Who will play the Hardest?

Both teams may be 0-2, true enough. And Washington hasn't lost to Idaho on the gridiron in over a century. But let's not kid ourselves – it's the team from Moscow that is feeling a lot better about themselves these days. A seemingly improbable premise not so long ago, deciding Saturday's winner may come down to...

Idaho (0-0, 0-2) at Washington (0-0, 0-2)
Saturday, September 17 - 12:35 PM (PST) – NO TV
Series All-time: Washington leads, 34-2-2
Last Meeting: September 20, 2003 - Washington 42-12
Line: Washington by 11


With their last-gasp 34-31 loss to Nevada-Las Vegas now in the rear-view mirror, Idaho second-year coach Nick Holt is thinking his 3-11 program is getting closer to a more positive phase - winning. Holt has seen his team give up huge plays to begin both the WSU and UNLV contests, only to fight their way back in both. At Las Vegas, his Vandals were in position to end a five-game road losing streak. But a dropped punt here, a missed field goal there, and a costly third-down conversion enabled the Rebels to end things with a 41-yard game-winning field goal.

"There were some really good things," Holt said after. "But you can't miss field goals. You can't drop balls. You can't get beat over the top."

Then, in the same mantra as is the Washington catch-phrase for the week, Holt interred, "We need to upgrade our intensity for the whole game. We need to get our guys in the right positions, and we need to be consistent about it.

"We have to play at a better level."

Idaho, after years of success under Husky assistant Chris Tormey, has been down for most of the decade, winning only nine of their past 49 games. But Holt, who was part of Pete Carroll's original Southern California staff that executed a remarkably quick turnaround, says that "There are a lot of components that go into winning – like having good personnel and playing real smart. But the biggest component is playing as hard as you can for as long as you can. Do that, and you'll be alright."

"We're realistic about where we are heading, and where we've come from."

And if the Vandals can somehow end a 101-year winning drought against Washington on Saturday, there's no telling how high they will be.

IDAHO OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  28.5 points, 378.0 yards 
             (93.0 rush, 285.0 pass)

RUSHING:     Antwaun Sherman 12-86-1 TD 
             (7.2), long 60
             Rolly Lumbala 22-74-0 TD 
             (3.4), long 9
             Jayson Bird 23-70-0 TD 
             (3.0), long 9 (INJ)

PASSING:     Steven Wichman 32-53-1 (.604), 
             533 yards, 4 TD         
               
RECEIVING:   Daniel Smith 16-244-2 TD 
             (15.2), long 51
             Wendell Octave 6-146-1 TD 
             (24.3), long 44
             Matt Askew 5-48-0 TD 
             (9.6), long 18


It didn't take Steven Wichman long to stake his claim to the Idaho QB position. The JuCo transfer from Delta College relieved senior Michael Harrington twice in Pullman when the Vandals were out-of-sorts, and then was named the WAC's offensive Player of the Week for his 390-yard first-start performance against UNLV. Coach Holt said that Harrington graded out better against Washington State, but chose Wichman simply because the team moved better with him at the helm.

Another J.C. standout, Daniel Smith, is also off to a torrid beginning. The slot receiver already owns two 100-yard receiving performances, and is the only receiver in the Western Athletic Conference with two touchdowns. Returning junior Wendell Octave had a career game in Las Vegas, with six catches for 146 yards. Another JuCo product, Matt Askew, caught four balls against Washington State.

True sophomore RB Jayson Bird, who gained nearly 900 yards as a freshman and opened 2005 with a 70-yard effort against Wazzu, broke his collarbone in Idaho's first series at UNLV, and will be a big loss. In his stead, shifty 180-pound Antwaun Sherman and rumbling 240-pound Rolly Lumbala stepped up to combined for 128 rushing yards – Sherman getting 60 of those on one carry.

After being mauled by Cal's behemoths last week, Washington might look forward to facing an offensive line that "only" averages 304, and starts two freshmen to boot. Coach Holt admits that his line is thin on depth. Returning bookend tackles Nate VanderPol and Hank Therien will lead the way.

GAME OUTLOOK: There is a whole lot less speed this week, though Idaho has done a good job taking care of the ball and has been efficient with Wichman at the helm. The Vandals did burn UNLV vertically, and that's a Husky weak spot, too. Washington has got to think about overrunning a line that starts a frosh at center and guard.

IDAHO DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:  36.0 points, 439.5 yards 
             (199.5 rush, 240.0 pass)

TACKLES/TFL: Cole Snyder 28/2.0    
             Josh Bousman 15/2.0
             Charles Campbell 12/0.0 

PASSES DEF/INT: Ben Alexander 2/1  
                Cole Snyder 0/1       
                Jason Martin 0/1

SACKS:       Josh Bousman 2.0
             Cole Snyder 1.0


A defensive coach by trade, Holt is building his defense from the ground up, bringing in four high-school D-linemen with his first recruiting class, and immediately redshirting them. "Defense starts in the line," says Holt, "and we're getting a lot of bodies there now."

Senior Jeff Edwards and sophomore Siua Musika return to the interior, bolstered by JuCo standouts Ryan Davis from Orange Coast College and Charles Campbell from Chicago. Edwards has three tackles-for-loss, while Campbell leads the front with 12 tackles.

Unquestionably, the leader is MIKE linebacker Cole Snyder. A Lombardi watch candidate, Snyder had 16 solo stops against UNLV and had an interception against Washington State after leading the Vandals in tackles a year ago. Sophomore Josh Bousman (Tacoma Baptist) leads the team with two sacks, while Ben Alexander has a pair of TFL and a 38-yard interception return. WIL ‘backer Mike Anderson needs two tackles to reach 200 in his Idaho career. Anderson had eight tackles in Husky Stadium two years ago.

Like Washington, Idaho is thin at corner. Senior Herb Cash was a nickel back a year ago, and junior Jason Martin played one season at Mt. SAC – two years ago. Martin does have a pick, however, and played well at UNLV. D.J. Dykes and Tone Taupele have 12 stops between them from the safety spot.

GAME OUTLOOK: It may be Holt's bread-and-butter, but it's a defense with a lot of "new" faces and even more waiting in the wings. UNLV quarterback Shane Steichen had 106 rushing yards to go with his 250 through the air – Isaiah Stanback is entitled to drool a little over that one. Idaho only averages 256 pounds up front - Washington simply must instill superiority by opening holes against that.

IDAHO SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Mike Barrow 3-5 FG 
               (long 41), 6-7 XP
 
PUNTING:       T.J. Conley 11-39.6 
               (long 50), 
               .182 inside the 20

KICK RETURNS:  DeAngelo Ramsey 6-19.5 
               (long 42), 0 TD

PUNT RETURNS:  Wes Williams 7-2.1 
               (long 21), 0 TD


Special teams hurt Idaho terribly in Vegas. True freshman Wes Williams muffed a punt deep in his own territory, and the Rebels recovered the bounding ball, getting a field-goal. Williams has a 21-yard return – and his other six have netted a minus-six yards.

Junior place kicker Mike Barrow missed two short field goals that could have sealed a Vandal win – which would have broken a five-game Idaho road losing streak. Barrow is a mere 12-for-25 in his career, with a best of 44 yards. Walla Walla true freshman punter T.J. Conley was the B-11 player-of-the-year when he quarterbacked at DeSales, and was all-conference in both football and baseball.

The Vandals have blocked one punt, and have not allowed a block.

GAME OUTLOOK: For the first time since – well, since the last time these two teams met, Washington may own an advantage. Certainly in the kicking disciplines, where Evan Knudsen has been much improved and Sean Douglas has developed a knack for kicking on the run off of some wayward snaps. The Huskies are still looking for their first blocked kick since the Stone Age.

KIBBLES AND BITS


The Western Athletic is Idaho's third conference home since 1996, after helping to close the defunct Big West conference in 2000 and leasing another four years wallowing in the Sun Belt ... The voodoo dolls continue to torture Vandal tight end Luke Smith-Anderson. The senior suffered the third season-ending injury of his Idaho career when he had surgery in August for a ruptured spleen ... Not only did the Vandals start a nation-leading 16 true freshman a year ago, but the coaching staff averages just under 34 years of age - the youngest in NCAA Division 1-A ... Surplus Yearbooks: The first 7,000 fans entering Husky Stadium on Saturday can claim a free one. Just head for the tents ...


Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@COMCAST.NET

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