Divine Light Shines On The Vandals

With sunlight bursting through Idaho's renovated $10 million west wall for the first time since the Dome was constructed, the Idaho Vandals will defend their home turf for the first time this season. Saturday at 2pm PST, Idaho (1-1, 1-0 WAC) takes on San Diego State (1-1, 0-0 MWC) in a rematch of last season's loss to the Aztecs in San Diego. With a win Idaho can even the all-time series at 2-2.

The Vandals take on the San Diego State Aztecs in a much anticipated opener. This two game WAC vs MWC matchup started last year in San Diego, with the Aztecs winning easily.

This year should be different.

The Kibbie Dome will be sporting a new look that has Vandal fans and Vandal athletes more intrigued with the remodeled home of Vandal athletics than they've been since the building was first constructed. In an almost symbolic event, the Dome will have natural light shining down on the football field for the first time in its history. This just may be the divine blessing the Vandal football program has been waiting for… or not. Whatever the case may be, Coach Akey has his team ready to defend their turf, which just happens to be traditional green. No gimmick here, folks.

The Scarlet and Black provided a 45-17 Idaho beat down last year, and the Vandals are thinking it's time for a little payback. After Nathan Enderle's performance against UW, one can't help but feel like the Vandals are turning the Division One football corner. Enderle was 22 of 31 passing for 279 yards, with his only blunder being a costly interception at the start of the third quarter with Idaho down 21-9 to the Dawgs. Without that one play, Enderle and his receivers would have completed one of their most successful outings since joining the program. His poise in the pocket is growing every week, and his delivery against UW was excellent throughout the game. Can he follow it up against San Diego State?

The Aztecs are different from last year's team in some important aspects. First year coach, Brady Hoke is bringing in new schemes on both sides of the ball. Every team the Vandals have faced so far this year is under a new coaching regime, so pin pointing tendancies isn't as easy this early in the season. Hoke's staff will bring the 3-3-5 defensive scheme into the Dome on Saturday. It fits his personnel better, as the Aztecs are smaller on the defensive front; a problem the Vandals are all too familiar with. Size is made up in the form of speed, and the Aztecs have plenty of that. Their defense has generated pressure and turnovers that were non existent last year.

Obviously the makeup of the 3-3-5 is 3 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers and 5 players making up the secondary. Blitz packages will be an all day thing for the Vandal offense. If picked up properly, the Vandals could have a huge day on offense. But keep in mind, the Aztec defense has already produced five interceptions. SDSU will look to confuse Enderle with its blitzing, so the Vandal running attack will need to be prepared for a big day. Judging from DeMaundray Woolridges' coming out party last week, that's likely to happen.

The University of Idaho's three headed running attack is picking up momentum. Deonte Jackson's shiftiness, Princeton McCarty's break away speed, and Woolridge's power running allows the Vandals to pick their poison. All three possess very different, yet very potent running styles. Jackson's ability to stay hidden behind his linemen bodes well for this type of game.

With Enderle's favorite targets performing well, the Vandals should have success through the air as well. Max Komar continues to be a mainstay for the Vandal offense, but Daniel Hardy's momentum from last year continues to snowball. He's a big target and has showcased some great hands. The other receiver coming into his own is Eric Greenwood. Greenwood is coming back to the ball nicely, and as big a target as he is, this is a luxury never afforded Enderle before this season. The long ball is still missing in the passing game, but it's only a matter of time. Clearly the timing and touch needs work.

The Aztec Defense has some notable starters to keep an eye on. At middle linebacker, Luke Laologi is a playmaker. If he's not tackling someone, he's causing a turnover. Junior backer Andrew Preston led all tacklers with seven last week, while defensive end Jacob Tauanuu gathered two sacks and forced a fumble. The defense has already picked the ball off 5 times this season. Bottom line… the Aztec defense is much better than they were one year ago. They are opportunistic and specialize in creating pressure which almost always leads to turnovers. The Vandal offensive line will need to buy Enderle some time.

Like San Diego State, the Vandals have also improved on defense, especially in the speed category. Last week's performance might not be an indication, but the task of locking down Jake Locker isn't exactly easy. That isn't to say the Aztec offense will be easy. Quarterback Ryan Lindley shredded the Vandals for 433 yards last year and junior WR Vincent Brown hauled in 183 of those receiving yards. Lindley is a very good quarterback, and can pick you apart if you don't pressure him. Lindley's personal career best marks (as well as Vincent Brown's) have come at the hands of the Vandals. If this doesn't have the attention of the entire Vandal football team, they could be in for another long day. However, it is highly unlikely that Coach Akey hasn't pounded that into their heads all week long.

With a bigger Vandal defensive front, San Diego State could be forced to the air. Although junior runningback Brandon Sullivan has been providing a good ground game for the Aztecs, the fact is, the Vandals are playing much better defense in the trenches. Andre Ferguson and Aaron Lavarias provided excellent pressure against Washington, and seemed to barely miss getting their sacks. Lavarias' transition to end has been a success, and sooner or later he will have a breakout game, and he will be logging some sacks this fall. And Vandal fans are finally starting to see what all the hub-bub was about when it comes to Andre Ferguson. His ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage is becoming crystal clear. Ferguson has the speed to get around the edge, and the wheels to stop a play heading the other way.

This week's rising stars in the linebacking crew are TreShawn Robinson and Robert Siavii. Robinson, the second string middle linebacker, has a nose for the ball and hits with bad intentions. Siavii's speed and instincts are starting to show up. He led the team in tackles at Washington, and should be poised to have another big week. Joseph Dickson and Paul Senescall are among the most productive of the backers, but it's good to see the entire unit mixing it up and making plays.

The Vandal secondary is the unit that needs to step up. What better week to do so than against a team who set conference and team records on you the previous year? Someone needs to step up and intercept the ball, and the opportunity will present itself all day Saturday in the Dome. It's only a matter of who will seize the opportunity. This was supposed to be the defenses' strongest unit, but it has yet to live up to that billing. The cornerback rotation could see a bigger rotation this week as the coaches try to find the best cover men on the team. Butts and Patten are solid starters, but the young guys in the wings (Aaron Grymes, Gary Walker, Eric Hunter and Matthew Harvey) are making statements on every snap they get. Shiloh Keo and Jeromy Jones are solid safeties, and should continue to supply big hits out of the defensive backfield.

It would be a travesty not to mention the special teams play of Trey Farquhar. The Vandal kicker was money when called upon last week, going 3 for 3 on field goals in his first collegiate attempts in a hostile Pac-10 environment.

With that said, the Vandals need this win in the worst of ways. It would boost the program and revitalize the fans if the 2009 home opener was a win to avenge last year's loss to the Aztecs. The promise of the 2009 season is "so far so good" for the Vandal Nation, and this is an opportunity to continue down that path towards success. If everything goes as planned, time will expire Saturday afternoon with the Vandals winning. And the newly found light will shine down onto the Tribe from the North, their helmets glistening Silver and Gold, with everyone chanting in unison: "I-D-A-H-O, Idaho-Idaho-Go-Go-Go!"

Go Vandals!

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