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Football, hoops take center stage for UI

Lots to get to this morning. The Idaho basketball teams opened their schedules with an exhibition doubleheader sweep last night and the Vandal football squad faces a sizable test tonight vs. Fresno State. Keep reading for more.


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Though I didn’t cover the exhibition basketball games last night at Memorial Gym, I did get to see a fair bit of men’s resounding 87-61 win over St. Martin’s. Lots of impressive individual performances — but before I get to them, let’s start with football. … 

First, here’s my short piece for this morning’s S-R, which includes a bit on what sources says is a bruised rotator cuff for quarterback Nathan Enderle:

KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m., Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho

Records: FSU 5-3, 4-1 WAC; Idaho 7-2, 4-1

TV/Radio: ESPNU/1080-AM

Overview: Tonight in front of a national TV audience and what should be close to a sellout crowd, the Vandals will try to keep their unbeaten home record intact and remain in the race for what would be a stunning WAC championship. But they face a momentous roadblock in Fresno State – and they might have to do it without quarterback Nathan Enderle, who’s a game-time decision with a bruised rotator cuff. The Bulldogs, winners of four straight, come in ranked No. 5 in the nation in rushing (259.6 yards per game), with most of the damage having been done by dynamite tailback Ryan Mathews. The nation’s leader rusher has cranked out 1,316 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he’s far from the only weapon for FSU. “You can’t ignore those other parts,” said UI coach Robb Akey. “They’re a good football team. Their whole outfit is (good).” He was referring to two solid backup tailbacks (Robbie Rouse and Lonyae Miller) and quarterback Ryan Colburn, who is No. 24 nationally in passing efficiency. The Bulldogs have showcased their explosiveness on big stages, scoring 34 against Boise State and 31 at Wisconsin. That’s not good news for Idaho, which gave up a combined 74 points between the second half at Nevada and first half against Louisiana Tech last week.

  • For some morning links, here’s an advance in the Idaho Statesman and Lewiston Tribune and here’s a piece in the Fresno Bee that talks about how the Kibbie Dome has been transformed into the “Thunder Dome.”
  • The Vandals obviously have a huge task in front of them trying to slow down Mathews. But that’s not their only worry. Defensively, the Bulldogs are a step above every other WAC teams not named Boise State. That’s not to say they’re great on defense, but it’s clear Idaho can’t afford the same offensive lapses that it went through last week before waking up against Louisiana Tech.
  • Still, the onus on the Idaho D (specifically against the run) to be more like it was early in the year than the past few weeks. Akey pointed to the Northern Illinois game in particular as an example of solid, no-frills run defense. “There ended up being two runs the quarterback made that I was upset about those,” he said. “Really that was a guy sticking his face where it didn’t belong. The rest of the time, (the running game) got fitted up pretty well. That leads me to believe we can get our tails back where they belong.” Of course being in the right position isn’t the only challenge — Idaho’s tackling issues are also an issue when you against a dynamo like Mathews who can bruise and accelerate into the open field after shedding defenders. 

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Meanwhile, the Idaho men’s hoops team had no problems racing past St. Martin’s last night in front of a nice crowd at Memorial Gym. I was impressed by the turnout for a game that didn’t mean anything — clearly there’s some buzz about this after team after last year’s improvement. The women’s team also won handily, 61-43 over Eastern Oregon. Click here for more.

The biggest thing that sticks out to me about this year’s men’s club is the diverse array of options coach Don Verlin has at his disposal. Last year it was Mac Hopson, Kashif Watson, an occasional outburt from Trevor Morris or Terrence Simmons or Brandon Wiley — and that’s about it. The Vandals are going to be much deeper this year. Eight players last night put in at least five points, with transfer Steffan Johnson leading the way (14 points).

Johnson showcased a smooth jumper early on and seems to mesh on the court nicely with Hopson — even though both are similar players in some respects. I’ll have much more on that for my season preview that will run early next week in the Spokesman.

One perhaps under-the-radar addition to this club is the interior presence and rebounding of Kyle Barone, a 6-10 redshirt freshman. He pulled down nine boards last night and brings a nice, athletic edge to the post off the bench. Verlin has also been impressed the shooting of Jeff Ledbetter and the abilities of Luiz Toledo of Brazil. Toledo also sat out last year and didn’t do much last night after getting three early fouls. But as an athletic 6-8 forward, he’s going to be a factor this year, it seems.

Check back later for many more football and basketball notes and thoughts. Till then …


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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