VANDAL PREGAME: Hawaii at Idaho

Last weekend the Vandals won a see-saw battle at San Jose State to improve to 5-1 on the season and 2-0 in WAC play. The never-say-die performance of JONAH SATARAKA and the rest of the Vandal team has already delivered more single-season wins than Idaho has seen in about a decade. WAC play continues on the Palouse as the Hawaii Warriors travel to Moscow to play the first place Idaho Vandals.

Let's pause for a moment and say it again; the first place Vandals. Idaho will host Hawaii this Saturday in a conference game that is just like last week's matchup. That is, since joining the WAC in 2005, Idaho has yet to beat the Warriors in football. In fact, the Warriors have handed out some severe punishment in these meetings, and the win-hungry Vandals are looking to change that trend. The Warriors are coming off a poor showing against Fresno State, while Idaho fought hard in a back and forth contest with the San Jose State Spartans. Vandal fans better get used to these cardiac kids, because if it's one thing this Vandal team does, it's win in dramatic fashion.

Once again, thanks to the University of Idaho Vandals, the state of Idaho will not be starving for quality football this weekend. On top of that, Southern Idaho college football fans that share a conference with the Vandals should be cheering with a purpose. The more wins the Vandals log, the stronger impact it could have on the light scheduling team down South.

It really is time for the entire state to get behind the Vandals. Like it or not, a win will help both WAC programs. No need for thank you letters or gifts. Just cheer.

Everyone needs this one.

The Spartans gave the Vandals a dose of reality. Idaho will have to battle for every win this season. It's the reality of the situation. There are no gimmes in the WAC, and the Vandals aren't good enough to think there are. At face value, the Vandals seemed to take a step backwards last week. But the reality is, they continue to grow every week. They've grown in confidence, which translates into a mentality that refuses to lose. They've grown as an offense. They've grown as a defense. They've grow on special teams. Most importantly, they've grown as a team who responds to their coaches in times of adversity. Any Vandal fan can turn to the last drive of the game, the interception before the half, Trey Farquhar's momentum turning 52-yard field goal, or the interception at the end of the game, and see that this team doesn't quit. It's not over until time expires.


When Idaho has the ball…

It was not Nathan Enderle's best game, but every quarterback is entitled to bad games. Throwing three interceptions and going 14 for 26, Enderle's outing was out of character this season. He did manage to hit 7 different receivers. More good news for Vandal fans is that there is actual depth at quarterback. With Brian Reader leading the offense on the game winning drive, it showed yet another facet that's been missing the last few seasons. It's not like Reader threw the ball all over the field (he was 1 for 1 for 11 yards), but Reader showed leadership, and that was key during that final drive. There is little doubt Enderle will respond in a big way against Hawaii. So the Warriors had better be ready because Enderle will come ready to play.

As Enderle goes, so do the receivers. They too will look to respond after a mediocre performance against SJSU. The duo of Max Komar and Eric Greenwood is a handful for any defense to cover, but the inability of Hawaii to stop the run has to have the Vandal backfield salivating.

The Idaho offensive line is massive, mean, and has proven it can downright bully a defense into submission. No better example this season was last week's game. Guard and Team leader Mike Iupati is becoming a dominant player in more ways than one on the line. The entire team responds to his physical play, but his fellow linemen are the ones most influenced. Vandal center Irvin Stevens III, guard Adam Juratovac, and tackles Bryce Sinclair and Matt Cleveland all play a physical style of football. Averaging over 300 pounds, this unit is capable of moving a defense down the field in a bruising fashion. When Idaho decides to rush the ball, it's a tough task to try and stop it, especially considering the stable of backs for the Vandals.

Deonte Jackson, Princeton McCarty and DeMaundray Woolridge can all hurt you. In last week's game; Jackson ripped off a nice long and timely 47 yard run, sneaking past defenders and picking up one of his biggest gains of the season. McCarty juked defenders all day with his nifty moves, and his speed is gathers yards in chunks. Woolridge handed out punishment to anyone in his way. He's a hard-to-bring-down, big, bruising back. The backs dominated the game on the way to amassing 274 yards on the ground. As mentioned so often, each back has different skills and all have the ability to move the ball. Vandal fans can look forward to another showcase of the Vandal running attack, considering Hawaii's defensive weakness. But as any fan knows, both facets of the offense must be successful to keep the defense honest. The curiosity of Vandal fans will focus on the passing game. How will Enderle and the receivers respond after having such an off game?

On defense, the Warriors have struggled lately, but they have had some good showings earlier in the season. They fly to the ball and lower the boom. The leader of this unit, linebacker Blaze Soares leads the team in tackles. He flies around the football field. Make no bones about it, Hawaii's defense will be focused on stopping the run this week. After allowing Fresno State to rush all over them, they will certainly tighten down their rush defense. Even though outside linebacker RJ Kiesel-Kauhane and defensive end Elliot Purcell were banged up after Fresno State, both starters will be ready to play against the Vandals. The big news on the Warrior defense is Richard Torres moving from nickelback to free safety, Mana Lolotai moving from his reserve role to the number one middle linebacker, and defensive end Jake Heun moving from defensive end to linebacker.

If this isn't a clear indication that Hawaii intends on stopping the run, then you don't know much about football.


When Hawaii has the ball...

The Vandal Defense came through in multiple situations last week. Key stops, key turnovers, and solid line play. This week, Idaho will have to concentrate on coverage and generating a pass rush. Hawaii's Run-and-Shoot offense will try to exploit the generous passing defense of the Vandals. Idaho has struggled on pass defense allowing 251 yards per game. They've also struggled getting sacks. These two areas have hurt the Vandals in the first half of the season, and they could be magnified against Hawaii. Vandal fans will see a heavy rotation of personnel on the defensive line to keep fresh legs on the field. Defensive linemen Jonah Sataraka, Michael Cosgrove, Aaron Lavarias and Andre Ferguson will start, with a healthy dose of Oga Faumui, Fonomanu Sekona, Benson Mayowa and Charles Smith. The Vandal defense leads the WAC against the run, allowing only 98.7 yards per game, which is good enough to rank 20th nationally. And the linebacking crew, led by Joseph Dickson, is really stepping it up.

The passing defense is a different story. While the defensive backfield is a physical group, opposing offenses have been able to throw on them. Safeties Shiloh Keo, Jeromy Jones and Brandon Artz have been solid, but haven't shut down the long pass play. The corners are improving every week – there is no doubt that they are hitters. But they need to do a better job covering the short routes. While the philosophy on D is "bend but don't break", it would be nice to see Isaac Butts, Kenneth Patten, Gary Walker or Aaron Grymes beat the receiver to the ball and pick it off. The group has the talent to do so, it just hasn't translated onto the field. Considering how young Hawaii's quarterback is, the Vandals should finally grab that elusive early game interception.

Hawaii's offense is better than what their record is showing. The wheels came off when starting quarterback Greg Alexander was lost for the season. But third-string quarterback Bryant Moniz threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns last week, so Hawaii is getting back on track. Moniz is an excellent athlete. He can burn you with his arm and legs, and running qb's have been a problem for the Vandals. Receiver Greg Salas is money for the Warriors. He averages around 136 yards per game, rarely drops anything in the vicinity, and knows how to get open. His partner in play, Rodney Bradley, is no slouch, averaging around 19 yards per reception with five touchdowns. A much needed jolt in the form of Jovonte Taylor will return to the receiver mix. Taylor is a physical specimen at receiver. Running the rock is Leon Wright-Jackson. Wright-Jackson is a big, fast capable back. The Vandals have been excellent against the run, but every week brings on new challenges, and Wright-Jackson is that challenge.


In Summary
Vandal fans have plenty to cheer about heading into this game. How can you not appreciate what Akey and staff have done? Yes, Coach Akey and crew know how to make it exciting, but isn't that what big time college football is all about? Last minute drives, late takeaways, and close scores?

We are the Tribe from the North. We are number one in the WAC! Let's show the Warriors that Dome can be a tough, intimidating place to play.


Grab your Vandal gear and GO VANDALS!



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