2009 Season Opener, PART 1

Spring drills, long summer workouts and fall camp are all in the rear window, and now the 2009 season opener looms just hours away. Led by junior quarterback NATHAN ENDERLE, the Vandals head down to Las Cruces for a Saturday night tilt against New Mexico State University (5pm PST kickoff) in a rare conference matchup to launch the season. Inside we analyze what to expect when Idaho has the ball.

The 2009 football season promises to be the first season that Coach Rob Akey's plan might finally unfold. The third year coach has endured the rough part of turning one of the worst Division One programs around, and now may be the time to reap the benefits. At least the Vandal nation hopes so, as football is a blood relative. Not some glamorous ticket conveniently located, delicately scheduling its wins to keep its fans.

The Vandals will travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico to take on the Aggies, in what is a very winnable opener for both teams. Idaho leads the series 11-4, with a win coming in last year's meeting in Moscow. However, the Vandals have an advantage as New Mexico State is under first year head coach Dewayne Walker and he is implementing an entirely new scheme on offense and defense. That being said, Dewayne Walker is known to get more out of his players than most so this coaching change should bring a tougher opponent in the Aggies.

Both programs have spent their WAC years dwelling in the cellar and are damn tired of the disrespect that comes from the rest of the league. La Tech and Nevada know from first hand experience that these teams can rise and beat you on the field. Now it's a matter of consistency and more wins. What better game to start the 2009 football season off? The winner of this game takes sole possession of first place in the WAC as well as gaining good momentum into its next game. This game's importance can't be stressed enough and both teams know this. Expect a physical, close game.

Vandals on Offense

The Vandals bring experience at quarterback. Nathan Enderle has been the starting quarterback for the last two years, but there has been little competition. With the arrival of sophomore quaterback Brian Reader, that has changed. The competition has brought the best out of both athletes. Enderle was pushed throughout the Spring and Fall and retained his starting position with solid outings. Going into the season, Enderle is the Vandal quarterback but Reader has shown he can play and is waiting in the wings.

The jury is still out on Enderle. He was poised and veteran-like in his first start against USC, showing great promise. But since then it has been up and down play from him. Vandal fans have been waiting for Enderle to blow up all over the WAC, and at times he's shown he quite possibly could. Is this the year he does? His numbers did improve from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and if the trend continues, Vandal fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Enderle should give the Aggie defense more than enough to respect the passing attack.

Even deeper, the backfield is filled with proven talent. Deonte Jackson, Princeton McCarty, Troy Vital and Kama Baily have all effectively carried the ball for the Vandals, with Jackson and McCarty seeing the bulk of the carries. Vandal fans should also keep an eye on DeMaundrey Woolridge (a transfer from WSU) and senior runningback Devon Sturdivant. Both have run well in scrimmage and may see some carries.

Deonte Jackson is the Vandal starter. He's a consistent slasher, and shows great patience behind his blockers. Vandal fans have learned to depend on Jackson's running savvy as he is one of the best backs in the WAC. In addition, Princeton McCarty busted onto the scene last year. He brings a different type of quickness and break away speed to the running attack. They are very different types of backs but both are very effective. In ground ‘em and pound ‘em downs, expect DeMaundrey Woolridge to come in and punish defenses. His power is a dimension the Vandals did not have last year. He can, without a doubt, move the pile.

At wide receiver, the Vandals return even more offensive veterans, but the reality is the passing game hasn't set the world on fire the last few years. All eyes are on slot receiver, Max Komar. The lone senior has shown the ability to stretch the field as well as run after the catch. This should be the year he becomes a threat in every game. He has too much experience for him not to be. Eric Greenwood starts as the X receiver and Preston Davis starts at Z. Vandal fans have been waiting 3 years for Greenwood to utilize his frame down the field consistently. At 6'6, 212 pounds, Greenwood should be able to outbid defenders for the ball. All indications point towards Greenwood coming into his own, so look for him to be targeted in the redzone, as well as occasional shots down the field. Davis showed he has great hands as a true freshman and provided one of the few bright spots among the Vandal receivers. His sophomore campaign looks to be even more promising with a year under his belt. The only other receiver with game experience is Maurice Shaw. Shaw has battled injuries, but has shown he has good concentration and can go get the ball. Listed as Greenwood's backup, Vandal fans can expect to see Mo take snaps against the Aggies. Freshmen speed demons Justin Veltung and Robert Hatchett III will tempt the coaching staff throughout the season so expect each to see playing time. It's not if, it's when. They both have the speed to stretch the field.

Eddie Williams will be missed by all Vandal fans. The guy was an explosive weapon and will be hard to replace. Fortunately, the TE/H Back position does return talent which just might ease the pain of Williams' absence. Senior Peter Bjorvik will once again line up as a traditional tightend. He has good experience blocking and brings senior leadership to a position he manned last year. In the H-Back role, the Vandals have senior Kevin Small and junior Daniel Hardy. Both have experience from last year, and as Vandal fans found out last year, Hardy can make plays. Small is more of a physical presence, but he also has the athletic ability to get down field, catch the ball and make plays.

The most important unit on offense is the offensive line, and the Vandals have an excellent group for 2009. Four seniors and one sophomore man the positions. There is plenty of game experience in this group, and it's led by senior guard Mike Iupati. Iupati is a mammoth (6'5.5, 330)legit Sunday player poised to prove he deserves the preseason attention he's been given. Seniors Irvin Stevens III, Adam Juratovec and Bryce Sinclair will start at center, right guard and right tackle respectively. The lone underclassman is Matt Cleveland at left tackle. All reports out of camp indicate that Cleveland brings size, speed and a bad attitude to that position. This group is big, strong and experienced with a few players pushing for playing time. Vandal fans could see playing time out of backup right guard Tevita Halaholo and backup right tackle Tyrone Novikoff.

Aggies on Defense

Coach Walker is implementing a 4-3 defense to replace the 3-3-5 alignment as New Mexico State was last in the WAC in rushing defense last season, giving up 220.2 yards per game, and Walker is a defensive guru. The Aggies have veterans throughout their defense except the interior line. It's just a matter of adjusting to the new scheme. Walker is a firm believer in rushing the passer, so Vandal fans can believe there will be stunts and blitz packages.

Players to watch on defense will be senior middle linebacker Ross Conner, junior DT Sioeli Fakalata and the talented junior corner Davon House. Conner will be the field general trying to stop the Vandal running attack.

The Aggies defensive line is similar to the Vandals in that there is not a lot of size, depth or experience. The only returning player who saw significant snaps last year is senior DE Justin Alford. JUCO transfer John Finau brings much needed size and determination. On the entire line there will be a healthy rotation starting with the ends; Kwika Shook and Vincent Federico on one side, Pierre Fils and Alford on the other. In the middle will be EJ Cannon and Finau at NT while Donte Savage and Justin Adolpho shore up DT. There will be plenty rotation to see who earns a spot.

Linebackers are a little more experienced, even though the Aggies suffered a major blow with the loss of Nick Paden (who will return next year). Paden was a monster for the Aggies and will look to the 2010 season to regain that form. Senior Jason Scott will get the nod at WLB. Jamar Cotton will start at SLB and as previously mentioned the Aggies look to Ross Conner to replace Paden and man the middle. All have game experience with Scott having the reputation of a tackling machine. There is plenty of depth at linebacker for the Aggies, but there is also little to no experience. SLB Sam King, MLB Numi Lolohea and WLB Boyblue Aoelua could very possibly see some downs. King has the speed to come in on blitz packages.

The Aggie defensive backfield is the most talented unit on D. Davon House and Chris Buckner will man the corner positions while SS Junior Fasavalu and FS Stephon Hatchett will head hunt. House has good size and speed, playing well enough last year to create some preseason buzz. He hits like a safety. Buckner is a converted receiver who won the job in camp. Another converted receiver is Hatchett. Expect the junior to split time with another junior Alphonso Powell. Both are small, but can cover a lot of real estate in a short time. Fasavalu has good size and can hit. Working his way back from injury to a starting position shows that he's tough, and that's necessary when playing strong safety. What they lack in experience, they make up for in athletic ability. Mark Waters, Michael Zant and Lorenzo Caldwell could all see snaps.

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