David Vobora (6-1, 221, jr) is exactly the type of 'backer that defensive coordinators dream of. Vobora, in the season opener accounted for an impressive 16 tackles Saturday (7 solo, 9 assists). He can recognize plays and also has a nose for the ball...and the wheels to get to the ball carrier in a hurry. He plays the run particularly well. Josh Bousman (6-2, 228) brings his own experience and nose for the ball while senior Jaron Williams (6-1, 227) added his own pressure from the linebacking position. Other backers in the rotation include senior Robert Davis (6-4, 223), junior Brandon Ogletree (6-3, 224) and potentially JC transfer Jo Artis Rotti (6-1, 220), a JC Gridwire All American in 2004 who is waiting for academic clearance.

Down in the Trenches

The Cougs bring back 3 starters and 2 newcomers across their offensive line. Tackle Bobby Byrd (6-7, 314, jr), guard Sean O Conner (6-6, 290, sr), centerC Josh Duin (6-4, 306, sr), guard Dan Rowlands (6-4, 284, so), and tackle Charles Harris (6-6, 308, sr) represent their typically giant, mobile offensive line. Off the bench, freshman center Kenny Alfred (6-3, 293), tackle Derek Hunter (6-5, 270, so) and guard Andy Roof (6-4, 303, so) may see some time. Roof was expected to start, but had thumb surgery before the season. The O-line has plenty of experience, but might not be the deepest bunch the Cougs have fielded.

With the first game out of the way, Idaho's D-Line proved tough against a sizeable MSU front. This week will likely be a repeat of the exact same situation for Idaho's trench warriors. Ryan Davis (6-0, 267, sr), Siua Musika (6-1, 293, jr), Marvin Jones (6-2, 301), John Dominguez (6-3, 252, jr) and Alex Toailoa(6-1, 299, so) all have the task of clogging the middle. Vandal fans should be optimistic after the defensive tackle position held its own last week and made the middle a mess for the Spartans. Defensive ends Ben Alexander (6-1, 235, jr), Charles Campbell (6-3, 228, sr), Josh Shaw (6-2, 254, so), and George Fa'avae (6-2, 258, jr) - a quick bunch - need to create more pressure off the edge and gather a few sacks if the Vandals want to win this one. Idaho's defensive ends are starving for a sack, and WSU's pass-happy offense should give them an opportunity to get their first of the season.

WAZZU's D-Line isn't the most experienced group, but they do have depth and size. At DT Aaron Johnson (6-6, 310, jr.) and Ropati Pitoitua (6-8, 299, jr.) will start with a rotation that includes Matt Eichelberger (6-3, 314, so.). At Defensive End, senior star Mkristo Bruce (6-6, 250, #Sr.) will provide serious pressure, and opposite him, Lance Broadus (6-2, 226, Jr.) will continue to start. The Cougs D-Line has had some unfortunate luck, losing starting DE Matt Mullennix to a season ending knee injury and starting DT Fevaea'I Ahmu to a stress fracture in the foot. Bruce still made some noise against Auburn, and the All-American candidate should have a great '06 season. His motor is unrelenting, as is Aaron Johnson's, who garnered 2 sacks.

The Vandals O-Line was impressive in its first outing. Protection was good and they paved the way for 132 yards on the ground. The potential in this unit is scary. Starters include junior center Adam Korby (6-3, 290,), senior left tackle Nate VanderPol (6-6, 306), senior left guard Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315), sophomore Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) and redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac (6-4, 290) splitting playing time with junior Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305) at right guard. This group will continue to learn and grow throughout the season. Vandal fans should be optimistic about this trench battle, as WSU has suffered some injuries up front and Idaho finally has some depth and experience.

The Cougars D

Cougar linebackers have been growing their reputation as of late, but last week's test proved too much. With pride on the line, expect the Cougs to play much tougher D against the run. Senior linebackers Scott Davis (5-10, 228) and Steve Dildine (6-1, 229) both had strong play, but look to improve after last week (Davis did log a sack). Sophomore middle linebacker Greg Trent (5-10, 230) will continue to start, but you may see MLB Brian Hall (6-2, 242, Sr.) and freshman SLB Andy Mattingly (6-4, 229). It's a little hard to evaluate the linebacking corps after Heisman hopeful Kenny Irons's 183 yard performance, but be sure that the Coug linebackers will come to play, as always, and they will be ready to stop the Vandal runningback stable.

Idaho runningbacks had a strong debut last weekend, featuring sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220) and junior speedster Brian Flowers (5-9, 190). Massive Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 240) played in pass protecting downs, but also carried for a key first down. Dennis Erickson probably won't change this lineup much, as it was effective throughout the MSU game. The one difference Vandal fans may see is the return of Tracy Ford (5-8, 170), who has shown the ability to make people miss.

Cougar defensive backs suffered some injuries in last week's game, so you may see a different lineup. JC Transfer Brian Williams (6-1, 167) should get the starting nod at left corner, while senior Tyron Brackenridge (6-0, 180) will continue to start at right corner. Safeties Eric Frampton (5-11, 208) and Husain Abdullah (6-0, 189) maintain their safety positions.

Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so), Wendall Octave ( 6-1, 187, sr), Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr) and DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr) all played well in the opener. There were still a few cases of the "dropsies". JC transfer Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, jr) may see some action, and Matt Askew (6-4, 205, sr) may make his way into the rotation. Vandal receivers have the athletic ability to be a factor, they just need to catch the ball and make a play. With this concern still a reality, don't be surprised if Erickson continues to rotate players at this position extensively.

Special Teams

The matchup on Special Teams will be the punters. WAZZU's rookie punter Darryl Blunt booted the ball high and averaged 44.9 yards per kick on seven tries. His longest was 64 yards. Idaho punter TJ Conley averaged 44.8 with a long of 53 on 4 punts. A backup QB with some speed, he also ran for a first down on what would have otherwise been a sure block by Michigan State. The field goal kicking for both teams is still developing. Undoubtedly, expect the kicking game for both teams to play an important part in this year's game.

It's All Vandal

Vandal fans have to be optimistically cautious after last week's showing. This age-old rivalry has been largely one-sided, but the Vandals have put up some wins, and Idaho did put togeher two consecutive victories in '99 and 2000. Last year, the Vandals played the Cougs tough, but lost a good battle 38-26. The PAC-10 Cougs are coming off a bad loss to Auburn, and are coming into this game a little banged up but with a serious need for a win. Vandal fans know first-hand how injuries can impact a game, and even a season. Can the Vandals upset the Cougs?

Dennis Erickson will have the Vandals ready. He'll have the game plan ready. It's up to the players to execute the game plan. If the Vandals want to beat a team like Washington State, they will need to play mistake free football, and generate turnovers without turning the ball over themselves. Sounds easy enough... What better way to welcome Dennis Erickson back than to follow up a game with a Big Ten team with a game against a PAC-10 rival. A team he used to coach, in an all-too-familiar setting. In college, six degrees of separation applies to Dennis Erickon, not Kevin Bacon. And so the 2006 Vandal Football season plot thickens.

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