You have to travel to Moscow to preview the Spartans first conference opponent. Not the capital city of Russia, but in Idaho where the Vandals of the WAC reside. Although after two tumultuous seasons, Idaho is in the same proximity as Russia on the college football map.
The WAC bottom-feeders are led by head coach Robb Akey, who is in his third year with the program. He is doing everything he can resurrect this club, but signs of progress are not evident. Idaho has compiled a 3-21 record during Akey's tenure, winning a single game in 2007 and a pair of contests last year. The Vandals snatched one WAC victory in 2008, beating New Mexico State, while the other win came against FCS intrastate opponent Idaho State. Nine of the Vandals 12 games were blowouts where the opposition hung at least 40 points on the board, including a 70-0 thrashing administered by the Arizona Wildcats in the opener.
The biggest question on offense for Idaho will be the line. Former Vandal center Adam Korby started every game for the past four seasons and now he along with three other starters are gone. But the remaining soldier, left guard Mike Iupati, is a good one. The 6-6, 330-pound stalwart has been selected as a preseason First Team All-WAC player and has garnered heavy attention from NFL scouts. Junior quarterback Nathan Enderle started every game last season and is the frontrunner for the role again. He will have to improve upon his TD-INT (20-17) ratio to keep the job because JUCO transfer and former Arkansas signal-caller Brian Reader will be on his heels. The top three rushers are back from last year so the Vandals should have a good ground attack. Junior tailback Deonte Jackson will again assume the starting position, but there is plenty of depth behind him should he get hurt again, headlined by Washington State transfer De'Maundray Woolridge. Former quarterback and safety Quin Ashley will be playing receiver exclusively this year and is a deep threat to keep an eye on.
The Idaho defense was just flat out awful last season. The Vandals ranked No. 113 in pass efficiency defense, No. 115 in sacks, No. 116 in total defense and No. 117 in scoring defense (42.75 ppg). Mind you these rankings are out of a total of 119 FBS teams. Idaho has eight returning starters on the defense, but after those numbers, is that a good thing? The secondary definitely has depth and experience, but again, this corps gave up 29 TDs last year and only countered with nine INTs. Shiloh Keo is back at free safety after missing most of last season, and is the team captain who should enjoy a fine year. Idaho's defensive line is a huge concern as well for this side of the ball. The entire unit didn't even average a sack per game last year, and now the depth chart consists of guys who played sparingly in 2008.
San Jose State Running Backs versus Idaho Running Backs. This should be a good showdown as both of these groupings will be more productive this season. The Vandals were ranked No. 107 nationally in rushing defense last season, yielding nearly 210 yards per game on the ground. Two-thirds of Idaho's starting linebackers are gone so that number could be inflated this year. The Spartan tailbacks will be able to capitalize only if their offensive line opens holes. On the flip side, State will need to contain Idaho's Jackson. He didn't run the ball much in last year's game, but made the most of his opportunities with 10 carries for 78 yards and a score. With San Jose State's defensive prowess, you have to give the edge to the Spartans in this matchup.
The Spartans will be well-rested for this one, coming off an idle week, with time to heal any lingering injuries from the first four games. State will find themselves as favorites at the sportsbook for the first time all season. Last year's game against the Vandals was a close, 10-10 affair until four minutes left in the half. The key to that victory was the few number of penalties committed (4) by the Spartans, and how the team dominated time of possession by eight minutes. Don't expect to see a ton of points on the scoreboard as neither of these teams averaged 20 per game in 2008, and it could be a run-heavy affair. This contest might be close through the first half, but San Jose State will pull away in the third quarter on its way to a two-game winning streak.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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