Idaho football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Vandals, best players and season prediction.
“I got news for ya, pal. They’re gonna nail us no matter what we do. So we might was well have a good time.” – Eric Stratton
You’ll have to forgive Idaho – and New Mexico State, too – for being tired of not having a home.
Unloved and unwanted after the WAC went away after the 2012 season, Idaho was an independent for a year before signing on with the Sun Belt. But because the conference doesn’t really need the Vandals anymore – and with an abysmal run over the last 16 college football seasons, there are two more years in the league before they get the boot.
On the plus side, Idaho is coming off its best season by far since going 6-7 in 2010, going 4-8 after winning just five games in the previous four seasons.
Throw in all the success and all the fun Boise State is having, and it’s been a rough run to be a die-hard Idaho fan.
But at least the team has been more fun under head coach Paul Petrino, doing what he can to create some semblance of production after so much woe and misery in Moscow.
The passing game was entertaining, the offense averaged over 30 points per game, and at the very least, the team was far more competitive. Flip around the overtime shootout loss to New Mexico State, and the 52-45 defeat at South Alabama, and this is a bowl team.
And now Idaho has a stick-it-to-the-man goal to shoot for. If it only has two more years of Sun Belt life, then why not go out with a bang?
QB Matt Linehan is back to bomb away with a good receiving corps. Nine starters are back on an offense that should be hitting its stride, and while defense has been optional at Idaho for years, there’s a chance to not be a total abomination with just enough experience returning and just enough depth to be okay at times.
What’s the best revenge Idaho can take on the Sun Belt? Win it, but that’s not going to happen, so just go bowling and have a fun ride.
What You Need To Know About The Idaho Offense
The Vandal attack got moving last season, finishing 44th in the nation and doing a great job of cranking up the passing game. QB Matt Linehan is back, but he missed all of spring ball with a foot injury to open the door for Jake Luton to fight for the gig. The receiving corps is strong with some new help to make up for the loss of Dezmon Epps, while there’s a good rotation of backs to try filling in for Elijhaa Penny and his 1,163 yards. Four starters return on the line that, coming off a decent year, should be a strength as the season goes on.
Biggest Key To The Idaho Offense
Will there be enough of a running game to control games a bit better? The Vandals already did a fine job of keeping time of possession in their favor, but third downs were a wee bit of an issue and the passing attack did most of the heavy lifting. Doing anything and everything to keep the defense off the field is a must, and that means the running game has to work despite the loss of 1,163-yard, ten touchdown back Elijhaa Penny. Aaron Duckworth will likely be the main option, but it should be a three-man rotation with Denzal Brantley and Isaiah Saunders getting their chances.
What You Need To Know About The Idaho Defense
Idaho always has issues on defense, and last year was no exception allowing 273 rushing yards per game and getting roasted for 40 points or more in eight of the 12 games. There’s work to do up front with two starters gone on the line and two more having to be replaced in the linebacking corps. The secondary has the most experience, but it needs help from a non-existent pass rush that has to find something among all the new options.
Biggest Key To The Idaho Defense
The secondary should be a positive. Run defense is the Vandals’ biggest issue, but if there’s a little bit of a pass rush the pass defense should shine. It already gets back safety Russell Siavii, and other veterans are there to play around with, but the big key is getting back Jayshawn Jordan, who missed almost all of last year with a leg injury. He’s a corner, but he might end up at safety, allowing corners Dorian Clark and Kendrick Trotter to move around where needed. All of a sudden, Idaho has a deep defensive backfield.
Idaho Will Be Far Better If …
The run defense can come up with a stop. Idaho has had problems for years against the run, but last year was at a whole other level of lousy giving up 3,279 yards and 39 touchdowns, allowing over six yards per pop. ULM was held to 57 yards, and that was the only good moment with the front seven getting destroyed in game after game. The Vandals were 3-0 when allowing under 200 rushing yards, 1-8 when allowing more, giving up two touchdowns or more in ten of the 12 games. Considering all the turnover up front, it’s going to be an issue to improve too much right away.
Best Idaho Offensive Player
QB Matt Linehan, Jr. – He’s coming off a massive year, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, and running for 234 yards and five touchdowns, but he’s still going to have to fight a bit for the starting job in fall camp. The 6-3, 214-pound Michigan native missed all of spring ball with a foot injury, opening the door up for Jake Luton to get plenty of work with a shot at least pushing for time. If and when Linehan is right, though, he should be one of the Sun Belt’s best players.
Best Idaho Defensive Player
LB Kaden Elliss, Soph. – There wasn’t much to get excited about up front for the Idaho defense, but Elliss was one of the few bright spots in his freshman season. Great in the open field, the weakside defender made his share of plays and grew into factor finishing second on the team with 83 stops while getting into the backfield from time to time. Built like a safety, he can move.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DT Glen Antoine, Sr. – Nothing really worked for the Idaho defensive front last season, so the loss of anchor – with the term being used loosely – Ryan Edwards isn’t all that big a deal. The 6-4, 325-pound Antoine is a former JUCO transfer from Texas who worked into the rotation a little bit last season, making 16 tackles and seeing a little time. With his size and experience, he’s got to help improve the run D.
The Idaho Season Will Be A Success If …
The Vandals win six games. It’s a tall, tall order, but Paul Petrino has been around just long enough to get the pieces he wants in place. Can they really be good enough to go bowling? Can Petrino get the team to beat Montana State, UNLV, Troy, ULM, New Mexico State, Texas State, South Alabama, and/or Georgia State? The hope is that they’ll be strong enough to win at least half of those, and then hope for the best with a few other key wins.
Sept. 1 vs. Montana State. The Bobcats aren’t that bad, and they’re going to give Idaho a battle in the 2016 opener. It’s a home game for Idaho before going off to Washington, Washington State and UNLV for three straight road games. There are only so many key chances to get wins to build up to six, and this Thursday night date is one of them.
2015 Idaho Fun Stats
– Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 135 – Idaho 64
– Penalties: Opponents 86 for 797 yards – Idaho 54 for 524 yards
– Rushing Yards: Opponents 3,279 – Idaho 1,766