This week something has to give. Two teams will walk in to the Kibbie Dome in week four without losses, one will walk out with a win.
The opponent this week is the Wyoming Cowboys, who the Vandals see when they look at themselves in the mirror. Wyoming is the same 0-3 as Idaho and in almost identical fashion. Wyoming lost close to a MAC opponent in week two, lost to a BCS opponent in Texas in week one and fell to a Big Sky opponent in Cal Poly without their starting quarterback.
“I’ve never experienced this before, it’s all new ground to me. It’s not where I want to be, I know it’s not where Idaho wants to be. Both teams are very similar in a lot of way,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said.
With their backs against the wall before a conference game is even played, coach Robb Akey isn’t ready to concede the season yet.
“Is any football team in the country that hasn’t won a game yet have great confidence? I would doubt it,” he said. “Certainly that is my challenge as the coach, is to make sure the guys do see how the parts have come together.”
A win against Wyoming is critical if Idaho still harbors any dreams of making it back to a bowl game, since the schedule hardly gets any easier. Future dates on the road against North Carolina, La. Tech, BYU and Utah State mean the margin for error is close to zero.
Ground it out. The Cowboys are giving up 269 rushing yards per game over their first three contests. Idaho, on the other hand, has only rushed for 44 yards per game over their first three. Despite gaining only 39 yards as a team last week at LSU, the Vandals showed signs of life in the second half with a 14-yard run from Todd Handley (the first of his collegiate career) and a 21-yard rush from Ryan Bass.
The lack of running production wasn’t for lack of effort. The Vandals handed the ball off 24 times, compared to only 12 times the week before against Bowling Green.
“We’ve been focusing a lot more on it this week,” offensive coordinator Jason Gesser said. “That’s an attitude right there…..(That) we’re gonna hit you down the throat with the ball, our runningbacks have to have an attitude, our O-Line has to have an attitude…It’s not just one facet or one position, it’s the whole offense.”
Last week Handley carried the ball six times for 20 yards and is expected to have a bigger role in the offense this week. Handley is the best home run threat the Vandals have in the backfield and is ready for the opportunity this week.
“Whenever I get in I’ll go full speed, 100 percent and hopefully things will open up,” Handley said “We have to get rolling…what we’ve seen on film is that we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to get a run game going this week.”
Wyoming ranks in the top 20 in the country in pass defense, though that number is misleading. Cal Poly only threw the ball 13 times for 34 yards, because they also tallied over 300 yards of offense on the ground that week. The week before Toledo threw the ball for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. If there was ever a week for Idaho to have a balanced and effective offense with the starting quarterback, at home, this is going to be the week. Expect the Vandals to come out and try to establish methodical clock eating drives to gain momentum, and confidence, early.
Here is our game story on this week’s match-up from the print edition
Here is our story on the Ken McRoyal flag that the team will run out on to the field with every game
Here’s some practice reports from Troy Warzocha of the Lewiston Tribune
For the third week in a row we’ve been approached by an SBNation blog to do a Q and A. This week it’s Cowboy Altitude, the Wyoming blog.
VN: Give us the run down on the two kids that are taking over the QB position for Brett Smith? Seems like Kirkegaard struggled.
Cowboy Altitude: Brett Smith has practiced this week and there is a chance he could play this weekend. Still is likely that Colby Kirkegaard will get the start. Colby was 15 of 23 for 123 yards and one interception against Cal Poly. His arm is not as strong as the others but he has more experience then freshmen Jason Thompson. The goal is to try and keep Thompson’s redshirt intact this year if possible. The offense was really limited last week. Kirkegaard was really only allowed to throw screen passes and short dump passes. He’ll need to have some more freedom this week if the Cowboys want to move the ball. In the spring Kirkegaard took nearly all the snaps while Smith was recovering from offseason surgery, so he is familiar with the system.
VN: Even taking away the Texas game the defense is giving up close to 30 points per game. Was the defense supposed to be this poor or are you anticipating more from the stop unit against the Vandals?
VN: Some Wyoming people thought that this was going to be a good year to make some news in the Mountain West. Despite the OoC start, is that still the feeling?
Cowboy Altitude: Several Cowboy fans are ready to call the season a bust and fire the entire coaching staff. I think there is still plenty that this team can do this year. With just six more points the Cowboys could be sitting at 2-1 heading into this weekend. Injuries are up this year and luckily there is a bye week after the Vandal game. If this team can get healthier then then they can still make some noise in conference play. Losing to a FCS school for the first time ever was deflating. The team will need to bounce back this weekend.
VN: A big reason Idaho is getting snubbed from the MWC is its market. Laramie and the Palouse are pretty similar. What’s the perception from others in MWC country about what Wyoming brings to the conference?
Cowboy Altitude: Laramie is considered part of the Denver TV market which helps. Wyoming has long lasting and healthy rivalries with Colorado State and Air Force. The Front Range schools really value playing each other and don’t want to be separated. Wyoming has gone to two bowl games in three years, the basketball team won 21 games last year, a strong volleyball team and a nationally ranked wrestling program. The school has invested a lot into facility improvements for all the sports over the last five years. Leaving the WAC to help form the Mountain West certainly helped to give Wyoming a leg up. Cowboy fans certainly understand that their school may have been put in the same predicament as Idaho if history had been different. Right now the school is fairly close budget wise with the remaining Mountain West schools.
VN: What kind of traveling contingent are you anticipating to Moscow?
Cowboy Altitude: This is certainly a closer trip then the Texas game. With the 0-3 record it may have discouraged some Poke fans from making the trip and spending the extra cash. Wyoming has been recruiting the PNW heavily the last couple years. I’d expect for quite a few players families to be in the stands. I will be making the trip with my buddy. I’m excited to check out Moscow and see the game. We’re spending Friday night in Pullman, will be interesting to compare the two towns.
– Idaho has been shuffling up the offense line a bit, Akey said after practice Tuesday. The main change is AJ Jones getting looks at left guard. Akey said Kyle Salm is also in the conversation at right tackle.
– Wide receiver Jahrie Level suffered a rolled ankle in practice Tuesday, Akey said. Akey said he hopes to have Level available Saturday.
– Wyoming defensive coordinator is none other than Chris Tormey, the man responsible for the first Humanitarian Bowl banner hanging in the Kibbie Dome.
Where to watch
– Like with every Vandal home game, you can hear the radio call on KUOI 89.3 FM and online at kuoi.org. Madison McCord will take care of the play-by-play duties while Sean Kramer steps into the booth for the first time doing the color commentary. the Vandal Nation 4th and Downtown pre-game show starts at 1:30 p.m. with kickoff scheduled at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.