Game Preview: Idaho

Chris Petersen and the top-10 Washington Huskies got off to a great start last week, beating Rutgers by 35 points. The Dawgs look to improve upon their 1-0 record, hosting the the Idaho Vandals this weekend.

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The eighth-ranked Huskies, determined to block out the noise, are focused on the task at hand: the Idaho Vandals. History favors Washington in this matchup, and so does Vegas, setting the line at 37.5 points. But Idaho is coming off a win of their own and will look to make one of their final years as an FBS school a memorable one.

Players to Watch

#3 JR 6’3” 220-pound QB Matt Linehan

2015 stats: 246 of 390 for 2972, 63.1% completion, 16 TD, 11 INT, 135 Efficiency rating

Scoop: Starting for a third consecutive season, Linehan has been a very productive passer for the Vandals. He’s comfortable throwing across the middle to his two tight ends, Trent Cowan and Deon Watson, who accounted for just over a third of the Vandals’ aerial output. While it might be a stretch to call him a dual threat, Linehan can pick up a few yards when needed, breaking free for 234 yards and five scores with his feet last season. His first outing may have been rocky, but the Paul Petrino will still call Linehan’s number quite a bit on Saturday.

#23 JR 5’8” 201-pound RB Aaron Duckworth

2015 stats: 72 carries for 253 yards, 3.5 YPC, 3 TD, 31 long

Scoop: A 102-yard and two touchdown performance more than likely reassured Vandal fans that Aaron Duckworth would be a satisfactory replacement to Elijhaa Penny, who rushed for 22 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Duckworth is short, but he makes up for it with his 201-pound body. He took a 43-yard handoff the distance in the first quarter against Montana State, showing off his speed. The combination of his wheels and thickness are enticing, and could be enough to be the next 1000-yard Vandals running back.

#6 SR 5’10” 180-pound WR Callen Hightower

2015 stats: 57 receptions for 749 yards, 13.1 YPC, 2 TD, 71 long

Scoop: After two years of junior college football, Hightower transferred to Idaho and made an impact immediately. He leads all returning Vandals in receptions and receiving yards, and will undoubtedly be a big part of the passing game for Linehan and Idaho this year. He’s not particularly large, but athletic enough to gain separation and pick up solid chunks of yardage.

#13 SR 6’3” 230-pound TE Trent Cowan

2015 stats: 48 receptions for 624 yards, 13.0 YPC, 4 TD, 37 long

Scoop: Cowan had a slow start to his college career, catching only two balls in his first two years. However, last year he burst onto the scene, catching an average of four passes a game. He had the second most receptions of returning Vandals and is a reliable target for Linehan over the middle.

#3 SR 6’4” 221-pound TE Deon Watson

2015 stats: 42 receptions for 551 yards, 13.1 YPC, 7 TD, 58 long

Scoop: Over the course of his collegiate career, Watson has seen has numbers steadily increased, peaking last year when he led the team in touchdowns. Lining up at tight end or as a receiver, the Vandal coaching staff tries to get Watson involved in the passing game however they can, occasionally putting him and Trent Cowan in together.

#44 SR 6’1” 299-pound DT Teuni Lupeamanu

2015 stats: 38 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF

Scoop: Lupeamanu benefited from getting game reps early in his career, playing in 21 games his first two years on campus, and consequently broke out for a big junior year. The nose tackle plugs up the middle, creating space for the likes of Kaden Elliss to make plays.

#3 SO 6’3” 218-pound LB Kaden Elliss

2015 stats: 83 total tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack

Scoop: The Salt Lake City native had no issue getting acclimated to college football at Idaho, finishing second on the team in tackles as a true freshman. He’s the lone returning starter of the linebacker corps and the only returner that recorded at least five tackles for a loss last season. He’s the rock in the middle of the Vandal defense.

#33 SO 6’1” 238-pound LB Tony Lashley

2015 stats: 10 total tackles

Scoop: After grey-shirting in 2013 and getting a medical redshirt last year, Tony Lashley is a senior in class standing but a sophomore in eligibility. The Vandals returned only one player with five or more tackles for a loss and were in need of an emerging playmaker. Lashley answered the bell against Montana State, racking up a team leading nine tackles and three tackles for a loss. He’ll look to continue his hot start Saturday.

#11 SR 6’2” 220-pound S Russell Siavii

2015 stats: 43 total tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD

Scoop: At 220 pounds, Siavii is a physically imposing safety, but the brunt of his highlights have come from being a disturbance in the air. He made a huge impact in Idaho’s victory over Montana State, picking off a pass and breaking up three more. He’ll have the tall task of keeping John Ross in front of him this weekend.

What the Vandal Offense looks like

Last season, the Vandals had a pretty well-balanced offense, however favoring the pass, featuring a 1000 yard rusher in Elijah Penny and four receivers with 500 yards or more through the air. 

Idaho’s offense returns a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, primarily in the passing game, returning three of their four most productive targets, as well as a third year starter at quarterback. One question mark the Vandals had heading into this year was how they would replace Elijhaa Penny, their tailback. The heir apparent, Aaron Duckworth, took a big step to answer that, gaining over 100 yards on the ground and scoring twice in his first game as a starter.

Matt Linehan, on the other hand, got off to a rough start throwing the ball, completing less than 40 percent of his throws. That being said, one poor game won’t turn Paul Petrino’s offense upside down. Expect to see an offense that throws the ball more than it runs, looking for it’s big bodies in Trent Cowan and Deon Watson over the middle, or their athlete, Callen Hightower on the outside.

What the Vandal Defense looks like

Similar to the Huskies, the Vandals base defense is a 3-4 with a BUCK linebacker who rushes on just about every play. However, Idaho showed a higher propensity to put a fourth guy in a three point stance and play with three linebackers. From what I’ve seen, they don’t get too fancy with forcing pressure, allowing their linemen and BUCK to supply most of the pressure.

Their are some players to watch out for on this defense, including linebacker Kaden Elliss, nose tackle Tueni Lupeamanu, and safety Russell Siavii. Elliss is the lone returning starter of the linebackers, but the entire secondary is back and is likely there strength of the defense. 

Again, this defense is relatively conservative, not sending too many exotic blitz packages and letting offenses play in front of them. The Huskies will look to pick up where they left off last weekend, likely trying to get a rhythm with quick starts.

Keys to the game


1. Keep Washington off the board early - Rutgers found out the hard way what can happen when the Huskies find momentum on both sides of the ball early. A different start will be in the Vandals best interest if they want a chance at this one.

2. Linehan finds his rhythm - With a secondary as deep and talented as Washington’s, another bad game through the air for Linehan will be magnified.

3. Limit explosive plays - Three deep balls and two returns accounted for 35 of Washington’s 48 points against Rutgers. Making the Huskies earn their points by methodically marching down the field will at the very least help dampen some of the energy, if not a little offensive output.


1. Set the tone - I could have said ‘do what they did last week.’ Nothing puts a winnable game to bed early like three touchdowns of more than 30 yards, a three and out on the opening defensive possession, and a forced fumble. Getting control of this game early is in the best interest of the Huskies for a variety of reasons.

2. Get Gaskin rolling - I kind of don’t love this one, because a lot of the reason Washington didn’t run the ball great against Rutgers is because Rutgers forced Browning to beat them with his arm (which he did). However, if for nothing more than confidence, getting last year’s most consistent source of offense going should be a priority.

3. Keep clean - Only three penalties in an opener is quite a feat. In a game that favors the Huskies by more than five touchdowns, staying out of their own way will simplify things that much more.

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