Take a good look at that picture. That is Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant hauling down an interception in the endzone to seal a 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington for the Huskies at Husky Stadium last year. The interception put an end to a nightmarish development for the Huskies, who legitimately looked like they could lose to the Big Sky program in the 2011 season opener for both teams.
Make no mistake about it, the Eagles played well enough to win that game. They looked the part of a team that was capable of going in to an FBS stadium and winning, and in all likelihood it’s the mindset the team had.
So how aware of that are the Vandals as the Eagles prepare to make the drive down from Cheney?
“We’re very aware of it. I still remember sitting there and watching that game play out last year, thinkin ‘Boy, they have a chance to win that thing.’ They did a lot of good things in that ball game,” coach Robb Akey said.
“They’ve got our attention, they’ve had our attention from day one. We saw what they did, and they did it well.”
The Eagles aren’t the typical FCS opponent for Idaho. North Dakota, whom Idaho defeated soundly the last two seasons, were in the process of transitioning from Division II to Division I-AA. Idaho State, whom the Vandals beat in 2008, haven’t had a winning record in Big Sky play since 2003.
The Eagles are a perennial FCS playoff team that happened to win the National Championship at that level in 2010. Eastern missed the playoffs last season, though injuries played a large part. More on that later in the post.
A game like this is difficult to project because of the ambiguous talent differential that exists between what could be considered an upper tier Big Sky and FCS program and a mid-level WAC program. Eastern fans might expect to win this game as the better team. Idaho fans might expect to blow the Eagles out of the water. The reality most likely lies somewhere in the middle of that, with Idaho having an ever-so-slight advantage.
“Generally speaking, your starters at that level are capable of being starters at this level,” Akey said. “There’s different paths of how everybody ends up where they end up. We’ve got a lot knowledge of a lot of those kids because we saw them as we evaluated guys as we went through the recruiting process.”
Introduction to Better Know a Foe
Better Know a Foe was a preview segment introduced when this blog was first launched by The Argonaut in 2009. We’re bringing it back. It will feature a couple hundred words of an introduction storyline between Idaho and its opponent, then cut in key match-ups and players to watch and game notes, then to necessary links, and commentary from the opposing team’s writer-base.
If that sounds loaded, don’t worry. We’re open to all kinds of feedback from you so that we can make this blog the most enjoyable for you. So let us know. So, let’s get started.
Key match-ups, players to watch
Eastern Washington has receiving options for days. Three FCS All-Americans to be exact, three All-Americans that wreaked havoc last season with over 2,500 combined receiving yards. That number would have eclipsed 3,000 if Brandon Kaufman didn’t miss seven games due to injury, still, Greg Herd and Nicholas Edwards did their part with over 1,000 each. Quarterback Kyle Padron, an SMU transfer who has led the Conference-USA program to a bowl game and won it, will be able to get the ball to these weapons.
Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said on his Big Sky conference call that despite having all of those weapons he’d still like to have a balanced attack. Washington transfer DeMitrius Bronson will lead the running backs, with Quincy Forte seeing time as well. The two combined for 310 rushing yards last season.
For the Vandals defensively, getting stops will have to go further than the experienced secondary led by Aaron Grymes and Gary Walker, it will be on the front seven to pressure Padron and disrupt his timing. This will be week one of the sophomore Maxx Forde and junior Vince Keener defensive end experiment for Defensive Coordinator Mark Criner. The two are relatively inexperienced, combining for 21 tackles last season, but have manned the spots during the entirety of fall camp and scrimmages. Criner will count on a rotation at the spots, so redshirt freshman Quinton Bradley and sophomore Marius Burgsmueller will get a chance at Padron as well. Despite the inexperience of this defensive end group there won’t be a lot needed to improve on the pass rush from 2011 – The Vandals only ate up the quarterback 17 times in 2011.
If there is any time in the season to have to deal with Padron and those weapons, the Vandals have to be glad it’s game No. 1 as the chemistry may not completely be there yet for Padron and his receivers. Pressure from the Idaho defensive front would still be needed to drastically help a secondary that let 64-percent of passes get completed on it last season.
Offensively, it will be up to Idaho possessing the ball methodically, eating clock and keeping Eastern Washington’s offense off of the field. That’s what Idaho’s offense has been predicated on through fall practices, quick, short passes that gets the ball to receivers in space and allows them to make plays. Don’t look for much downfield.
Other game notes:
- Coach Akey said Sophomore Spencer Beale will start at right guard. Idaho will have four underclassmen on the line, including two redshirt freshman on the left side. Here is our depth chart from what we’ve observed in open practices.
- Rob Siavii won’t start, but he will most definitely play. The Vandals will make use of all four of their “starting” linebackers within the confines of the base 4-3 defense defensive coordinator Mark Criner runs. Siavii is one of the better coverage linebackers on the team.
- Offensive coordinator Jason Gesser will coach this game from the coaches booth, and will have autonomy over play-calling, Akey said.
First, is our report from Tuesday that Dominique Blackman will not start Thursday for unspecified reasons. We’ve reported all we know on the matter.
Here is our Argonaut game story from this Tuesday’s edition
The Spokesman-Review has this on the game, including some links from the paper on the Eastern point of view
More from the Lewiston Tribune on the Vandals’ Kibbie Dome opener
Josh Friesen of the Eastern Washington student newspaper ‘The Easterner’ joins us to give us his thoughts on the football program up there.
Vandal Nation: Despite the 6-5 record last season, this is still the same team that gave U-Dub a huge scare. How does that, and the disappointing season after that game, motivate this team for this game from what you’ve seen from their practice/interview demeanor?
Josh Friesen: Keep in mind this team won six of its last seven games while fighting a multitude of injuries. However, I don’t think coach Baldwin was content with finishing 6-5. There’s a lot of talent on the roster, and they want to prove themselves. I think they’re hungry for success and want to get back to the playoffs. They stumbled mightily last season and piled up four loses right out of the gate. I think the team is committed to starting the season strong so they don’t have to play with their backs against the wall again.
VN: Talk about Kyle Padron, how does he compare to his predecessor Bo Levi Mitchell?
Josh: I had the chance to talk with Kyle Padron shortly after his transfer to Eastern was official. He was very excited to come to Cheney and work with the team. He’s had time to adjust to the offense and learn the playbook. Padron and Bo Levi Mitchell are very similar. They are both transfers from SMU. Padron actually beat out Mitchell for the starting job at SMU, which is what led Mitchell to transfer to Eastern. Padron has the ability to continue the tradition of talent at the quarterback position for Eastern.
VN: What’s the mood around campus about this game? Are students and fans absolutely expecting victory considering Idaho has struggled as of late?
Josh: The students are excited. I think there is a buzz surrounding this game because of how last season went. The fans are looking forward to seeing their Eagles this year. I’m not sure if they’re expecting a sure victory. Even though the Vandals finished 2-10 last season, they’re still a talented team. Senior Ryan Bass is a heck of a back that can give Eastern’s defense fits. Dominique Blackman is a great quarterback who I think will surprise a lot of people. Head coach Robb Akey will definitely have his team ready, so it’s by no means a gimmie for Eastern. But the Eagles will be ready. Padron is excited to show off what he can do. He has Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd and Brandon Kaufman, three outstanding receivers, to sling the ball to. There will certainly be fireworks at the Kibbie Dome.
Best case/Worst case/Our prediction
Best case scenario: Idaho comes out aggressive and confident on defense. Defensive ends Maxx Forde and Vince Keener acquaint Kyle Padron with the Kibbie Dome turf quite often. Idaho gets a couple of turnovers to set up the Idaho offense with short fields. Idaho is able to sustain drives, kill clock and make Padron hold his helmet most of the afternoon. Idaho takes a close game in the third quarter and blows it open comfortably in the 4th quarter. Idaho wins 27-13
The Detroit Lions cut Kellen Moore, forcing him in to insurance sales.
Worst case scenario: Kyle Padron is dominant, his pocket is clean and comfortable all day long and he’s able to distribute the ball to his ridiculous plethora of weapons all day long. Idaho’s offense can’t stay on the field, getting one or two first downs on most drives. The young offensive line struggles. Despite a close game in the 4th quarter the demons of 2011 return and Idaho can’t close it out. Eastern wins 30-20
Boise State wrecks Michigan State on Saturday, jumping in to the top ten in all polls. Chris Peterson is Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Our prediction: Finish, finish, finish, Akey said he has told his team all fall. That will be critical tonight, since the Eagles could be well within striking distance in the fourth quarter. It’s well documented the extremes in which one possession games have gone for the Vandals under Akey, positively in 2009, negatively in 2011. This game will set the stage for how that can go for Idaho in 2012. Idaho wins a close one: 27-23
Oh, and we have Michigan State taking care of Boise. Don’t worry.
Kickoff will be 6 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome and we’ll be live blogging the action for you either here or on the twitter feed (@VandalNation). You can also listen to the radio broadcast on KUOI 89.3 FM or online at KUOI.org starting at 5:30 p.m. with the 4th and Downtown pre-game show. Please shoot us any questions you have about the game and we’ll try to answer them to the best of our ability.