IDAHO PREGAME: Vandals host Bulldogs

Saturday night, in a NATIONALLY televised matchup on ESPN-U from "The Thunderdome" on the campus of the University of Idaho, the Vandals (7-2, 4-1 WAC) host nation leading tailback Ryan Matthews and Fresno State (5-3, 4-1 WAC) in a key WAC showdown with bowl implications for both programs. Middle linebacker TRE'SHAWN ROBINSON and the rest of the Vandals will battle to keep Idaho perfect at home.

There is no doubt the University of Idaho football team knows how to win in dramatic fashion. Last Saturday was no exception as the Vandals pulled ahead of La Tech by one point with 56 seconds left on the game clock. As of yet, there have been no reported cardiac complications from the fan base. Meanwhile, the Vandals continue down their historical path and bounce back from only their second loss of the season.

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But with every chapter that closes this season, a new one opens, and this one is titled Fresno State. The Bulldogs are the big brother of the WAC - They continue to do the heavy lifting in the Conference, leading by example, while other programs sit around and cry about respect, pouting from their precious blue turf.

You won't find any apologies out of Fresno State, and the Bulldogs have hit the conference running on the legs of star runningback Ryan Mathews.

Once again the Vandals face an opponent they have yet to beat since joining the WAC in 2005. Head Coach Pat Hill's "play anyone, anywhere, anytime" mentality has given the Bulldogs a reputation that is respected throughout the nation.

Vandal fans know all too well that beating the Bulldogs will not be easy.

The Bulldogs are coming off their 4th straight win and the two programs are tied for 3rd in the conference standings. This game will decide who takes sole possession of that slot. The Bulldogs lead the series 7-4, which just so happens to date back to 1946. The Vandals had a four game win streak (from 1956-67) in the series, but haven't beaten the Bulldogs since. Idaho is 2-4 all-time against Fresno in Moscow.


WHEN FRESNO STATE HAS THE BALL

The Vandals will have their hands full when the Bulldogs roll into town sporting one of, if not THE, best backs in the nation in Ryan Mathews. Mathews leads the NCAA in rushing and looks to break the 2000 yard mark this Saturday in the Dome. At 5-11, 220 pounds, Mathews has all the tools to play at the next level. He is the Bulldog's biggest offensive threat, but that's not to say the Bulldogs aren't loaded with offensive talent and will throw a balanced attack at the Vandals to keep them honest. Bulldog quarterback Ryan Colburn is a pocket passer with an accurate arm, and as any Vandal fan can attest, our defense can make an average quarterback look very good, lately. Look for the Vandals to change all of that this Saturday. They will focus on Mathews, but the Bulldogs have plenty of talent at wide receiver so the passing game must also be respected.

Senior receiver Seyi Ajirotutu is coming off his best game of the season, a game in which he hauled in seven catches for 124 yards. Chastin West and Marlon Moore are the other dynamic receivers on the team and will see balls thrown their way. This group has been as productive as any in the WAC, accounting for 3811 yards and 24 TD's throughout their careers. Other offensive threats include TE Vince Pascoe, and, of course, it would be a mistake not to mention runningbacks Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding. Both backs have make their presence felt when playing the Vandals in the recent past. All in all, Fresno State has some serious offensive studs, and the depth to back them up. It goes without saying that you don't have the leading rusher in the NCAA unless your offensive line is very capable. Featuring plenty of size, strength and experience, the Fresno State offense can roll, so it's time for the Vandal defense to get stout - and get stout in a hurry.

After being picked apart for 21 points in the first quarter last week, the Vandal defense shored itself up and stopped the Louisiana Tech offense. But this is a different animal, this FSU offense. The Vandal defensive line and linebacker play will be of the upmost importance. Jonah Sataraka, Michael Cosgrove, Aaron Lavarias and Andre Ferguson will get the starting knod, with backups Oga Faumui, Fonomanu Sekona, Benson Mayowa and Charles Smith all seeing plenty of reps. The linebacking crew, led by Joseph Dickson, will also see a heavy rotation in Treshawn Robinson and Paul Senescall in the middle, and Robert Siavaii manning the weakside. This group, at one time, led the WAC against the run. Now it's gut check time. It should be an interesting afternoon as the Vandals take on the number one back in the nation.

Another area of concern for Vandal fans is the defensive backfield. They were picked apart in the first quarter of last week's game by the passing attack. But they came out strong in the second half and did a much better job in coverage. The cushion can be a bit much for the average fan to take, but there is no doubt the defensive performance of the second half is what allowed the Vandals to win. Safeties Shiloh Keo and Jeromy Jones are two of the hardest hitting players in the WAC. Both deliver blows that cause physical damage. Keo is awesome in run support. His speed and sure tackling make him a menace to all who carry the ball. The Keo vs Mathews matchup will be something to watch this Saturday. It will always be interesting to see the cornerback rotation. Expect a heavy rotation of Kenneth Patten, Gary Walker and Aaron Grymes. Isaac Butts should be back in the rotation as well. Will this be the game one of our defensive backs beat the receiver to the ball and pick it off, changing the course of the game? It's only a matter of time.


WHEN IDAHO HAS THE BALL

The luxury of having three productive backs has never been so obvious. With Princeton McCarty and DeMaundrey Woolridge being stuffed in the last two games, Deonte Jackson has taken center stage. Jackson's running style is very different than McCarty's or Woolridge's. His small frame allows him to hide behind the massive O-Line and slice up defenses. Every week shows a new personality in the rushing attack. Who knows who rises to the top this Saturday, as each back has different skills and all have the ability to take it to the house.

The Nathan Enderle - Max Komar connection is like watching popcorn pop. It may take a while, but sooner or later there will be reason to celebrate. In last week's game, there was an over throw, and then a dropped ball - and then POP! Komar ended the day with 7 catches for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. This late in the season, it's hard to imagine anyone stopping this duo. They may not be perfect all the time, but there is no denying the chemistry and talent they both bring to the table. Preston Davis and Maurice Shaw continues to impress, as does Eric Greenwood. In fact, Enderle hit eight different receivers including Justin Veltung's first catch of his young career. Veltung ran back the opening kickoff for a TD, showcasing his elite speed. It's hard not to get excited for the future of Vandal football when the present is so promising. Veltung answered the coaches call with a tremendous play, notching a WAC Special teams Player of the Week award.

Fresno State has always played a physical brand of defense, and Saturday will be no different. Led by defensive end Chris Carter, senior safety Moses Harris, and linebacker Ben Jacobs, the defense will come ready to hit hard, stop the run and create turnovers. With the exception of Ben Jacobs (6-5, 240) and Nico Herron (6-3, 240), the defense isn't huge, but it certainly is disciplined and good at gang tackling. The line is anchored by 6-3, 300 pound noseguard Cornell Banks and 6-3, 260 pound defensive tackle Chris Lewis. Kenny Borg plays opposite of Carter, which gives FSU veteran ends on both sides. The entire defensive backfield has extensive experience which should challenge Enderle all day. The speedster at cornerback, AJ Jefferson, is also someone to watch. If he picks off Enderle, there is no one on the field that can catch him. Jefferson has unique play making ability so the Vandals will need an eye on him at all times, especially returning kicks.


IN SUMMARY

The Vandals have been on a mission to earn a little respect among its WAC peers this season. At 4-1 in Conference play they still have a lot of work to do, and beating the Bulldogs would go a long way in that mission. Fresno State would be a marquee win for this program. Its common football knowledge that Fresno State is always a very good team; they are well coached, hit hard, and never give up. With the Vandals getting back a little swagger in an amazing comeback win last week, this matchup has all the makings of a high scoring shootout.

Vandal fans have to be relieved to have the Bulldogs in the Dome, knowing they can impact the game with noise, noise and more noise. It's time to show the Fresno State Bulldogs and the rest of the college football world what the Tribe from North is all about! So put on your Silver and Gold and come on out to the Dome this Saturday night and scream your Vandals to victory!

Go Vandals!




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