The Battle of the Palouse

Led by Middle Linebacker Patrick Libey (shown here bringing down WSU quarterback Jason Gesser), Idaho's rebuilding defense showed improvement again this week against a Cougar offense loaded with weapons. But in the end WSU's stout defensive line controlled the trenches, while big plays ruled the day for the 11th ranked Cougars in a 49-14 victory.

Official Site Report and Stats
#11 Brian Lindgren, under heavy pressure, completed 33 of 49 passes for 267 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

We knew going in that the Washington State University defense was good. The team itself is currently ranked 11th in the nation, and a good reason for that is the defensive line that long-time Cougar defensive coordinator Bill Doba has assembled. Picked by most publications as one of the best defensive lines in the PAC-10 (led by junior tackle Rien Long, 6-6, 290), the Cougar front seven stuffed Idaho's rushing attack all day long.

It took 14 carries for running back Zach Gerstner to amass 35 yards rushing on the day. It took Malfred Shaw 7 carries to hit the 34 yard mark. Throw in 6 sacks of quarterback Brian Lindgren, and Idaho netted 51 yards rushing. Unless a team has a spectacular set of wide receivers, its critical to establish some sort of running attack to keep the defense off balance, especially against a team with WSU's defensive line strength. It never opened up for Idaho on the ground.

Despite Idaho's rushing struggles, its methodical passing attack produced 267 yards through the air. For all the troubles the offensive line had opening holes for the backs, they did an admirable job protecting quarterback Brian Lindgren under a heavy rush all day as he completed 33 of 49 pass attempts with 1 interception and 2 touchdowns. The wideouts again had a solid outing with short, high-percentage routes. Senior Josh Jelmberg topped the receivers with 71 yards on 10 receptions, including a touchdown. Chris Belser and Orlando Winston each had long receptions of 30 yards, and redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe hauled in 5 passes for 45 yards.

We had hoped to see RB Blair Lewis (ankle sprain) and TE Mike McCoy (offseason hernia surgery) in this game, but neither were spotted. Unlike last season, we have good depth at both positions so there is no need to rush either player back into the lineup, especially during the non-conference schedule. That being said, however, getting Lewis' explosiveness and McCoy's receiving abilities back in the lineup will certainly help diversify Idaho's attack.

The last 2 games Idaho's offense has looked tight early on. Its certainly no surprise...we're playing one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, non-conference schedule in the SBC, and we're doing it all on the road. We've also had to utilize talented but inexperienced backups at TE and RB as the starters recover from off-season injuries. Its still head-and-shoulders above last season, when we didn't shake the cobwebs until the second half, when the games were out of reach. That's not the case this year, as we've kept the games close against some talented, veteran teams. If the offense can get things going earlier, getting things going on their 1st or 2nd possession, things could get pretty interesting. As it is, hats off to the team for showing impressive ball control and movement early in this 12 game season.
#91 Kelly Talavou, true freshman defensive tackle.

Hats off to first year Defensive Coordinator Ed Lamb and the staff he assembled this winter. Yes, we gave up 49 points. But the defense is making strides in the early part of this season against some of the best teams in the West. Last week they did not force a single Bronco punt. Saturday they forced the Cougs to punt 5 times. Last week they did not force any Bronco turnovers. This week they forced 3 fumbles (recovering 1), and cornerback Rod Bryant recorded an interception (very nearly picking off another pass that he batted down). They recorded 2 sacks on the afternoon, 1 by JC transfer Talifaia Atoe and the other by sophomore DE Brandon Kania. A year ago, these games would have been laughers by the 2nd quarter. This year the guys are hanging tough, and the defense this week did exactly what we need them to do...they gave our offense a chance throughout the game.

Unfortunately, particularly against a team with the offensive weapons that WSU possesses, Idaho's improving defense is still vulnerable to the big play. Missed assignments and tackles (although tackling seems to be getting better overall) don't seem to be happening to one group in particular, they just seem to happen. Case in point: With a minute left in the 3rd quarter and the score 28-14, Idaho forced WSU into 4th and 8 at the Idaho 41. Too long for a field goal, too short for a punt, and the game on the line (Idaho had just scored a TD, had sacked Gesser, and had momentum). The Cougs send Florida State transfer DeVard Darling deep on a route to the endzone, and he beats our safety...not just for a first down, but for the score.

Even with those deflating set-backs this team is resilient, if nothing else. They played tough the rest of the way, until the last 5 minutes when WSU tacked on a couple more scores to put the game completely away.

The interior defensive line of true freshman Kelly Talavou, and JC transfers Jason Jones and Tali Atoe, is starting to come around. More to the point, its not just one guy who is improving, its the whole group and that is what we need. Tali Atoe had a spectacular quarterback sack and recovered the one Cougar fumble he forced, big Jason Jones is getting used to Division 1 trench warfare, and Talavou more than made his presence felt against a veteran Coug line. We don't think Kelly missed a single defensive series. To say that he will DEFINITELY be one to watch in the years ahead is an understatement (through the first 2 games, Kelly is the team's 4th leading tackler).

The defensive ends are also coming along. Transfer Kody Kraus is the team's 3rd leading tackler and led the line in tackles this weekend. Brandon Kania recorded a sack, and senior Dennis Teatafa did a good job funneling running plays into the interior.

Linebacker Patrick Libey leads the team in tackles with 14, followed by Jordan Kramer and Chad Kodama with 12 each. While the defensive line is working out their kinks, alot of pressure is on this group to fill voids against some explosive offenses. All 6 guys listed on the 2-Deep roster have had significant playing time, and all 6 are at the top of the tackle chart, which is where you'd expect your linebackers to be.

The defensive backfield continues to make strides, but coverage breakdowns, against receivers of the caliber we are facing this season are costly. On the positive side, solid coverage resulted in at least 2 sacks on Cougar QB Jason Gesser, and backup cornerback Rod Bryant recorded our first interception on the year while free safety Chad Troxel batted away another. The team is making noticeable improvements. But missed tackles are going to mean big yards against these receiving corps., and the passing teams we are facing are too good to be shut-out. We've done a much better job this season to position ourselves to make a play after the catch, now its a matter of execution. Its going to take time (especially considering half the starting DBs weren't even on the team last year), but the improvement is noticeable.

Kevin German / AP
#2 Cedric Thompson slips, slides, and races his way to a 55 yard punt return with half a dozen Cougars in his wake that drew a huge roar from the WSU faithful.
Special Teams

Certainly one of the major highlights on the day was provided by a Vandal. Transfer Cedric Thompson displayed some of his elusive return skills on a 55 yard punt return that included him slipping away from at least 2 tacklers who had him wrapped up along the way. Couple this with a fine stiff-arm of the punter and his fighting for extra yardage near the end, and the vastly Cougar crowd was electrified. It was his first real opportunity to return a kick on the season, and he showed what should make for an exciting season for Idaho special teams.

As was characteristic with most of the team Saturday, even battle-tested junior punter showed jitters early in the game as he shanked his first punt. He was back in form however on his punts the rest of the day, averaging 42 yards per kick with a long of 53 yards and one dropped inside the Coug 20.

Quickly, we'd like to acknowledge new Special Teams Coordinator Gary Coston. A year ago our special teams were in a shambles. This year we're perfect on PATs, Brian Pope is getting his kick-offs into the endzone, and the coverage teams are swarming to the ball. The return teams are showing good discipline by not bringing kicks out that land 5 yards deep in the endzone, and the communication on the field is evident. He's truly done a remarkable job in a very short period of time.

Injury Report

True Freshman DT Kelly Talavou strained an MCL and will likely be held out of the Oregon game (he's not listed on the Official Site's 2-Deep Roster). Questionable for this weeks matchup are junior DT Brian Howard (strained MCL) and senior strong safety Sergio Robleto (neck stinger). Cornerback Rod Bryant (hand) and receiver Orlando Winston (foot) are expected to be able to practice this week and play against Oregon.

Out for the season are TE Luke Smith-Anderson and DT Johnny Parra.

Photo Gallery
#12 Josh Jelberg hauls in a Brian Lindgren pass deep in Cougar territory. The 11 yard pickup gave Idaho first and goal inside the WSU 10 yard line, which Idaho converted into a touchdown 2 plays later. Jelmberg's 10 receptions this week and last week currently rank him 4th in the nation in receptions on the season.
Vandals celebrate in the endzone on senior fullback Kevin O'Connell's 3 yard touchdown reception. Kevin now has 2 touchdown catches on the season, matching his season total of a year ago already.
#15 Brian Pope, junior kick-off specialist, set to sail kick deep into Cougar endzone.
#91 Kelly Talavou and #95 Kody Kraus combine to stop Cougar senior starting runningback John Tippins for no gain.
#91 Kelly Talavou and #96 Dennis Taeatafa pressure Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser out of the pocket.
#69 Talifaia Atoe, a senior JC Transfer out of The Dalles, OR sacks Cougar QB Jason Gesser in the third quarter. Note where his helmet the lower right hand corner of this photo. Its laying next to the Cougar he beat on this play. The guy is coming on quickly, and beginning to show what made him a JC Gridwire All-American selection last season.

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