This Saturday’s football game marks the first meeting between the University of Idaho and Texas A&M when the Vandals travel to College Station, Texas to take on the 9th ranked Aggies. Unfortunately for Vandal fans the Aggies are in the national spotlight while Idaho is trying to find their identity. Last weekend’s victory was a tale of two teams. The Vandals came out flat on offense, plagued in the first half until they hit pay-dirt on the final drive just before halftime. And then, suddenly (or should we say, finally), the flood gates were opened. After falling behind 14-3, they scored 41 points, blowing North Dakota out of the Dome.
But A&M, of course, poses a much different challenge. The Aggies are coming off a bye week, most likely anxious to return to the field after defeating SMU 46-14 in their opener. Hopefully, the Vandals can take the momentum from last week’s game, put it together for four quarters, and play Texas A&M tough.
New Look Vandals?
Though the defense was stout throughout the game, it was the Vandal offense that finally found a rhythm as Brian Reader went 27-of-39 for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Brian Reader found eight different targets, with Mike Scott and Armauni Johnson each catching eight balls each. The other good news is that standout wide receiver Justin Veltung returned in limited action, and junior Marsel Posey came away with a good game including a 14-yard touchdown towards the back of the endzone. After the first half, the passing game was hitting on all cylinders, including a nice 28 yard touchdown strike to Mike LaGrone and some key catches from Taylor Elmo. Once the passing game got going, it allowed the running game to evolve.
Ryan Bass, Princeton McCarty, Kama Bailey and Troy Vital combined for 117 total yards on the day. Bass gained 57 yards and scored a touchdown on 11 carries, while McCarty was 10-for-46 yards. In a twist, McCarty and Bailey also caught some balls out of the backfield. Bass showed excellent speed and ability to bounce it outside, while, surprisingly, it was McCarty that ran tough between the tackles. The 5-foot-8, 192-pound senior showed power and agility on several plays. Plain and simple, he did not want to go down. Bass’ final run of the game was a nifty 18-yard touchdown he bounced outside -- Something Vandal fans have been waiting to see. The bottom line is this; if the entire offense can take what they learned in the North Dakota game and apply it to this game, the Vandals will compete with the Aggies. The success of the short passing game opened up the entire offense, and that’s when the Vandals were able to score.
Here is what the Vandal’s starting offensive front looks like for trench comparisons. From left to right it’s LT Matt Cleveland (6-4, 310), LG Sam Tupua (6-2, 334), C Mike Marboe (6-2, 303), if he’s healthy Jordan Johnson (6-5, 315) at RG, and RT Tyrone Novikoff (6-7, 314), with Taylor Elmo (6-4, 253) at tightend and Mike Lagrone (6-2, 256) at H-Back.
Stout Defense Needs to Stop Big Plays
The Vandal defense played a stellar four quarters of football, with the exception of one play; a 54-yard touchdown pass. But in the end, the Vandals held North Dakota to just 197 yards of total offense on the day. Middle linebacker and team captain Tre'Shawn Robinson led the defense with 8 tackles (4 unassisted) including a sack. The defensive front is getting pressure and sealing the running lanes, which is evident from the 29 yards of rushing they allowed. But they aren’t getting the sacks. Seniors Michael Cosgrove and Charles Smith need to lead by example and show their younger counterparts the ins-and-outs of defensive line pressure. The rotation of Andre Ferguson and Benson Mayowa at rush end, as well as the rotation of Maxx Forde with Smith is overdue for a sack. The pressure is there, now it just needs to generate that elusive sack.
The linebacker play has been a bright spot on the Vandal defense. Korey Toomer, Tre’Shawn Robinson and Conrad Scheidt have been flying to the ball and creating havoc on the field. Toomer recorded his first interception of the season against North Dakota, while Robinson and Scheidt seem to be the heavy hitters of the bunch. With a few exceptions, the same can be said for the defensive backfield. Safeties Quin Ashley and Gary Walker have been excellent on run support while cornerbacks Matthew Harvey and Aaron Grymes have been tight in coverage. With last week’s game being a blowout, there was ample opportunity for rotation, giving the backups valuable minutes. This will come in handy against a Texas A&M team which is sure to stretch the field and attack the Vandal defense relentlessly, so the two deeps should expect to see time on the field this week.
Here is what the Idaho’s starting defensive front looks like for trench comparisons. From left to right it’s Charles Smith (6-6, 272), Karel Kearney (6-2, 271), Michael Cosgrove (6-4.5, 297), and Benson Mayowa (6-3, 251).
Coach Mike Sherman returns 18 of 22 starters from last year’s 9-3 team. The Aggies return their starting quarterback, senior Ryan Tannehill (6-4,219). Jeff Fuller (6-4, 215) and Ryan Swope (6-0, 202) are the Aggies go-to receivers. Fuller is on pace to rewrite the record books at A&M, and both Swope and Fuller are superstars for A&M. The sure handed slot, Swope tallied 108 yards and touchdown in the opener, while the record breaking Fuller caught six passes for 52 yards.
If that isn’t enough to get the Vandals’ attention, senior runningback Cyrus Gray (5-10, 200) and junior runningback Christine Michael (5-11, 221) is as good as any runningback duo in the country. Both run the ball hard between the tackles. Couple that with the entire offensive line (though young) returning this fall, and it could be a long day for the Vandals. From left to right their offensive line reads – OT Luke Joeckel – So (6-6, 310), Brian Thomas- Jr (6-3, 303), Patrick Lewis – Jr (6-2, 303) Shep Klinke – So (6-7, 292), and Jake Matthews – So (6-5, 295). Tightends Nehemiah Hicks is 6-4 and weighs 248, while Hutson Prioleau is 6-4, 251. Prioleau hauled in a 32 yard TD pass in their opener.
On defense, the Aggies return nine starters. Cornerback Coryell Judie and senior defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie are two players the Vandals should have their eyes on.
A&M plays a 3-4 alignment, allowing the linebackers to roam and make plays. The front three is comprised of seniors Jonathan Mathis (6-2, 285), Eddie Brown (6-0, 295) and Jerod- Eddie (6-5, 300). Backup NT Kirby Ennis played well in the opener. At linebacker, replacing Von Miller and Michael Hodges won’t be easy. Enter Jonathan Stewart (6-4, 235) and Damontre Moore (6-4, 248). Both are athletically gifted, and have the size and speed to make it a long day for the Vandals. Moore plays the “Joker” position so he will shoot the gaps looking for sacks.
Probably the strongest unit of the Aggie D is the defensive backfield. This fast and physical group is lead by safeties Trent Hunter and Steven Campbell. Both had an interception in their opener, but the cornerbacks are also veterans with Terrence Frederick and Coryell Judie rounding out this stellar defensive backfield. This defense is filled with playmakers and ample depth.
The Vandals need to shore up a few things on special teams, especially the cover teams. Coryell Judie is one of the most explosive return men in college football, and Idaho hasn’t been doing such a great job on kickoff and punt coverage, with the notable exception of sophomore safety Trey Williams. Now is the time the Vandals need to shore things up on coverage, because this guy can flat out return kicks.
Idaho has the pieces to be successful on Special Teams, as junior punter Bobby Cowan continues to impress, and if junior place kicker Trey Farquhar is given time, he can nail a 50+ field goal.
Vandal fans are more than nervous about this game, and for good reason. A&M is no slouch. The Silver and Gold are traveling to College Station to play one of the best teams in the nation, in a storied environment known as “The 12th Man.”
But there are a few factors that bode well for the Vandals: Idaho is coming off a win in which they finally found an offense, and Texas A&M is coming off a bye. The Vandals could catch the Aggies flat, or just flat-out overlooking the Vandals. Stranger things have happened in college football.
Whatever the case may be, it’s that time, once again, for Vandals everywhere to strap on the silver and gold gear and cheer until the whistle blows. The Tribe from the North will be battling this Saturday in College Station, Texas.