New Mexico State In The Dome

This Saturday Idaho takes on New Mexico State and the powerful Aggie offense for Homecoming in The Dome (2pm kickoff). The Vandals are 2-3 overall and 1-0 in WAC play coming off their 41-21 victory over Utah State in Logan last weekend. This is the WAC opener for NMSU, which is 2-2 and coming off a near upset of UTEP last Saturday. Inside is a look at how the teams match up.

The Vandals (2-3 overall, 1-0 WAC) will host New Mexico State (2-2, 0-0) this Saturday in a Homecoming tilt in Moscow. This will be the second WAC game of this young season for The University of Idaho, while the Aggies will be playing their first conference game of the season. These two teams have actually met twelve times over the years, and Idaho holds a 9-3 advantage in the series. Despite Idaho's series advantage, most of these games have been close (such as Idaho's 38-37 double-overtime victory over NMSU last year in Las Cruces), and the game this weekend should be no different. Hal Mumme is in his second year as the head coach at NMSU, and the Aggies look to open WAC play with a win. But the Vandals are coming off an impressive win over Utah State, and look to keep the momentum going for their Homecoming.

The WAC landscape is just beginning to take shape, and Utah State, New Mexico State and Idaho are still the new kids on the block. All three joined the conference together, and the winner of these matchups has its own sense of pride. Idaho was able to beat both teams last year, and Vandal fans will expect to follow it up this year. Can the Vandals hold off the Aggies' high powered passing attack? We soon shall see.

Quarterback Chase Holbrook takes aim behind a solid Aggie offensive line.

The Aggie Offense

Aggie sophomore quaterback Chase Holbrook (6-6, 235) is the NCAA leader in passing yardage and has all the tools to play at the next level. His frame and arm strength are excellent, and Vandal fans should expect to see plenty of Holbrook's arm in action for years to come. The Aggie offense returns eight starters and runs a four receiver set (X, H, Y & Z positions). NMSU will reportedly be without bigtime transfer Akieem Jolla, a 6-3, 200 pound senior from the Miami Hurricanes. He was ranked one of the Top 30 transfers by and is a bigtime threat. He's been out several weeks with an injury and is not expected to be on the field this least nobody is saying so publicly. If available, he provides a big, talented target at the slot position. Regardless, Holbrook has a deep and talented set of receivers to choose from, starting with A.J. Harris, a 6-1, 210-pound sophomore who recorded 448 yds and 4 TD's as a freshman. Another talented receiver, junior Derek Dubois (6-1, 174), starts at the Y position. Vandal fans should also remember Tim Tolbert (6-1, 184) at the Z position, as he put up 120 yards and a TD last year in Las Cruces against Idaho. Last week against UTEP, a game NMSU lost by 3 points in a shootout, Holbrook connected with 10 different receivers. Look for Brandon Allen (6-1, 172, Jr) and the speedy Chris Williams (5-9, 155 So.) to rotate.

Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, Jr.) snagged his fourth interception in last week's game, and this time he took it to the house; a 98 yards interception return. The Vandals just might have one of the better cornerbacks in the WAC. Kiel McDonald (5-10, 190, Sr) continues to fill in nicely for the injured Reggie Jones, who may be back this week. McDonald is getting more comfortable in coverage, and does a good job of laying a hit and wrapping up. Junior College transfer Chris Smith (5-9, 179, Jr.) and Tone Taupule (6-1, 205, Sr.) are splitting time at free safety and it's working out great. The competition is bringing the best out of both and Tone is starting to hit even harder. True freshman strong safety Shiloh Keo (5-10, 175) grabbed his first INT last week and is the second leading tackler on the team (Keo has started all 5 of Idaho's games this year and rarely leaves the field when Idaho is on D). Keo has a nose for the ball, and can flat out close in a hurry.

6-0, 205, Soph, RB
NMSU sophomore runningback Jeremiah Williams (6-0, 205) took over for injured Justine Buries (6-0, 200) and has shined. In order to start in this offense, you must know how to block first, catch second and run third. Williams has been the Aggies most dangerous rusher and offensive weapon, ripping off 106 yards and 3 touchdowns as well as catching another score against Texas Southern, and running for 90 yards on 15 carries with 65 receiving yards and a touchdown against UTEP. Williams is looking strong in all facets of the game and should pose a threat to the Vandals everywhere on the field.

Idaho's linebacker unit of David Vobora (6-1, 221, Jr.), Josh Bousman (6-2, 228, Jr.), Jaron Williams (6-1, 227, Sr.), Robert Davis (6-4, 223, Sr.), Brandon Ogletree (6-3, 224, Jr.), and Joartis Ratti (6-1, 220, Jr.) is the undeniable backbone of the Vandal defense, and this unit continue to see a heavy rotation to keep legs fresh and competition healthy. All except junior phenom Vobora, the WAC's #1 leading tackler who can take over a defensive series. He closes hard and makes plays all over the field. In last week's game a single play represented what this unit can do when Brandon Ogletree delivered a thunderous hit on Utah State's quarterback, the ball popped up in the air, Ratti snagged it mid-flight and rumbled 74 yards to the house. Ogletree had 3 tackles for a loss and Ratti demonstrated numerous times why he is earning the nickname "Sledge" with some of the Idaho fan base. The linebackers are scratching the surface of their ability, and should continue to cause havoc in backfields all season long. Last week, the linebacker play got better as the game wore on. This week, the group needs to start stronger and make a statement early. This could be a huge day for the ‘backers, as the Aggie offense tends to spread the ball all around.

Down in the Trenches

New Mexico State has used an infusion of JUCO transfers to solidify their line. Senior tackle Kyle Smith (6-2, 265) will protect on the left, while junior Adam Honaker (6-3, 295) will protect on the right. The guards are sophomore Matthew Schoonover (6-4, 290) and JUCO transfer Adam Honaker (6-3, 285). Their best lineman is center Mike Martinez (6-3, 315, So.) who possesses size and agility. Roberto Davis (6-5, 265 So.) and Alex Gottlieb (6-3, 280 Sr.) will rotate in to help keep the O line fresh.

Vandal defensive linemen Ryan Davis (6-0, 267, Sr), Siua Musika (6-1, 293, Jr), redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301), and sophomore Alex Toailoa (6-1, 299) are seeing the vast majority of reps on the Idaho interior defensive line and have done a good job clogging the middle, but penetration is still a concern. The rotation is working out nicely, as they stayed fresh throughout the game. 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) should be chomping at the bit. Holbrook will be passing often, which should give the ends ample opportunity to gather a sack (or five). Holbrook was sacked six times as he threw for 506 yards last week, connecting on 48 of 73 passes against UTEP. It would be nice to see a few sacks out of this group. They have the talent and speed to get there. True freshman Steve Cameron (6-1, 235) has been seeing time all year on special teams and is working his way into the DE rotation; he could see some time Saturday.

The New Mexico State Aggie D-line is anchored by senior noseguard Jeremy Weeks (6-2, 285). The experienced Jared Naylor (6-2, 278, Sr.) is the right end, while Maurice Murray (6-3, 280, Jr.) lines up on the left side. Skylar Sargent (6-0, 260, Jr.) and Brandon McKinney (6-3, 240, So.) will provide the rotation. The Aggies run a 3-4 defense (relatively unusual at the college level, as most programs, like Idaho, run a 4-3 defensive package), the three down linemen want to plug the middle and allow the linebackers to roam, filling the gaps. The rush comes more from the linebacking corps, with the line focuses on shutting down of the run game.

Idaho offensive guard Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305) filled in nicely for senior left guard Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315) last week. Tadvick is trying to make it back for this weekend's game but it's still up in the air. Sophomore center Adam Korby (6-3, 290,), a member of the Rimington Trophy Watch List, 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 will continue to start, but there has been sightings of a few other linemen. Billy Bates (6-5, 270, So.) and Mike Iupati (6-6, 330, So.) both saw some action last week, which should make Vandal fans happy, as this line is getting greater depth and more experience.

Aggies' D

Senior linebacker Tim McManigal (6-0, 222) will play the WANDA position on the Aggie defense. The position provides a left side rush, but also roams like a linebacker. At middle linebacker, Shaun Leaupepe (6-1, 235, So.) has been solid, while La'Fonoti (6-2, 225, So.) brings his athleticism to the outside linebacker position. Redshirt Freshman Jamar Cotton (6-0, 215) will handle the rushing position on the right side. Rotating in will be senior Nathan Nuttall (6-0, 212) and Michael Brewer (6-3, 220, Jr.). This group should provide a challenge for the Vandal offensive line as this is a different defensive scheme, and the Aggies are fast to the ball.

Vandal runningback sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220) and junior speedster Brian Flowers (5-9, 190) provide an excellent combination of speed and power to the Vandal running game. But the big play still eludes them. When the Vandals sniff the goal line, Bird is almost impossible to stop. His second efforts have been commonplace on the goal line, and Bird's power always seems to win. Flowers is still learning Erickson's spread offense and competing at the D-1 level, but his power and quickness makes up for it, and when he finally finds a seem he'll be gone. Idaho fans may see more of Tracy Ford (5-8, 170, So.) and Raymond Fry (5-8, 170, Fr.) in the mix, as the coaches are looking for ways to utilize their speed. Junior Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 240), one of Idaho's top two runningbacks the last two years and the first four games of this year, worked into the H-back rotation against Utah State and was effective. Expect to see him more in that capacity as the season wears on.

Backup LC Marvin Betts (20) and starting FS Gerald Gurrier (6) converge to defend against a pass.(br> 6-0, 205, Soph, RB
The defensive backfield for the Aggies consists of 3 returning starters including senior cornerback Courtney Bryan (5-11, 1950) and junior cornerback Alex Bernard (5-8 185). Their best defensive player is strong safety Eric Carrie (5-9, 200, Jr), while free safety is manned by sophomore Gerald Gurrier (5-10, 191, So). The speed and size of the Aggies' defensive backfield has improved their play from last year. Junior Marvin Betts (5-11, 180) rotates in at both corner positions.

Vandal quaterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219) is coming off his best game of the 2006 season. Statistically he has put up more yards and more TDs, but his decision making was much better and he was able to pick up a few first downs with some gritty runs. More importantly he didn't throw a single interception. Wide receiver Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, jr) is starting to shine, while senior Wendell Octave (6-1, 187) and JUCO transfer Tariq Ikharo (6-4, 190) should continue to start. Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so) will be out a few weeks with a knee injury. Walkon redshirt freshman Max Komar (5-10, 185) and senior DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204) will continue to rotate in at receiver. Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) may be back to the tightend rotation after missing a couple weeks with an injury. Senior Keith Greer (6-2, 252) and true sophomore Eddie Williams (6-1, 249, So.) will also split time. Eddie Williams is becoming an offensive threat, coming off his best game as a Vandal.

Special Teams

Idaho sophomore walkon kicker Tino Amancio was named WAC Special Teams Player of the Week this week for his stellar performance against Utah State (converted his attempt of 42 and 19 yards, and went 5-of-5 on PATs). He hasn't missed an attempt since the season opener, and has converted 85.7% of his attempts. Meanwhile, New Mexico State's kicker continues to struggle this season. He missed a 38-yard field goal attempt last week, which proved to be costly. It should be interesting to watch Tino continue his 2006 campaign, and see how Hal Mumme approaches the kicking game as he' been vocal about his dissatisfaction so far this year.

It's All Vandal

Homecoming has special meaning to Vandal Football fans. The return of Coach Dennis Erickson has revitalized the Vandal Nation, creating a buzz around the program and excitement around the WAC. The Tribe from the North is getting its swagger back, and it showed last week in Logan. The Kibbie Dome will be packed as the Vandals host their first WAC opponent of the 2006 season.

The coaches and players continue to grow together. If Vandal fans look at the small amount of time everyone has been together, it's easy to understand the inconsistent play. Now that conference play has begun, there is no room for mistakes. The Vandals need to string two strong showings together, and continue to grow their confidence. New Mexico State will be a difficult challenge (this is a much better team than Idaho has faced in recent years), but if Idaho builds off of last week, the defense can make it a long day for the Aggies. The other ingredient is the offense. If Wichman plays smart, he can have another strong showing.

Vandal fans need to fill the Kibbie Dome and make as much noise as possible, as the Aggies love to pass, and love to run a no-huddle offense. If the fans do this, Dennis Erickson will make this Homecoming a game to remember.

One more thing… If you see Dennis this weekend, don't forget to welcome him home!

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