Troy Maben / AP
|#31 Malfred Shaw is met at the line by a gang of Bronco defenders.|
For the first time since 1998, Idaho scored more than 10 points in the first half against BSU. For the past 3 seasons Idaho has either fallen far behind the Broncos early in the game, or has not been able to generate enough offense to keep up. This weekend, against a talented, fast Bronco team, Idaho did. They were down by 10 at the half (24-14), and deep into the 4th quarter (31-21). Only after the Vandals couldn't convert on 4th down at mid-field, after recovering an onside kick with less than 5 minutes left in the game, did the Broncos finally put the Vandals away.
On this night, BSU definitely had the most explosive of the 2 offenses. Idaho was content to grind it out with lengthy, time-consuming drives intended as much to keep Boise's offense off the field (and away from our rebuilding defense), as it was to score points. Junior quarterback Brian Lindgren was meticulous, going 25 of 40 for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also threw 2 interceptions, one of which resulted in a Bronco scoring drive. All-in-all however, he was more effective than we've been in that department, against this opponent, in the last 3 years.
Running back Zach Gerstner (93 yards on 26 carries) shouldered most of the running back load behind an effective workhorse fullback in Kevin O'Connell, and an offensive line that is maturing. The big guys led the way for 365 yards of total offense, and gave up 2 sacks on the night. They were also largely responsible for helping Idaho convert an impressive 8 of 9 third down conversions in the first half, and 12 of 17 on the night.
The wideouts had a solid evening, mostly running short, high-percentage routes. Senior Josh Jelmberg clearly seems to be becoming the go-to receiver when Idaho needs a clutch reception. He had several Saturday. Orlando Winston also had some clutch catches (including a 30 yarder), as did redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe (3-48) and JC transfer Cedric Thompson (1-23).
Certainly you want to post more points in a game with BSU than 21. If this wasn't the first game of the season, and if it wasn't the first game under new Defensive Coordinator Ed Lamb, and if there weren't so many new faces defensively, we may have had more freedom to be more aggressive offensively, we don't really know. As it was, this performance was head-and-shoulders above last year's opening day performance against WSU (can anyone forget?). We also showed we have some depth, going without senior RB Blair Lewis or returning starter at TE Mike McCoy. We also showed we could control the clock, move the ball, and score in the redzone. Definitely an improvement over last season's opening weekend performance.
Troy Maben / AP
|#46 Jordan Lampos and #14 Robert Ortega combine to stop BSU's Brock Forsey at the line of scrimmage.|
Improvement. That's about all anyone can ask of a team coming off a season in which its defense was ranked at or near the bottom of every defensive statistical category in Division 1 football. Although Idaho still has quite a ways to go, Saturday's performance appears to have been a step in the right direction.
When asked what he liked most and least about Saturday's performance, first year Defensive Coordinator Ed Lamb said, "I liked our red zone defense the most, I liked our tackling least." Tops on the list of things to work on this week is "fundamentals; getting off blocks, containing the passer, tackling, [and] pursuit angles." Lamb and the new defensive staff don't dance around the issues facing this team, and we like their approach to rebuilding the defense. The work they did over the spring and fall paid off already this season, as the Idaho defense showed more grit in short yardage defense, with their backs against the wall, than they've shown in years. But they also know there is still a lot of work to be done. Going from the worst defense (seriously lacking in fundamentals) to a strong defense does not happen over night. They need to recognize their successes, and their deficiencies, and build on them. Lamb and crew appear to be doing that.
As most people probably noticed, Idaho substituted a ton of players Saturday. In all, Idaho had 19 defenders record tackles on the night. The objectives were many, but at the top of Coach Lamb's list was "to give a lot of players experience that I believe will help us later." It also kept more fresh legs on the field. As fans we need to remind ourselves that Idaho's new Defensive Staff is starting fresh with these guys (those coming back from last season, and the new guys they recruited this spring), and they need these early season games to evaluate who they have in the fold. And simply, there are things you learn about players in games that you can't learn on the practice field.
The interior defensive line saw a healthy rotation that included 2 returning starters (Brian Howard and Mike Jones), 2 JC transfers (Tali Atoe and Jason Jones), and a true freshman (Kelly Talavou). Starters listed for this game were Jason Jones and Atoe, but it was Talavou who led the defensive line in tackles with 5 on the night (3 solo, including a quarterback sack). Their performance in short yardage situations deep in our redzone was better than we've had in years. In a bit of a twist, junior defensive tackle Brian Howard started at defensive end opposite Dennis Teatafa. This was something we did not see in the spring or fall, and was definitely a surprise. This should become an asset in certain situations, especially when facing teams with a strong, inside running attack. The pass rush was also noticeably better (with a sack and flushing BSU QB Dinwiddie out of the pocket on several occasions), but there is definitely room for improvement.
In many ways, the performance of the linebacking corp was as expected. Our top 3 tacklers on the night were the 3 starting linebackers (Kodama with 10, followed by Kramer with 7 and Libey with 6). Staley was the fifth leading tackler with 5 on the night. These guys adjusted well for the most part to BSU's constant motion and multiple sets. Their pursuit was good when the ball carriers were in front of them, and they did a good job of closing off running lanes in short yardage situations. There were struggles however, particularly with a slashing type runner like Mikell carrying the ball. Over-pursuit will likely be a heavy topic during practices the next few weeks.
The defensive backs have the most to learn in the new system, and their growing pains were apparent early and often. Mix in the fact that they were lining up against some pretty good receivers out of BSU, and the situation intensifies. And, frankly, the caliber of receivers they'll face only gets better as we play WSU and Oregon in the next 2 weeks. "Learning under fire" probably has this year's Idaho situation in its textbook definition.
As with the rest of the team, the DBs had a healthy rotation. Both safeties (Chad Troxel and Sergio Robleto) led the DBs in tackles with 5 each. Rod Bryant led the corners with 4 tackles, followed by Darryl Murphy with 3. But the passing defense struggled all night as it worked in some zone coverage schemes. They also played man-coverage with similar struggles. With time we believe this group will pull things together, there just isn't much room for error against WSU, Oregon, UW and Montana in the coming weeks. Rod Bryant appeared to be the best cover corner on the night, knocking away a pass he very nearly picked off. As with the rest of the team, there is plenty of room for growth with this group. How they mature over the next 5 weeks will be a strong indication of them individually, and the coaching staff in general. Its unlikely they will see any passing attacks in the Sun Belt as effective as they will have faced in the first 6 weeks of this season.
As with most of the aspects of the game Saturday, the performance of the special teams was a mixed bag. On an outstanding note, punter Ryan Downes absolutely bombed a perfect, spiraling, 52 yard punt (in the air), under heavy pressure, to pin the Broncos deep in their own territory. It drew quite a roar from the 30,000 fans in attendance. Idaho's Keith Stamps was perfect on PATs, but missed a field goal attempt of 38 yards early in the game. The coverage teams did not allow a touchdown in this game, but we did not get any kicks into the endzone, and BSU typically had pretty good yardage on returns. All-in-all, this group saw noticeable improvement over last year's performance, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
No injuries in the BSU game. Expected back for the WSU game are Blair Lewis (ankle), Sammy Ruben (concussion), and Mike McCoy (off-season hernia surgery). Senior cornerback Ed Rankin and senior wide receiver Christopher Belser are expected back after from serving a one game suspension.
Out for the season are TE Luke Smith-Anderson and DT Johnny Parra.