Vandals Take On Dawgs In Seattle
The Idaho Vandals travel to Seattle (Wash.) Saturday to take on a long-time adversary in the Washington Huskies. There are 38 previous meetings dating back as far as 1900, a series that dates back to the days when the Vandals were members of the PCC (Pacific Coast Conference) with Washington, a conference which is now known as the Pac-10. Idaho was a member of the PCC from 1922-1942, and again from 1945-1958. Prior to 2000, the Vandals and Huskies hadn't played since 1973. Historically, Washington holds a commanding 34-2-2 lead in the all-time series. But hey, Idaho won the first meeting.
In the last meeting between the teams, the Dawgs beat the Vandals 34-6, on Sept. 17, 2005, and current UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt was the Idaho head coach in that game. On Saturday, the Washington faithful will file into Husky Stadium (seating capacity 72,500 fans), a fanbase rejuvenated by the new coaching regime under Steve Sarkisian and their team's impressive performance in last weekend's home loss to SEC power LSU. It goes without saying that the Vandals will have their work cut out for them. Idaho also was impressive last weekend (particularly in the first half), and is coming off a 21-6 victory over New Mexico State and will be looking to carry that momentum into this week's game.
WHEN THE VANDALS ARE ON OFFENSE…
Quarterback Nathan Enderle played well in his first game of the season, going 11 of 21 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But the Vandals will need more out of Enderle if they want to win this Saturday. The Huskies will bring plenty of blitz packages with faster athletes, so Enderle will need to be quick at getting rid of the ball, and more accurate with his throws. He spread the ball around nicely last weekend, hitting six different receivers against NMSU. It is imperative for him to have success connecting with Idaho's tailbacks on short passes out of the backfield, something he has struggled to do since becoming the field general for the Vandals.
The Vandal rushing attack rumbled for 172 yards last weekend against the Aggies. Princeton McCarty has shown he can take it to the house on any play… or at least a yard from the house. He averaged 12 yards per carry, leading all Vandal rushers with 96 yards on 8 carries. Deonte Jackson is a talented between-the-tackles runner, utilizing his shifty style and his knack for finding yards in traffic. Both runningbacks have shown they can catch out of the backfield, and Idaho fans should expect to see some balls thrown their way. Then there is the bull in the backfield, DeMaundray Woolridge, who is saw carries in tough yardage situations last weekend. His role could increase against a bigger Washington defense, so it should be interesting to see how the running game stacks up against this Pac-10 foe. After all, Idaho's offensive line is for real.
Averaging over 300 pounds, the Vandal's O Line is big and strong. It would be hard to imagine the offensive line being pushed around by anyone. The Husky defensive line is stacked with talent, but the Vandal line matches up nicely. Washington's defensive ends Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (6-4, 263) and Darrion Jones (6-2, 256) will try and get around bookends Matt Cleveland (6-4, 314) and Bryce "Big Nasty" Sinclair (6-5, 322). Vandal TE Peter Bjorvik (6-4, 245) will, once again, play a strong part in the blocking scheme. An equally intriguing matchup will take place in the interior lines. The Huskies talented duo of Alameda Ta'amu (6-3, 348) and Cameron Elisara (6-3, 275) will try and get a push on Vandal center Irvin Stevens III (6-3, 277) and Vandal guards Adam Juratovac (6-3, 306) and Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy candidate Mike Iupati (6-6, 325).
The Husky linebackers will come after Enderle early and often, trying to force turnovers. Outside linebackers Mason Foster (6-2, 244) and E.J. Savannah (6-1, 228), plus inside linebacker Donald Butler ( 6-1, 235) have good speed and should be blitzing throughout the game, applying even more pressure up the middle and on the outside. To be blunt, it has been years since Idaho brought a line this physical into Husky stadium. They will be tested against a Husky defense that lives for pressuring the quarterback.
As evidenced last week, the Vandal passing attack is improving. Enderle has yet to hit a receiver in stride for a long gain, but he and his receivers are showing a much improved understanding of one another. The Vandals had receptions of 38 and 48 yards in last week's game. Max Komar led all receivers with 68 yards on 2 receptions. Enderle is finding another target in Daniel Hardy. Hardy picked up where he left off last year, collecting a touchdown in week one. Eric Greenwood, Maurice "Mo" Shaw and Preston Davis are all targeted in the passing game. Shaw and Davis each had an excellent grab on the sidelines against NMSU. Sooner or later one will separate from the pack, but for now, the Vandal passing attack is still a work in progress. This is the perfect setting for a receiver to break out. The Huskies had 172 passing yards put on them by LSU. With the exception of strong safety Nate Williams, the secondary for Washington is very young. The Vandal passing game could have success if the offensive line can provide the time for Enderle to challenge that youth.
WHEN THE VANDALS ARE ON DEFENSE…
Defensively, the Vandals have the enormous challenge of containing Husky phenom Jake Locker. Locker is a 6-5, 245-pound dual threat quarterback who runs with exceptional speed and is making 2009 a season to focus on his passing game. Locker will most likely rush the ball at least ten times against Idaho, and he's coming off a 321-yard passing performance. And now he has the luxury of handing the ball off to redshirt freshman Chris Polk, whose debut has Husky fans ecstatic about the Husky ground game. Two more Huskies the Vandals need to be aware of are tight end Kavario Middleton and receiver James Johnson.
The Husky offensive line is just like Idaho's; big and strong. Senior left tackle Ben Ossai is a monster at 6-6, 335 pounds. The interior is made up of 6-2, 284 pound Gregory Christine, 6-5, 293 pound Ryan Tolar and 6-4, 281 pound Senio Kelemete. Right tackle Cody Habben tips the scales at 295, on a 6-6 frame. The Vandal defense will be trying to penetrate this wall of bodies, while also trying to contain Locker.
This won't be an easy task.
Idaho's defense held NMSU to just six points last weekend, with Joseph "JoJo" Dickson leading the team in tackles. Dickson's size (6-2, 230) and speed makes him a tackling specialist. The rotation of middle linebackers Treshawn Robinson and Paul Senescall seems to be working out for the Vandals. They are able to stay fresh and make plays. They'll both be needed as UW will run right at them. You could also see Dickson being tasked to mirror Locker on some downs.
The Vandal defensive front is a much better group than last year's D-line. They are providing constant pressure on the quarterback, and actually gathered a sack against NMSU. Some impressive newcomers on the unit include Michael Cosgrove who got the sack, and the much anticipated emergence of rush end Andre Ferguson. Both had strong debuts. The unit as a whole is doing a much better job of gang tackling and shoring up the middle. This week's challenge should be a much taller order, as the Husky offensive line is more athletic, and Locker's ability to scramble will make all gap responsibilities a must. Simply put, the defensive line cannot let long yardage plays happen between the tackles. This is not the biggest defensive line in Idaho's history, but it does have the tenacity to make plays.
In Vandal safety Shiloh Keo's return, he picked off a NMSU pass in the endzone and had another one slip through his hands. He may be a little rusty (along with moving to free safety from his customary strong safety position), but Keo brings intensity and solid play that was greatly missed last season. Strong safety Jeromy Jones continues to be a compliment to Keo. His sure tackling will be needed Saturday. The defensive backfield - particularly at cornerback - played what seemed to be a soft coverage in week one. With that, they allowed some passing yardage...something the Huskies will look to exploit on Saturday. Cornerbacks Kenneth Patten and Isaac Butts will be responsible for covering a much faster receiving crew, so a step up in their play is critical for the defense to have success. The bottom line is that they need to get some pass deflections or an interception. This crew is veteran enough to rise to the occasion. Locker will air the ball out, so the opportunity for interceptions will present itself throughout the game.
This is one of the better teams Idaho has brought to this old, lop-sided rivalry. It's no secret that Coach Robb Akey is a former Coug, and has a nasty attitude towards the Huskies. He's not coming into Husky Stadium for a pay check. He's coming in for the win. Problem is… UW looks like a completely different team than the winless Huskies from a year ago. Locker is healthy. Polk and Johnson are nice compliments for an already potent offensive attack.
But the Vandal defense is improved as well. Though a number of players are in their first year of starting, the Vandals look a little stronger up front, a little faster sideline to sideline, and the return of Keo was desperately needed. On offense, The Vandals are very capable of running the ball. The success of the running attack is most important, because it is the Vandal strength. It's success will dictate the passing game success. Speaking of which, it's the passing attack that needs to arrive this Saturday if Idaho is hoping for a victory.
Can Enderle and crew move the ball through the air? Stranger things have happened. Just watch the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
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