Broncos Battle Vandals for 1st Place

This Saturday Idaho hosts in-state rival Boise State in the Kibbie Dome in a WAC showdown (shown live throughout Idaho and on ESPN Game Plan). At stake are state bragging rights, the lead in the all-time series (currently tied at 17 wins each), and sole ownership of first place in the WAC standings (both teams are a perfect 3-0 in WAC competition). Inside is a look at how the teams matchup.

The Idaho Vandals (4-3, 3-0) prepare to take on in-state rival and WAC foe Boise State (7-0, 3-0) in a sold out Dome this Saturday. The series began in 1971 and is tied 17-17-1. Among the many ways to describe this series and rivalry, probably the most accurate is "streaky". The Broncos have won the last seven (decisively). Before that, the Vandals were winners in 15 of the 17 preceding games (often decisively).

BSU has drilled the Vandals the last six years (putting up 60+ points multiple times)...but times are changing. The two programs are conference mates again after Idaho spent four brutal years in the far-flung Sun Belt Conference. While BSU was building their program as a member of the Western Athletic Conference and gaining national prominance, Idaho was in the process of making LONG overdue facilities improvements (i.e. new weightroom, new practice facilities, new locker rooms, etc) and selling their case for a WAC invitation. In 2004 that invitation arrived, and the program is preparing to embark on another round of much more critical facilities improvements. Idaho at long last appears to be making athletics a bit more of a priority than in the past.

This weekend however, the Broncos visit Moscow ranked 17th in the country with BCS talk surrounding the team. It's the highest ranked opponent the Vandals have ever played in the Dome, and it happens to be their number one rival. This storied rivalry has once again produced a game with serious implications; series tie breaker, sole ownership of 1st place in the WAC and state bragging rights, as well as ending the Broncos streak. But those things are almost invisible when thinking of the tremor that a Vandal upset would create throughout the state of Idaho. Can the Vandals rise to the occasion and knock off the heavily favored Boise State Broncos?

Idaho is undefeated in WAC play, and is facing its toughest test to date. The Broncos are also undefeated and loaded with talented seniors and veterans. They are battle tested, and will show up ready to play. Head Coach Chris Peterson has the Broncos rolling through their schedule, while Idaho coaching legend Dennis Erickson is trying to overcome the up and down play of his offense and the impact of losing several key players in the win against La Tech last weekend.

Vinnie Perretta rounds the corner.

The Bronco Offense Pounds!

Jared Zabransky
Senior quaterback Jared Zabransky (6-2, 203 Sr.) hasn't lost many games, and this year, he seems to have returned to his old self. Zabransky has rushed for five touchdowns, and thrown for eleven. He's a deadly combination, always threatening to take off for a first down. He has multiple weapons, starting with his veteran wideouts. Seniors Jerard Rabb (6-2 199), Legedu Naanee (6-2 228) and Drisan James (5-11 186) have been the main targets hauling in 5 touchdowns between them. James is the slasher and speedster, Rabb is the corner of the endzone guy and Naanee's size makes him a big target, but where he particularly excels is with down field blocking. Multi-threat Vinny Perretta (5-9, 194, So) and Jeremy Childs also fit nicely into the rotation and have found the endzone as well.

Jerard Rabb
Idaho cornerback Stanley Franks (5-11, 167, Jr.) continues his march up the national rankings. Franks has six interceptions in seven games this year, ranking second nationally among all division one corners. Reggie Jones (5-10, 201, Jr.) is back from injury, but Kiel McDonald (5-10, 190, sr) has played so well that he will continue to see time this season. Chris Smith (5-9, 179, Jr.) grabbed his second interception for the Vandals last week, and has added speed to the free safety position. Tone Taupule (6-1, 205, Sr.) brings a more physical presence to the field so Vandal fans may see more of him in an effort to stop the Broncos running game. True freshman Shiloh Keo (5-10, 175), Idaho's starting strong safety through the first seven games, will have to continue his sure tackling ways to keep the Broncos from having an abundance of huge plays.

Vinnie Perretta
Runningback Ian Johnson (5-11, 194, So.) has burst onto the gridiron this year. In just seven games, the sensational sophomore has rushed for 14 td's and a thousand yards, averaging 7.1 yards a carry. Johnson has it all; speed, power, moves and a dominant offensive line. He is the centerpiece of the Bronco offense. Vinny Perretta (5-9 194 So.) has been filling in for Johnson, giving him breathers, averaging 6.3 a carry. Bret Denton (5-9, 191, Sr.) has been picking up minutes in relief, and has shown some nice moves of his own. BSU built its program on players like Denton. He's a walk on who earned his scholarship by proving he can play. Another local product, TE Derek Schouman (6-2 233 Sr.), aka Shoe, is a physical blocker, and an often used, down-the-field threat. Schouman was a Preseason All WAC selection and has recently been living up to the hype. Ryan Putnam (6-2 244 Jr.) has been solid backing up Schouman, and continues a trend of excellence at tightend for Boise State.

Drisan James
The Idaho 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 Jo Artis Ratti (6-1, 220, Jr.) are the heart-and-soul of this team, and they will have their hands full this weekend. Boise is as good throwing the ball as they are running it, which will be a huge challenge to contain. The Vandals suffered a major loss last weekend weekend when Ratti went down with what appeared to be a season ending injury. The good news is that the injury does not appear to be as bad as first thought (won't requite surgery), but he's out this weekend. This means that Jaron Williams will regain his starting position, and have to plug the middle for the Vandals. Williams grabbed the first INT of his career last week, showing his own play making ability. Brandon Ogletree is back, so the rotation of Bousman and Ogletree is back as the play-making ability of both has been phenomenal this year. Lastly, there is David Vobora making plays all over the field. He leads the nation in solo tackles per game and is among the Top 5 in overall tackles. The junior has emerged as the defensive leader for Idaho, and another stoic performance is key for an Idaho victory Saturday. Yes, the Vandals lost Ratti, but the Vandals have depth at linebacker and a proven starter in Jaron Williams. They should be ready to take on the challenge of stopping the Broncos running game, and most notably, Ian Johnson.

Brett Denton scores against Utah.

Down in the Trenches

The Bronco O Line is, simply put, awesome. Sophomore Ryan Clady (6-4, 315) already has made a name for himself at left tackle within WAC circles. Starting next to him is local product Tad Miller (6-4, 304, Jr.). Miller's a very physical, seasoned veteran, making the left side of the line their strength. Leading the group is senior Center Jadon Dailey (5-11, 285). On the right, guard Jeff Cavender (6-2, 286, Jr.) and tackle Andrew Woodruff (6-3, 331, So.) battle in the trenches. Dan Gore (6-5 300 Jr.) Jeff Biedermann (6-3 303 Jr. 72) and Tony Volponi (6-4 315 Sr.) provide depth, and the Broncos are liberal with rotation. This line has dominated games, paving the way for Ian Johnson and protecting Zabransky. Their athleticism and footwork is showcased when they pull, and their strength and hustle is unrelenting. The Broncos offensive line allows the running game to use every lane the field offers, and should be the best line the Vandals have faced.

Idaho senior defensive tackle Ryan Davis (6-0, 267, Sr.) may miss the game rehabbing an injury; if so, his motor and tenacity will be missed. This means Alex Toailoa (6-1, 299, so) will get the start, and luckily for Vandal fans, Toailoa is really starting to come into his own. His penetration against La Tech was impressive at times. The Vandals could also see Jon Dominguez (6-3, 252, Jr) backing him up. Junior Siua Musika (6-1, 293) and redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301) provide the rotation at the other defensive tackle position. They too continue to improve with every snap. Musika is a menace and Jones is starting to make his presence known 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) will need to step it up if they ever want to sack the fleet footed Zabransky (Shaw could also see time at DT this week). The unit has been relatively quiet all year until last weekend in Ruston. Their rush hurried the quarterback into mistakes, and a repeat performance is desperately needed. However, containing Zabransky has got to be their number one priority.

Dennis Ellis
Defensively for the Broncos up front, Andrew Browning (6-0, 278 , Sr.) and Dennis Ellis (6-3, 270, Sr.) have slowly become a force in the WAC. Browning is a mauler, and is relentless when engaging his opponent, which happens to have produced 5 sacks on the season. Ellis is coming off his best game. The former end is beginning to understand the position. He still has two sacks, and his backup Phillip Edwards (6-4, 277, So.) has played well in spelling him. The Bronco D Line also boasts a local product, left end Nick Schlekeway (6-4, 262, Jr.). He has good size and strength, and can be a load coming around the end. He's backed by Mike Dominguez (6-2, 255, Sr.). On the other end, Mike G. Williams (6-3, 244, Sr.) and Mike T. Williams (6-4, 238, So.) rotate. The group has twelve sacks among them, and is shaping into one of the best in the WAC.

Vandal Seniors Jade Tadvick (6-5, 315) and Nate VanderPol (6-6, 306) anchor the left side of Idaho's offensive line, and they are the strength of the unit. Sophomore center Adam Korby (6-3, 290) is a Rimington Trophy Watch List member, and all three are returning starters. Sophomore right tackle Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) started at guard last year and has been effective moving out at tackle this season. Right guard has been manned by a steady rotation between redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac (6-4, 290) and junior Marcis Fennell (6-2, 305). Fennell started a couple weeks ago at LG when Tadvick went down with an injury and has been a force this fall. Billy Bates (6-5, 270, So.) and Mike Iupati (6-6, 330, So.) will be on call as well. The O Line will have its hands full. They've been up and down all year. At times they can dominate, but then have mental letdowns, setting the offense back. When the O Line is determined, they get the push they want and move the ball.

Bronco Shutdown D

Home grown Idahoan and Middle linebacker Korey Hall (6-1, 228, Sr.) has been a one man wrecking crew since he put on a Bronco uniform. He's not only a sure tackler, but he's a legitimate play maker. He has a nose for the ball, and an uncanny ability to read the quarterback. Multiple interceptions, multiple sacks, Hall does it all. Colt Brooks (6-1, 216, Sr.) is also a local phenom. Like Hall, Brooks is a big time play maker who forced the tide changing fumble in last year's meeting. Brooks has made a name for himself, and when playing next to Hall, that ain't easy. Speaking of which, Kyle Gingg (5-11 215 So.) rounds out the trio with his own hard hitting and play making. Tim Brady (6-1, 221 So.) Josh Bean (6-2, 231, Jr.) and David Shields (6-2, 225, So.) all contribute in their backup roles and on special teams.

The Vandals may be without emerging star tailback Brian Flowers (5-9, 190, Jr.) due to an injury. This could be a huge blow for the Vandals, as he carried 50% of the load through the first seven games. Tracy Ford (5-8, 170, So.) could fill in for Flowers. Ford has slowly seen time this season, and was impressive last week. His shiftiness and ability to make people miss is amazing. What Ford lacks in size, he makes up for in heart, and pure football skills. Sophomore Jayson Bird (6-1, 220), an Idaho native who has made a name for himself as a physical runner, continues to hammer defenses. Bird's toughness is unmatched. He can take the punishment of a good defense, and then delve out some punishment of his own. There is no quit in Bird. Defenses can lock him up at the line of scrimmage for a play or two. But soon he finds his groove, and finishes off his runs headhunting. Bird's performance at La Tech was vintage…Bird. Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 240) will continue his role of pass blocking and short yardage gain, and he has been migrating into an H-Back type of role. Lumbala is a physical specimen who is still looking for more of a role in the offense. With Flowers hurt, this could be the game he sees it.

The defensive backfield for the Broncos is led by senior Safety Gerald Alexander (6-0, 204, Sr.). Alexander converted from corner, and has given the Broncos the big hits they were looking for out of him. Marty Tadman (5-11 182 Jr.) plays the other safety, and offers the big play potential. He reads the quarterback well, and has a knack for picking off quaterbacks. Playing corner, the Broncos have Orlando Scandrick (5-11 187 So.) and Quinton Jones (5-9 177 Sr.). Scandrick busted onto the scene last year, and has picked up where he left off. He's a ball hawk, and at any given time, can take the ball to the house. Jones is the fastest guy on the team, but at times plays too far off. Tristan Patin (5-9, 166, Fr.) has been seeing more playing time, as the Broncos try to figure out that postion. Austin Smith (5-9 173 Jr.) also rotates in, providing solid veteran depth.

If there's one thing that can be said about Vandal quarterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219), it's how strong he is in the pocket. Wichman's pocket poise is unwaivering, which allows him to make big plays. His play continues to improve, and his leadership on the field has been great at times. Vandal fans are still waiting for his 2006 breakout game. The passing game needs to step it up this week. Marlon Haynes (6-0, 185, jr), Wendall Octave (6-1, 187, sr) and Max Komar (5-10, 185, rs-fr) will start. Komar and Octave have played well recently, showing reliable hands, but it's Haynes that Vandal fans want to see in the endzone. Haynes is a deep threat. His speed and hands have yet to produce the touchdown strike that loosens up a defense. Komar showed moves, speed and big play ability in last weeks game, breathing much needed life into the passing game. Lee Smith (5-8, 170, so) continues to rehab but Tariq Ikharo (6-4, 190, jr) and DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 204, sr) will continue to rotate in at receiver. Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253) is outstanding. One of the WAC's best tightends, Smith-Anderson is a physical blocker and reliable receiver, but most of all he's an emotional leader. Eddie Williams (6-1, 249, So.) will continue to back up Smith-Anderson while Keith Greer (6-2, 252) continues to rehab his foot.

Special Teams

Quinton Jones
The special teams matchup to watch this week are the punters. TJ Conley is coming off his best performance of the year. His punts were instrumental in the field position battle last week and the Vandals will need his best performance. Bronco punter Kyle Stringer is averaging a whopping 46.4 yards per boot. Stringer is catching the eye of everyone in the WAC, as he's just another weapon in the arsenal of Boise State. Other matchups include BSU Kick returner and preseason All-American Quinton Jones (5-9 177 Sr.). The Vandal kickoff team would best be served to kick away from the speedster. He hung a 72 yard punt return on the Vandals last year. Orlando Scandrick (5-11 187 So.) is a kick blocking weapon…the guy is super quick off the line, and has made numerous field goal and PAT units look silly, as he usually runs it back to the house.

It's All Vandal

Makes you wonder what coaches Dennis Erickson, Dan Cozzetto and Gregg Smith are thinking, finding themselves back in a UI/BSU rivalry game after all these years. The rivalry has matured into a tie, and the dislike has grown even more intense, with the Broncos rolling off seven wins in a row. It took the Vandals two years in the WAC to be battling their rival for first place, giving Idaho college football fans a ticket to a game well worth watching.

Realistically, the Vandals are no match for the Broncos. That's what the paper says, the polls say, and the experts say! But traveling up north to the Dome is no easy task. Zabransky has never taken a snap in the Dome, and the Dome is completely sold out. And it's safe to say it isn't because of Bronco fans. This truly will be a hostile environment and the Vandals have nothing to lose. No matter the score at the end of the game, the Vandals were supposed to lose, and the Broncos were supposed to win. Could you imagine an upset? It would be huge. Huge in the state, huge in the WAC, huge for the rivalry, and huge on the national scene… If the Broncos win… so what… they were supposed to…

You ask what's the current identity of the Vandals? They struggle putting a full game together. But the fact is, the Vandals have played very well at times. If they could play like this consistently, and play up to their potential, then BSU will have their hands full. The Vandals need to play mistake-free and smart football, and execute with fire and hustle. Dennis Erickson has never lost to BSU, and he doesn't plan on it starting now. Vandal fans should prepare for a battle like they've never seen before. Yes, the Broncos are one of the best teams in the nation. But Erickson will have his troops so fired up, BSU will realize they are in a game from the first whistle blown.

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