PREGAME ANALYSIS: Idaho at Northern Illinois

Saturday afternoon, the Vandals (2-1, 1-0 WAC) head to DeKalb (IL) to take on a Northern Illinois Huskies (2-1, 0-0 MAC) team that is fresh off a big road victory over Purdue of the Big 10 Conference. It has been a long process, rebuilding this Vandal team, but coach Akey and staff have this group believing and playing with confidence, as Idaho is off to its best start since the 1999 season.

The 2-1 Vandals will be traveling to DeKalb, Illinois to play the 2-1 Huskies of Northern Illinois University to finish up another home-and-home series. This is the sixth meeting between the teams, with Northern Illinois leading the series 3-2. The Huskies survived a late comeback in 2007 to win 42-35 in the Kibbie Dome, so once again the Vandals are thinking payback. The Red and Black Attack are coming off a huge win at Purdue, proving that the Vandals have a hefty task ahead of them, traveling to Huskie Stadium (seating capacity 24,000 fans) and trying to pick up a win.

Can the Vandals vindicate a loss two weeks in a row? Will the Vandals beat Northern Illinois, who beat Purdue, who also lost to Oregon, whose suspended runningback symbolically executed a much needed punch in the mouth? Needless to say, Coach Akey will have his Vandals ready, and Coach Kill will have his Huskies ready, as the teams prepare for what should be a great non-BCS matchup this Saturday.

The Vandals were solid last week against San Diego State, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. There were mistakes on offense, mistakes on defense, and mistakes on special teams. If the Vandals want to win this road game, those mistakes will have to be corrected. The good news for Vandal fans is that the Idaho defensive line is starting to make their presence felt. And even more good news is that the Vandals continue to float under the radar. Every Vandal fan knows this is an entirely different team than Idaho has fielded the last few years, and judging from the spread and the voices from the "Red and Black Attack" they really have no idea Idaho is about ready to punch them in the mouth. The Vandal offensive live is massive and has proven its ability to take over a game. They are plowing the way for the run game, and protecting in the passing game, and those are the keys to success.

The Huskies have a two headed running attack by the name of Me'co Brown and Chad Spann. Me'co is the smaller, speedier guy while Spann is the bull in short yardage situations. Brown rushed for a career high 150 yards against Purdue and has plenty of power for a smaller back. Spann's a nice compliment and his power allowed him to gain 80 yards and two touchdowns on the day. Between the pair, they have 8 touchdowns this season.

Sound familiar? The Vandals have Deonte Jackson's slashing runs, Princeton McCarty's elusive speed, and DeMaundray Woolridge's power. This combination has been effective over the 2009 campaign, but has yet to reveal itself as anything but a running attack without a featured back. Jackson starts, McCarty follows, and Woolridge finishes. After three games, the backs have all shown their strengths, and it's hard to deny that Woolridge possesses all the skills of a complete back. He's big, powerful, and fast. It's only a matter of time before he dominates a game.

The Vandal passing game took a while to heat up against the Aztecs, but there is no denying Nate Enderle is coming into his own. Daniel Hardy and Max Komar continue to be Enderle's favorite targets, but as the season progresses, and the confidence of the offense grows, the catches will spread throughout the receiving corps. Eric Greenwood and Preston Davis will eventually have their day, and it's coming sooner than Vandal fans think. The endzone threat Greenwood displayed in Spring and Fall ball has yet to show itself, but he's starting to understand he can get the ball in traffic. When he realizes his full potential, he will be hard to stop. Hardy and Komar are the money receivers for now, but there are a few guys who are ready to make a statement soon.

On the flip side, Northern Illinois could be the stiffest defensive challenge the Vandals have faced all year. Against Purdue, they held the nation's leading rusher to 64 yards on the day. Their defense is stout, featuring defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle. He's a force clogging the middle at 6'0? 295 lbs. The defensive front has proven they can stuff the run, so Enderle must be ready to throw early to keep the defense honest. Bottom line is; Northern Illinois stacked the box against Purdue, and if they do that against the Vandals, they will pay. Enderle's arm should be respected. Linebacker Cory Hanson is a playmaker, registering 16 tackles on the season with two interceptions. Other players to watch on the Huskie defense are tackling machine SS Tracy Wilson and the multi-talented FS David Bryant.

The Vandal defense is gaining a little swagger of its own. With JoJo Dickson's WAC Defensive Player of the Week performance last weekend, and the constant pressure the defensive line is giving, it is clearly a defense on the rise. Northern Illinois does sport a 300 pound offensive line, and as previously mentioned, a very good tandem at running back. But Vandal fans have yet to see the wrath this defensive front is capable of unleashing. Andre Ferguson and Aaron Lavarias are bringing the heat from both ends, still looking for their first sack of the season. Meanwhile the play of Jonah Sataraka and Michael Cosgrove has generated two sacks on the year. You couple this with the linebacker play, and Vandal fans have plenty of reason to be excited about with this defensive unit. The Vandal linebackers will have to be wary of Huskie quarterback Chandler Harnish. He does have wheels and can hurt you with them. The Idaho secondary did a great job shutting down Aztec superstar Vincent Brown for three quarters last weekend, which is no small task. True freshman Aaron Grymes started at CB last week and was exceptional in coverage. There should continue to be a heavy rotation between Isaac Butts and Grymes throughout the season, but like so many positions on this football team, there is a star on the rise.

One other notable is that starting SS and punt returner Shiloh Keo set a Vandal record against the Huskies in their last meeting, returning a punt 100 yards for a touchdown.

After kicker Trey Farquhar put Vandal fans' fears to rest in week two against the University of Washington, he followed his stellar performance by having to work through his first real adversity of his young college career. The true freshman missed two field goals (one at point blank range) last weekend – his first misses of the 2009 season – and the Vandals struggled to put their opponent away until the final moments of the game. Similarly, Northern Illinois' kicker, Mike Salerno, committed the same sins in their bid against Purdue. Kickers swing in the balance of hero or zero, and right now Farquhar must set his focus back on being the tremendous kicking talent he has the potential to be at Idaho.

The anxiety level of Vandal fans is at an all-time high. Cautious but hopeful, they will watch their team travel into hostile territory trying to improve to 3-1 on the season. The Huskies have no intention on letting this happen, especially after upsetting Purdue. The good thing is that no one in the nation (except Vandal fans) thinks this team is worth a hill of lentil beans. No one respects the Vandals. But Akey has the team believing. He has us believing. And when time expires this Saturday, he'll have the Huskies believing. The Tribe from the North is coming to DeKalb for more than respect.

They're coming for payback.


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