Welcome back to the hundreds, or thousands, of University of Idaho alumni making the trek back to the Palouse for the weekend. The weekend festivities will be plenty, though the one that we all specifically have our eyes on is of course the football game on Saturday.
Though, it may be safe to say that the football program saw better days while some of those alumni were in Moscow.
The Idaho football team that will greet the Homecoming crowd sit at an embarrassing 0-5. Getting blown out of the water in two money games, losing at home to an FCS school and relinquishing a fourth quarter lead to Wyoming to lose in overtime accentuate how the season has gone. Oh, yeah, there is that whole conference-less thing Idaho has going for it as well.
There is good news, however! That news comes in the form of Idaho’s opponent, the 1-4 New Mexico State Aggies, on a four game losing streak after winning their opener against Big Sky Sacramento State. They also are without a conference next season.
Both athletic departments have announced intentions to become FBS independents, scheduling contracts permitting. That includes the Vandals and Aggies playing a home-and-home in 2013. So, while this game may not be of particular importance to the WAC as a whole, it could mean something for these two programs with the mini-rivalry that will be brewing between them.
Call it the ‘Karl Benson legacy cup’. Because make no doubt about it, this underlying storyline will not go away.
Both Idaho coach Robb Akey and New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker have been adamant the adversity of the conference re-alignment madness hasn’t taken the focus away from the football field in 2012. The results on the field (1-9 combined between the two) might make it fair to ask whether or not that actually holds true. Either that, or the success of the WAC schools with conference invites next year is just a huge coincidence.
But, hey, it’s Homecoming. In the moment, a win is always something to be positive about, even if the ultimate effect of the win is small. The Idaho fan base has been beaten and dragged through the mud the last six months with the situation. Now, the Idaho football team gets to look in the mirror at a team eerily similar to them, getting a 60-minute gut-check to give their fans something to smile about, for at least one Saturday. But make no mistake about it, the Aggies of New Mexico State are doing the same thing.
Welcome home, Vandals.
What is there to say after a 66-0 loss?
Put on your training wheels, Vandals, because it’s back to the basics.
– Quarterback pressure…Cutting down big plays – Here’s a fun statistic. Idaho opponents are 5/5 in hitting at least one passing play for 20 or more yards against the Vandal pass defense. Idaho’s last two opponents did it over 10 times combined.
Meet Andrew Manley. New Mexico States’s rocket armed sophomore quarterback averaging 7.91 yards per pass attempt. The deep ball is something New Mexico State likes to do, though something the offense has struggled doing consistently due to issues in protection. The Vandal defense, on the other hand, has shown a good knack at getting in to the backfield and flushing the quarterback their last two home games.
The Vandals have shown an awful ability at making opposing quarterbacks eat Kibbie Dome turf, instead letting Kyle Padron and Brett Smith make play after play from outside the pocket. If Idaho pins its ears back and gets after Manley this just might be the game when the big plays are kept to a minimum.
– Take care of the football – Yes, this is how bad it has been for Idaho. We are resorting to the gross overuse of football success cliches. Though, sadly, this one applies greatly to the Vandals. Turnovers have done the Vandals in twice, in a big way.
At Bowling Green it was an ill-timed Dominique Blackman turnover that led way to a Bowling Green touchdown to put the Vandals down 21-6. Late in the fourth quarter, while driving to tie, WR Jahrie Level fumbled the drive away.
A fourth quarter turnover did Idaho in against Wyoming as well, when Blackman fumbled away an opportunity to put the Vandals up by two touchdowns. Instead, the Cowboys took three plays to tie the game up and eventually won because of it.
New Mexico State has only forced two turnovers during its four game losing streak, but did force Sacramento State in to three.
The Idaho offense has shown the ability to put together dominating, methodical drives. New Mexico State’s defense? They’ve shown the ability to get passed all over – Opponents average 8.47 yards per passing attempt.
It’s not like Idaho is any better defensively, the Vandals give up 9.30 yards per passing attempt and have only forced six turnovers.
The moral of this story? Flip a coin and take your pick. These teams have performed equally as poor in similar areas. Turnovers and big plays – Whichever team gets more will probably walk out of the Kibbie Dome with its first victory of 2012 over an FBS team.
This week we are welcomed by our real good friends over at Bleed Crimson, a great source for New Mexico State football news.
Vandal Nation — Four straight losses, including winnable games against New Mexico and UTSA, probably put a sour taste in Aggies fans’ mouths. It probably had some correlation with Aggie Memorial Stadium being pretty empty on Saturday.
It’s kind of a mirror image of what’s happening in Idaho. What’s the general perception of the program?
Bleed Crimson — Right now the general perception of the program is that this is just a really bad team.
Whether that’s a fair perception or not, it is what it is, and until the football team starts winning games, the perception will probably remain that way.
The truth of the matter is that the Aggies lost 17 starters off of last year’s team. You’d be hard pressed to find any mid-major team or even any BCS team in the country that could lose 17 starters and come out and play well, particularly the bottom 40 teams in the FBS.
VN — Is DeWayne Walker on the hot-seat to you?
BC — In a word? No. Not at all. In my mind right now the reason the Aggie football team is where it’s at right now is a lack of commitment from the university — and I’m talking strictly financial support.
The coordinator positions are underpaid, which is a big reason the Aggies have been unable to find a good defensive or offensive coordinator.
The Aggies had a very good offensive coordinator last year in Doug Martin, but BCS money lured him away (and we certainly don’t blame him for jumping at the opportunity).
The Aggies also only have one strength and conditioning coach for the entire football team, which as you know, strength and conditioning is a vital part of a football program’s success.
If you look at three of the teams in the WAC who sit atop the standings right now, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State, all three of those teams were just gawd-awful just a few years ago. In fact, the Aggies drubbed Utah State AND Louisiana Tech to end the 2006 season, winning 42-20 and 50-23 respectively.
What have those three schools gone out and done? They’ve supported their programs financially and in a big way. They’ve made or planned facility improvements, made financial commitments in terms of coaching salaries and it’s all paying off for them.
Those three teams are a combined 12-2 and just five points from being 14-0. If you want to have a successful football program, you can’t just say you’re committed to having a successful program — you have to go out and prove it by investing money in the program.
VN — Talk about Andrew Manley. Would it be off base to say he has a powerful arm, but struggles a bit with the cerebral facets of the game?
BC — I don’t know that it’s entirely fair to say that he struggles with the cerebral facets of the game, but it would be fair to say that Andrew Manley works his progressions in the opposite direction that most quarterbacks do, and that is he starts by looking deep and then works his way backward whereas most quarterbacks start by looking short to intermediate and then look deep.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that Manley is basically still a freshman in terms of playing time. He’s only started eight or nine games in his career, five of those coming this year.
Is he playing up to his potential? Probably not, but he’s not getting much help schematically (i.e. the play calling has been suspect this year save for a couple of good looking drives), he definitely is not getting any help from the run game, which is key for a drop back passer like Andrew and he’s also not getting any help from his offensive line, which at times this year has struggled to play five on four (five offensive linemen versus four rushing defensive linemen).
VN — Talk about New Mexico State’s struggles giving up the big plays. Idaho can relate.
BC — It starts with the defensive secondary. The Aggies lost all four starters from that group and no group has suffered more with a lack of experience.
The Aggie secondary can and has been exploited numerous times for wide open catches, big yardage gains and wide, wide, wide open touchdowns.
On top of that, there have been at least three or four more balls that have been thrown to wide-open receivers that would have been touchdowns, but the receivers have flat out dropped the pass. It hasn’t helped at all that the Aggies have been unable to apply much pressure on the quarterback. Their front seven, which was supposed to be the strength of the defense this year, just hasn’t performed up to par.
VN — These two teams are going to be very familiar with each other in the immediate future. Is there any sense of rivalry brewing with that fan base?
BC — Misery loves company right? I think if there hasn’t been a rivalry in the past, there certainly will be one in the near future, particularly with these two teams playing a home-and-home series next year.
In my mind, Idaho has always been a rival. I remember distinctly attending an Aggie home football game and seeing NMSU jump out to a 28-7 lead only to lose 35-31.
I also remember a home game in 2005, Hal Mumme’s first year, when the Aggies were battling for a win with Idaho. The game went to overtime, the Aggies appeared to have stopped the Vandals on a 2-point conversion only to have a flag thrown on the play (still a suspect call). The Vandals made good on the second chance and got the hell out of dodge. The Aggies and their fans were devastated and the team ended up winless on the season.
But I also remember rooting for Idaho when they made their first bowl appearance in ages a couple of years back, a bowl game that was by far the best and most entertaining of the bowl season. So yes, there’s a rivalry there but it’s not a blood feud, nor do I think it will ever be.
Here is our piece on the coaches feel of the conference storyline
Our game preview for the print edition
Bleed Crimson’s weekly interview with NMSU coach DeWayne Walker
Vandal homecoming speak-out
We gave you, the University of Idaho alumni, the opportunity to speak out on favorite memories, thoughts on the football program and favorite Vandal traditions.
watching Brian lindgren throw for 683 only to be benched going into sr year for Michael Harrington….. good times
— Sam Parry (@samparry) October 4, 2012
Being with Vandals who will be at the game regardless of score. Not just about FB, rather camaraderie, tradition, family.
— Nick Groff (@N_Groff) October 4, 2012
heading back for a coincidental wedding Moscow over Homecoming. The parade and bonfire is always great. #GoVandals
— Peter Soeth (@milehighsoapbox) October 5, 2012
I hope Moscow turns out in force for the parade and the game. These players need to find some hope cause it feels like everything is going against them.
– Aaron Cruse on Facebook (click for his full response)
I am still excited to see what our team can become. Dom Blackman is a legit QB and makes our team viable. Not ready to write of this season just yet.
– Dan Neuenfeld on Facebook
Complete household cleaning is needed! Spear on down need to go!
– Dave Bridges on Facebook
We are 0-5, that’s the state. We need to expedite the events center and get basketball out of the dome. The Big Sky may be our best option.
– Tom Bithell on Facebook
Kick-off is its usual time, 2 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome. Tune in to KUOI.org for the radio broadcast. The game will be televised on ESPN3.