Earlier this week, we talked with Anthony Messenger (@antmess4), football writer for the SBN blog Underdog Dynasty regarding the Idaho football team.
Here's what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: What is Underdog Dynasty? It’s not the traditional SB Nation Blog that covers one team.
Anthony: Underdog Dynasty is an SBnation site dedicated to a group of 5 conferences including the AAC, C-USA, Sun Belt, and Independent.
UWDP: After the 2017 season, Idaho will be returning to the Big Sky after just four seasons in the Sun Belt. What is happening in the program and will this be a good thing going forward? When was Idaho last in the Big Sky?
Anthony: The last time Idaho called the Big Sky home was in 1995. I think the move back to the Big Sky will be a good thing for the Vandals program. Moving down into the FCS level should allow them to revamp their program. Head coach Paul Petrino has the Vandals headed in the right direction coming into his fourth season. In his first two seasons Idaho finished with just 2 wins combined, however last year the Vandals finished 4-8 and were a much more competitive team. The move to the FCS should allow Idaho to be more competitive, which should help rebuild their fan base.
UWDP: Is there pressure on Coach Petrino to continue to improve this season? After going 2-21 in his first two seasons, the Vandals were 4-8 last year. Are they expected to take the next step to bowl eligibility in 2016?
Anthony: I wouldn't say there's a lot of pressure on Paul Petrino. Does the fan base want to win? Yes, but, the expectations in a place like Idaho are more realistic than say, Texas. The Vandals believe Petrino is the right guy for the job which is why they extended his contract through 2020. The Vandals are expected to make it to a bowl game this season. After going 4-8 last season Idaho showed it can score the football, their biggest issue was on defense, they allowed 42.1 ppg last season. Any improvement on defense and I think they'll be going bowling.
UWDP: Three year starter Matt Linehan is an experienced quarterback who is pre-season all conference. What does he bring from a talent standpoint?
Anthony: Matt Linehan is quietly one of the more talented players in the Sun Belt. Standing 6'3 185 pounds, Linehan has a strong arm and deceptive athleticism. Coming into his 3rd year as a starter, Linehan has thrown for 5,526 yards and 27 touchdowns.
UWDP: Seven other starters return on offense for a Vandals team that averaged over 30 points per game in 2015, yet Idaho only managed 20 against Montana State. After a 17 point first quarter, what happened on offense the rest of the game?
Anthony: As we all know, the first game is usually the sloppiest from an execution standpoint. Linehan was 8-22, which is out of character for him. However, the Vandals showed their ability to run the ball with 225 yards on the ground against the Bobcats. I think first game jitters and off-season rust threw off the offensive timing.
UWDP: Idaho was 9th in the Sun Belt last season in points allowed. How does the defense look this season with 6 returning starters?
Anthony: As of right now, the defense looks improved from a season ago. Their speed to the ball looks better, however, I would caution against getting your hopes up too fast, it was an FCS opponent.
UWDP: Tell us about the Idaho special teams. Any dangerous return men? Any problems in coverage or snapping? Punter Austin Rehkow is on national watch lists (Ray Guy & Lou Groza). Is he punter and placekicker?
Anthony: Austin Rehkow is one of the best kickers in the entire country. Rehkow is one of only two kickers to be on both the Ray Guy and Lou Groza watch list. He is in fact the team's kicker and punter which is not common anymore. The Vandals were lackluster on special teams last season, ranking 127th in the country in punt return yards at 1.67 yards per return and 118th in kickoff return yards at 17.76 yards per return. At this point in the season Idaho doesn't look much different from last year. The last time the Vandals scored any form of return touchdown was in 2012.
UWDP: How do Idaho fans feel about UW? I know they hate WSU, but by the transitive property, do they prefer UW because the Cougs hate UW so much?
Anthony: I would say Idaho fans are civil with UW fans, because they share a common enemy in Washington State. I'm sure you are familiar with the phrase "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
UWDP: Truth! Thanks, Anthony.