Hawaii Pre-Game - Robb Akey

It's "homecoming" for several Vandals, as Idaho takes on Hawaii today on the islands (8pm PST kickoff, ESPN GamePlan). For coach ROBB AKEY, progress is being made: "We ARE on the right track, and I think our players are understanding that as well. They've been playing their tails off, they're playing physical, they're flying around. They believe in what they're doing. We're a good family."

Below is a transcript of this week's media conference with Idaho head coach Robb Akey as the team prepares to take on Hawaii in the season finale for Idaho.

Q: Coach, how do you bounce back from what obviously is probably the most emotional game you've played… to make that trip to go play Hawaii for the finale? Is that the biggest challenge, to get the guys back up and focused in on this one?

ROBB AKEY: "Well, I think it's kinda like anything. You need to be able to leave the last ball game behind you. Certainly this one didn't feel good. It's the rival game and there were expectations that were higher than the final score, and I think the fact that it felt like, at halftime, it was a whale of a football game at that point in time. So, for it to fall apart like that, that hurt some.

"Our job is to get ourselves rejuvenated and get over there, and we've got an opportunity to… we've got one more game that we get to play. It's, in my opinion, a very important ball game because we need to close this season out with a win. They're a quality football team. It's gonna be a challenge, but I'd like to believe that we'd be capable of putting something together and a win going into this off season would certainly help all of us a great deal."

Q: What kind of things DO you want to see from the team in this game?

RA: "I want to see us play a football game. I think if we'll play for 60 minutes correctly then we give ourselves a chance to win. That was what was painful about Saturday. We had quite a game going there in the first half, and there were even some things that got left out on the field that might have made a heck of a difference in the ball game, but it's still a great ball game at that point in time. I felt like in the second half, as a defense, we didn't defend the run as well; as an offense we weren't able to make big plays. We didn't play as efficiently as we need to. So, that's what I want to see. I want to see the team go over there and I want to see us fly around. I want to see us make some plays and give ourselves an opportunity to win a game."

Q: With Hawaii, are they still doing kinda the same stuff they did last season when June Jones was around?

RA: "Yes. They're pretty similar to that. The Lee brothers are the two coordinators. Obviously McMackin was running the defense last year. But, offensively, yes, they're still spread out… they're throwing the ball all over the yard, and they've been pretty effective a lot of times in being able to do that. They're capable of putting a lot of points up on the board. Their defense, their front seven, is a pretty impressive outfit too. Those guys are big as can be up front, and they've obviously got a lot of experience, too. Those guys were playing for ‘em last year when they had quite a defense then, too."

Q: With that many receivers out in the formation, that puts some strain on that secondary. It seemed like at the end of the game on Saturday you did have some other guys out there. Who were the guys that are kinda in the mix now?

RA: "Well, the ones I expect to be handling it for the most part would be JJ (Jeromy Jones) and Virdell (Larkins) at safety, and we've got the ability to bring Quin Ashley in there and he was able to get some in this last ball game. The corners will be (Isaac) Butts and Ken Patten with the ability to bring Eric Hunter in there, and we've also had Steven Brown playing over there. He could help us out as a cover man at corner. So, that and the linebacker crew, our ability to handle the coverage end of things, and if we can stay healthy there we still have the ability to be able to play some nickel."

Q: With so many guys from Hawaii these guys are probably pretty fired up to play over there, right, the Hawaii guys?

RA: "I think so. I they're really excited about being able to play in front of their people. I think we're gonna have nice little section there that are gonna be Vandal fans. There are parts of it that are gonna feel a little bit like a home game in some ways. So, I think that that'll be a good thing, and that ought to bring a lot of excitement to it, and that'll certainly help matters."

Q: Because it'll probably be 70 degrees just like in the Kibbie Dome, right?

RA: "That's exactly right!"

Q: Can you talk a little bit about TJ (Conley) still leading the nation in punting and a chance to win that NCAA punting title? Just talk about his season and what he brings to that position.

RA: "He's doing a fantastic job, and it makes a big difference for us in helping with the field position game obviously, and he's done a great job at making himself a consistent performer. Boy, he's capable of launching some beauties and he's done that very well for us throughout the course of the year, and it'd be a great reward for him to be able to hang onto that because he has put a lot of work into that."

Q: Somehow he's not in the finals of the Ray Guy award even though he's leading the nation in punting. Can you explain that?

RA: "I can't explain that. That's one of those things I guess… I don't know. They didn't ask my opinion on that, but I would think when you… unfortunately he's had to punt a fair amount, and the way that he has performed you'd think that that would have him up in there."

Q: How about his prospects at the next level as a punter? Is that something that's a potential?

RA: "I think it is a very good possibility, yes, and I think he's caught people's attention. I would expect that there will be a number of… you know, the scouts have been very interested in what they do. NFL people, they kinda handle the punters and kickers a little bit differently. The scouts bring back information, but a lot of times the special teams coordinators, the special team coaches, are the ones that go out there and kinda make the decisions on some of those guys. At least that's the feedback I'm getting from a lot of these NFL people. So, I would imagine we'd have a fair group of folks coming through here to check him out, but he certainly has proven himself worthy, and I would expect that he will have that chance."

Q: Robb, the travel situation… when the game is over, are some guys going to be able to stay back in Hawaii?

RA: "Yeah. We're going into the Thanksgiving holiday week and obviously we've got some Hawaii players that are going to stay home and spend the holiday there with their families. I know we've got families of the other players that are going to be coming over there and they're going to be there for the game and some of them have expressed that they want to be able to stay. I think some of the families might be even having some Thanksgiving over there. So, we will be heading probably in a lot of different directions coming out of this game. Because of the fact that they are going on to break, we're going to afford them the ability to get themselves back home. So, some of them are going to come all the way back here, some of them are gonna stay there, and some of them are gonna go to their homes either from there or when we get back over on the big island over here."

Q: This season, Robb, the progress I assume was slower than you expected it to be - when you look back on the year, what are your thoughts?

RA: "Well, I'll tell you what. I did expect there to be a difference in the won/lost column. But, I'm seeing the progress this football team is making, and I'm not gonna lose sight of that. We knew that there was a learning curve that we were gonna be dealing with and we're dealing with it.

"I'm seeing kids playing better football and I'm seeing us do some very good things at times. It needs to be more consistent, and that'll come I think with… no, I don't think… that WILL come with more maturity, more experience, and stronger, faster bodies, and that's what they'll have the opportunity to as they continue to grow up and we work those things into them. I think we gained a lot growing this football team up.

"Yes, I would like to have seen the win/loss record be different. But, I go back… I've been saying it for the last few weeks and I'm gonna say it again. I think from the Fresno game on we've been a better football team in the way that we go about playing football. No, I wasn't happy with the second half of Saturday's game or the outcome of it. That's kinda where we've still got some growing up to do to be able to finish that hard-fought game, a game that was against a teams that's pretty good and they haven't lost to anybody else yet, either. I'm not gonna let the win/loss column get in the way of growth that we're making. Certainly the growth needs to show up in the win/loss column. But, we're making the progress that we need to make and I feel like it will be significantly different as we continue to go on.

"We ARE on the right track, and I think our players are understanding that as well. They've been playing their tails off, they're playing physical, they're flying around. They believe in what they're doing. We're a good family as a football team. There are a number of things that are good for us in that fashion and we've got to make sure that we just continue the building, and that's why we do want to put the emphasis on we have one last chance and we all get to do this together because the seniors aren't going to be with us again. It's a launching pad that we need to give ourselves going into the off season. It can be a very important deal for us. A win for us here can be a great boost for us, and that's the way we need to go approach this game. I'm still excited about the growth that we're making."

Q: Coach, did you lose anyone this week who won't be making the trip or are you going to get anybody back?

RA: "Well, it doesn't look Eddie (Williams) is going to be able to play any more for us. He's got a torn ACL. So, I don't think that looks very good for him. The other players I think are doing all right. There's a good chance we might have Troy Vital back for this ball game. His ankle is responding. It was a lot better yesterday than we expected it to be; so I'm holding out hope that that might be the case, and I think we've got everybody else back, everybody else came through the game pretty well."

Q: And with Eddie, Robb, is that gonna require surgery?

RA: "Yes."

Q: Boy. What's the timetable on one of those?

RA: "Well, I would anticipate that it would require getting the swelling out of it and get the surgery done as soon as possible, probably right after Thanksgiving, so that he can get rehabbed as soon as possible and hopefully he'll get an opportunity to still get a chance to play [at the next level]."

Q: How do you approach it with him, then, in terms of the pro prospects? He can't work out, I assume, then for the pro day. Do you show guys tape of him? How do you make up for that?

RA: "Well, he's really already done that, to be honest with you. What those players are able to do for the most part is to perform well in ball games, and he's certainly put some good things on video this year that the scouts have already been in here to see. They're gonna continue coming through here. They're gonna look back at it. A number of them have expressed to me that they've got an interest in him because of the things that he's able to do. So, in that respect the only thing he can do is rehab the knee and get it back to being as strong as it can be, and there's every reason to believe that it should be. I mean, there are players that continue to go on after they have a knee surgery like this, college players, NFL players all over the place after they have these surgeries, and that's just the challenge that he's got in front of him right now, and he'll approach it with his ears pinned back and he'll get after it and he'll make sure that thing is good and strong, and I'm very confident that somebody's going to give him an opportunity."

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