Idaho 101: Vandals' hopes rest on defense

ROBB AKEY'S IDAHO Vandals put up a scrappy fight against USC and then broke through a week ago with a W against Cal Poly. On Saturday they'll shoot for the unthinkable: a victory against a Washington State team that has won six consecutive Battles of the Palouse by an average margin of 31 points.

The Cougs enter what, temporarily, will be the final meeting with their cross-border rivals having turned in a near-flawless offensive performance in Seattle against San Diego State. Precision even close to that level will send Akey back to Moscow with his ears ringing.

At game's end, the truest barometer of how the Cougars performed will be found in the playing time of backup quarterbacks Gary Rogers and Cole Morgan. If Rogers sees the field for the better part of a quarter and Morgan mops up with a series or two, consider it a banner evening.

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

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
FSN Regional

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

THE LINE:
WSU by 26

LAST YEAR:
WSU 56, Idaho 10

THE SERIES:
WSU leads 69-17-3

CF.C PREDICTION:
WSU 44, Idaho 13

THE VANDALS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Nathan Enderle, QB: Idaho is glaringly weak at quarterback. Enderle , a redshirt freshman, has been getting the start but has completed just 41% of his passes this year. Senior Brian Nooy is the top option off the bench but has been ineffective in limited action.

Deonte Jackson, RB: Jayson Bird is still hanging around, but Idaho has suddenly become the Deonte Jackson show. The freshman managed 99 yards against USC and broke through with a 214 yard effort against Cal Poly last week. Jackson, the cousin of Rams running back Steven Jackson, is on the small side, but lightning quick.

Overview
Akey brought in noted quarterback guru Steve Axman to run his offense. What he didn't give him was the quarterbacks. Idaho has run a based offense mostly by necessity. Their strategy is to grind the clock, keep things close and win with defense.

Strategy
Stop the Vandal running game and force their inexperienced quarterback to win the day with his arm.

THE VANDALS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
David Vobora, LB: Vobora leads a solid linebacking corps. He finished seventh in the nation in tackles last year and leads the team with 17 this year.

Stanley Franks, CB: Franks had an NCAA best 9 picks last season. As the depth surrounding him is still questionable, Alex Brink might focus extensively on the other side of the field.

Overview
Idaho will run the same 4-3 system Akey ran at WSU. They have quite a bit of experience in the two-deep and Vobora and Franks even provide a little bit of star power. That being said, this group is going to have to gamble and try to create some turnovers to give their offense a chance. One way or the other, big plays should be ample.

Strategy
Student versus teacher is the storyline here. Doba should be intimately familiar with Akey's defensive system as he basically taught it to him. Expect plenty of pressure to try and disrupt the Cougar passing game, with the Vandals taking more chances if the game starts getting out of reach.

THE VANDALS ON SPECIAL TEAM
Punter T.J. Conely is decent enough and kicker Tino Amancio is big legged if inconsistent, but none of the Idaho kick return or kick coverage units rank in the top 60.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Cougar fans will get their first peek at the initial stage of Martin Stadium's renovation and if all goes as forecast, they should enjoy a win to christen it. USC is looming next week but the Cougs are unlikely to get caught looking ahead. Wins have become too valuable an asset the last three seasons for anyone to think of taking one lightly.

NOTABLE NOTES:
• Idaho's staff includes three former Cougar players: Al Genatone, Rod Plummer and Johnny Nansen. Former WSU graduate assistant Pat Libey also is on staff.

• To improve pedestrian safety, Stadium Way between Grimes Way and Orchard Drive/Colorado Street, will be closed every home game two hours before kickoff until two hours after the game's conclusion.

• The ongoing project to upgrade Martin Stadium won't be complete until millions more in donations are secured, but initial improvements will be readily apparent this weekend, especially at the north side of the stadium where there are more restrooms and concession areas. The south side also has new restrooms.


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