GAMEWEEK: Idaho hosts North Dakota

Idaho hosts the University of North Dakota in the 2010 season opener for both teams Thursday night. The Fighting Sioux are coming off a 6-5 campaign in 2009 and return several starters; a loss of focus could mean disaster for Idaho. Unfortunately for UND, Coach Robb Akey enters his 4th year at the helm and he too brings back a wealth of talent, led by Davey O'Brien candidate NATHAN ENDERLE.

This is it. It has taken four long years, but we have finally arrived at this pinnacle moment in time. This is the year that Vandal fans can really dig in and evaluate the program building effort by head coach Robb Akey and his staff.

Exciting stuff, especially considering last year's 8-5 campaign and momentous Humanitarian Bowl victory.


On Offense

The 2010 Vandals will be missing some key components from last year's potent offensive attack. First round NFL draft choice Mike Iupati and three other offensive linemen graduated. You couple that with DeMaundrey Woolridge's emergence as a powerful runningback and the veteran savvy of Max Komar, and there are some big shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball.

Senior QB Enderle has emerged as an outstanding game manager.
The good news is that senior quarterback Nathan Enderle is entering his 4th year as a starter. His junior year put him on the national radar, and Vandals can expect his senior campaign to be one to remember. Enderle has a host of specialty receivers, including senior receivers Eric Greenwood, Maurice Shaw, and Daniel Hardy, as well as juniors Marsel Posey and Preston Davis. But some new faces will bolster an already stellar group of veterans. Justin Veltung, Taylor Elmo and Mike LaGrone are some young guns looking to make an impact while transfers Armauni Johnson and John Roberson provide competition and depth at the receiver position. This is by far the deepest group of receivers Enderle has ever had to throw at since joining the Vandals way back in 2006.

The offensive line brings back one starter in LT Matt Cleveland. And while a guy like Mike Iupati is impossible to replace, it's not to say the offensive line won't be good. In fact, Idaho has the one of the biggest O-lines in all of college football. Not bad. Next to Cleveland, JC transfer Sam Tupua gets the nod at guard while senior Clell Hasenbank secures the center position. The right side of the line will see senior Tevita Halaholo at guard while junior Tyrone Novikoff will man the RT position. This may be a new group to the Vandal offense, but this offensive line has the tools and ability to perform at an even higher level than last year's hogs. Reports out of camp say that Halaholo and Novikoff are making some noise on that side of the ball.

This bodes well for the dynamic duo of Deonte Jackson and Princeton McCarty. Both backs bring a tremendous amount of experience to the field, so even with the loss of Woolridge, the running attack should be very effective. All that is needed is another power back and sophomore Troy Vital, at 6-0, 223 pounds, could very well provide that. Not to mention, the shifty Kama Bailey is seeing more plays which can only mean positive yards for the Vandals. The running attack will look different this year without Woolridge, but the overall talent of the backs is something fans should be excited about.


On Defense

On the defense side of the ball, the Vandals return all but one starter. Considering the defense's past performance, this may scare Vandal fans more than comfort them. But youth has been the problem, not talent. Finally the Vandal defense will have depth and experience, which is worlds different than past seasons under Akey's watch.

Senior DE Aaron Lavarias leads 2010 defensive line.
The defensive line will have an actual rotation. With Aaron Lavarias, Jonah Sataraka, Michael Cosgrove and Andre Ferguson all returning, the Vandals will not only have some veterans in the trenches, but they will have depth to back up the line. Senior Fonomanu Sekona has had a remarkable spring and fall, and is poised to make a serious impact in 2010. Henry Asuega has also been playing well this offseason, as has Bryan Wilson, and both will rotate in the middle while Benson Mayowa, Charles Smith and Vincent Keener have all turned heads at defensive end (at least one publication lists Mayowa as the starter this Thursday). But still, this group has not yet been defined as far as the rotation is concerned. The youth movement is in place, but where they end up on the line is still very much in the air. This game should give Vandal fans a better idea on where these guys will line up.

The linebackers are a much more defined group. With the return of JoJo Dickson, Robert Siavii, Paul Senescall, and Treshawn Robinson, the competition has been fierce. Look for Homer Mauga, Korey Toomer and Conrad Scheidt to make an impact on the Vandal D in 2010. All have impressed this entire offseason. Tyler Brooks, John Mckinley, Elliott Chapman, Jeffrey Bediako and Brad Marboe round out the list of linebackers that could see playing time in Thursday's contest.

The defensive backfield has also been bolstered with talent for 2010. An area of concern in 2008 and 2009, this should be the area the Vandal football team improves the most. The anchor of the defense has been senior Shiloh Keo. At strong safety, Keo has had a stellar career at Idaho and is looking to end on a high note. The vacant free safety spot is manned by sensational sophomore Gary Walker, but newcomer Thaad (pronounced "Tad") Thompson, a JC transfer this fall, has been exceptional in his three short weeks in the program, while Quin Ashley and Brandon Artz are also competing for the starting nod. Nothing is set in stone, so Vandal fans need to pay special attention to who starts at FS and who starts at SS. At corner, Isaac Butts, Kenneth Patten and Aaron Grymes all return, with Matt Harvey and Tracy Carter looking to steal minutes.


The Fighting Sioux

The University of North Dakota has a similar makeup to the Vandals. They are returning a number of defensive starters (8) and some talented specialty players on offense (6). If the Vandals are looking for an easy win, this is not the group to give it. They have a veteran quarterback, some veteran linemen, veteran receivers, a talented runningback and a whole host of defensive players with experience.

Quarterback Jake Landry will come out in a no huddle offense to try and offset the Vandal D. Landry is a big QB at 6'3, 220 pounds. One of his favorite targets will be out of the backfield. Tailback Mitch Sutton not only led the team in rushing last year, but he led the team in receiving. He's a legitimate dual threat back who has also been known to throw the ball. The offensive line averages around 6-4, 290 pounds, with three of them listed as returning starters. The receivers return no starters, but they do have experience and speed. There has been excitement about redshirt freshman Greg Hardin while senior Ryan Dressler and junior Drew Daggett have been reliable. If the Fighting Sioux plan to utilize a no huddle offense, there should be a number of quick slants and hooks around the Vandal linebackers.

Dominique Hawkins is the starting left corner, and the returning lead tackler on defense. Also returning on defense is their entire defensive line, two of their four linebackers and both safeties. Needless to say, the Fighting Sioux will have plenty of experience on defense, with up and comers filling roles. They run a 3-4 defense allowing their linebackers and defensive backs to come up and make plays. Nose tackle Ty Boyle has been making noise in camp, as has sophomore defensive end Jay Nelson. Other playmakers include strong safety Joel Schwenzfeier (a 4 year starter) and inside linebacker Curtis Dublanko. Both are seniors and are ready to step up to the challenge and lead the defense.


The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line is, if Vandal fans are looking for a patsy, this is not it. The University of North Dakota has been recruiting for games like this. It should be a very good test for the Vandal offense and defense, and really should be one in the win column. Vandal fans have to be excited to start 2010 off with a home game, and a game that doesn't feature Idaho as a Pac-10 sacrificial lamb. The Fighting Sioux will come to play, but so will an Akey-coached Vandal squad. And judging by Coach Akey's recent comments, the Vandals are ready to hit someone.

Look for the Vandals to win, but don't look for a blowout. This is an opportunity for the Vandals to start out with a win, and solidify the starting lineups on both sides of the ball. Thursday night in the Dome should be rockin!


GO VANDALS!




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