It was the two-point conversion that re-defined what football was at the University of Idaho. The standard to which coach Robb Akey’s program is held was set on December 30, 2009 when Nathan Enderle hit Preston Davis in the back of the endzone, and pandemonium ensued. The play spurred Idaho to a 43-42 victory in the Humanitarian Bowl over Bowling Green, its second bowl victory since becoming a Football Subdivision program.
The names that led Idaho to glory during the night of destiny in Bronco Stadium…Shiloh Keo, Enderle, Max Komar, Mike Iupati, DeMaundray Woolridge…have all since phased out of the program, and it just hasn’t been the same since.
The Vandals have posted an 8-18 record from the start of the 2010 campaign, 6-7 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011. Rock bottom may very well have come last Thursday evening losing 20-3 to Big Sky Eastern Washington – Idaho has now lost 11 of its last 13 games.
If the fortunes of the program are going to turn around any time soon it will have to come this Saturday, and not an opponent in this country is more appropriate for Idaho to do it against than the very same Bowling Green State Falcons from the night of destiny.
Regardless of the mini-grudge rivalry the two programs have going on, this game will be as critical as any for bowl eligibility. The next three games on Idaho’s schedule look like this: At LSU, vs. Wyoming and at North Carolina. If Idaho cannot pull out a victory against the Falcons then 0-5 could be a realistic and terrifying reality.
The game on Saturday will be the rubber match of the series between the two schools, Bowling Green won at the Kibbie Dome in last year’s season opener 32-15.
The game will also be the first start for Idaho starting quarterback Dominique Blackman, who sat out last week against Eastern Washington.
Idaho’s 2011 season pretty much went downhill after Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz hit Eugene Cooper for 76-yards down the sideline for a touchdown, to tie the game at 7. Schilz ended up slinging for 291 yards on 9.4 yards per attempt, and the deep ball became an achilles heel for the Vandal pass defense all season long. That was the case again last weekend when Eastern Washington’s Brandon Kaufman caught five balls for 148 yards, including a long of 58-yards. Kaufman was wide open on nearly all of his receptions.
“We try to take away the deep balls, make them throw short ball so we can rally to them, rather them getting them get the deep ball and let them get their crowd sparked up,” cornerback Tracy Carter said. “(Last week) was mostly miscommunication and missed assignments. As a defense we got to step up and come together, talk more on the field.”
Schilz aired the ball out 49 times against Florida last weekend, completing less than half of them, however. If Idaho is able to get as much pressure on Schilz as they were able to get on Kyle Padron last Thursday then it is conceivable to think that the Vandals can make some things happen turnovers and three & out wise. The numbers don’t necessarily back it up (zero sacks, 412 total yards given up) but Idaho played admirably defensively against Eastern Washington considering Idaho lost the time of possession and field position battles.
Punter Bobby Cowan will have to be considerably better than he was against Eastern, having only averaged 36 yards per punt Thursday night.
Offensively, it’s completely up in the air the difference that quarterback Dominique Blackman will have on the Vandals. Not just from last week with Logan Bushnell, but last season even with Brian Reader and Taylor Davis. Blackman is a physically imposing pocket presence that will be able to stand tall and strong in the pocket, delivering accurate intermediate passes. The offense will be predicated on him getting the ball out to his receivers quickly and letting them make the plays. It’s an offense that Bushnell, bless his soul, just wasn’t able to execute last week. What Blackman brings as an on-field vocal leader, and if that helps, will also be something to watch.
The offensive line will need to be significantly better than they were, but senior A.J. Jones perhaps getting the start at right guard could make a difference on Blackman’s blind side. Jones was practicing with the ones a bit during Wednesday’s practice, coach Akey said that he will be involved there but not making it clear if he will replace Spencer Beale or not. Establishing the run with Ryan Bass and James Baker will be an emphasis to get the offense rolling – Florida hammered the Falcons for 6.9 yards per rush last week, then again Bass and Baker aren’t quite SEC athletes.
We’ll have more on the Falcon quarterback and defensive front below.
The Mid-American Conference blog ‘Hustlebelt’ has their preview of the game
Here is our news feature on Dominique Blackman making his first start
Check back tomorrow morning for links from us, the Spokesman and Lewiston Tribune.
Matt Sussman, a Bowling Green graduate and proprietor of the Hustlebelt blog was kind enough to join us for this week’s opposing perspective.
Vandal Nation: What’s the mood around the Falcon fan base about the Idaho program? Obviously the H-Bowl loss spiraled Bowling Green in to a dismal 2010 season, but after dismantling Idaho in the 2011 opener the Falcons got back on track just a little. Is there still a little bit of a grudge there for the Vandals? Or is this just a winnable OoC game after the money game at Florida?
Matt Sussman: At least for me, the Humanitarian Bowl loss was tempered by the fact that Freddie Barnes set the NCAA record for receptions in a season that game. But the loss still sucked, and the following year was expectedly painful given all that outgoing inherited talent such as Barnes and Tyler Sheehan. I was really excited at the Idaho victory last year, yes because of a slight revenge factor, but we saw new dimensions in their game such as, jeez, an actual no-foolin’ running game. (I was also partial to the 81-yard punt that rolled through the end zone.) UI’s loss to EWU definitely perks up the confidence for fans at least, but even they know a bad game on BG’s part can lead to an obvious loss.
VN: Tell us about Matt Schilz a little bit. He put on a deep ball clinic at the Kibbie Dome last season and looked fairly effective. He put the ball in the air 49 times at Florida and completed less than half of them, put that performance in to context a bit for us.
MS: I’d say the jury is still out on Schilz as a quarterback that can lead this team to a division title. He put together a great 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive against UF, then on other possessions he just couldn’t find the right guy to save his life. And on other plays, there were just some ridiculous drops by de-facto primary receiver Shaun Joplin. That’s another monkey wrench thrown into this equation: they didn’t lose many seniors, but those that did leave were mostly wideouts. UI will be a good test for everybody on that offense.
VN: The directions of both programs since the H-Bowl in 2009 seems pretty similar. Both programs had a season where they missed a bowl game by one game, and both programs had a 2-10 dismal year. Both programs enter this game at an 0-1 clip. It seems like from the outside looking in that Dave Clawson needs a bowl game for people to feel good about him coming back next year, as is the case with Robb Akey in Idaho. And this seems like a swing game that both programs need to get there.
MS: You always want a team with a losing record to improve, and improving from 5-7 would almost guarantee a bowl (given all the sanctions fluttering around the country). Any other finish to the season and the mood sours on Clawson, which has never been all that negative in the first place. If they lose to Idaho, depending on the type of loss this could certainly put some urgency on the program to do well in MAC play to save Clawson’s hide.
VN: How is Bowling Green defensively? Florida’s offensive struggles throwing the ball are well documented, but Bowling Green was still able to keep the Gators in check for most of the game until late. Are you surprised by that defensive performance?
MS: For the first time since I’ve cared about the team (12 years) this defense fascinates the heck out of me. They return 18 players on their defensive two-deep but they’re still incredibly young (Phil Steele rated their roster as 10th youngest in FBS). I’ve just never heard of those two things together before. What they’ve been relatively good at, even last year, is third down, and we saw that against Florida too (5-for-16 against). But they are prone to allowing the big run or the big play, and that always hurts ‘em. Given their relative experience I knew their defense would be an emerging positive but despite the loss, holding UF to 27 was a big win.
Best: Idaho gets off to a quick start defensively, rushing the passer, being aggressive against the run and getting Schilz out of a rhythm early, which wasn’t the case last year. On offense, Blackman is able to distribute the ball around and sustain methodical drives letting Idaho eat clock and gain confidence in the Jason Gesser offense. The Vandals look night and day from last week, winning 27-17.
Worse: Can it get much worse than last week? If the offensive line completely fails to support Blackman it will. If the relatively immobile Blackman is always dealing with two or more guys in his face most plays its unlikely that the first time Division I-FBS starter gets off to a comfortable start as was the case last week with Bushnell. Defensively, Aaron Grymes and Tracy Carter aren’t able to hold up on 1-on-1 match-ups on the outside letting the Falcons get a couple of really quick scores. It gets out of hand early, Falcons win 31-17.
Likely: The unknown commodity at quarterback makes a ‘likely’ scenario difficult to hash out. What we expect is that Idaho will come out playing as well defensively as they did last week, putting pressure on Schilz, being strong at the point of attack in the run game and being susceptible in pass coverage on occasion, especially third down. If that is the case, it will put Idaho’s offense in a position to play well enough to make this game go in to the fourth quarter before a winner is decided. Whether or not that will be the case remains to be seen. No pressure, Blackman. No pressure.
Kickoff is at 4:00 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the Vandal television network (Altitude in Moscow).
We’ll be live tweeting the game on twitter @VandalNation for those who aren’t able to watch. Also tweet us or let us know on facebook of any viewing parties people are hosting/know of.