I was pleased to hear the news that Idaho picked up a victory on the road last weekend. It has been a long time since the Spuds had anything to be happy about. I know how hard their coaching staff and players have worked the past couple of years trying to rebuild the program. It was nice to see the Idaho staff and players get some opening night rewards for all that hard work.
Idaho returns a half-dozen starters on offense and seven starters on defense. Those core players will be key to having the Vandal program take another step forward.
The biggest positive for the Vandals is this is the third straight year they have run the same offense and defense and that hasn't happened since 1999. Coach Akey is hoping that the continuity will aid his team this season. He's also hoping that experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball will begin to pay off if he can fill some holes on the offensive line.
The Vandals return their three top rushers from last season. They should be able to count on their ground game to lead the offense. Deonte Jackson is the most versatile performer of the bunch and a former 1000 yard rusher. He has the ability to run inside and out, making him the featured back of the group. Jackson is a little banged up as we start the week. Princeton McCarty is the smaller, speedy back. On Saturday the Vandals picked up 171 yards on the ground led by McCarty who picked up 96 and Jackson who chipped in 48.
QB Nathan Enderle is a two year starter. He was 11-22 with one ugly interception included against the Aggies on Saturday. True freshman Taylor Davis who joined the program this fall took a few snaps at the end of the game.
The Vandals are rebuilding their offensve line.Tevita Halaholo is a junior college transfer who arrived over thewinter, giving the 6-foot-6, 360-pounder a chance to learn the offense this past spring. That should give him a chance to compete for playing time and a starting position. G Mike Iupati is finally healthy after missing the first third of last season with a shoulder injury. The senior has been drawing attention from NFL scouts and a clean bill of health should help Iupati have a strong senior season. T Bryce Sinclair, G Adam Juratovac, and C Irv Stevens return to fight for starting jobs. The most impressive lineman this past spring was T Matt Cleveland.
The biggest concern coming out of spring was the defensive line. Akey said he was concerned about its run-stopping ability and pressure on the quarterback. The Vandals defense ranked in the 100s nationally last year in run stopping and backfield pressure. The Vandals return defensive end Aaron Lavarias and defensive tackle Oga Faumui, but Faumui and tackle Fonomanu Sekona suffered knee injuries late in the spring and Akey didn't know if they'd be ready for fall camp.
On defense the Vandals must replace two starting linebackers who didn't return to the program. LB Korey Toomer arrived on campus this summer to claim one of the positions. With the Vandals losing two-thirds of their starting linebacking corps, the opportunity to play right away should be there for Toomer. He originally signed with Idaho two years ago, but spent the past two seasons at a junior college.
The secondary is another area that should be improved and a strength of the team. Team captain and FS Shiloh Keo returns from a shoulder injury, so he and SS Virdell Larkins give the backfield experience and leadership. Keo had an interception on Saturday. Cornerbacks Isaac Butts and Eric Hunter also return, as does nickel back Kenneth Patten. Idaho should be in good shape in the defensive backfield. The Vandals should improve on the 262.42 passing yards they gave up per game in 2008.
Lining up against Washington
The Vandals are improved but they are going to have plenty of problems matching up with Washington. The Huskies effectively controlled the LSU running game last weekend and should have little trouble doing the same this week with Idaho. That should force the Vandals to pass more than they want which will give the Husky defensive ends a field day in their offensive backfield. We didn't see a lot of our ends against LSU because they were occupied by a couple of All-American types. That won't be the case against Idaho. You may need to bring a calculator to the stadium to count the sacks.
With the game on the shoulders of Nathan Enderle the Huskies are going to have the opportunity to pick up quite a few turnovers. The Idaho offensive line shouldn't be able to stop our defensive line. Look for Coach Holt to open up the blitzing game tp pressure Enderle into mistakes.
Offensively Jake Locker will have plenty of time on Saturday to pick apart the Idaho defense once Washington establishes the running game. Idaho gave up 235 yards via the air to NMSU on Saturday. Look for our running backs to hammer away early in this one with a full five man rotation. With USC coming up the next week the goal in this one will be to put it away early, keep everyone fresh, avoid injuries, and get the depth some much needed playing time and experience.
Washington needs to avoid the trap of coming in over confident which shouldn't be too hard to avoid since we are in the midst of a 15 game losing streak. If our team can recreate the fire we had against LSU this coming weekend Idaho could be in big trouble early. I think the team should be able to accomplish that because the coaching staff won't allow anything else. Washington is very hungry to get that first "W and wipe away the stigma of a 15 game losing streak.
The goal in this one is simple. Come out, dominate, and put the game away by halftime to keep players fresh and healthy for next week. The second half becomes more of a clinic to get the youngsters in the depth some much needed seasoning.
They say a football team improves the most during the season between game one and three. Idaho is a great and most welcome building block positioned in between LSU and USC. That being said if you take the rebuilding Vandals lightly you can take an unwelcome and unpleasant step backwards.
Last nights practice
Washington practiced for an hour last night in helmets and shorts in the Dempsey. The focus is on keeping the team healthy and fresh as the season goes on. After playing a physical opponent like LSU the coaches wanted to stretch the players out and give the an extra day to heal.
Reserve LB Matt Houston could return as early as this week. He was practicing with the two's yesterday.
Victor Ayiewa is being given every chance to earn a starting spot opposite Nate Williams at safety. Ayiewa had a strong game last week against LSU after replacing Greg Walker who was partially to blame for two long LSU TD's.
Johnson and Aguilar seem to be Washington's top two receivers. Kearse is a player Sark wants to see on the field more even if that means playing the slot. DeAndre Goodwin who was Washington's leading receiver last season is off to a slow start.
Practices today, Wednesday, and Thursday will be open to the media, Tyee members, and invited guests.
Saturday's game will be telecast on FOXNW which means if you have the sports package on Direct Tv or Dish you should be able to watch it from anywhere in the country.
I will be in the stands for Saturday's game. We will have the game thread set up in advance for those who can't be at the stadium. Games we plan to attend so far look to be Idaho, and Notre Dame. We would also like to swing Arizona State if possible.