Update (8/13/2012 5:30 P.M.): Dominique Blackman named starting quarterback
We first broke on twitter earlier this afternoon a tweet from Dominique Blackman that proclaimed he had been told he’s been named the starter for the season opener against Eastern Washington. Now it appears that that has been made official.
The decision is not one that is surprising in the least bit. Blackman was the better performer during the spring game and the first two scrimmages of the fall, throwing for over 360 yards and six touchdowns combined over the two scrimmages.
Blackman appeared to be the favorite for most of the fall considering the performances that Taylor Davis put up last year when he had the opportunity to play in place of Brian Reader. For that reason it’s fair to say that coaches had a pretty good idea of what Davis would be capable of and what his ceiling is going to be. Blackman on the other hand hasn’t started a game at the Division I-FBS level in his career, having transferred to Idaho from Old Dominion after a stint at Los Angeles Harbor College.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that coaches are intrigued with his physical stature, standing at 6-foot-5-inches and 255 pounds, with arm strength to match. The question will be his ability to be consistently accurate, mostly down the field, something that has been a little bit hot and cold for him during practices this fall.
Akey also cited Blackman’s preparation as a reason for his being named starter. During the summer Blackman would organize player only workouts, and his vocalness on the field is well documented.
Blackman should now only consistently work with the first team, while Logan Bushnell and Taylor Davis should get alternating looks with the second and third teams. More on that below.
One more quick note on Blackman being named the starter: It should be mentioned that because he is a left handed quarterback, his blind side would be protected by the right guard and right tackle. Those players would be senior A.J. Jones and junior Jordan Johnson. It’s interesting because those are the only upperclassmen on the offensive line. Left tackle Cody Elenz and left guard Dallas Sandberg are both redshirt freshman.
Now, on to scrimmage notes.
It’s hard for the Idaho defense to catch a break; Not on the field, but in the spotlight. The second scrimmage may have been the final hurdle for Blackman being named the starting quarterback, though the real story was the defense coming back with a dominant performance compared to scrimmage No. 1.
Since last Tuesday’s scrimmage, the first of the fall, the talk of Idaho football was the resurgence of the offense, which rolled out five different quarterbacks that eventually led touchdown drives against the defense.
Safe to say that didn’t sit well with the defensive unit, so they did something about it. The defense came out strong as they cut the number of touchdowns scored in last Saturday’s scrimmage by more than half compared to the first one.
Along with only giving up only 4.2 yards per play, passing and rushing, the defense racked up four turnovers, eight sacks and forced two 40+ yard field goal situations that Trey Farquhar missed.
Defensive coordinator Mark Criner cited the expansion of the defensive playbook from the start of fall camp as well as the return of three starters in CB Tracy Carter, S Thaad Thompson and MLB Su’a Tuala for the drastic turnaround.
“Those three players add to the speed of our defense,” he said. “We were able to do more different packages with our defense today. We didn’t have a whole lot in our playbook that first scrimmage, so the quarterbacks were able to get the ball out quicker with our corners playing off. With that in, we’re package and to the package.”
Coverage was tight during much of the scrimmage, with most completions coming on sideline routes or short up the middle. The defensive line, led by Maxx Forde who had three sacks on the day, was a regular inhabitant of the backfield, which is expected as the Vandals break in two freshman on the left side of the first team offensive line and try to figure out who fits in where on the second team.
Blackman’s performance Saturday was the nail in the coffin for him clinching the starting job.
He finished the day 9-14 passing for 167 yards and two touchdowns. His most impressive throw of the day came on a wheel route to runningback Todd Handley, placing it perfectly in Handley’s bread basket as he busted it down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown. He was also consistently getting more reps during most of the scrimmage than Taylor Davis.
At one point of the scrimmage supposed third stringer Logan Bushnell was taking as many snaps as the two players competing for the starting job. That’s not an indication of Bushnell competing for the starting job, but instead an indication of Bushnell competing for the back-up job. Bushnell actually finished the day with the most passing attempts.
Davis finished the day 3-6 passing with 80 yards and a 67-yard catch and go touchdown to Mike Scott. Davis didn’t seem to be getting much help from his offensive line, and one of his incomplete passes was a rough drop on a corner route on a well thrown ball by Davis.
– The rushing attack was stymied for the most part because of the penetration the defensive line was getting in to the back field. Ryan Bass sat out as he continues to sort through academic issues, coaches said. James Baker got the most carries with six, as expected. Justin Parkins touched the ball five times, Todd Handley rushed the ball three times and caught two passes, and Donovan Cunningham got three carries.
There is still not set rotation.
“Situational types, you put a guy in for this situation, put a guy in for that situation,” Jason Gesser said. “Runningbacks are just like quarterbackss, one hit and you’re down to that second guy. They all need to be ready to play.”
Baker had a nice moment when he bowled in to the endzone from two yards out for the touchdown. That kind of physical goal line running was absent for the Vandals last season. (Sorry, Homer Mauga, no linebacker goal line carries this year.)
– Another day, another wide receiver putting himself in the spotlight. Freshman Camryn Harris took a pass from Dominique Blackman 39-yards to the house by juking his defenders and taking off down the sideline. He finished with three receptions for 62 yards. Justin Veltung did not participate, still nursing that ankle injury. Mike Scott had a Mike Scott day, finishing with four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Projected starters Jahrie Level and Najee Lovett only had a reception each.
– The offensive line remained the same, with Cody Elenz and Dallas Sandberg manning the left side of the offensive line. It wasn’t pretty for them or the second team offensive line unit for much of the day. Akey remains confident in those guys and it appears that those are the guys we will see when the team takes the field against Eastern Washington. Just be ready for some growing pains with them.
Depth and experience is all that really needs to be said about this unit. It was a night and day performance for this defense compared to the first scrimmage. The defense also has a luxury that the offense does not, which is knowing exactly what their depth chart looks like. With the return of three defensive starters, Criner said he was able to open the playbook up more and that it is just a matter of refining what they do.
– The defensive line rotation was at times straight up dominant. Maxx Forde, Quayshawne Buckley, Jesse Davis and Vince Keener looked to be the starting unit. Benson Mayowa, who sat out of the scrimmage for academic reasons, looks to be in the picture as well. Sophomore defensive tackle Karel Kearney had two sacks on the day.
– The five man rotation at linebacker that Criner was talking about came to fruition Saturday. Su’a Tuala started at middle linebacker and finished with a tackle and a forced fumble, while Conrad Scheidt, Robert Siavii and Homer Mauga rotated among the outside linebacker spots. Randall James mostly got a spin with the second team at linebacker but will be in the first team conversation.
– Thaad Thompson and Tracy Carter made their 2012 fall debuts in the secondary and it appeared to make a huge difference. Rarely anything was completed deep down the field, which may have had as much to do with the defensive line pressure. Their play forced the quarterbacks to mostly look to the sideline and middle of the field short to complete passes.
The offense was able to have their moments against the secondary with yards after the catch, including Mike Scott’s score from Davis catching a slant up the middle and easily running it in for a 67-yard score. Pretty much the same thing with Harris’ 39-yard score and Handley’s 72-yard score. Tackling will be an area to watch during the third scrimmage.
S Trey Williams and CB Solomon Dixon played well in the absence of those two during practices, and against pass heavy teams like La. Tech will probably see the field quite a bit, so that secondary depth will be important.
Contrary to what one would expect, there weren’t many sunshine and rainbow moments for the special teams units. Kicker Trey Farquhar missed field goals from 41 and 47 yards out. Jahrie Level muffed a punt and instead of trying to jump on top of it, tried to pick it up which led to the punting team running it in for a touchdown instead.
The good is that the punt that led to the punt team touchdown was a 64-yard boot from Bobby Cowan. Eagle, Idaho product Jace Johnson also nailed a 50-yard field goal.
This Thursday at 2:30 at the Kibbie Dome. Last fall pre-season practice is on Saturday afternoon before game week begins for Eastern Washington