Vandals Aim To Batter The Rams

Junior safety SHILOH KEO had a tremendous game for the Vandals last week in Idaho's win at Northern Illinois. This Saturday night Keo will help lead a resurgent Vandal team when Idaho (1-0 WAC, 3-1) hosts Colorado State (0-1 MWC, 3-1) in a game that will be nationally televised live on ESPN-U from the Dome (7:30PM PST kickoff). Idaho is off to its best start since 1994, and improving each week.

The University of Idaho Vandals will host the Colorado State Rams this Saturday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN-U from the rabid confines of the Kibbie Athletic Center, in a game that has all the makings for a memorable battle. CSU has a 3-2 lead in the all-series, with the last game being played in 1992 in Fort Collins, Colorado. Idaho won that game in epic fashion, coming back from 28 points down to ink a 37-34 victory.

If you live in Idaho and you're looking for big-time college football, you'll have to look beyond the blue. It's up North this weekend.

The campus is buzzing with excitement, having such a high-quality opponent visiting the Dome. This WAC versus MWC clash features two 3-1 teams, both of whom are looking to continue their bowl quest and gain a key win for an impressive 4-1 record as they near the midway point of the season.

Fortunately, everyone on the planet is still underrating Vandals, which allows them to fly under the radar. The Tribe from the North is completely overlooked, which just so happens to balance out the college football scene in the state of Idaho (Boise is not a state). While Idaho welcomes a 3-1 MWC opponent, their "counterpart" is still loitering in D-1 AA football, politicking (or scheduling) for the polls. But such topical digression will never make the Rams go away, and the Vandals love that this game is at home.

The Rams are good. They're real good.

Colorado State has faced the likes of Colorado, Nevada, and BYU already this year. Battle-tested and coming off their only loss of the season (a loss to AP No. 20 BYU) the Rams will come ready to play.

The Vandals, on the other hand, are coming of an impressive road trip win over a good Northern Illinois team, and are looking forward to defending the Kibbie Dome turf this weekend. With a packed Dome, the Rams are about ready to experience a little noise in the helmet. Vandal fans should be out in full-force, and the Dome will be rockin'.

On defense the Rams have plenty of experience, and they could have middle linebacker Alex Williams back in the fold, ready to lead their attack once again. Williams left in the first defensive series against BYU, and it caught CSU a little off guard. His replacement, Chris Gipson, filled in nicely grabbing two sacks and a pass breakup. But Williams is the starter for a reason. He's big and physical, and with the Vandal running attack they'll need him in the middle. Strongside ‘backer Michael Kawulok and weakside ‘backer Mychal Sisson have good quickness, which could pose problems for the Vandal passing attack. They cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

Rams safeties Klint Kubiak and Elijah-Blu Smith, as well as cornerback Gerard Thomas, were the three leading tacklers against BYU last Saturday, which isn't exactly a good thing. What it does prove is that they are physical, as Kubiack had 12 stops against the Cougars. Despite the young season, Blu Smith has three interceptions so Enderle will have to know where he is at all times. One notable is that starting cornerback Gerard Butler should be back in full force after be sidelined a few weeks ago with an injury. He played a little against BYU.

The CSU defensive front has good size, and has proven it can create pressure from the middle and outside. Again, there is plenty of experience in this group, led by senior defensive tackle James Morehead who, at 6-6, weighs in at 320 pounds. The Vandal offensive line will have their work cutout for themselves on Saturday. The defensive strategy will be to put a stop to the Vandal rushing attack, and the Rams have the bodies for a good rotation. This battle in the trenches should be a stout task for both teams. The Vandals will need to establish the run early if they want their offense to continue its success, as the Rams camp has already stated their desire to stuff the run.

The Vandal offense is averaging a little over 400 yards per game this season. The play of the offensive line has been excellent. They could be the best kept secret in the WAC, and should continue to be a force throughout the 2009 campaign. They've blocked well for the run, and provided a good pocket for Enderle to throw the ball down field. With that protection, Nathan Enderle is maturing into a quarterback that can torch defenses. His heady play and big arm are the key reasons the Vandals are winning. The line is blocking, the backs are running, the quarterback is delivering, and the receivers are catching the ball.

The system is working.

Eric Greenwood's catch on the sideline at Northern Illinois to ice the game late in the fourth quarter was nothing less than spectacular. Greenwood stepped up to lead all receivers, with some nifty moves, great route running, and excellent concentration. H-Back Daniel Hardy's size and soft hands have made him Enderle's favorite target, while Maurice Shaw's emergence last week has Vandal fans excited about the whole receiving unit. Komar, Greenwood, Preston Davis and Shaw are all very capable receivers; a luxury that the Vandals haven't had in years. Considering how effectively Enderle is spreading the ball around the field, one can only guess on who will emerge against the Rams.

All three runningbacks for the Vandals scored last week, and each showcased their own unique specialty. Deonte Jackson has always been an effective receiver out of the backfield, and once he has the ball in his hands, he makes people miss. He can roll out of a tackler's arms, his multiple stiff arms against the Huskies last week drew raves from analysts covering the game, and he can just slide on by. Princeton McCarty can take it to the house on any given play. He's that fast, and he has a knack for making defenders miss. The best way to describe senior transfer DeMaudrey Woolridge is – he's a beast. Woolridge is tough to tackle, and he just so happens to possess break away speed. A rare combination, Woolridge's emergence has been an unmistakable reason why the Vandals have won. He really can take over a game, and has done so the last few weeks.

When the Rams have the ball, Colorado State quarterback Grant Stucker will lead the team. CSU's first-year starter threw for 30-of-50, 372 yards and two touchdowns last week, so he can definitely get the job done. He could be the best passing quarterback the Vandals have faced yet. The Rams also have a Biletnikoff Award candidate in receiver Rashaun Greer. Greer is an exceptional receiver looking to make up for his miscues of last week. He will have an extra burst in his step as he looks to regain favor with his coaches and teammates. When players are motivated like that, it's best to keep a close eye on them. With Greer having an off day, Stucker found a new target in junior Tyson Liggett, a 5-foot-9 walk-on. Liggett caught 11 passes for 156 yards and a score, which speaks for the depth of talent on this football team.

The Ram offensive line is veteran and this is a solid group of returning starters that, like Idaho, is the heart and soul of the entire football team. With four seniors and one junior, this offensive line is big, strong and physical. Everything you want in an offensive line. Make no mistake about it, this is the best offensive line the Vandals have faced so far. It's obvious by Stucker's numbers that they are providing excellent pass protection, but junior runningback John Mosure should be completely back from injury to lead the rushing attack. Mosure sports a 4.6 yards per carry average. The one-two punch of John Mosure and Leonard Mason has been effective for the Rams. You add 240 pound fullback Zac Pauga leading the way, and the Vandals can expect a Mountain West offense that knows how to pound the ball.

It will be up to the Vandal linebacking corps and defensive line to stop that running attack. Idaho is No.1 in the WAC against the run so far this season. They did a great job bottling up Northern Illinois' well-regarded rushing attack, and will look to continue that trend on Saturday. Defensive lineman Jonah Sataraka is another Vandal that has arrived. He's becoming a terror for opposing offenses. In fact, the entire defensive line has been the surprise of the year. Every game they seem to get more and more pressure on the quarterback. This just hasn't been the case the last few years for the Vandals. Sataraka, Michael Cosgrove, Aaron Lavarias and Andre Ferguson are just beginning to understand their potential. Depth has been an issue as well, and Oga Faumui, Fonomanu Sekona, Benson Mayowa, and Charles Smith are providing just that. This unit has to be the biggest surprise for Vandal fans. Hopefully they can continue their disruptive ways against CSU.

The same can be said for the Vandal linebackers. They may not be the biggest, but they have speed and can hit. The true test will be in the middle. Paul Senescall and Treshawn Robinson will have quite a test on their hands, having such a veteran line coming at them. Keeping them fresh via rotation will be important if the Vandals hope to stop the run. Both have been solid in the middle for the Vandals and they will need to continue their production come Saturday if the Vandals hope to win.

It looks like strong safety Shiloh Keo is finally back, as it may have taken him until last week to return to the relentless form Vandal fans are used to. Keo is a one-man wrecking crew. He brings it, and brings it hard. Northern Illinois was the first game that Shiloh looked to be his old self, running around and making plays, and especially making big hits. This is the unit that will be tested. Aaron Grymes, Isaac Butts, Kenneth Patten and Jeromy Jones will see passes come their way all day. CSU loves to throw the ball. Butts and Grymes continue to split time at corner. Each brings a little something different to the field. Grymes is more of a lockdown corner, while Butts is the more physical player. It should continue to be another interesting rotation for Vandal fans to keep their eyes on.

Vandal fans and Vandal athletes have been waiting for a game like this for a few years now. It's here, and the Dome should be filled to capacity. Finally the players get a chance to showcase their skills to a packed Dome. It just doesn't get any better than this. Vandal Pride is in the air, and the blackout in the Dome will be in full force. It's time to make some noise Vandal fans. It's time to get behind Coach Akey and the Vandal football team, and show them what kind of fan base we are!

So grab your black, head to the Dome and send the Rams home with a loss!


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