GAMEDAY PREVIEW: Idaho at Nevada

This Saturday WAC Defensive Player of the Week AARON LAVARIAS (6-3, 248) and the Idaho Vandals (6-1, 3-0 WAC) roll into Reno to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack (3-3, 2-0 WAC) in a game that will be carried live on ESPN GamePlan and in northern Idaho on KLEW (kickoff is at 1pm PST). The Vandals put their five-game winning streak on the line against a Nevada offense that leads the nation in rushing.

The Idaho Vandals will travel to Reno , Nevada in a WAC conference matchup this Saturday. The good news for Vandal fans is that their football team is 6-1, and standing atop the WAC. The bad news for the Vandal football team is that the fans didn't fill the Dome in last week's clash against Hawaii . One wonders what it would take for that to happen. Coach Robb Akey is doing his job, the team is doing theirs, but the fans aren't living up to their end of the bargain. Having an away game is a good thing. It will allow the team to concentrate on the football game instead of scratching their heads on why the Colorado State game was so different than the Hawaii game.

It will also allow the fans two weeks to decide if they are going to support the program.

Will they head to Moscow and show the college football world that the Tribe from the North; the Silver and Gold; the Vandal Nation can show up in force?

Or will this historic season continue to be ignored?

I guess we'll find out in a week and a half.

In the meantime, the focus goes back on this weekend's match-up with Nevada . After a rocky 0-3 start, Coach Chris Ault's Wolf Pack has evened its record at 3-3 and 2-0 in Western Athletic Conference play. Coach Ault is an impressive 14-4 all-time against Idaho and 8-1 all-time against the Vandals at Mackay Stadium. Last year the Wolf Pack racked up 507 yards of offense as WAC Offensive Player of the Year, Colin Kaepernick, threw for two touchdowns as Nevada drubbed Idaho to the tune of 49-14...in Moscow . Nevada returns a host of talented players, so this could be the stiffest challenge of the season for the mighty Vandals. Last week the Wolf Pack traveled to Logan , Utah and defeated the Utah State Aggies 35-32 in a surprisingly close game.


WHEN IDAHO HAS THE BALL

The Vandals are coming off a huge win against Hawaii , scoring 5 touchdowns on their way to a 35-23 victory. Nathan Enderle rebounded from the SJSU game nicely, going 14 of 17 on the afternoon for 226 yards including a 60 yard bomb to Maurice Shaw to give Idaho a 14-7 lead in the first quarter in the Dome. Another key pass play came in the fourth quarter on a "third and a cab ride" situation (to quote Coach Akey in the post-game interview) caused by three consecutive Vandal penalties. Enderle hit Max Komar across the middle and Komar ran 36 yards for the first. It shows how dangerous the Enderle-to-Komar connection can be this season. H-Back Daniel Hardy also bounced back from an injury to have an excellent game for the Vandals. He hauled in 3 passes for 62 yards.

The Vandal rushing attack pounded Hawaii 's defense for 196 yards. It was no easy task, but DeMaundray Woolridge ran for 81 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Princeton McCarty gathered another 89 yards on the ground. When Idaho lines up in its jumbo formation, there is little an opposing defense can do. The Vandal offense is powerful and huge, and when on the goal line, it brings in even more beef in the form of sophomore behemoth Tyrone Novikoff. This is a 6'7, 312 pound frame coming in to make an already massive line even bigger. Vandal fans gotta love that. If you actually did the math the numbers look like this across the front five; 314, 325, 277, 306, and 322 pounds of blocking prowess. Woolridge is a 5'9, 241 bowling ball of a back. His pad level is so low he almost always wins the leverage battle.

The Wolf Pack defense has been scrutinized for its early season play, but it has its fair share of play makers. Both defensive ends are accomplished sack masters, earning national rankings with their TFL numbers. Junior Dontay Moch leads the nation, while teammate Kevin Basped is just as accomplished. This is most likely the best tandem in the WAC. Their problems are similar to Idaho 's in that the corners need to be more consistent in coverage. Isaiah Frey, Jonathan Amaya and Mo Harvey have been tightening their coverage, but Enderle has been dangerous this season. The linebacking crew is a youth movement consisting of Mike Bethea, Brandon Marshall and James Michael-Johnson. With big shoes to fill, they are coming into their own and continuing the Wolf Pack tradition of hard hitting backers. All posses good size and speed, and will be ready to take on the Vandal ground attack.


WHEN NEVADA HAS THE BALL

The Vandal defense's "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy has worked all year long, and last week was no exception. Defensive End Aaron Lavarias won the WAC Defensive Player of the Week Award, grabbing four solo tackles including two sacks, and forcing a fumble, and he hurried the quarterback three times. This has been missing from the defense, and it couldn't have come at a better time, as Hawaii 's quarterback was mobile and accurate. TreShawn Robinson also had a stellar game with four solo tackles, two of which were for a loss including a sack of his own. Defensive back Aaron Grymes led the team in tackles with a total of nine. Safety Shiloh Keo and linebacker Joseph Dickson continue to be the heart of the defense with big hits and grabbing turnovers. Safety Jeromy Jones is often forgotten in the wake of Keo, but Jones is becoming a hammer that will make any player pay for coming into his area. He lays the hat hard.

Still, the most interesting (or scary) part of the Vandal defense is the backfield. Hawaii 's receivers are a nightmare to contain, and the Vandal defensive backs all saw time during last week's game. Junior cornerback Isaac Butts is really starting to come on the last few weeks after a rough outing against Washington . He's the most physical of the DB's, and his cover skills are getting better with each rep. Grymes' youth shows, but his coverage skills are the best on the team. Kenneth Patten is solid and saw extensive playing time against the Warriors in nickel coverage, but suffers from occasional lapses in his coverage. There is no doubt that all three can play, but consistency has been a problem with this group. Hawaii was able to convert on 3rd and long a number of times. Once again Idaho will face a prolific offense, so Vandal fans should take special interest in what they learned from last week, and how they apply it in this week's battle.

Nevada leads the nation in rushing at 292 yards per game. They also return the WAC Offensive Player of Year in quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is another accomplished dual threat. He can hurt you with his legs or his arm. Add runningbacks Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua, and you can see why the ground assault of the Wolf Pack leads the nation. Lippincott is 6'2, 215 pounds. He's their all purpose guy who can ground-and-pound, shake-and-bake, and throw-and-show. Taua is a shifty speedster. He still has good size at 5'10, 220 pounds, but he also has the moves to go along with it. Kaepernick and Lippincott are 2 of just 5 players nationally to run, throw and catch a touchdown this year. That illustrates the offensive talent on this team. While the Wolf Pack is hard to stop on the ground, it doesn't mean they don't have receivers who can hurt you. Kaepernick's arm threw for three touchdowns and 189 yards last week. He targeted Brandon Wimberly, a 6-3, 195 pound speedster on a few long plays, and also hit Wolf Pack tightend Virgil Green for a 44 yard strike. Make no bones about it, Kaepernick is a unique talent, and should prove to be a nightmare for the Vandals this Saturday.


IN SUMMARY

The Vandal football team has surpassed everyone's expectations, except maybe their own. There is no doubt this team knew they could do this while the rest of the football world dismissed the possibility. Like most of the teams in the WAC, they have yet to beat the Wolf Pack since joining the conference in 2005. This seems to be the extra motivation the Vandals need week-in and week-out. Nevada looks like a different team the last few games, showing that the preseason hype was deserved.

But the Vandals are on a war path against the WAC. They have suffered through too many losses for them to take any team lightly, and a win over a hot Nevada team would show the rest of the conference the Vandals are for real. The Vandal Nation needs to come together and cheer this team on and finish this season strong.

There are too few games left in the season, and before you know it, this historic season will be done.

Vandals… it's time to Go! It's time for a Go Vandals, Go!




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