A Homecoming game is exactly what the doctor ordered, for Vandal fans and players alike. After weeks of playing away from home, traveling through what seems like every time zone in the U.S.A., the brutal road trip comes to a halt this Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals have plenty to work on, most notably the running game and defense. And while the Aggies are improving, the Vandals should be able to work on all facets of their game. They are home, in the Dome, with a Homecoming crowd to please. This should be exactly what the football team needs to set things on the right path.
When the Vandals Have the Ball
The Vandals with the ball is a tale of two offenses. Their passing game is excellent. Their running game… not so much. Once again Nathan Enderle was excellent, throwing 24-of-50 for 365 yards and three touchdowns. Heck, even Brian Reader was on fire last weekend, going 8-of-10 and two touchdowns. The Vandals have a pretty solid stable of quarterbacks.
True sophomore wide receiver Justin Veltung had a breakout performance, hauling in six passes for 140 yards and a remarkable four touchdowns. Senior tightend Daniel Hardy recorded 7 catches for 114 yards with Eric Greenwood catching 103 yards off of four catches. Kama Bailey and Preston Davis caught three a-piece, while Armauni Johnson and Princeton McCarty each had one. Deonte Jackson led all Vandal ‘backs with seven receptions for 60 yards. Needless to say, the passing game is full of effective weapons and should have Vandal fans excited for the present and future air assault.
Then there is the running game. Deonte Jackson led all backs with 11 carries for 25 yards. Princeton McCarty had two carries for four yards, while redshirt sophomore Troy Vital got one touch for 11 yards. Not good. This does nothing for opening up an offense.
Bottom line, the offensive line is not getting it done. The initial push is not there. Couple this with its infamous rank as the nation's leader sacks yielded, and it's no wonder why the Vandals are have yet to string together two consecutive wins yet this year. With no running game, opposing defenses can pin their ears back and go for the sack, no matter how potent the passing attack is; and it is. Coming off their worst performance of the season, it's time for the offensive line to gel.
Equally perplexing is the frustrating lack of use when it comes to heralded ‘back Troy Vital. Vital's one run was for 11 yards, and it was a big, powerful, physical run. Granted, he's battling for playing time against a junior and senior with extensive experience, but Vital brings something the Vandals needed in last week's game. If the lack of a running game continues, the Vandals will be in for a long second half of the season.
When the Vandals Are on D
Yielding a whopping 683 yards of offense, the Vandal defense has little to find when it comes to positives from last Saturday's outing. They did cause four fumbles (which in most cases is enough to generate a victory), winning the turnover battle by a 4-1 margin. But that obviously wasn't enough to win the game for them. That is the one stat line that favors the Vandal D. Allowing a quarterback to throw for 422 yards and three touchdowns and rush for 34 yards and a touchdown is a bit tough to swallow. Add on a 179 yard rusher on the day, and it becomes very clear why the Vandals lost.
Fundamentals... Good hit position, staying in your lanes, and driving your feet are some of the fundamentals taught to any sound defense does week in and week out. Idaho didn't seem to do this last weekend. Wrapping up and tackling are other main ingredients to a good defense. The Vandals didn't do much of that either. So it looks like this week would be a good week to go back to the basics. The Vandals need to stop the run first and foremost. They can't give up 179 yards on the ground. The defensive line and linebackers need to follow assignments and close down the lanes. If they do this, then the rest of the defensive scheme works out.
Look for the leaders of this defense to bounce back and provide an inspired performance. Aaron Lavarias, Shiloh Keo, Joseph Dickson, and Jonah Sataraka should lead the charge, and they should collectively get Idaho's much more stout 2010 defense back on track. There is no way that group of men looks at last Saturday as anything but an abomination of who they strive to be as a defensive unit.
It's time or the Vandal defense to reinvent itself and stay true to their assignments, break down, wrap up, and gang tackle.
Scouting the Aggies
The New Mexico State Aggies are in the second year of Head Coach DeWayne Walker's regime. Junior College transfer Matt Christian will start at quarterback for the Aggies. Christian has a good arm and good football IQ and likes to spread the ball around. He won't kill you with his legs, but his arm makes up for that. His favorite targets include running back Kenny Turner and wideouts Marcus Allen, Taveon Rogers and Darrius Preston.
Rushing the ball for the Aggies is senior Seth Smith and sophomore Kenny Turner; a couple of 200 pounds runningbacks that possess speed, power and vision. It should give the Vandals a good test on stopping their ground game. Especially with the size and experience on the Aggies offensive line. The NMSU offense runs a lot of option read out of the shotgun. Odd, considering the limited mobility of Matt Christian, so really it's the run game that has the Aggies excited. Smith and Turner are getting things going, so it should be a good test for the Vandal D. Stop this run game, and the Vandals will success in all phases of its defense.
The Aggie defense has been bad. They run a 4-3 defense with a few blitz packages. The one bright spot is cornerback Davon House. House has excellent speed, good cover skills and can pick the ball. Outside of him, the Aggies defense has struggled. Defensive End Donte Savage has been solid, and if its any offensive line that can make a defensive end an All American over the weekend, it's the Vandals. But in reality, the Aggies defense hasn't stopped much. Their last two quarters of football were solid. They found success against Fresno State, which should give them a little confidence coming into the weekend.
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.) Solid offensive line play.It's Homecoming Vandals! It's time to head back to the Palouse! And there is nothing like using that scenic drive to do some soul searching. And let's face it, Vandal fans need a little soul searching with the unexpected early season losses, the online meltdowns, and the realization that this program is still in the midst of a turnaround.
2.) Run the ball on offense.
3.) Stop the run on defense.
4.) Play with passion! Both sides of the ball.
5.) Special Team Plays – Field Goals are not a given with Trey.
What Vandal fans need to do is take a long look at Deonte Jackson. Jackson has stuck to his commitment through thick and thin. Few players come with such integrity and toughness during the trials and tribulations he has been through as a Vandal. He has been everything from the featured back to a regulated blocker. He's shared carries, and even moved over when DeMaundray Woolridges emerged last season. He's been injured… he's been through coaching changes… he's been through everything a back can go through, but has never wavered on his commitment to his school, his coaches, or his teammates.
Vandal fans need to stick to their commitment. Next time you call for a coach's job, a player's playing time, or any sort of poor fan antics you choose to exercise, let one player remind you of what it means to be a Vandal. Jackson can teach all of us a little about patience and humility.
The success of last years' season has already (and oddly) spoiled Vandal fan. It's as if the growing pains of this program should just disappear because they made it to a bowl game and won. But it couldn't be further from the truth. This program is still growing, and what the coaches and players need is a fan base that shows them what Homecoming is all about; a fan base that shows they are committed to the Vandal football team. Take time this Homecoming to thank the coaches and players for their commitment to the program. Take time to thank them for turning the program around and giving us what all Vandals want; something to cheer about.