Spokesman Article by John Blanchette
Spokesman Article by Jim Meehan
San Diego Union-Tribune Article
This game was every bit the offensive high-powered showcase it was billed to be going into Saturdays matchup between Idaho and the San Diego State Aztecs. Even with a 10 point Idaho lead and less than a minute on the clock, anxiety was still pulsing through The Dome as the Aztecs mounted one last charge to the endzone. But this was the Vandal's day, and the defense held to deliver the team's first victory of the season. The offense produced 31 points in the second half, scoring on 5 of their 6 second half possessions. The defense gave up substantial yardage through the air to SDSU, but limited them to just 14 points in the second half and under 100 yards rushing on the day.
It was an outstanding effort by everyone involved, from the coaching staff on the field, to the staff in the press box, to the adjustments made at halftime, and most importantly to the players who time-after-time made the plays. The coaches drew up the game plan, and the players executed it about as well as could be anticipated.
There are still kinks that need to be worked out, particularly the need to find a way to prevent big-plays from happening on defense, and the schedule is still challenging (Washington and 1-AA Champ Montana are up next). But this is definitely a victory to be savored, and a win that displayed this team's courage, heart, and determination. The Vandals supplied all 3 elements yesterday, and laid a good foundation for the rest of the season.
|Vandal offense on the charge.|
Idaho jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter yesterday, but appeared to struggle much of the first half as they tried to pick up the Aztecs dizzying array of blitz's. Although SDSU only picked up 2 sacks on the day, they were getting to QB Brian Lindgren repeatedly.
However, down 24-10 near the end of the second quarter, Idaho mounted an impressive offensive series in the last minute of the half that culminated with an 8 yard TD strike to Orlando Winston to draw the game to 24-17. Little did we in attendance realize what that scoring drive did for the team at the half.
The coaches met with the offensive linemen in the locker room to break down the schemes SDSU had been throwing at them. At the same time Offensive Coordinator Bret Ingalls issued a challenge to the backs. "He said that the linemen were hitting their blocks," Blair Lewis stated. "He challenged the running backs to make a play, and that's how I approached the second half."
From that point forward both Lewis and Malfred Shaw ran as hard on a consistent basis as I've seen them run in a game this year. Malfred led the backs with 80 yards on 16 carries and a long of 19 yards. He showed some of the brilliant, hard-nosed running he displayed all spring and fall during practice. It was starting to show against WSU and Oregon, and came out in full force on the carpet yesterday in Moscow.
If there was any question regarding Blair Lewis' health going into this game, it was answered during it. Blair added 62 yards on 18 carries, plus a 12 yard touchdown reception that was, to be blunt, 100% Blair's effort. After hauling in the pass from about 10 yards out, he was pinned against the sideline with 3 Aztecs around him. But they didn't wrap him up, and in classic Lewis form he kept his legs chugging and turned a modest gain into a one-man touchdown drive. The tacklers slipped off and he turned and raced for the endzone untouched. His effort throughout the second half helped ignite the team, and showed what could happen with a strong will and determination.
"This is my first win as a Vandal," said Blair. "I can't explain the feeling. There's some celebrating going on in that locker room right now." Blair was the first guy at the post-game interview, and his satisfaction with this win over a Mountain West Conference opponent was palpable.
The play of the receivers was again impressive, and Josh Jelmberg was as clutch as he's been all season. Two of his biggest receptions on the day included a diving, fully horizontal, juggling touchdown catch, and a drive saving, 4th and 4 reception in which he had the presence of mind to stretch forward as he was being tackled to gain enough yardage for the first down. He would end the day with 3 touchdown catches. Orlando Winston and Chris Belser both had huge catches throughout the game, including a touchdown reception by Orlando. Redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe also had a solid outing and showed his mettle by hanging onto the ball after being leveled by a defensive back. The Tightends got more action than they had in the previous 3 games, with Mike McCoy hauling in 2 catches for 18 yards (and nearly an over the shoulder touchdown catch), and Kelly Nead pulled in one pass for 12 yards. Even fullback Willie Sipoloa, recovering from an ACL injury suffered last year, caught a key third down reception for 10 yards to keep a drive alive in the third quarter.
The man delivering the ball, junior quarterback Brian Lindgren, was in outstanding form going 29 of 46 for 382 yards with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to 11 receivers, including hitting his fullback, Kevin O'Connell on 4 timely passes. He also showed a new dimension, rolling out of the pocket and even keeping the ball on a couple of occasions. However, with as valuable as he is in the pocket to the Idaho attack, we hope he keeps the decisions to run to a minimum.
Up front the linemen controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the second half, and noticeably wore down the Aztec front 7 as the game progressed. The result was an even distribution of the ball between running and passing plays (44 rushes, 46 passes), and, as stated by San Diego State head coach Tom Craft after the game, "When we couldn't contain the run in the second half, it opened up Idaho's passing game. We still applied the same pressure [in the second half], they just did a better job of picking it up."
The line was drawn in the sand in the third quarter following Brandon Kania's sack of SDSU's quarterback Adam Hall, which also resulted in a fumble and UI recovery. Idaho needed to make a statement on the ensuing series, and the line delivered with 3 straight rushes to the SDSU 25, then providing pass protection for a 25 yard touchdown strike. Brian Lindgren was not sacked once in the second half of the game, and Idaho scored on 5 of their 6 second half possessions.
The guys up front paved the way for 531 yards of offense, and showed outstanding determination and patience throughout the day.
|Brandon Kania, 6-3, 236, So|
The Aztecs rolled into Moscow with the number 3 rated passing attack in the nation, and 2 of the top receivers in the country. Their quarterback was averaging 375 yards passing per game, and it showed. They jumped out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter and appeared to be rolling.
But one thing Idaho did do well was contain their rushing attack, yielding 79 yards for the game. As the game wore on, Idaho appeared to start mixing things up more. For all their struggles in first half a bit, they were able to clamp down in second half, yielding big yards in the middle of the field but flexing when the field became shorter. And this team is becoming noticeably rugged in short yardage situations.
Where we really seem to be growing is up front. In years past Idaho would not rotate many guys on the defensive line, and by the second half would be worn out. But its different this year, and the need to improve our depth, as the staff has been saying for a couple years now, is starting to take form. Our top 2 players at each position are practically interchangeable. Brian Howard is probably the most versatile of the bunch, lining up at either defensive end or defensive tackle, based on the situation. On the day he would have 2 key pass deflections at the line of scrimmage, and rarely came off the field. Transfer Talifaia Atoe was 6th on the team in tackles for the day, and led the interior defensive line. He is becoming a load for opposing offensive linemen to handle.
|Talifaia Atoe, 6-2, 314, Sr|
But its apparent the rotation up front is starting to pay off. Fresh guys are up front all the time. On one lengthy SDSU drive, after about 6 plays to get inside the Idaho 35, all 4 of the defensive linemen came off the field and a new group came on to halt the drive. In addition, true freshman Kelly Talavou, who is recovering from an injury in the WSU game, got in on several plays, but wasn't FORCED on the field like he would have been a year ago. He will work his way back as he recovers from his injury. It's a dimension we didn't have last year, and will only help us during this long, 13 game season.
On a side note, I need to mention the impact JC transfer Johnny Parra is having as well. He's out this season with a torn ACL, but he is by no means a "spectator" on the sideline. When the defensive linemen come off the field Johnny is right there, telling them what he's seeing from the sideline, encouraging the players, and essentially being as involved as you can be in our team's progress. I sincerely hope for Johnny's sake that he gets at least a medical redshirt for this lost season, and 2 full years to be a part of this program.
Our leading tackler today was sophomore defensive end Brandon Kania. On the day he had 8 tackles (5 solo, 3 assisted), 3 tackles for loss (total of 10 yards), he had a quarterback sack and forced a fumble. He had exactly the kind of impact you hope you're your defensive line can generate. The sack and resulting fumble recovery were huge for the team, both as a turning point for the defense in the second half (limiting SDSU to just 2 TDs), and igniting the team in general. He looked every bit like the Freshman All-American he was named by The Sporting News last fall.
The rotation on the linebacking corp continues to be impressive as all 6 of the top guys are getting quality playing time. Senior strongside linebacker Jordan Kramer and junior middle linebacker Patrick Libey led the group with 6 tackles each on the afternoon. Jordan added a 7 yard quarterback sack and did a good job applying pressure most of the day. Jordan's backup, redshirt freshman Mike Anderson was third in the group with 4 tackles, and Chad Kodama and James Staley (both weakside linebackers) added 3 more takedowns each, and Chad added a pass deflection. Its fortunate that these guys are not stats seekers, and are more concerned about the good of the team then their overall stats. Keeping fresh legs on the field is our best way of remaining competitive, and all 6 are good enough to be on the field at just about any time in the game.
We knew going in that the defensive backs were going to face a monumental challenge this weekend, and they were beaten on a few occasions. The 70 yard touchdown strike was one situation in which our defensive back had good coverage on the receiver, but the Aztec quarterback simply threw it on the money, and the receiver made a spectacular catch. The important thing is that the guys did not panic. The first half was rough, but this group definitely stiffened in the second half. Rod Bryant ended the day second on the team in tackles, had 1 pass deflection, and was just short of picking off another pass. Safety Robert Ortega, in his second career start had a pass deflection and a tackle. Backup corners Nicq Hale and Darryl Murphy each had critical tackles during the game, as did backup safeties Chad Troxel and redshirt freshman Nate Nichols.
I want to make special mention of senior cornerback Ed Rankin. As a fan of the University of Idaho in general, I'm really impressed with this guy. He was shelled pretty heavily in the media and on most message board sites last fall as the focal for a lot of our defensive problems, and could have very easily walked away from the program with the coaching change this winter (leaving the bad press in his rear view mirror). Especially given that the new staff brought in 4 JC transfers to fill depth at cornerback alone. But Ed stuck it out, worked hard this summer, and has been at the top of the depth chart all season. He's a good student in the classroom and he's been with our program for 5 years now. He plays a particularly tough position, given so much of it is one-on-one competition, and is doing well considering the caliber of our opponents. Hats off to the guy for his persistence, and for his hard work and dedication to the team and, most importantly, the classroom.
This group of defensive backs, largely made up of first year contributers in a new system, is starting to come together. They are facing some outstanding passing teams, and it only continues the next 2 weeks as the Vandals take on Washington and Montana. Yes they gave up huge yards (SDSU put up 504 yards passing on us this week after posting 514 yards passing on the Arizona State Sun Devils the week before), but the guys did a better job of clamping down in the second half, especially as the field got shorter.
|Keith Stamps, 5-10, 221, Sr|
Its difficult to know how a player who has success on special teams at the junior college level will transfer those skills to Division 1A football. Well, kick-/punt-returner Cedric Thompson is every single bit the spark plug he was advertised to be coming into this season. Its really unbelievable how a guy of his smallish stature can be so slippery, but he is. He posted 151 yards on 5 kick-off returns, including an electrifying 63 yarder in the second half. He routinely gives our offense good starting position, and yet has the presence of mind to stay in the endzone most of the time if he catches it back there. He is a play maker that isn't forcing things, and giving our team a chance with his decision making.
The kicking game today had a much needed huge performance from senior Keith Stamps. On the day Keith was perfect on PATs, and he also hit on both of his field goal attempts, one of 40 yards and the other of 35 yards. They are, I believe, his first field goals of the season and were instrumental in keeping the game close throughout.
Ryan Downes continues to boom his punts and is one of the most steady weapons on the Idaho team, averaging 49.4 yards a boot with a long of 55 yards. Kick-off specialist Brian Pope also had a strong performance yesterday, and was able to get a few kicks deep into the endzone when we needed them the most.
|Kibbie Dome crowd, student section|
The 12th Man
Hats off to the students at the game today. The student side of the stadium was jam packed today, and the crowd was as raucous as I've ever seen. They started it in the first quarter and kept it going throughout the day. "I'm proud of this community," Coach Cable said after the game. "They made a huge difference today." Had this game been at SDSU, the outcome may have been different. The players looked to the crowd for support, and the crowd delivered. Having this game at home, against this opponent, couldn't have come at a better time.
Two quick things. First I want to issue a thank you to Sports Information Director Becky Paull and the Idaho Athletic Department for allowing us to observe the game from the Kibbie Dome floor, and to participate in the post-game interview. We at VandalVenue.com greatly appreciate this opportunity to see the game from a much closer vantage point. It was also educational to see what the Aztecs are facing as their season gets off to a rocky start, much like ours from a year ago. Both Idaho and SDSU face powerful PAC-10 foes next week (we have UW, SDSU has UCLA), so this was undoubtedly a critical game for both programs. In the excitement of our team's first win of the season against an opponent like SDSU, its easy to forget the frustration, and even disparity in the other locker room. How many times in the past year have we put up a bunch of points and a ton of yards and fallen short? I'm confident SDSU will bounce back, they have some outstanding athletes. But for now I have a better appreciation for what our guys accomplished yesterday. They needed this win, on our true home field, in front of our fans, and they rose to the challenge.
Second, we need a full house for Montana. Plain and simple. The announced crowd of 14,887 at this game was pretty good, especially considering our epic struggles of a year ago, starting this season 0-3, and being an underdog at home to another 0-3 team. I can actually understand how people would not be overly anxious to make the trek to The Palouse. But our date with Montana is an important stepping stone for the program this year, and the players need us to be there. The team was electrified by a jam packed, loud student section that was involved from beginning to end. Now its up to us, the alums and Idaho fans, to step up to the plate and give them a packed house on the other side of the stadium. We already know the Grizzlies will travel well (I believe they brought 5000 to the game in 2000). This game already has the makings of another offensive show-case, with the added dimension of regional pride thrown in for good measure.
Make plans and arrangements to be at the The Border War in 2 weeks. It's a noon kickoff, it's a game against one of our oldest rivals, and it's a game that will be televised LIVE throughout Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Alaska on Fox Sports Northwest (approximately 4 million homes). We need a packed house so our team knows we are serious about supporting them, and so our neighbors will know that we are serious about college football at the University of Idaho.
Buy tickets as soon as possible ($25 per ticket, 1-88-88-GOIDAHO), they will be sure to be going fast on the heels of Idaho's victory over San Diego State.