IDAHO 101: 8 miles away, still worlds apart

THE PAUL PETRINO ERA has gotten off to an inauspicious beginning in Moscow with two disastrous losses at North Texas and Wyoming -- but the Vandals put up a good fight against Northern Illinois last Saturday. Could that mean trouble for the Cougs on Saturday night?

Um, no.

Idaho's offense generating a meager 16 points in their first two games. Last week's 45-35 loss suggested there is light in the end of the tunnel but it's a long tunnel. With continued improvement from their freshman quarterback and numerous JC transfers, Idaho could become a team on the rise, but it's important to keep in mind they're starting from rock bottom.

Cougars (2-1) vs Vandals (0-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (33,522)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Network

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 31 points

LAST MEETING:
WSU won 44-28 in 2007.

THE SERIES:
WSU is 70-17-3 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 49, Idaho 17

THE VANDALS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Chad Chalich, QB: Chalich is a Coeur d'Alene legend, passing for 6,500 yards and 74 touchdowns in high school. Although only a freshman, Chalich's passing has looked solid. He has completed 66 percent of this throws for 648 yards and three touchdowns without throwing a single interception. That is remarkable considering he has been sacked 21 times in three games.

Josh McCain, RB: Idaho uses a running back by committee approach, and McCain has been the most consistent. Take note: he is a converted quarterback and is likely to throw the ball on some trick plays.

Desmon Epps, WR: Epps is a JC transfer Petrino brought in to try and give an immediate boost on offense and Epps has more than twice as many catches as any other Vandal through three games. At 5-10, 170 pounds, he isn't the biggest target but he is quick.

Overview
Idaho operates much the time out of twin tight end formations in an effort to control the line of scrimmage – it hasn't worked. Early in games, they prefer to run the ball – nearly at a 2-1 clip while the game is within reach, but that generally has not lasted very long.

Strategy
Chalich is a decent looking quarterback, but his protection is hugely suspect, and the WSU secondary is unlikely to be seriously tested. Idaho will try to run the ball on the Cougs and shorten the game.

Key Statistic
Average time of possession: Idaho is averaging about 5:30 on the plus side here. Despite a serious deficit in yards and first downs, the Vandals have enjoyed a significant advantage and will try to keep the WSU offense on the sidelines as much as they can.

THE VANDALS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Marc Millen, Eric Tuipulotu, & Juan Martinez, LB: Petrino, trying to win right away, immediately added a ton of JC talent to this team including all three starting linebackers. They should get better as the season goes on. Millen already leads the team in tackles, sacks and tackles-for-loss.

Bradley Njoku, S: The junior safety has been a contributor since his freshman year and is now the veteran leader of the secondary. From this vantage point, he is Connor Halliday's biggest threat.

Overview
Idaho's defensive coordinator is former WSU defensive back Ronnie Lee, who held the same job at Minnesota from 2008-10. He is transitioning the Vandals to a more pass rush-heavy 3-4, but the initial results have been disastrous. Idaho has yet to hold an opponent to under 40 points.

Strategy
Idaho lacks serious pass rushers and experienced corners. Halliday should have the entire playbook at his disposal and if he doesn't, it's because WSU wants to hold some things back for conference play.

Key Statistic
Yards allowed per play: 7.1. Idaho really does not do anything particularly well on defense, allowing 6.1 yards per rush and 8.4 yards per pass attempt. This is doubly concerning for Petrino in his first three games were seen as the softer part of the schedule.

THE VANDALS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Austin Rehkow handles all the kicking duties for Idaho. He is a solid punter but has made only one of four field goal attempts this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS
  • Petrino was one of the hotter names around coaching circles before the double-whammy at Arkansas – brother Bobby was dismissed following a scandal and the Razorbacks fell flat on their face on Paul's watch as offensive coordinator. Still, a case van be made that Idaho may have lucked out in getting him. But it will take time to get things rolling and Petrino does not come across as a man who is in for the long haul at Idaho.

  • Idaho nearly beat WSU in 1998 and followed it up with back to back victories in '99 and 2000. After that point WSU seemed to take the Vandals much more seriously, winning the next seven matchups by an average score of 43-13 before the series came to a halt in 2007.

  • Idaho's timing in this series could not have been worse, as they just missed out on a horrid stretch in WSU football history. Now that they are jumping back in, the Cougs are on a significantly upward glide path under Mike Leach.

  • This is Idaho's final year as an independent and it is likely to be a miserable one. The Vandals still have five road games ahead of them, including trips to Washington State, No. 25 Fresno State, No. 22 Ole Miss and No. 8 Florida State.

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