Since Idaho began piling up wins in September and through October, the question started popping up: Is this the year the Vandals can perhaps topple Boise State? Well, we finally to get find out this afternoon. Kickoff at Bronco Stadium is at 12:30.
Click below for links, thoughts, keys to the game and even a weather forecast.
Sticking to our routine, we'll start with my blurb in today's Spokesman:
KICKOFF: 12:30 p.m. PST at Bronco Stadium, Boise
Records: Idaho 7-3, 4-2 WAC; BSU 9-0, 4-0
TV/Radio: ESPNU, KSKN 22/1080-AM
Overview: For all the talk about Idaho needing to get off to a solid start this week – something that hasn’t happened in a month – that’s precisely what the Vandals did last year against BSU. Nathan Enderle found Daniel Hardy for a wild 81-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, touching off a momentary burst of celebration at the Kibbie Dome. But Idaho crumbled from there in a 45-10 loss. More to the point this time, the Vandals would love to bottle up their solid second-half play of late and spread it throughout the game. In reference to the recent slow starts, UI defensive coordinator Mark Criner said: “I just want to beat my head in the cement. (I’m) going, ‘God, what can we do to get ourselves going?’ ” The early-game headaches have been widespread, affecting all three phases, and another poorly executed first quarter is likely to doom the Vandals against a BSU team that has posted 10 straight double-digit victories in this series. Not since a rousing 36-35 victory in 1998 has Idaho upended its in-state foe. UI is a 311/2-point underdog and might be without Enderle (shoulder) for the second straight week.
Here are some other perspectives from around the state. The Idaho Statesman has this piece on the personalities of Robb Akey and Chris Petersen, a column from Brian Murphy and this point-counterpoint. The Idaho Press-Tribune has this advance and the Lewiston Tribune chimes in here.
Before I get to the keys, obviously a big factor will be who starts at QB for Idaho. Knowing that Enderle took few to no snaps in practice through Wednesday and hearing QBs coach Jonathan Smith tell me twice that he expects Brian Reader to play well this weekend, my gut says Enderle is out again. But that's just a hunch.
If Reader does in fact start, the Vandals offense should be have a better chance at starting smoother than last week. In Reader's first start, the Vandals opened with five first-half punts in a row. But he was much more in sync after halftime, and I would expect that to carry over -- for the most part -- today.
Three keys for Idaho:
- Quiet the crowd early. As I talked about in the overview above, the Vandals landed the first blow last year -- and were actually within four points with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter -- before falling apart. Some sort of jolt for an Idaho team that has started so poorly the past few weeks is a must.
- Get the ground game rolling. Because UI has fallen behind early against Nevada, La. Tech and Fresno State, a usually sturdy running attack hasn't been emphasized as much. But the Vandals must try to control the clock and still rely on their M.O. -- big plays in the passing game. This will be a huge challenge, of course. BSU is No. 17 in the nation in rushing defense.
- Pressure Kellen Moore, at least a little. It's hard to get to the BSU quarterback because of Boise State's offensive line and the way Moore can sling quick passes to his very solid receivers. BSU has given up just five sacks all season, fourth-best in FBS football. But the Vandals need to disrupt the flow of BSU's offense. That assignment falls on Aaron Lavarias, Jonah Sataraka and perhaps blitzing linebackers.
Another thing to keep in mind will be how the weather affects the game. According to weather.com, the high is expected to be 37 with 10-20 mph winds. That's by far the chilliest game-day temps Idaho has played in all year. How will it affect the passing game? Will ball-control offense become more important? It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.
Check back later for postgame reaction. The S-R will be well represented with John Blanchette on hand.