NEWS & NOTES (Week 8)

The Vandal defense was stellar Saturday, nabbing an astonishing EIGHT turnovers to lead Idaho (4-3 overall, 3-0 WAC) to a 24-14 road win in Ruston over WAC foe Louisiana Tech. Offensively, walkon redshirt freshman wide receiver MAX KOMAR had his best game as a Vandal, eclipsing the century mark by gaining 101 yards on two receptions, both of which led to Idaho touchdowns.

INJURY REPORT... Despite the Vandals getting their first victory over a WAC opponent other than New Mexico State and Utah State since joining the WAC last season, victory did not come without a cost. Junior middle linebacker Joartis Ratti, Idaho's starter the last two games, will be out for several weeks (and possibly the rest of the season) with a knee injury. Also injured defensively was senior defensive tackle Ryan Davis. Offensively tailback Brian Flowers was helped off the field against the Bulldogs. Both Davis and Flowers are listed as questionable for Saturday's matchup against 2005 WAC co-Champion Boise State. Sophomore wide receiver Lee Smith has missed the last couple weeks, but may be back in action for this Saturday's game.

PROOF IS IN THE NUMBERS... The Vandal defense has been the back-bone for Idaho much of this season, and in particular during Idaho's 3-game winning streak in WAC play. How good have they been? Well, while they've given up some big scores to a few teams this season (blow out losses to Washington State and Oregon State), they've suddenly become adept at taking the ball away from opponents the last three weeks. Currently Idaho's defense is ranked SIXTH in the country in turnovers gained at 18 so far on the season (tied with California, Western Michigan, Louisiana-Monroe, and Kent State). Granted, La Tech did a lot to help Idaho's cause, coughing up eight turnovers in Saturday's game (four INTs and four fumbles lost). But considering how few turnovers Idaho was able to grab in recent years, this year has been a blessing. Nevada and BSU are tied at 18th in the country with 16 turnovers gained on the season.

INTERCEPTIONS ARE THE KEY... Digging a little deeper, we find that Idaho's riches are actually happening on pass defense, where Idaho is ranked fifth in the country with 11 interceptions total through the first seven games. Absolutely stunning, considering Idaho's inability to buy a pick in recent years. There is some heady company tied with Idaho in interceptions this year, including Arkansas State, Florida, LSU, Utah.....and the boyz in blue, BSU. Western Michigan leads the nation with 14 picks, followed by Baylor, Cal, and Ohio State with 13 picks apiece.

AND THEN THERE WAS STANLEY... For a team that had been hurting for cornerbacks the last few years, Idaho is doing quite well in that department this year. They will face some of the best passing offenses in the league in the weeks ahead (they did a tremendous job holding NMSU's potent offense to just 20 points two weeks ago), starting with a BSU team this weekend whose strength is a powerful running attack that sets up potent passing game. Idaho will defend the pass with the trifecta of Stanley Franks, Kiel McDonald and Reggie Jones. Of this group, despite talented starter Jones being injured for several weeks and McDonald playing incredibly efficiently in his place, Franks has been downright gawdy. He is currently tied for SECOND in the nation with six interceptions through the first seven games (Idaho's all-time record is 9 picks in a single season, and has stood for almost 40 years). He's tied with Daymeion Hughes (California) and Eric Weddle (Utah). Franks trails fellow WAC athlete Dwight Lowery of San Jose State with seven interceptions in just five games. As far as Idaho is concerned, we'll be pleased if Franks, McDonald, and Jones simply continue to cover receivers as effectively the rest of this season as they have through the first half of the schedule - even if good opportunities for picks don't arise in the last five games. Bottom line, this group has played very, very well despite their inexperience and relative "newness" to the system.

MONSTER IN THE BACKFIELD... University of Idaho true-junior weakside linebacker David Vobora continues to be among the nations leaders in tackles this season, following nicely in the footsteps of former Vandal 'backer Cole Snyder. Vobora currently leads the nation in solo tackles per game, his perfect 8.00 average edging out Iowa State's Alvin Bowen (7.43). He is also currently tied for FOURTH in the country in tackles per game, averaging 11.71 (tied with Tyrone McKenzie of Iowa State). Alvin Bowen leads the country with 14 tackles per game, followed by Matthew Castelo (SJSU) and Beau Bell (UNLV). This is the second year in a row we've had good reason to track these tackle stats closely, and its just another indicator of the defense that former head coach Nick Holt started building at Idaho, and is an example of the rewards for having a Vandal defensive staff that has been intact for three consecutive years, now operating under the leadership of Defensive Coordinator Jeff Mills.

SHAKING THE GROWING PAINS... Hats off to first-year Vandal kicker Tino Amancio for getting back on track this weekend in Ruston and kicking the dagger in the 'Dogs' heart that put Idaho up 24-14 in the fourth quarter. He's just a sophomore, kicking his first year the Division 1A level and he's been an unbelievable surprise this fall. He got off to an absolutely stellar start this season, and two weeks ago earned WAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He had a little trouble connecting on two 45+ yarders in the Dome (hardly chip-shots, despite clear conditions in the Dome), missed an early try in Ruston, then came back and got the job done at the end of the game. We'll enjoy watching this youngster develop over the course of the next couple years.

NICE ONE MR. SMITH... First year Vandal free safety Chris Smith, a 5-9, 180-pound invited walkon JC transfer, is entrenching himself as one of Idaho's top safeties this fall. In addition to grabbing his second interception of the season Saturday, he has also recovered a fumble and currently has 22 tackles (14 solo) on the season (7th on the team) in six games. He splits time with senior Tone Taupule (6-1, 205) and the two have been an impressive 1-2 punch throughout the early part of Idaho's schedule.

IS IT TRUE?.... Yes, it is. It's been seven years (1999) since Idaho last recorded a perfect 3-0 conference record to start the season (Idaho won the Big West Conference title in '98 and went on to beat Southern Miss that year in the Humanitarian Bowl to finish with a 9-3 record, then followed it up with a second place finish in '99 and a 7-4 record). It's also their first three-game winning streak since '99. Stunning, really, for a program that prior to 2000 was among the fastest "new" 1A programs to (a) win a Division 1A conference championship, and (b) win a Division 1A bowl game, accomplishing both in just three years of 1A competition. Hats off to EVERY athlete on the team that has been among the few believers that Idaho would return to this level of competitiveness this early in Dennis Erickson's return tenure at Idaho. This squad has been through a tremendous amount of lows, and now highs, and we tip our hat to the entire group.

IS IT TRUE?... Yep, it sure is. Idaho has got a sellout brewing in Moscow and internet rumors indicate the last of the Standing Room Only tickets for students has been sold (no official confirmation, so check with the UI ticket office). For those fortunate enough to get a ticket for this event, it's BLACK OUT THE DOME day, so Vandal fans are expected to don black gear and a megaphone. We've heard the Dome be fairly loud and raucous when it's 80% full...a few extra thousand ought to shake the rafters just a bit. Maybe a new all-time record for the Dome this weekend? Hmmmmmmmm...


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