Archive | September, 2009

Practice Tidbits: Sept. 30

30 Sep

The Idaho Vandals were back out in pads today for practice, running contact drills in preparation for Saturday’s battle with Colorado State.

Coach Robb Akey said the players we mentioned yesterday as being held out of practice are officially “day to day,” but are all expected to be ready to play Saturday.

He told his team to keep practicing and playing “with a chip on your shoulder” every day — with visions of bowl games beginning to dance in the Vandals’ heads, Akey said focusing on one game at a time is key.

The good thing about being where you want to be is that every week is going to be a big game. Saturday is no exception. We need to take that next step forward and improve in every game. We’ve been doing that as a team so far and that’s why we’re in this position right now. That didn’t happen by accident.

We asked Akey about exploiting Ram quarterback Grant Stucker, who’s thrown nearly as many picks (five) as touchdowns (six). But he didn’t bite, instead praising Stucker’s arm and ability.

(Stucker) is a talented kid. He’s got a strong arm, he can make deep throws and he’s completed a lot of those. With a couple of those interceptions, the ball hit the receiver on his hands — not much he can do there. He’s got a real touch, but I hope we can stir him up, get some pressure on him and make him throw the ball up where we can get it.

Defensive coordinator Mark Criner agreed.

(Stucker) throws an exceptional deep ball. He can throw the ball 60 yards in the air and make big plays, and that’s where he hurt Nevada. The defense maybe started overplaying his interceptions and he took advantage of that for some long plays.

Criner said another challenge his unit faces includes taking on “the most athletic offensive line we’ve faced this year,” with big bodies and big experience. The Vandals’ defensive front dominated Northern Illinois last week, but Criner explained the Rams’ size isn’t everything.

(The Rams) are not necessarily bigger than the Huskies, but Northern Illinois was trying to smash you. These guys aren’t trying to smash you, they’re trying to get leverage and get outside in the run game, and they’ve done a good job of it.

Trey Farquhar was trying some long (and we do mean loooooong) boots and connected on a couple.

Below the fold, more from Akey and Criner.

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Good Morning Vandal Nation: Sept. 30, 2009

30 Sep

A chilly morning in Moscow — fall is on the way. To warm you up this morning, here’s our pick of news from around the WAC, with quite a bit of reporting from the Colorado papers.

Coming today, we’ll have our picks for WAC basketball’s top juniors and a report on today’s football practice.

Fewer than 600 student tickets remain for Saturday’s game — pick up yours at the UI Ticket Office in the Dome before they’re gone.

Update: 1,000 more student tickets have been released as of this afternoon.

Football

Men’s basketball

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Hoops Preview 2009-10: The WAC’s Best Seniors

29 Sep

The 2009-10 basketball season is just about a month away, and to kick off our 2009-10 preview, we’ll join Western Athletic Conference beatbloggers Chris Murray and Jason Groves in offering our picks for the WAC’s best senior ballers. Juniors, sophomores and freshmen will follow.

We’ll mix things up a little bit by requiring the picks to be by position, with a first and second team. Players are judged on the basis of overall performance and team impact.

First team:

G: Mac Hopson, Idaho

Really, there’s nothing to dispute here. Hopson was an utter machine last year, averaging 16.4 points, a WAC-leading 5.9 assists (19th-best in the nation), 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals, while playing 34.3 minutes a game (third-most in the WAC). With a deeper squad giving him more legit scoring threats to feed, Mac’s points may go down this year but his already-high assist numbers should rise. Simply swarming Hopson won’t be an option for the Vandals’ opponents in 09-10, and that makes him and his team all the more dangerous. Perhaps most importantly, with more point guards on coach Don Verlin’s bench of tricks, Mac can get a breather more than once a half. As we note below, the pairing of Mac with Pacific transfer Steffan Johnson may give Idaho a backcourt that no WAC rival can match.

G: Jonathan Gibson, New Mexico State

The Aggies very nearly upset the Utah State juggernaut in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament this year, and Jonathan Gibson’s huge 16 points on 6-13 shooting is a key reason why. A pure shooting guard who never got into an assist groove, Gibson averaged 14.1 points and 1.4 steals per game overall as part of coach Marvin Menzies’ run-and-gun, shoot-first-ask-questions-later offense. But Gibson’s defensive abilities have to get better this season if NMSU hopes to contend for the title — the Aggies gave up a league-worst 74.4 points per game last year.

F: Sylvester Seay, Fresno State

The keystone to Fresno State’s offense, Seay is a serious impact player who can dominate the paint. We saw it in Moscow last year, where he scored 14 points, made four huge blocks and nearly led the Bulldogs to an upset on the Vandals’ home floor. On the season, Seay averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 boards and 1.7 blocks, landing in the WAC’s top 15 in all three categories. He has a nice touch for the inside shot and is unafraid on defense — but that’s gotten him into trouble, with five foulouts on the season. Unusually for a 6-10 big man, Seay can also nail the trey — he was the Bulldogs’ second-leading three-point shooter behind freshman stud Paul George.

F: Roderick Flemings, Hawaii

In an awful year for the Rainbow Warriors, Flemings was one of the few bright spots. He led the team and finished fourth in the WAC in scoring with 16.6 points per game, while also leading the team in steals with 35. Like Hopson, he was a stalwart on the court, averaging a WAC-leading 36 minutes per game.  A lack of teamwork (starting with ineffective point guard Kareem Nitoto) hurt him last year — with a rebuilt support cast that may be coach Bob Nash’s last hope, 2009-10 should be better for Flemings. Again like Hopson, he might score fewer points but be a more effective player overall.

C: Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech

Not only does he sport one of the conference’s best names, Rolle can rock his opponents in the paint. His numbers (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .530 FG%, 52 blocks) were among the WAC’s best, and his dominant inside power forces opponents to open up the floor to the Bulldogs’ numerous outside threats — among them Kyle Gibson. Coach Kerry Rupp’s squad struggled as a whole to score, with a WAC-worst 63.3-ppg average, so the impact of Rolle’s buckets and boards can’t be overestimated. He sputtered in the WAC Tournament’s opening game vs. Idaho, but came up big against Nevada, nearly carrying La. Tech to a second straight bracket upset. What he needs to add in his senior year is consistency — four times he scored more than 25 points, but another four times he scored six or fewer points.

The second team and honorable mentions are below the fold.

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Practice Report: Sept. 29

29 Sep

The Kibbie Dome is echoing with whistles and shouts again, as the 3-1 (1-0 WAC) Idaho Vandals ready themselves for Saturday’s fight against the 3-1 (0-1 MWC) Colorado State Rams.

Daniel Hardy is on the sidelines, suited up but sans pads. He apparently got banged up a bit at Northern Illinois. He’s expected to be ready to play on gameday. Jonah Sataraka, JoJo Dickson Shiloh Keo were also being protected.

The Vandals’ first team, including QB Nathan Enderle, was working game reps, and there were also a couple practice kick-return situations. Return coverage has been a bugaboo for the Vandals all season, giving up an average of 21 yards per return. Last week, the Huskies frequently found themselves starting from their own 30 or 40-yard line.

We stopped to take a look at the line at the Dome ticket office — it’s filling the hallway and spilling out into the foyer. Lots of students picking up their tickets, and the athletics department has reported that three-quarters of the student-allocated ducats have already been distributed.

Aaron Grymes is getting quality reps, as the true freshman has become a stalwart starting defender.

The Red and Black Attack believes they know why Idaho won: it’s the Axe.

We’ll have quotes from Enderle, Sataraka, Robb Akey and DeMaundray Woolridge tonight.

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Sept. 29, 2009

29 Sep

We’re back, with a big pile of links from the weekend that was. All sorts of good stuff relating to the Idaho Vandals’ upset of Northern Illinois. We apologize for the day-long hiatus, but there was homework to catch up on!

The Vandals are receiving more national attention than ever — as well they should, given their 3-1 record, the best FBS start in school history and the best overall since 1994.

But the gridiron Vandals aren’t the only squad on a hot start. Idaho’s women’s soccer squad is 7-4 heading into conference play this weekend, also its best-ever season start.

On Saturday, the Vandals will take to the Kibbie Dome for a nationally-televised night battle against the Colorado State Rams, which will close out the non-conference season. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. — students are advised to pick up their tickets soon, as nearly three-quarters of the allocation has already been distributed.

Football

  • The Argonaut’s Jennifer Schlake has a game report that also mentions Nathan Enderle’s WAC Player of the Week honors.

Men’s basketball

  • Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal and Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News both make preseason picks for the WAC’s best players. Murray’s top seniors and juniors; Groves’ top seniors and juniors. No surprise, Mac Hopson is among them.

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Vandals stun Huskies, 34-31, for Idaho’s best-ever FBS start

26 Sep

On the strength of stellar performances by quarterback Nathan Enderle and running back DeMaundray Woolridge, the Idaho Vandals upset Northern Illinois today, 34-31, in DeKalb, Ill. for their best start ever as a Football Bowl Subdivision team. The Vandals are 3-1 on the season, 1-0 in Western Athletic Conference play.

Enderle threw for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing with no interceptions, and Woolridge bulldozed his way through the Huskies’ defense for 143 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries — an average of 7.5 yards per carry.

The Huskies (2-2) struck first on the scoreboard, kicking a field goal midway through the first quarter, but the Vandals responded early in the second period with a 26-yard touchdown strike to Daniel Hardy, and from there Idaho never trailed. Only a valiant last-ditch effort by the Huskies closed the gap in the fourth quarter. The Huskies scored midway through the period, then forced an Idaho three-and-out. Bobby Cowan’s punt was blocked, leading to an easy one-yard Me’co Brown touchdown run. That brought the Huskies within 3 points with just under 6 minutes remaining. But the Vandals marched down the field on the ensuing drive, and the Huskies were unable to prevent Idaho’s offense from running out the clock.

The Vandals’ dominance on the line of scrimmage was game-changing. Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish threw for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he was sacked twice and hurried many more times by a stifling Idaho defensive effort.

WAC football preview: Sept. 26

26 Sep

Here’s the rest of the WAC capsule previews. After Nevada’s loss last night, the conference could sure use a couple nice non-con wins.
Today’s games (all times Pacific):

Fresno State (1-2) at #14 Cincinnati (3-0), 9 a.m.

Coming off a brutal shootout defeat by Boise State last week and a painful overtime loss at Wisconsin, things won’t get any easier for the Fresno State Bulldogs when they travel to face the Bearcats.

The Bulldogs are one of the WAC’s best programs on paper, but they’ve yet to prove it this season in the win-loss column. Their only victory so far came over FCS UC Davis, and while it’s clear Fresno State can score (their offense is ranked Top-10 in the nation) the real question is whether they can stop anyone else from scoring. Against FBS opponents, the Bulldog defense has been Swiss-cheesed, giving up 34 points to the Badgers and 51 to the Broncos.

Ryan Mathews ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns against Boise State, and to upend Cincinnati, Fresno State will need similar production from him. Stopping red-hot Bearcats QB Tony Pike, who threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State, may not be possible. If the Bulldogs can’t at least slow him down, they probably lose this one.

Idaho (2-1) at Northern Illinois (2-1), 12:30 p.m.

The Vandals are off to their best start in a decade, but this weekend they run headlong into a red-hot Huskie squad that will be at least their equal — and quite possibly their better.

NIU upset Purdue last week, 28-21, for only the program’s second-ever all-time win over a Big 10 team. Their ground game has been massive, running over the Boilermakers to the tune of 280 yards. Sophomore RB Me’co Brown accounted for 150 of those yards, plus a touchdown. Overall, the Huskies racked up 454 yards on offense, moving the ball essentially at will.

The Vandals have defended the run decently enough so far, but “decent” isn’t likely to cut it, particularly not on the road. Most worrisome, perhaps, is Idaho’s mediocre performance inside the red zone. Settling for field goals simply won’t cut it here — QB Nate Enderle, RB DeMaundray Woolridge and the rest of the Vandal offense have to figure out how to produce touchdowns. If the Vandals can keep scoring while targeting on Brown to wear him down, they’ll have a shot to win.

#8 Boise State (3-0) at Bowling Green (1-2), 4 p.m.

OK, so Bowling Green is actually an FBS program, but this is likely to be a pretty massive blowout in favor of the Broncos, perhaps on the scale of some of the FBS/FCS blowouts we’ve seen earlier. Nothing about the Falcons remotely suggests they can contend with the nation’s #8 team, as much as it pains us to admit it.

After opening the season with a win over Troy, Bowling Green has dropped two straight, to Missouri and Marshall, and the Broncos just ran amok all over perhaps the WAC’s second-best team in Fresno. This one will be over early. No need to belabor the point.

Cal Poly (1-1) at San Jose State (0-2), 5 p.m.

If the Spartans can’t beat Cal Poly, they may well be on a fast-track to 0-12. The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out. San Jose State will face Idaho at home in two weeks, then travel on back-to-back Saturdays to Fresno State and Boise State. Ouch.

The really scary part is, Cal Poly could well win.

The Mustangs beat San Diego State in 2006 and 2008, and nearly upset Wisconsin last year. They’re a top FCS squad, while the Spartans are a mediocre FBS one. That can be a recipe for disaster if you’re the home team. San Jose State’s another team that’s shown absolutely no ability to score or stop their opponents from scoring — they’ve been outscored 122-34 to open the season, giving up 800 yards on the ground and another 700 in the air. The Spartans’ ground game is nonexistent — the roster has a combined 81 carries for just 55 yards.

Poly, meanwhile, has four rushers averaging over 5 yards per carry, and two with more than 100 yards already. Mustang QB Tony Smith has tossed for 230 yards and three touchdowns. The worry for Cal Poly has to be passing — if San Jose State can get QB Jordan La Secla on a roll, the Mustang secondary could be ripe for the picking against FBS competition.

Southern Utah (1-2) at Utah State (0-2), 5 p.m.

The Aggies are a better team than their record indicates, having hung tough with Utah and Texas A&M on the road. Now their reward for surviving those brutal battles is a homecoming cupcake from Cedar City. The Thunderbirds’ only win so far came against Division II Dixie State, and they’ve given up a total of 77 points in consecutive losses to woeful San Diego State and fellow FCS squad Northern Arizona.

Thunderbirds QB Cade Cooper has shown some capability, at least on paper — tossing 7 touchdowns in just three games. But the SUU defense gave up 35 points to SDSU and 42 points to Northern Arizona. Against that porous unit, Utah State will turn loose stud running back Robert Turbin, who’s rushed for an amazing 269 yards on just 26 carries and wideout Stanley Morrison, who’s picked up 183 yards on just 9 receptions — that’s 20.3 yards per catch. It’ll be good night, Irene early on for Southern Utah. “Warm up the bus,” indeed.

New Mexico State (1-2) at New Mexico (0-3), 7 p.m.

This game is the ESPN Bottom 10 Pillow Fight of the Week, and not for no reason. The Land of Enchantment is, this year, the Land of Awful Football. Both teams are at the bottom of their respective conferences, largely because neither team has shown anything remotely resembling an offense. For that matter, there’s not been much defense, either.

Combined, the Aggies and Lobos have given up 199 points while scoring just 68.

This may be New Mexico State’s only chance at an FBS win this year (though they travel to San Diego State next week…) and if DeWayne Walker wants to stave off disaster in his first season, this is the place to start. Quarterback Jeff Fleming has no reliable receiving targets — and his touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 4 picks, zero scores. The Lobos aren’t any better in the quarterback department, though — they’ve gone through two QBs already, who have each thrown 2 interceptions to zero touchdowns. It’s going to be up to the running game to come through here — RBs Seth Smith and Marque Colston will have to carry the Aggies to their first victory in the Rio Grande Rivalry since 2002.

Yesterday’s game: Missouri 31, Nevada 21

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