IDAHO 101: Vandals are rejuvenated

ALTHOUGH 30 POINT UNDERDOGS AT Michigan State, Idaho had the football and were down just seven with five minutes left. They could not generate the tying score, but the Vandals' days of serving as college football's traditional punch line look to be nearing an end. With the hire of Dennis Erickson, the Vandals earned instant credibility and got a badly needed shot of confidence in the locker room.

THE VANDALS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Steve Wichman, QB (Sr): Wichman looks sharp from time to time, but historically struggles with interceptions. Coach Erickson kept the reigns on him against MSU. He completed 55% of his passes but only threw for 155 yards; with one touchdown and one interception.

Jayson Bird, RB (So): A broken collarbone suffered against WSU took away Bird's 2005 campaign, but he was Idaho's leading rusher in 2004. A real hustler, he fights for extra yardage and plays with deceptive speed. He pounded out 86 rushing yards against the Spartans and scored a touchdown.

Cougars (0-1) vs Vandals (0-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:45 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,112)

TELEVISION:
FSN Northwest (Regional Broadcast)

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

THE LINE:
WSU by 17

LAST MEETING:
WSU won 38-26

THE SERIES:
This is the 89th Battle of the Palouse. Cougars have won five straight and 19 of the last 21. WSU lead the series 68-17-3.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 38, Vandals 17

Overview
Erickson actually introduced the spread offense to Pullman almost 20 years ago and he hasn't changed it much. His offensive staff is essentially the same group he had with him at Oregon State a few years ago, so it should look familiar. The Vandals have some decent offensive weapons but will still suffer from their traditional talent gap versus the Cougars. The left side of their line is their strongest and they should send plenty of running plays that direction after watching the Cougars give up nearly 300 rushing yards to Auburn.

Strategy
The spread offense always threatens pass, but the Vandals kept things pretty close to the chest against the Spartans. They seemed to embrace their underdog status and chose to grind clock and shorten the game whenever they could. As a result they had very few successful scoring drives but dominated in time of possession. They may keep a similar approach against WSU. When they do pass the ball they tend to spread the wealth around. Five different receivers had at least three catches against MSU, but none had more than four.

THE VANDALS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
David Vobora, LB: Vobora had a huge outing against MSU with 16 tackles. The 240 pound junior looks like a natural run stopper.

Josh Bousman, LB: Bousman was supposed to headline a weak linebacker corps, but now leads a group that appears to be the heart of the defense. He rang up 10 tackles against the Spartans including one for a loss. He may have to blitz more if the Vandals can't generate a pass rush.

Ben Alexander, DE: A high motor speed end with a game comparable to WSU's Isaac Brown. Had seven tackles last week and deflected one pass.

Overview
The Vandals played conservative against the Spartans in an effort to keep things close. They didn't generate any sacks or turnovers, and surrendered a large amount of yardage. Nevertheless they still handed their offense the ball with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. They need to find a pass rush somehow but are likely to keep plenty of players in pass protection in an effort to keep WSU's receivers in front of them.

Strategy
The Vandals would love to force WSU's offense to play ‘between the chains' the way Auburn did, but the Cougs are likely to approach this game much more aggressively. Expect WSU to test the corners early and often. The Spartans seemed to find plenty of holes in the secondary but struggled to get into the end zone.

THE VANDALS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
An off season ACL tear ended Mike Barrow's outstanding career and forced the Vandals to make a late run at the JC ranks to find a kicker. Newcomer Tino Amancio nailed a 49 yarder against MSU but had one blocked from 38. TJ Conley's punting was superb last week.

INJURY REPORT
Out – Matt Mullennix (torn ACL), Andy Roof (thumb surgery), Jason Stripling (shoulder surgery recovery), Fevaea'i Ahmu (partial stress fracture, foot)
Doubtful – Markus Dawes (high ankle sprain), Don Turner (hip contusion), Courtney Williams (thumb sprain), Michael Willis (shoulder sprain), DeMaundray Woolridge (thigh bruise)
Probable – Aaron Johnson (hip contusion), Jesse Taylor (knee bursitis), Tony Thompson (concussion)

FINAL THOUGHTS
Just what the Cougars needed, an Idaho team that is well coached and starting to believe in itself. The Vandals will do whatever they can to keep this one close. Expect them to grind the clock and only gamble when they see big opportunities. This would be a great time for Alex Brink to reward his coaches for putting their faith in him by shredding an less than stellar secondary.

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