The last time The Tribe from the North was on the gridiron, they were in the midst of a stingy, pesky Western Michigan football team. But as the game wore on, the Vandals distanced themselves and came out the victor enroute to a 33-13 road win. The game was frustrating for fans at times, but in the end the tale of the tape revealed a Vandal team that took some time to get going, but became dominant in the end. The Vandal defense re-emerged with an excellent showing, while the offense continues to deal with highs and lows throughout the course of a game.
When the Vandals Have the Ball
Nathan Enderle's last performance was a head scratching endeavor. The senior quarterback threw for a whopping 380 yards and three touchdowns, but mixed in some interceptions that could have been costly. In the end, if Idaho's star quarterback is anything, he is mentally tough and his touchdown strikes to Justin Veltung and Kama Bailey made up for his early inconsistencies. Once again, Daniel Hardy and Eric Greenwood provided his got-to targets, catching six balls a piece with 77 and 82 yard performances, respectively. The most impressive play of the game was a key six-yard touchdown toss to redshirt freshman Taylor Elmo on 4th and goal. Elmo laid out and grabbed a ball that looked like it was out of his reach; a sign of good things to come from the big (6-4, 248), young tightend.
The running game was without Princeton McCarty. That left Deonte Jackson carrying the load, and Jackson filled in with a 50 yard performance against a tough Bronco defense. Jackson was also robbed of his best play of the day, a 40 yard slashing scamper, because of a holding penalty. In that one play, Jackson showcased his shifty moves, power and vision. Equally importantly, Vandal fans got more good news on the running game as heralded redshirt sophomore tailback Troy Vital played a larger role in the game plan. Vital was powerful and punishing, and he moved the pile on obvious running plays.
This was the Troy Vital Vandal fans have been waiting to see.
RS freshman offensive lineman Jordan Johnson made his second start of the season, this time filling in for injured left guard Sam Tupua. Johnson has been impressive in his games, but the starters are all back this week…which could be a good thing or a bad thing. All kidding aside, the offensive line continues to struggle with pass protection and getting a good push on running plays, so once again Vandal fans will be anxious to see how the offensive line plays this Saturday. Enderle's internal clock has been a tad slow, which means the offensive line will have to hold their blocks longer, giving him the time he needs to throw. Still a work in progress, the offensive line really needs to show it can keep Enderle on his feet, and pave the way for Idaho to keep marching down the field.
When the Vandals Are on D
Once again the Vandal defense showed signs of being great. The Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week again went to a Vandal defender after the WMU game, this time honoring junior weakside linebacker Robert Siavii and his nine tackle day. Siavii's speed and experience are paying dividends for Idaho, as he's reading the field better than ever and has never been one to shy away from contact. The Vandals knew this when he committed, as Savaii was the defensive player of the year for the state of Hawaii his senior year of high school. His only knock was size, and it seems those days are well behind him. In the process of rebuilding the Vandal football program, Siavii played immediately. Not ideal, but he has taken the experience and has turned the hard knocks into a positive, turning into one of the better linebackers in the WAC.
The usual suspects continue to play well for the Vandals on D; Team Captain Jonah Sataraka and big junior Michael Cosgrove are turning into a couple of clogs in the interior, while Aaron Lavarias provides pressure every play at end. Joseph Dickson, Homer Mauga and Siavii are solid in their linebacker play, but they are also backed by the play making ability of Treshawn Robinson. Every time Robinson steps on the field, big things happen. Of course, senior safety Shiloh Keo was right behind him with seven tackles on the day. Keo had more than one chance at an interception but couldn't quite come up with the ball.
The Vandal defense still suffers from lapses within a game. They have proven they can stop anyone, but they still make mental mistakes that can change a three-and-out into a long touchdown drive. They will be tasked to stop the run first this Saturday with a good sized line in front of them. So that is mission number one. Mission two is stopping the short passing game. There isn't much of a chance for too many long balls, but La Tech does have players that can break tackles and take it the distance. So cornerbacks Aaron Grymes, Isaac Butts, and Kenneth Patten will have their hands full on short routes intended to bust it long. Sure tackling will be a key ingredient this Saturday.
Scouting the Bulldogs
LA Tech is in its first year with head coach Sonny Dykes. With a new coach comes new systems, and this is no exception. So far this season, three quarterbacks have played for the Bulldogs with Ross Jenkins grabbing the starting position as of last week. That's the same Ross Jenkins that came out on fire against the Vandals last year. Jenkins is a good athlete with a good arm. He spreads the ball around and is very effective in the short passing game. This bodes well for an offense that, at times, will have four-receiver sets. His favorite targets are Tim Molton, Richie Casey, Jacarri Jackson and Taulib Ikharo. Molton is a dynamic player, showing he can run the ball as well as catch it. They'll try and get the ball into his hands as many ways as possible.
The strength of the Bulldog offense though appears to be is its running game. Or at least it was last week as the Bulldogs throttled Utah State. With Daniel Porter gone, Myke Compton and Lennon Creer have taken over runningback duties. At 6-1, 215-pounds, Creer is a good sized back with a physical style of running. Compton is more of a bowling ball type back with very soft hands. He will catch balls out of the backfield this Saturday. You add in a very big and experienced offensive line, and you can see why they've had success running the ball. The La Tech offensive line averages around 6-3, 315 pounds and has plenty of experience. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs run a 4-3 defense, and boast a handful of returning starters. Of note, defensive end Matt Broha has been a sack monster, and should keep the Vandals offensive line very busy. But he's not their only productive end. On the other side, IK Enemkpali is becoming a force in his own right. Given the current situation, the Vandals should have their hands full.
At linebacker, Adrien Cole leads a young but experienced and physical group. Cole is 5-11, 250-pounds while his counterparts, Jay Dudley and Dusty Rust, are both 6-3, 225 pounds. All are juniors, all have experience, and all have size. In the defensive backfield there is a youth movement mixed in with senior leadership. Sophomores Javontay Crowe and Chad Boyd are manning the safety positions, while the cornerbacks are seniors Josh Victorian and Olajuwon Paige. Crowe has a nose for the ball and has been playing well this season. The cornerbacks are some of the best the Vandals will face this season.
What the Vandals Need To Do
In order for the Vandals to win, they will need to do a few key things in this football game.
1.) Come out and hit somebody on the first play. Establish physical play.The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are always a big, physical team. They are always loaded with talent. What they needed in the past was better coaching, and now they've got it. This will not be an easy road test for Idaho, but the Vandals have just come off a BYE week with two weeks to prepare, so this really should counter any advantage the Bulldogs have… for the most part.
2.) Protect Nathan Enderle. The defensive ends are good.
3.) Play with passion! The Vandal O has lacked that in the last 2 games.
4.) Special Team Plays – Justin Hernandez's td was huge.
5.) Stay hydrated – the southern humidity is very different.
This game is so much more than a conference opener for Idaho. It's a statement game. Idaho needs to string two wins together. They need to show the rest of the WAC that the Vandals come to play. And they need to start paving their way to the WAC championship.
Vandal fans have to feel pretty good going into this weekend with Coach Akey at the helm. Yes, there might be a little doubt from the fans, but Akey will have his team ready for play. There will be no doubt among the young men wearing the Silver and Gold in Ruston come Saturday afternoon. This team, the team that turned it around last year, has more to accomplish.
So put on your best Vandal gear and run to Ruston, turn on your televisions, and tune in your radios. Akey isn't done… and neither are the Vandals!