It’s midterms time in Moscow — and not just in the classroom. With six games in the books and six to go, Vandal Nation is going to undertake the time-honored tradition of grading out the Vandal football team halfway through its season.
Today, the offense goes under the microscope. Tomorrow, we’ll examine the defense and on Friday, we’ll take a red pen to special teams and coaching. We’ll also form an overall grade, with comments from coach Robb Akey and defensive coordinator Mark Criner.
This would have been an A- before Nathan Enderle’s three-pick night in San Jose, in which he doubled his interception count for the year. Even so, Enderle is having a career season and, with Hawaii’s Greg Alexander going down to an injury, he’s likely to trail only Boise State signal-caller Kellen Moore in passing yards and efficiency.
When Enderle throws to his strengths — bullet slants and mid-range lasers — he’s shown leadership ability and star quality. He still needs to improve his decision-making. Enderle too often attempts to complete risky thread-the-needle passes and has chucked up some desperation throwaways instead of taking a safe sack. Still, he looks better and is playing smarter than last year. Plus, as shown at San Jose, backup Brian Reader is ready and able to take charge if things go upside down.
Offensive line: A+
Protection for the quarterback and huge holes for the running game — that’s what an O-line is supposed to do and that’s what Idaho’s O-line has given its team. The Vandals’ front is on pace to give up just about half the sacks they allowed last year, and the senior leadership of probable NFL draft pick Mike Iupati has been the key.
In most of the Vandals’ games so far, they’ve been dominant on the line of scrimmage. Against Northern Illinois on the road, Idaho’s front simply owned the Huskies. A quality MAC squad that gave up fewer than 150 yards at Purdue, NIU allowed the Vandals to run rampant for nearly 230 yards. The performances here simply can’t be faulted.
Another deep, talented position for Idaho, these guys are flat doing work. Max Komar is ranked fourth in the WAC in yards per game, with 481 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the season. The imposing Eric Greenwood presents a towering height mismatch for every potential defender in the WAC, and he’s used that to his advantage to make several key plays.
Daniel Hardy and Preston Davis have also come up big, even with Hardy missing the Colorado State game with an injury. As a team, the Vandals have the conference’s second-best aerial assault, measured both by yards gained and passing efficiency. How long has it been since Idaho could say that?
Running backs: A
Idaho’s running game has perhaps been the greatest revelation of the season. The trifecta of Princeton McCarty, Deonte Jackson and DeMaundray Woolridge have racked up over a thousand yards and 11 touchdowns — that’s two more touchdowns on the ground in the first six games than the Vandals had in all 12 games last season.
Each one of the Vandals’ three primary running backs has a different style and talent set, giving offensive coordinator Steve Axman a potent arsenal to confuse and confound defenses. They’ve also been exceptionally sure-handed, giving up not a single fumble so far.
Tight ends: Incomplete
The Vandals haven’t gone to Peter Bjorvik much at all this season — he has just three catches for 36 yards — so it’s tough to give a grade here. Daniel Hardy is officially listed as a wide receiver so he was graded in that category.
The offense as a unit gets a lower grade than the sum of its parts because it often hasn’t played up to its ability. Too many opportunities to put games away have been squandered. Particularly in the red zone, the Vandals have sometimes struggled to convert solid drives. Idaho has the 31st-best offense in the country based on yards gained, but only the 54th-best based on points scored.
That said, the Idaho offense has also shown an uncanny ability to come through in the clutch, converting big third downs and finding ways to score when it really counts. One forum wag dubbed this year’s squad the “Cardiac Kids” for their consistent late-game heroics. They may be causing an epidemic of fan heart attacks, but they’ve been getting the job done when the final whistle blows.