Preview 2017: Idaho Vandals
Previewing and looking ahead at the Idaho Vandals season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Idaho Offense
It wasn’t the high-powered passing game that cranked up huge numbers trying to make up for a disastrous defense – until the bowl game. However, the Vandals were good enough moving the ball through the air, and now they should be even stronger.
Matt Linehan is a veteran passer who knows what the coaching staff needs. Four of the top five leaving receivers might be done, but if spring ball was any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem – there are more than enough targets for Linehan to make shine.
Just two starters return up front to a group that was okay in pass protection, but only paved the way for 1,921 rushing yards and fewer than four yards per carry. However, all the top running backs return. Isaiah Saunders and Aaron Duckworth a good backs who just need a little room to move.
Biggest Key To The Idaho Offense
Can the passing game be more consistent? The Vandals were able to win when the air show wasn’t flying, but there were several rocky moments when the accuracy just wasn’t there. But when the big plays were coming, it was over, blowing past New Mexico State, Texas State, and in the bowl win over Colorado State, cranking out ten yards-plus per pass with four scoring throws against the Aggies and Rams.
And don’t … throw … picks. Going back to a win over Western Michigan in 2010, Idaho is 1-23 vs. FBS teams when giving up two interceptions or more. Last year’s win over South Alabama – throwing three picks – was the one aberration.
The run defense was far better and far stronger, especially in Sun Belt play.
What You Need To Know About The Idaho Defense
Always a rumor, Idaho never seemed able to do anything defensively to be even remotely passable. But last season, it improved just enough to be a positive at times. Key DT Tueni Lupeamanu and safety Jayshawn Jordan are gone, but enough defensive talent returns to be okay.
The line has to replace two starters around end Aikeem Coleman, while three starters are back in the linebacking corps. There isn’t a lot of size, but there’s good quickness and experience.
The secondary should be the problem early on, losing four starters, hoping for a slew of young talents and JUCO transfers to fill in the blanks.
Biggest Key To The Idaho Defense
Can the secondary show up? A disaster last season, the pass defense was a nightmare in shootout after shootout, allowing 300 yards or more six times and giving away more than eight yards per throw.
The key? The Vandals were able to make up for a slew of problems with picks, coming up with two or more in six of the last nine games. It’s not going to be a rock, but if the defensive backs can occasionally come up with a key stop here and there, that might be enough.
Idaho Will Be Far Better If …
The turnover margin continues to be great. The Vandals aren’t good enough to lose the turnover battle. In 2015, they were -6 on the year. In 2014, -11, -8 in 2013. -17 in 2012 and -7 in 2011. 2010 was the last time the Vandals finished the year on the plus side, until 2016.
Idaho was a whopping -11, with the defense making up for a slew of problems with 28 takeaways – 13 more than in 2015 – winning the margin week after week after starting the season -4 in the first three games. Now, Vandals, do it again.
Best Idaho Offensive Player
QB Matt Linehan, Sr. – It’s been a nice progression after being thrown to the wolves as a freshman. He threw for a ton of yards, but he also gave up 18 picks. Two years ago, he threw for 16 touchdowns, but he also gave up 11 interceptions. Yeah, there were ten picks last season, but he also threw for close to 3,200 yards and 19 scores, and best of all connected on 62% of his throws.
Now, recovering from an injury, he’s bigger, stronger, and now the 6-3, 239-pounder should be in total command of the offense. It’s asking for too much to be as hot as he was in the bowl win over Colorado State – throwing for 381 yards and four scores – but he’ll have moments like that. With a slew of new receivers to deal with, he’ll have to make everyone around him better.
2. OT Jordan Rose, Sr.
3. OG Noah Johnson, Soph.
4. RB Isaiah Saunders, Jr.
5. RB Aaron Duckworth, Sr.
Best Idaho Defensive Player
DE Aikeem Coleman, Sr. – The team’s best pass rusher, Coleman cranked up eight sacks with 11 tackles for loss, to go along with 41 tackles. The 6-3, 275-pound JUCO transfer out of Mississippi was exactly what the team needed up front, stepping up when the team needed him the most in the middle of the Sun Belt season.
He’s a strong presence who’s always working to get behind the line. As the lone returning starter, he has to now be even better with everyone focusing on him even more.
2. LB Tony Lashley, Jr.
3. LB Kaden Elliss, Jr.
4. LB Ed Hall, Jr.
5. LB/S Ty Graham, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
PK/P Cade Coffey, RFr. – How do you replace the best all-around kicker in college football? Austin Rehkow hit 26-of-29 field goals and averaged close to 42 yards per kick – he was truly special. Coffey has a big leg, but can he possibly be anywhere close to as reliable as Rehkow? No, but the kicking game can’t be a problem. He’ll get a shot at the starting punter job, too, but former Washington State Cougar Zach Charme will step in to fight for the punting gig.
The Idaho Season Will Be A Success If …
The Vandals close out with a bowl. Okay, Sun Belt, you want to boot us out? No problem. Big Sky, you’re getting a two-time FBS bowl team. It’ll hardly be a breeze – but beat Sacramento State, ULM, Coastal Carolina, New Mexico State and Georgia State, and there’s the base. Come up with a few shockers in shootouts, and it’s back to the post-season world.
Key Game To The Idaho Season
Oct. 7 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – The Vandals might not be quite strong enough to get into the Sun Belt championship hunt, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make a bit of a push.
With the league’s two biggest stars going into the season – Appalachian State and Troy – coming up over the soon after, there can’t be a misfire against the Ragin’ Cajuns in Moscow. Idaho’s 23-13 win over ULL was one of the keys to last season, sparking a five-game winning streak to close things out.
2016 Idaho Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Opponents 20 (lost 11) – Idaho 13 (lost 6)
– Time of Possession: Idaho, 32:06 – Opponents 27:54
– Punting Average: Idaho 40.91 yards – Opponents 37.45 yards