Idaho 101: An in-depth analysis of the Vandals

COACH NICK HOLT'S FIRST SEASON in Moscow went pretty much as expected. Though the Vandals showed some improvement as the year progressed, the program's immediate future looks grim. The Vandals weren't exactly dominating Sun Belt Conference, and now they enter the Western Athletic Conference to contend with likes of Boise State, Hawaii, and Fresno State. The time is short for Holt and his staff to start generating progress or they will quickly fill the role of league cellar dweller.

When: Thursday, September 1, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Martin Stadium (35,112 capacity)
TV: FSN
Radio: The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers more territory than Marcus Trufant, CLICK HERE for listings.
Last Season:WSU 49, Idaho 8
Line: WSU by 25

THE VANDALS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Michael Harrington, QB: Has a similar build to his brother Joey but lacks potency as a passer. He averaged just 185 passing yards per game last year, and far less against good defenses. WSU ate him alive in 2004, throwing for just 66 yards on 18 passing attempts. He has the capacity for improvement but lacks experienced receivers. And JC transfer Steve Wichman is still battling for the starter's job, which is expected to be announced today or tomorrow.

Jayson Bird, RB: A powerful, 220-pound runner with good acceleration who plays with a lot of heart. Bird was one of the few sources of offense against WSU last year (79 rushing yards), but will have to run behind an offensive line that is led by a freshman center and has questionable depth. Second stringer Rolly Lumbala is a very capable backup.

Wendell Octave, WR: The Vandal's only proven receiver, Bobby Bernal-Wood, graduated and they are counting on Octave to become a dependable target. The Idaho coaches like the new players coming in, but outside of Octave no one in the group has more than 16 career receptions.

Overview: The Vandals want to run an aggressive pass-based offense, but they kept things pretty close to the vest early on last year. Eventually, Holt opened things up and Idaho started to score some points as the level of competition dropped. Still, Idaho only averaged 23 points per game in conference play. Holt desperately needs receivers to step up and appears to be going with size at this point. Outside of the 6-1 Wendell Octave, his next two options at receiver are both 6-4 and the starting tight end is 6-5.

Strategy: As the Vandals did not score a point against the Cougs until the final 17 seconds of the game last year, the prognosis for the Idaho offense is not good. They will need to throw up a ton of points to even have a chance in this one -- in Idaho's three wins last year, they still surrendered an average of 33 points per game. Given that Idaho was very conservative in 2004, don't expect a repeat performance. They will try to test WSU's unproven secondary early in the game, with Idaho's tall receivers to try and exploit the best match ups.

THE VANDALS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Cole Snyder, LB: Amidst an otherwise weak defense, Snyder stepped up to become a major playmaker in 2004, registering a team best 136 tackles and 16 tackles for a loss on his way to earning All-Sun-Belt honors. He will again anchor the team from the middle linebacker spot.

Mike Anderson, LB: The team's leading tackler from two years ago, the talented Anderson was moved from linebacker to defensive end last year to try and give the Vandals a decent pass rush. The move didn't have the desired result and the coaches opted to move him back to strong side linebacker this season.

Daniel Dykes, SS: The only returning full-time starter in the secondary is a good bet to lead the team in tackles this season as the Vandals enter a more pass-happy conference.

Overview: Little, if anything, worked for the Vandals defensively in 2004 as they gave up nearly 40 points per game. Idaho returns eight starters from last year but Holt also brought in a ton of junior college talent in the hopes that some of them might make an immediate impact -- as many as seven JC transfers could start against WSU. Nevertheless, their secondary remains undersized and inexperienced, and appear weak at defensive end. The Vandals do have two legit linebackers in Anderson and Snyder and will try to leverage off their strength as much as possible. Idaho runs a traditional 4-3 defense.

Strategy: The Cougars ran wild on the Vandals last season to the tune of 286 rushing yards. The ground option should be present again, but the Cougs may want to get the kinks worked out of their passing game and preserve the health of Jerome Harrison as much as possible. It won't be a surprise for the Cougs to go to the short passing game early and often. Expect Alex Brink to go right after the cornerbacks, both of whom will be making their first collegiate starts.

THE VANDALS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Michael Barrow was the Vandals punter in 2003, but took over all of the kicking duties for Idaho last year and the results weren't pretty. He converted only four of twelve field goal attempts and his punting average dropped to 38.5 yards from 41.6 yards. This season he'll be used exclusively as a kicker with the punting duties handed to grayshirt freshman T.J. Conley. Originally recruited as a quarterback, Conley's throwing ability adds potential for trick plays. The Vandal coverage units were porous last year.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: DT Ropati Pitoitua , TE Cody Boyd are out. Idaho: TE Luke Smith-Anderson out.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougars completely destroyed the Vandals last season and little has changed in the past 12 months. Harrington looks the part, but simply lacks the supporting cast to be a serious offensive threat. The ten JC transfers Idaho brought in this spring could provide a boost, but they are unlikely to jell this early in the year. While the Cougs can't allow themselves to be too overconfident, they clearly have Idaho outgunned at almost every position on the field.
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