Nothing like a quick round of bowling before boarding a flight and starting the WAC season in earnest, right? That’s what the Vandals did yesterday in Lewiston, after their flight to San Jose was delayed.
You can read more about the little side trip to a bowling alley — and the Vandals’ game at San Jose State below the link.
According to Jesse Baumgartner of the Lewiston Tribune, Robb Akey had his players hit an alley to kill some time before their 2 o’clock flight Friday afternoon. Supposedly, Akey told an employee at Orchard Lanes, “Hey we’re looking for a bowl bid, so let’s go bowling.” Pretty funny stuff, I thought. You can read more about that here in Jesse’s blog.
Now, onto the game …
We had a short blurb in this morning’s paper about the matchup. Here’s an extended preview I wrote as well:
Idaho at San Jose State
Kickoff: 5 p.m., at Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
Records: UI 4-1, 1-0; SJSU 1-3, 0-0
Call it a chance to finally get over the hump.
Sporting a three-game winning streak, the Idaho Vandals start the heart of the conference season against a team they’ve been competitive with – but haven’t beaten – since joining the WAC in 2005. In fact, the last time Idaho bested San Jose State was in 1998, which happens to be the last year UI played in a bowl.
The Vandals will almost surely snap the 11-year postseason drought with two more wins, and this evening’s game presents what looks to be a nice opportunity to get halfway there.
The Spartans have just one win, a 19-9 decision against lower-division Cal Poly. But they’ve played a murderous non-conference schedule. Their losses have come against USC, Stanford and Utah – three teams with a combined record of 11-3.
“San Jose State is a good football team that has a bad record right now,” UI coach Robb Akey said.
The Spartans are coming off a bye week and could return most of eight players who missed their narrow win over Cal Poly. Meanwhile, Idaho tight end Daniel Hardy (kidney) was out last week and is questionable for today.
He was in pads during practice but Akey said he wouldn’t know until late in the week if the talented target would be able to go.
Last week the Vandals showed they can operate just fine without Hardy. Nathan Enderle put up 333 passing yards – largely by focusing on wideouts Eric Greenwood and Max Komar.
“They’re getting tremendous play from their quarterback,” SJSU coach Dick Tomey said. “He’s grown tremendously in his (three) years as quarterback. He’s just continued to get better and better.”
The Vandals are 3 to 31/2-point underdogs in this one, which seems a bit off to me. Yes, they’re on the road against a team they haven’t beaten in 11 years. But if you look at what’s happened on the field through the first month, the Vandals are clearly the better team. Of course, there are other things that come into play — namely, scheduling and injuries. The Spartans have been hurt by both, and they should be much healthier and fresher coming off a bye week.
As Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman points out in a column today, the Vandals are 0-12 against SJSU, Hawaii and Nevada since joining the WAC. Those teams are their next three opponents, so this is a key stretch for how this season will unfold.
You can expect Dick Tomey to have San Jose State well prepared early in this game; Akey spoke this week of the different looks the Spartans will show offensively, and my bet is there will be a few new wrinkles that SJSU has worked on through the bye week. Judging by his comments to media this week, Tomey has been flowering Idaho with compliments every chance he gets. He clearly has his team on alert that this is a different UI club from previous years.
Here are a couple things to watch:
Look for the Spartans’ defense to play with an extra bit energy for defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, who lost three aunts and a cousin in the tsunami in American Samoa last week. Tomey spoke of the tragedy early in the week and you can bet Salave’a’s players will want to play well.
One key element for the Vandals will be their run defense. What has been a stout run D looked shaky during moments last week (Colorado State had 129 rushing yards and benefitted from poor tackling), and SJSU is a ground-focused offense with a young quarterback in Jordan La Secla, a first-year starter. Patrick Libey, Idaho’s co-special teams and secondary coach, told me this week that tackling in the secondary had been a strength … before last week. My guess is that it was a big emphasis during the week.