GAMEWEEK: Revival of an Instate Rival

With the Vandals donning new home uniforms, a new Joe Vandal mascot, and a brand new instant replay system this Saturday, the team and fans should have no trouble getting charged for the home opener against Idaho State (2:05pm kickoff) which will be aired live on ESPN Gameplan. Will the Vandals, and particularly the Vandal D-Line led by junior SIUA MUSIKA, be ready to bring it for four quarters?

It might be time to re-evaluate where the Vandals are, and where they're headed. Dennis Erickson's coaching staff is rebuilding the team's identity, trying to figure out the strengths of each player and the strengths of the team as a whole. When you start the season out against Michigan State and Washington State, the number one priority when you're in rebuilding mode is to avoid injury. So far the 2006 University of Idaho football team has given their fans a battle to remember, and a loss to forget, and they've stayed healthy (for the most part) while doing so. In those two games, Erickson has been able to gather an idea on how he needs to approach WAC play. They sit at 0-2 heading into their first home game of the season, a game the Vandals desperately need to win.

Vandal fans should probably follow the ol' coach's recipe when suffering a loss like the one last Saturday. Take what positive you can, and move on. It's time to focus on the next game, the next opponent, the Big Sky's Idaho State Bengals, who bring in a 1-1 record and a high powered offense that should, once again, test the Vandal Defense. The last time these two teams met was 1998, a 52-3 Vandal victory. Idaho also leads the series 26-11, but you can throw all of that in the trashcan this weekend.

Idaho State Bengals Offense Rolls

ISU quarterback Matt Gutierrez (6-4, 231) is coming off of a 14-19 completion performance for 196 yards and 2 TDs in ISU's victory over Division II Fort Lewis last Saturday, but the Bengals running game was on and he only saw a little over 2 quarters of action. The transfer from Michigan is an accurate QB with a few weapons at his disposal. Senior receiver Akilah Lacey (6-1, 202), junior Clyde Logan (6-4, 200), RS so Eddie Thompson (5-10, 185) and RS freshman Jaron Taylor (5-11, 175) will all see time, and all catch the ball well. Lacey and Taylor each caught a TD pass last week. Lacey also had 103 yards on the day.

Junior cornerback Stanley Franks (5-11, 167) and senior free safety Tone Taupule (6-1, 205) lead a Vandal defensive backfield that is continuing to mold as a group and defend the pass for the Vandals. Out this week is star left cornerback Reggie Jones (5-10, 201, jr) who will be out for a couple weeks with an injury suffered this week in practice. Senior Kiel McDonald (5-10, 190) has seen extensive playing time this fall (particularly in nickel packages) and is likely to start Saturday, while a healthy rotation led by freshman General Parnell should see serious playing time. As of press-time the status of true freshman strong safety Shiloh Keo (5-10, 175, fr) for this weekend was uncertain, but juniors Lee Jones and Chris Smith have seen significant playing time, and true freshman Adam Anderson will get a chance to play as well if needed. Can the Vandal defensive backfield rebound from last week's game? Look for this group to come out and make a statement against the Bengal passing attack.

Bengal runningback Josh Barnett is coming off a 185 yard performance on only 18 carries. Suffice to say, Barnett can run the ball. At 5-11, 185 pounds, the junior has led the Bengals in rushing the last two years, and seems to be on his way for a third. Backing him up is RS sophomore Ken Cornist (5-11, 210), who offers a little more power in the run game. Bengal TE Brandon Mennear (6-6, 260, sr) is a load on the line, but also has the hands to provide a big target down field.

Vandal fans should have a special interest in the Vandal linebacker corps this weekend. Junior David Vobora (6-1, 221) continues to impress as the #1 tackler in the WAC and #2 in the nation with 30 tackles in the first two games. Junior SAM Josh Bousman (6-2, 228) is among the team leader in tackles and has played well against MSU and WSU. Senior MIKE Jaron Williams (6-1, 227) is really improving his play and has started each of the last two weeks…He plays with great passion. Once again the rotation will include senior Robert Davis (6-4, 223) and junior Brandon Ogletree (6-3, 224). Both Davis and Ogletree are seeing significant time, with Davis 8th on the team with seven tackles and Ogletree with three tackles on the year. At last, Vandals fans should get to see JC transfer JoArtis Rotti (6-1, 220), a 2004 JC Gridwire All-American and highly touted linebacker prospect. Rotti turned some heads in fall practice, so all eyes will be on him as he makes his playing debut Saturday. Josh Barnett will earn his yards.

Down in the Trenches

The Bengal O-Line is coming off a dominant performance. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in strength. RT Shawn Oram (6-5, 285, jr), RG Clifton Buckway (6-3, 285, sr), OC George Yarno (6-0, 275, jr), LG Evan Dietrich-Smith (6-4, 265, so), and LT Sam Downs (6-3, 285, sr) will be the starters on the o-line, paving the way for Barnett and providing pass protection for Gutierrez. For those that don't recognize the Yarno name, George is a relative of Vandal legend John Yarno, a 1st Team All-American center and All-Pro in the NFL.

Idaho's D-Line will need to regroup after getting run over by Washington State last weekend and establish their presence early to stop the Bengal rushing attack. 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. On the outside 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) need to create pressure and finally get the sack that has eluded the unit through the first two games. This group has the strength and size to stop the push of the Bengals O Line…they need to produce a turnover.

The Bengal defensive line is comprised of DE Geo Simmons (6-4, 276, jr), DT Villami Akoetu (6-3, 340, jr), DT James Drake (6-3, 290, sr), and DE Renell Robinson (6-1, 245, sr). This means size and experience, and another formidable group lining up across the Vandal O.

Vandal 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 RT Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) and redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac (6-4, 290) at RG. Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305) will continue to see time. It should prove interesting to see how the O-Line responds to last week. Can they provide the surge they did in week one? If so, Jayson Bird and Brian Flowers should have a big day.

The Bengal D

The 2006 Bengal defense boasts experience in all areas. Heading up the group are LB Ryan Phipps (5-11, 210, so), MLB Pago Togafau (5-10, 210, sr), and LB Anthony Henderson (6-2 220, sr). They will roam the middle looking to stuff the run. They were able to hold their opponent to 62 yards rushing last week, and look to improve on that against Idaho.

Sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220) and junior speedster Brian Flowers (5-9, 190) need to gain more yards. If the offensive line has a rebound performance, the runningbacks will benefit, and Bird should be a handful for the Bengal linebacking corps. It would be nice to see more of Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 240) running the ball, and it seems to be just a matter of time before Brian Flowers breaks open a run. Tracy Ford (5-8, 170), will also see some carries. Out of that stable, expect positive yardage.

The Bengal secondary includes SS Chaz Brewer (6-2, 205, sr), CB Anthony Melvin (6-0, 180, jr), CB DJ Clark (6-2, 200 so), and FS Terrance Calloway (5-11/198, jr) who took their lumps in the opener, but settled down last week to do a nice job. Size is not an issue and all four are sure tacklers.

Steve Wichman (6-3, 219) will be throwing to a new starting lineup. Erickson continues to challenge his receivers by rotating them at will until one emerges. This week JC transfers Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, jr) and Tariq Ikharo (6-4, 190, jr) will crack the starting lineup at split end and slot, respectively, joining senior flanker Wendall Octave (6-1, 187). Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so), Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr), Wes Wiliams and DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr) all expect to see time. Expect junior Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) to re-emerge as the Vandals number one receiving threat. He and Keith Greer (6-2, 252) provide solid blocking up front, but Smith-Anderson is too good not to get him the ball.

Special Teams

Idaho punter TJ Conley needs to bounce back after a sub par performance. He has the leg to be the WAC's top punter. Stanley Franks continues to impress on kickoff returns. For the Bengals, junior kicker Dan Zeidman has a very impressive leg. Not only does he consistently kickoff to the back of the endzone, but he nailed a 49 and 50 yarder last week. Zeidman can hit from a long ways away.

It's All Vandal

As mentioned before, Idaho State starting center George Yarno is the nephew of University Idaho Vandal John Yarno, whose son Brian Yarno graduated from Idaho a couple years ago and was a starter for the Vandals (long snapper / tight end). Idaho State Coach, Larry Lewis, is a 1981 graduate of Boise State University and is in his eighth season as head coach of the Bengals. Lewis has been responsible for a resurgence of the Bengal football program…a Bengals program that tied for the Big Sky championship in 2002.

After last week's letdown, expect the Vandals to regroup and play hard in the trenches. The fact is, many players are still trying to hang onto their position, or they are trying to win the position. Player rotation will continue. The Idaho State Bengals are a Big Sky team with talent, but if the Vandals play to their potential, Idaho should have the athletes to earn their first win of the year. But, if the Vandals think they can cruise through this game, or if Idaho thinks ISU will fold because they fall behind by a touchdown or two, the Bengals have more than enough talent to come out on top. The Vandals have yet to play to their potential this year. Is this the weekend they do it?

Playing at home should give them extra incentive to get into the win column.

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