After opening up the season against LSU the Huskies get a break when the Idaho Vandals visit town the following weekend. Idaho is in rebuilding mode under former WSU DC Robb Akey who begins his third season after a one year encore by Dennis Erickson. The Vandals are getting what they need under Akey and that is a little continuity which goes a long way in helping to rebuild a football program.
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. Princeton McCarty is the smaller, speedy back, while Troy Vital is the between-the-tackles bruiser capable of picking up the short yardage. Kama Bailey is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, while Corey White spent most of last season injured and he could push for more playing time.
QB Nathan Enderle, who is a two-year starter, is the only signal-caller in the program who has taken a snap at the Division I level. That's why the Vandals brought in a JC transfer Brian Reader this winter and signed a true freshman Taylor Davis who will join the program in the fall. Redshirt freshman Justin Morales is expected to compete with Reader for the backup job, and possibly the starting position if any are impressive enough to unseat Enderle.
Another key to Idaho success will be shoring up the offensive line. The biggest hole will be at center, where ironman Adam Korby has graduated. He had started every game over the past four seasons. The leading candidate to replace him is Irvin Stevens, who played some at the guard position last year.
Tevita Halaholo is a junior college transfer who arrived this winter, 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 will arrive 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. 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.
Idaho still isn't ready for prime time or even leaving the WAC basement this season. They are making strides in Moscow but it will take another couple strong recruting classes before they can begin to compete with the likes of Boise State, Hawaii, and Fresno State.
Idaho's location and small budget gives them a distinct disadvantage in this league that can only be overcome by a coaching staff that stays around five or more years. Robb Akey seems to be this guy and they are on track to win a few more games in 2009.
What we have here is the worst team from 2008 in the BCS playing the worst team from 2008 from the mid major conferences. Washington figures to be dramatically improved in 2009 and even in down years has the ability to put a team like Idaho away early even when they are on the upswing.
This game should be over in the first quarter for the one dimensional Vandals. Look for Washington to hang as many as 50 points on the WAC bottom feeders in the sandwich game between LSU and USC.
This game will be a big confidence builder for Washington because they will have a talent advantage at every single position excluding the kicking game. Depth is always a factor when a Pac 10 team plays a WAC opponent. This game will not be the exception.