Vandals hit the road, take on La Tech

The Vandals are off to their best start since a second place finish in the Big West Conference in 1999 (they won the BWC crown in 1998 and went on to a bowl victory over Southern Miss after just 3 years of Division 1A competition). This week Idaho (3-3, 2-0 WAC) travels to Ruston to play a talented and battle-tested Louisiana Tech team (1-4, 0-1 WAC) that has played a brutal early schedule.

The Vandals (3-3 overall, 2-0 WAC) travel to Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, Louisiana to take on WAC foe, Louisiana Tech (1-4, 0-1). The Bulldogs have just come off what most pundits consider to be one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the WAC (and the nation), including games with Nebraska, Clemson and Texas A&M. If that weren't tough enough, La Tech opened WAC-play last week by traveling to Boise to take on defending WAC co-champion Boise State… and lost. The Bulldogs finally find themselves back home this week, hosting the Vandals for Homecoming and hungry for a win.

The Vandals head to Ruston and will try to stay undefeated in WAC competition, and will also look to avenge last year's 3-point loss to in the Dome.

Idaho's second season in the WAC has gotten off to a good start, with victories over Utah State in Logan and topping New Mexico State at home last weekend in Moscow. But this game will show Vandal fans more about their team than any game this season. Traveling far away to suit up and play a big, physical Bulldog team that probably has some pent up aggression will test the Vandals' mental and physical toughness. Idaho is .500 for the first time in years and they are currently undefeated in WAC play. This team should feel good about how they've developed in the first six weeks of the season. Can they keep it up? Can they continue to improve and find their identity as this season progresses and they take on the upper echelon of the WAC in the next six weeks? Can they continue to play disciplined football week, after week, after week?

If the Vandals come out of Rustin with a win over a quality WAC team that has played a nasty schedule against some of the best teams in the country, then the answer will be a lot closer to yes.

Quarterback Zac Champion hands off to runningback Patrick Jackson against Texas A&M.

The BullDog O

QB Zac Champion
Junior quaterback Zac Champion (6-1, 215) will lead the well-balanced Bulldog offense this weekend against Idaho in La Tech's Homecoming game. He has multiple weapons at his disposal, starting with his athletic wide receivers. Starters Johnathan Holland (6-0, 189, Sr), Eric Newman (6-0, 187, Sr), and Josh Wheeler (6-4, 200, So.) have the size and experience to be one of the top units in the WAC. Holland is a sprinter on the track team, and can stretch the field in a hurry. Newman brings in the experience and "veteran" tag. Wheeler burned Idaho for a 72 yard touchdown last year. Earl Griffin (6-0, 207, Jr) and Brian Jackson (6-3, 212, RSFr) rotate in generously, and Champion loves to spread the ball around and get everyone involved. Tightends Anthony James (6-6, 265, Sr.) and Anthony Harrison (6-3, 225, So.) will see the ball thrown their way. James is enormous, and plays a lot like Idaho's Smith-Anderson; he is an excellent blocker and receiver.

TE Josh Wheeler
If opposing quaterbacks don't know who Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, Jr) is by now, they will by the end of the game. Franks continues to show why he's one of the WAC's best corners, having 5 interceptions to his credit in six games. Kiel McDonald (5-10, 190, Sr) has been solid the last few weeks starting opposite Franks, and Idaho appears to have the luxury of having starter Reggie Jones return to the starting lineup. McDonald's solid play has calmed the worries of Vandal fans...the trio of Franks, McDonald and Jones are quickly becoming the best group of CBs at Idaho in many years. Junior College transfer and free safety Chris Smith (5-9, 179, Jr.) grabbed his first interception for the Vandals last week and rotates at free safety with senior Tone Taupule (6-1, 205). Smith typically works in on passing downs, while Taupule gets the most action on running downs. True freshman Shiloh Keo (5-10, 175) has been Idaho's starting strong safety all season continues to be a major play-maker for the Vandals. His sure tackling and nose for the ball has quickly become a fixture on the Vandal defense.

RB Freddie Franklin
Louisiana Tech junior runningback Freddie Franklin (6-0, 178) and sophomore Patrick Jackson (5-10, 192) share ball-carrying duties for the Bulldogs. Freshman runningback Daniel Porter continues to see time, and always makes the most of his opportunities. The Bulldog backs are extremely quick, and know how to read blocks. The offensive line is massive, which tends to help the running game.

Defensively for Idaho 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), Joartis Ratti (6-1, 220, Jr) are not just Idaho's linebacking corps, they are the the heart of the Idaho defense. The bad news is Brandon Ogletree sprained his knee and could miss a few weeks; he has been an explosive force on the field since his true freshman season and is off to his best season at Idaho. The good news is that it's Josh Bousman's position once again; Bousman has been a starter for years and it showed as he forced last week's opponent into a bad pass and interception, and played well overall. The competition within this group is paying dividends, as the depth is athletic and talented. Ratti continues to adapt to the Division 1 level and has been impressive since the Oregon State game. If healthy, he is listed as the starting MIKE for Saturday's contest. Vobora continued his tackling clinic, logging 15 more in last week's game. His motor is non-stop, and his play is all over the field. The group was allowed to blitz a lot more, which means the coaches are starting to trust their decisions and play-making ability.

DT Josh Muse, shown against Nebraska earlier this season, may not be available for the game this Saturday with Idaho.

Down in the Trenches

We'll be blunt here…the Bulldog O Line is massive. Junior tackles Tyler Miller (6-7, 309) and Ryan Considine (6-5, 297) will protect the ends while guards David Accardo (6-5, 316, So.) and Marcus Lindsey (6-7, 386, Sr.) pave the running lanes in the middle. Senior center Jacob Peeler (6-3, 261) will lead the group. Top backups rotating in include juniors Jason Gooch (6-6, 278) and Kevon Bagot (6-7, 342). Monstrous Marcus Lindsey and Ryan Considine form an imposing tandem on the right side, so the Vandals can expect a heavy dose of run off the right side of the La Tech line.

The interior defensive line for Idaho of 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) continues to improve. The rotation allows them to stay fresh throughout the game, and the Vandals are beginning to penetrate more. 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) have been coming on strong. La Tech presents an opportunity for more sacks, but the ends need to be aware of the tightends and runningbacks. Short yardage passes are a key ingredient of the Bulldog O, so the ends need to be prepared to knock down passes as well as turn around and make a tackle.

Bulldog junior nose tackle Josh Muse (6-3, 310) may be missing due to injury, which is a huge loss. Breon Jackson (6-3, 310, So) will fill in for him, with defensive end Sammie Collins (6-3, 249, Sr) and defensive tackles Ben McGilton (6-3, 236, Jr) and Wes Day (6-4, 249, So) rotating to round out the defensive front. Given the previous games, it's hard to gauge the talent of this group, but rest assured the Vandals will have their hands filled with a hungry D-Line looking for some sacks. The jury is still out on Muse's availability, and his leadership and experience are needed.

For the Idaho offensive line, Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315) returned to the lineup last week backing up junior Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305) at left guard, which has to make Vandal fans happy. 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 all continue to start. Sophomores Billy Bates (6-5, 270) and Mike Iupati (6-6, 330) are expected to see some action this week. Fennell, whether or not he starts Saturday, has been instrumental in the offensive line rotation, and brings excellent run blocking to the field.

True freshman DB Antoine Baker (34) tries to make a diving tackle against Clemson.

Bulldog D

SAM Quin Harris (6-3, 221, So), MIKE Brannon Jackson (6-2, 263, Jr), BUCK Anthony Crosby (6-0, 227, Jr) and mystery man WILL Marquis McBeath (5-11,219, Jr) make up a very physical and fast linebacking corps. Once again the Vandals will face four roaming ‘backers, and all of them can hit. La Tech brings a physical brand of football, and has always counted on their linebackers to shut down opposing offenses. This group will be looking to get back on track by shutting down the Vandal running attack.

Sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220) and junior speedster Brian Flowers (5-9, 190) are beginning to take over the duties, splitting the load and providing a different style with each ball carrier. Flowers is coming off an excellent performance, showing some tough goal line running. Bird punishes with his much bigger frame. The two produce 100 yard games consistently, and have established a sound running game in the Vandal offense. Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 240), who is seeing time in an H-Back role now, also provides a load in short yardage and pass blocking situations.

The veteran defensive backfield for the Bulldogs consists of cornerbacks Sandy Ray Collins (5-10, 187, Sr) and Anthony Moss (5-10, 183, Sr), and safeties Deon Young (5-11, 191, Fr) and Dez Abrams (6-0, 189, Sr). The corners have good size and speed, and will see rotation help from Lee Brown (5-10, 192, Jr). Like the Vandals, La Tech starts a talented freshman at the DOG safety position, while Abrams brings a lot of experience with his hitting.

Vandal quarterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219) played strong in the first half against New Mexico State last week, then had trouble leading Idaho into the endzone in the second half. His ability to make decisions has definitely improved as the season has progressed, but for Idaho to continue to improve this season Wich has to keep the picks to a minimum. Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, jr) has added a legitimate deep threat that Idaho desperately needed this year. Wendell Octave (6-1, 187, Sr) is becoming the receiver Vandal fans have hoped he would become, and last week's 2 TD performance should hopefully build momentum and confidence for the balance of his senior season. Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so) continues to rehab, but could see the field. Tariq Ikharo (6-4, 190, jr), Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr), and DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr) will continue to rotate in at receiver. Komar was spectacular last week. He spreads the field nicely, and has been making some big plays. Even more importantly, the speedy Komar prevented a Wichman interception from being returned for a touchdown by chasing down an Aggie defensive back. Junior starting tightend Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) is back, but has yet to see the endzone. Keith Greer (6-2, 252) will miss the game with an injury, but sophomore Eddie Williams (6-1, 249, So) will see even more time. Eddie Williams and Luke Smith Anderson are two big, physical tightends and were an effective combination against NMSU last week.

WR Jonathan Holland makes an outstretched grab.

Special Teams

A week after Idaho kicker Tino Amancio, a sophomore JC transfer who has been off to an outstanding start this season was named WAC Special Teams Player of the Week, he was unable to connect on two 45+ yard attempts in the Dome. His missed two field goals (46- and 47-yards) in the third and fourth quarters, and the Vandals were held scoreless in the second half. Idaho will need Amancio to get back to form for Idaho to be competitive Saturday (last year's game was a fieldgoal battle as Mike Barrow tied an Idaho record for fieldgoals in a game). La Tech's kicker, Danny Horwedel, is a 3-year starter, the active WAC career leader in made field goals (28), and led Tech in scoring last year with 88 points. Horwedel is on the Lou Groza Award Watch List this year. Idaho sophomore punter T.J. Conley booted a season long 66-yard punt last week.

It's All Vandal

WR Wendell Octave
Speaking of Homecoming, Wendell Octave is from Louisiana and he's making the long trek home as a starting wide receiver for the Vandals. He'll have an impressive showing of fans, as his family will be in Ruston to cheer him on. Octave is coming off his best performance this year, and Vandal fans have got to be anticipating a follow-up performance with the whole family watching.

And for Idaho head football coach Dennis Erickson, well...he gets a road game where he doesn't have a past with the opposing team. La Tech head coach Jack Bicknell is friends with Erickson and remembers first meeting Erickson at a convention during his (Erickson's) stint as Miami's head coach. He echoes what everyone knows - Dennis Erickson is very approachable, and loves to talk football.

The Idaho team has had two rewarding weeks, but continues to struggle at putting a full game together. Well, there is no better time than the present, as traveling to La Tech to take on a hungry, physical Bulldog team is no easy task. The Vandals desperately need this win for many a reason. Besides staying in first place, the confidence the Vandals could gain by winning this road game would be immeasurable. These teams are evenly matched, and as last year's game showed, it could go down to the wire. What's brewin' down south is a serious WAC showdown. This game could be the turning point for either team, and both coaches know it.

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