Vandals Still a Work in Progress

Last Saturday Idaho got their first interceptions of 2006, their first sack, opened up the passing game, and logged their first win of the Dennis Erickson era, version 2.0. We take a quick look back as QB STEVE WICHMAN and the team completes final preparations for its second Pac-10 test of the season as the team heads to Corvalis this Saturday to take on Oregon State (live on Fox Sports NW).

University of Idaho coach Dennis Erickson said it best when he said this team hasn't played to their potential. After playing well against Michigan State then being blown out by Wazzu, they finally logged a win last Saturday against a tough Idaho State squad, 27-24. The Bengals gave the Vandals all they could handle, but because of their 1-AA status it dampens the mood of fans despite Idaho walking away with the W. But Idaho State fields a very good team, and as Erickson said following the game - instead of focusing on the negative, a win constitutes focusing on the positives.

The team continues to audition for the coaching staff at several positions, as many players saw playing time with several stepping up and performing well. Vandal fans have a lot to be excited about, even when the names might not be all that familiar.

Senior wide receiver WENDELL OCTAVE keeps it inbounds for a 35+ yard gain.
The Vandal offense continues to be hot and cold, but finally seems to be working itself out of "dropped ball" syndrome. This has to be a relief for quarterback Steve Wichman. Senior Wendall Octave brought in six receptions for 96 yards, showing some nifty moves after the catch. Octave has played better each week of this young season. Junior Marlon Haynes' first start showed promise as he gained 88 yards on four receptions. Erickson has had to shuffle the receiving corps while trying to find the right mix, and it seems to be coming together. He has a healthy rotation and the competition is bringing the best out of the receiving crew. Ryan Heacock's number was called on a key third down and he caught the ball for 10 yards to move the chains with the game on the line.

Junior tailback BRIAN FLOWERS ran for almost 100 yards against ISU.
In the running game, it was the same backs carrying the load; Rolly Lumbala, Jayson Bird and Brian Flowers. Bird hammered the ball for 53 yards, averaging just under 4 yards per carry. Rolly continues to improve on hitting the hole hard. He bulled his way in for two scores, but his most impressive runs of the game were midfield, as he averaged 5 yards on those two runs. Rolly is a load, and when he hits the hole hard his momentum and power is imposing. The Vandals have a luxury in ‘backs with Bird and Lumbala. These two cherish the football, and are brutes when running the ball. Brian Flowers is beginning to show his stuff, going for 94 yards on 14 carries. Flowers is an excellent receiving threat as well, having made some impressive grabs in each of the first three games. As he continues to learn the offense, and learns the tendencies of his line, he will become an even bigger threat.

The offensive line and tightends continue to impress. The offensive output was 161 on the ground and 266 through the air, which can and should be largely attributed to the offensive line and tightends. Seeing senior Keith Greer finally get involved with the passing game was refreshing. Greer is tough as nails, has excellent hands and always seems to make plays. He is a throwback football player in every sense of the term. Hopefully this trend continues, and Greer is given the opportunity to catch the ball more as the season progresses.

RS sophomore defensive tackle ALEX TOAILOA has quietly seen significant playing time.
The Vandal defense finally got its sack via senior rush end Charles Campbell, but the story of the day had to be the outstanding performance of backup corner Kiel McDonald. Playing for the injured Reggie Jones, the Bengals attacked McDonald all game long, only to be denied. McDonald's coverage on the afternoon was excellent, as he was able to knock two long passes away. Fellow corner Stanley Franks continues to please Vandal fans with his level of play, and his two interceptions Saturday were the highlights of the game. One set up a score, while the other was a deep ball where he showed his speed, concentration and ability to catch. Franks is exceptional.

Newcomer JO-ARTIS RATTI played a ton at MIKE Saturday...expect to see him more this fall.

Other bright spots on D were linebackers Joartis Ratti and Brandon Ogletree. Breaking away from mentioning the wrecking crew of Vobora and Bousman, Ratti tied Bousman with six tackles in his debut. Ogletree finished with four take downs.

Lastly, on special teams, we simply can't say enough about sophomore kicker Tino Amancio. He continues to be solid for the Vandals, as showcased last weekend when he went 2-for-2 on field goals, and 3-for-3 on PATs. He's connected on 80% of his fieldgoal attempts this year and appears to be picking up right where pre-season All-WAC kicker Mike Barrow left off. If there was one area that Vandal fans were concerned about going into this fall, it was kicker. Amancio has certainly quieted those concerns down in a hurry.

It's a good thing the Vandals haven't hit conference play yet. They haven't put it all together. The talent is there, but this team is still trying to find its identity. It's still trying to find out how to win. To be blunt, Vandal fans enter this weekend as unsure about this team as they were in week one.

True freshman STEVE CAMERON has started all 3 games on special teams, and last week moved up to defensive end. Expect to see more of the powerful youngster in the weeks ahead.
But, to stay focused on the positive, the one thing they do know is that it's sure great to have Dennis Erickson back in town. The Kibbie Dome was rockin' like it hasn't in years last weekend, and Erickson gave the Vandals a much needed win. He also gave us a glimpse into a much brighter future for the Vandal Nation.

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