Have the Cougs Already Lost?

The Vandals will be going into Saturday's "Battle of the Palouse" against WSU as hefty 26-point underdogs after Wazzu's 45-17 thrashing of San Diego State last weekend in Seattle. Against heavy odds, the Vandals are led by former WSU Defensive Coordinator ROBB AKEY, a boisterous fan-favorite in Pullman for years. His rebuilding job at Idaho continues, and his young Vandals are playing well.

The Battle of the Palouse will take a break after this Saturday, with the Vandals hoping to end it on a good note, and add to their 17 wins and 3 ties in this 89 game series. This rivalry game has been dominated by Washington State, but the Vandals have won as recently as 1999 and 2000 and as some WAC teams may attest, winning on the road against a BCS foe can be somewhat of a challenge. But in order to gain National respect, it's a must for WAC teams to schedule BCS teams. The Vandals are just tired of scheduling two. So far this season, the WAC is winless against BCS opponents. The Vandals look to change that as new head coach Robb Akey returns to Martin Stadium to face his former team.

The Vandals have yet to establish an identity, but have shown flashes of good football on both sides of the ball. Nathan Enderle has surprised Vandals fans with his poise in the pocket and his big arm. He's only a redshirt freshman. This brings us to the other redshirt freshman, Deonte Jackson, who ran for 99 yards against USC and 214 yards against Cal Poly. Jackson is a shifty back, and hits the hole hard. The line is doing well with run blocking, but could improve in passing situations. And that's what the Vandals need is to establish; a passing game to keep opposing defenses honest. Lee Smith and Max Komar have done a good job, but more consistency is needed out of the receivers, and others need to contribute.

The defense is settling into its new system and should continue to improve this Saturday. Brandon Ogletree is coming off a WAC performance of the week and Shiloh Keo has already been a nuisance to opposing offenses with pass break ups, sure tackling and interceptions. Vandal fans would love to see shutdown corner Stanley Franks get his first pick of the season and WSU quarterback, Alex Brink should give him ample opportunity. The defensive line continues to improve, but is still a work in progress, needing to get more pressure on the quaterback. The Cougs should provide a formidable challenge in stopping the run and the pass, as they do both well.

But all of this is the least of what is going on in the world of Palouse College football. First year Vandal Head Coach Robb Akey is coaching against his colleagues from a year ago. Cougar Head Coach Bill Doba had Robb Akey on his staff for the previous eight years, and then the Vandal Head Coaching job became open. The two men consider each other very good friends, and both intend to stay that way, but when the whistle blows on Saturday, the competitive nature among friends will take center stage. The Cougar ties don't end with Akey. Defensive Line coach, Johnny Nansen played for the Cougars as did linebacker coach Al Genatone. Secondary Coach Patrick Libey played for the Vandals, but was a grad assistant for the Cougars in 05-06. This will only add to the urgency, as the Vandals football players know how much this game means to their coaches.

Coach Akey goes airborne as a coach at Wazzu, and his energy and enthusiasm has been a hit in Moscow.
Coach Akey has been a breath of fresh air for Vandal fans. After the Sun Belt fiasco, losing Head Coach Nick Holt to USC and being a one night stay for Dennis Erickson, Akey has brought enthusiasm, consistency and a hard line to the Vandal football program. Nineteen players are no longer with the team due to a number of reasons, but mostly character issues. That's what Akey brings to the table; character. All one has to do is sit down and have a conversation with Robb Akey and you get the sense that he is the right man for the job. His attitude is contagious, and knowing how badly he wants to win this game, his players are sure to give him their best effort. This was evident in the season opener at USC. The Vandals never gave up, and in the end, showed their fans that they will be very different from last year's team.

Akey was known for his enthusiasm on the Cougar sideline. The defensive coordinator had a reputation for his sideline excitement, and his players fed off of it. But Doba can tell you that Akey's enthusiasm goes beyond the gridiron. It's with everything he does, and this is why Vandal fans have been more than pleased with the first two games. Doba and Akey spent the week telling the media how much respect each has for one another. One can't help but think the Cougars lost a good one, when Akey moved eight miles away to take the reigns of the Vandal football team. Akey has an attitude that is unwavering and contagious. He brings an unmistakable pride to the Vandals and Vandal fans will be the first to tell you, that's pretty hard to find. As of late, the Vandal program hasn't set the world on fire, but Coach Akey seems to be a guy holding a match.

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