Ready for WAC play: Idaho at Utah State

This Saturday, in a game that will be televised LIVE on the Go Vandals Network and also on ESPN GamePlan, the Idaho Vandals (1-3, 0-0 WAC) head to Logan (Utah) to take on Utah State (0-4, 0-0 WAC) in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both schools. Inside is a look at the matchups for Saturday's game (kickoff is at noon Pacific, 1pm Mountain).

The Vandals find themselves on the road for the second week in a row (and for the fourth time in the first five weeks of this season), opening up WAC play in Logan, Utah. Idaho (1-3, 0-0) hosted Utah State (0-4, 0-0 WAC) in the Dome last year and beat the Aggies 27-13. The series is tied at 15-15-2, and the importance of this game can't be emphasized enough as these two schools try to rebound from a long non-conference schedule and start conference play with a win. It's a whole new season, and both teams are well aware of this…

This Saturday, in a game that will be regionally broadcast live on ESPN GamePlan from Utah State's Romney Stadium, the Aggies will host the Vandals in a game that historically is usually pretty close.

Aggie sophomore runningback Lynwood Johnson goes airborn against BYU and will likely get his reps against Idaho.

The Aggie Offense

This week there will likely be a noticeable change in the Aggie's offense as the resignation of offensive coordinator Mike Santiago followed USU's 38-0 loss to BYU. It was the third consecutive shutout for the Aggies, and shockingly the Aggies haven't scored a single touchdown yet this season. Receivers Coach Greg Stevens will take over calling the plays, so any film the Vandals have on the Ags could be useless.

Multi threat junior quarterback Leon Jackson (6-1, 220) returns to lead the Aggie offense, and as the Vandals saw last year he is skilled both running and throwing the ball. His primary targets are WR Kevin Robinson (6-0, 195, Jr) and WR Tarell Richards (5-10 192, Sr). Robinson had a 100-yard game against Idaho last year, while Richards is coming off the best performance of his career last weekend against BYU. Redshirt freshman Nnamdi Gwacham (6-3, 207) will rotate liberally into the wide receiver rotation. TE Rob Myers (6-4, 237) and FB Jimmy Bohm (6-2, 273, Jr.) are both used in the passing game, so Vandal linebackers will need to keep an eye on the tightend release and the fullback sneaking out of the backfield.

With junior cornerback Reggie Jones out this week, starters Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, Jr.) and Kiel McDonald (5-10, 190, sr) will need to continue their early season solid play for Idaho to have success defensively in Logan. They continue to make plays and should find their opportunities to pick off Jackson in this game. Idaho's safety lineup is getting a little bit of a shakeup this week with JC transfer Chris Smith (5-9, 179, Jr.) looking to start ahead of senior Tone Taupule (6-1, 205, Sr)…expect both to get plenty of playing time. Smith played well against OSU last week, and provides plenty of speed at free safety. Tone will continue to see time, as he has size and plays a very physical game. Starting true freshman strong safety Shilo Keo (5-10, 175, Fr.) is still showing signs of how good he is going to be, but also shows signs of how young he is from time-to-time. Sophomore Jevon Butler is expected to roll back into the safety rotation this week and could see some PT with Keo. No matter how you slice it though, Keo is impressive and Vandal fans have to be excited about this talent.

Utah State junior runningback Marcus Cross (5-11 209) has been excellent all season long. He's been responsible for the bulk of Utah State's offense, and is as much a receiving threat as a running threat. He is a one man wrecking crew out of the Aggie backfield.

Vandal linebackers David Vobora (6-1, 235, Jr.), Josh Bousman (6-2, 228, Jr.), Joartis Rotti (6-1, 220, Jr.), Brandon Ogletree (6-3, 230), Jaron Williams (6-1, 227, Sr.), and Robert Davis (6-4, 223) must continue to be the strength of the Idaho defense. Vobora is sideline to sideline; he's the real deal. Ratti has come out of nowhere and is showing his knack for making big plays, while last week Ogletree slid into the starting outside linebacker spot and has made his presence known. This is not to forget about Bousman, Williams and Davis, each of whom has either started at least one game this season and is seeing significant playing time. This group is deep and talented, and it's obvious the starting jobs are week-to-week battles as everyone is seeing time and getting an opportunity to make plays. This group is more than capable of stopping Marcus Cross. Look for them to come out and make a statement as a group. The Idaho linebackers are for real, and the Vandals need this group to be the backbone of the defensive unit.

Down in the Trenches

Utah State has two seniors who are returning starters on the offensive line, but they also have their share of youngsters up front as well. OT Shawn Murphy (6-4, 307, Jr.) and OT Malik Cin (6-4, 320, Sr.) will bookend the line with Brent DeLadurantey (6-3, 308, Sr.) playing center and Pace Jorgenson (6'5, 332, Jr.) and Ryan Tonnemacher (6-3, 275, So.) playing the guard positions. Not only do they have size, they have depth. Expect senior Ryan Wilson (6-3, 258) and sophomore Derek Hoke (6-9, 300) to rotate in, keeping the line fresh.

Defensively for the Vandals, once again the pressure falls on Ryan Davis (6-0, 267, Sr), Siua Musika (6-1, 293, Jr), redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301), sophomore Alex Toailoa (6-1, 299) and JC transfer Jon Dominguez (6-3, 252, Jr.) to clog the middle and penetrate. Each game they've shown improvement, but it's crunch time and the D-Line needs to hold it's own in the trenches. 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 concentrate on containing Jackson. Campbell recorded Idaho's first sack of the '06 season a couple weeks ago against Idaho State, and the line showed signs of a stronger rush last week against Oregon State. Jackson is not the type of quarterback you can let take off on a run. He's slippery and fast, and if he sees an opening he will bolt. True freshman defensive end Steve Cameron (6-1, 220) will continue to see time, and like so much of the Vandal football team, try and earn a starting position by making plays.

Aggie redshirt freshman defensive lineman Alan Bishop (6-5, 257).
The Aggies D-line is anchored by tackles E.J. Reid (6-1, 300, Jr) and Kerry Shepherd (6-2, 274, Sr) with Ben Childs (5-11, 264, Jr) backing them up. Sophomores Ben Calderwood (6'2, 260) and Bevan Howard (6-0, 265) will see time at end, and starting junior Frank Maile (6-2, 261) may be back from a hamstring injury. The D-Line has a healthy rotation of players, and, like Idaho, has only gathered one sack. They will be hungry to improve on their penetration and sack numbers.

The Vandal offensive line is strong and athletic, but has been inconsistent at controlling the line throughout the season. Starters include sophomore center Adam Korby (6-3, 290), senior left tackle Nate VanderPol (6-6, 306), sophomore RT Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) and redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac (6-4, 290) at RG. Senior left guard Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315) is going to be slowed with an injury and may not start Saturday. In that case, junior Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305), who has started at least one game this season at right guard, will move into the left guard spot next to VanderPol. It is also very possible that some of the youngsters like sophomore tackle Billy Bates (6-5, 280) and sophomore guard Mike Iupati (6-6, 320), among others, could see some action this week as well…There are rumors of a little mix up in the trenches. This group has talent, and as the competition grows in practice, the desire to see other players in a game situation also grows. Watch this unit!

Aggies' D

A youth movement is happening at linebacker for the Aggies. USU has started four different players, all sophomores, at linebacker this season. Inside ‘backer Jake Hutton (6'0, 225) and strongside backer Devon Hall (6'3, 205) are the experienced hitters. Hutton is the leader on defense and has been known to force a fumble or two. On the weakside, Derrick Cumbee (6'1, 206) is coming of a monster game, and is showing he has a nose for the ball. Daryl Fields (5-7, 190) provides depth for the Aggies. They will be put to the test Saturday stopping what will be expected to be a revitalized Vandal rushing attack coming off a tough outing at OSU.

Sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220) and junior speedster Brian Flowers (5-9, 190) are combining for a nice one-two punch, but big plays are still missing. Bird provides power and speed, but hasn't broken a big run yet. Flowers has shown flashes of brilliance, but still needs to put a nice game together combining his outstanding receiving and rushing skills. Don't be surprised to see more of sophomore Tracy Ford (5-8, 170, So) and true freshman rocket Raymond Fry (5-8, 170, Fr) in the mix Saturday. Both are extremely quick, and can buckle the knees of defenders. The coaches are looking for some spark out of the runningbacks, and these two just may provide it. Ford was instrumental in the victory over the Aggies last year, and Fry has been inches from busting lengthy returns serving as one of Idaho's starting kick returners all year.

The defensive backfield for the Aggies also has youth. Junior cornerback Drew Pearson (6-0, 168) grabbed his first interception last week, and Marquise Charles (5-8, 167, So) is holding his own against opposing receivers. Twin brothers Caleb Taylor (6-3, 192) and Josh Taylor (6-3, 192) hold down the safety positions. Safety Antonio Taylor (6-1, 214) returned an interception 45 yards for a score. They are athletic and can hit, which will put pressure on the Vandal passing attack.

Idaho starting quaterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219) has had a roller-coaster season and struggled last week against OSU. Opposing defenses are loading up the box to stop the run and force Idaho into a one-dimensional game – everyone knows it and it is happening week after week. It is going to take some sustained success by Vandal QBs to break that game plan, and Wichman has the pedigree to have a monster game. Backup Brian Nooy (6-2, 198, Jr) saw the most time of his 2006 season last week when he came into the game at OSU in the third quarter, but Erickson has stated that Wichman is his man. This isn't just a quarterback thing either. Wide receivers Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, Jr), Wendall Octave ( 6-1, 187, Sr), and Tariq Ikharo (6-4, 190, Jr) are poised to have a big game, but have yet to find any sustained rhythm with their quarterback. Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so), Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr), and DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr) will continue to rotate in at receiver. Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) is still nursing a knee injury and will be out for a couple more weeks, so senior Keith Greer (6-2, 252) will continue to start. Eddie Williams (6-1, 249, So.) had a fantastic game against Oregon State last weekend and is the combination of strength, power, and receiving ability the group needs. Look for the Vandals to use him more.

Special Teams

Idaho punter TJ Conley versus Leon Jackson; with both teams coming off 38-0 losses, it's only fair to mention the punters. Conley is improving with every game, and Leon Jackson is booming the ball for the Aggies. It's hard not to be impressed with Leon Jackson, and the job he does for the Aggies. He averages over 39 yards per punt, and has booted the ball 28 times this season.

View from the horse-shoe end of Romney Stadium.
It's All Vandal?

No, it's not. It's mostly Bronco when you're talking about the Ags. Aggie coach Brent Guy was the defensive coordinator for the Broncos from 1998-2000. Safeties Coach Jeff Coop played defensive end at Boise State during those seasons. Defensive Coordinator Mark Johnson was the defensive line coach for the Broncos in 1998 and 1999 while the cornerbacks coach was a GA at the same time. Vandal Defensive Coordinator Jeff Mills worked with Aggies Defensive Coordinator Mark Johnson at Nevada in 2000 and 2001!

It's time for the Vandals to get a win. This WAC opener is very important for both programs, and until either team starts winning more consistently BOTH will need to pounce on these opportunities. USU gets a team that has been all over the map (literally and figuratively) this season, and Idaho takes on a team that hasn't scored an offensive touchdown all year. Both teams must be approaching this game as a "must win" game if either hopes for any success this season.

Vandal fans should be excited about their defense, as this unit continues to display hard-hitting ability, poise under pressure, big play potential, and stubbornness. It's only a matter of time before the offense puts it together. The coaches continue to shuffle players in throughout the lineup to see who responds. This kind of playing time can only benefit the team as a whole. Both teams have yet to find their identity, and there is no game more likely to bring it out than this one for either team.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the WAC season begin!

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