THE OLD ADAGE STATES THAT FOOTBALL GAMES ARE WON AND LOST IN THE TRENCHES, and we agree with that statement. Going into Wednesday's Humanitarian Bowl, Idaho's offensive line has the edge with a consensus First Team All-American and four senior starters leading the charge. How effective the line plays (KEY No.1) will determine how much daylight DEMAUNDRAY WOOLRIDGE and the Vandal offense sees.
Before we jump into our "Keys to the Game", below are some quick Vandal updates heading into Wednesday's Roady's Humanitarian Bowl matchup between Idaho (7-5, 4-4 WAC) and Bowling Green (7-5, 6-2 MAC).
- Bowling Green (-2)
- True freshman cornerback Aaron Grymes wore a cast for much of the latter half of the 2009 season. The cast is off and he is back to the form that helped him earn recognition on The Sporting News
Freshman All-American Team as an Honorable Mention. His return to full health gives the Vandals their full group of corners -- a key point as this unit heads into a challenging matchup against Biletnikoff Award (honoring the nation's top wide receiver) Finalist Freddie Barnes
of Bowling Green.
- Hard-hitting senior safety Jeromy Jones suffered an injury on the first play against Fresno State
and was out until the season finale against Utah State
. The last few weeks since the season ended were good for the entire Vandal team, as Jones and others playing through "bumps and bruises" should be back to full form.
- We learned recently that Idaho's sophomore speedster tailback Princeton McCarty was previously teamed up with Fresno State star tailback Ryan Mathews
when the two were at West High School in Bakersfield (Calif.) together. Then-senior McCarty was the starter ahead of junior Matthews all season until McCarty blew out his knee in the first quarter of the CIF Central Section Division II Championship game against top seeded Tulare. Judging by the performances of both athletes at the FBS level, that backfield must have been a terror to play against.
- Idaho's junior signal caller, by all accounts, will be leading the Vandal offense against Bowling Green Wednesday after suffering late season injuries that kept him out of two games and part of the finale. He has put together a tremendous third season as Idaho's starting quarterback, including ranking No.7 nationally in passing efficiency (155.75, behind Ryan Mallett
and just ahead of Tim Tebow
), and he ranks No.16 nationally (No.1 in the WAC) in yards per game (266.60).
KEYS TO THE GAME
There are few -- if any -- aspects to Wednesday's Humanitarian Bowl matchup where the Vandals can sleep-walk and expect to come out victorious. That being said, there are also several crucial aspects of Wednesday's game, based on everything going into the contest, that would classify themselves as keys to the game. The top three, from our point of view, are summarized below.
KEY NO. 1 - ESTABLISH THE RUNNING GAME
C Irvin Stevens|
For the Vandals to beat Bowling Green Wednesday afternoon in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, the Vandal offense MUST be able to establish an effective run game. Idaho, particularly with Enderle in command, can do some damage through the air -- and on the ground for that matter. But the Vandal offensive line will need to win more battles than it loses in the trenches. Establishing a potent rushing attack will open up the passing game and keep the Falcons on their heels. With four senior linemen clearing the way -- All-American left guard Mike Iupati
(6-6, 330), center Irvin Stevens
(6-3, 290), right guard Adam Juratovac
(6-3, 290), and right tackle Bryce Sinclair
(6-5, 320) -- the potent Vandal tailback three-headed monster of senior DeMaundray Woolridge
, sophomore Princeton McCarty, and junior Deonte Jackson
should be able to find seams and lanes to keep the sticks moving and the clock ticking.
KEY NO. 2 - BIG DAY FOR LINEBACKING UNIT
MLB Tre'Shawn Robinson|
Obviously, the ENTIRE Vandal defense needs to have a big day. There is no disputing that statement. But with the return and full health of senior safety Jeromy Jones and freshman cornerback Aaron Grymes, the Idaho defensive backfield will be back intact for the first time since the eighth week of the season -- and they know their biggest job is to contain All-American Freddie Barnes. Likewise, the Vandal front four will be rested, and they will also be back to full strength, and they will have their hands full attacking the quarterback and stopping the run. The Vandal defensive backfield and front line will need an excellent performance against the Falcons. But it's Idaho's young linebacking unit that will need to have a stellar game Wednesday, because the Falcons will try to spread the field and get mismatches here. Star wide receiver Freddie Barnes -- leading the nation with 138 receptions and 16 touchdowns, while registering 1,551 yards on the season -- will keep Idaho's defensive backfield fully occupied, and he will likely have his moments in the spotlight. But QB Tyler Sheehan
averages 305 yards passing per game, and is FOURTH in the nation with 3,664 yards passing this year. He spreads it around, and how well the Vandal linebackers help contain Bowling Green's other weapons -- and how effective the linebacking unit is at blitzing and stuffing the run -- will determine how much of a shootout this game becomes.
KEY NO. 3 - MAINTAIN COMPOSURE
QB Nathan Enderle|
The Falcons have a potent offense and they have the tools to move the ball and score points. They will likely have their successes. How Idaho reacts to those changes in momentum to swing the pendulum back into Idaho's favor will determine how effective Idaho is at keeping things from getting out of hand. Composure and maintaining focus will keep players from trying to "force things" when adversity strikes. This is still a young Vandal team, but one of the biggest changes in Idaho this season is that there have been few instances where players are hitting the panic button, or hanging their heads. They've battled for numerous "final possession" victories this year, and they will need to maintain that composure and determination Wednesday afternoon to notch the WAC's first bowl win of the season.