Well, the moment has arrived for Idaho football. New Mexico State, San Jose State and Hawaii were nice appetizers, but now we’re going to really find out if the Vandals can hang with one of the WAC’s top-shelf programs.
Keep reading for more on the WAC’s primo matchup of the week.
To start, here’s my blurb for the Spokesman:
Idaho at Nevada
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m., at Reno, Mackay Stadium
Records: Idaho 6-1, 3-3 WAC; Nevada 3-3, 2-0
Overview: This is the Vandals’ highest-stakes game in years – and it marks a dramatic step up in competition. Idaho is sitting atop the WAC standings, but it has beaten three conference foes with a combined record of 1-7 in league play. To stake a legitimate claim as a member of the WAC’s elite, the Vandals must pull off an upset as 15-point underdogs against a team they haven’t beaten since 1999. Nevada boasts the nation’s top rushing attack and rolled up 264 yards on the ground – while holding Idaho to 24 rushing yards – in last year’s 49-14 flattening of the Vandals. UI must account for elusive dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick and productive running backs Vai Taua and Luke Lipincott, both of whom have nearly 500 rushing yards. The Vandals will counter with the WAC’s stingiest rush defense, led by a defensive line that’s surpassed expectations. But outside of Washington’s Jake Locker, UI hasn’t faced a multidimensional rushing attack like UNR’s. “You’ve got a guy (Kaepernick) who can hurt you very badly with his feet, and he can hurt you throwing the ball also,” Idaho coach Robb Akey. “As part of their rushing offense, he certainly leads that up — he’s the one that you’ve got to pay attention to first.”
I made mention of the Vandals’ defense going against Nevada’s vaunted
rushing attack that’s averaging 292 yards per game. But another key is
going to be how the secondary of both teams holds up against two
capable quarterbacks. Kaepernick and Nathan Enderle are completing more
than 61 percent of their passes — and Kaepernick was particularly
accurate against UNLV and Louisian Tech (but not so much last week
against Utah State).
When the Vandals went up against Jake Locker at Washington, they held
the mobile QB to just 18 yards on six carries. But Locker was 17 of 25
in that game and sliced through UI’s secondary with ease. The goal
today for Idaho is to hold Kaepernick in check on the ground like they
didwith Locker — but also not to let him go wild through the air.
Another important factor today will be how Idaho’s defensive backfield and linebackers tackle in the open field. It’s been a big struggle — Hawai and Colorado State in particular got huge chunks of yardage after shaking free from Idaho defenders after making catches. Nevada has a very physical wideout in Brandon Wimberly, who could cause a few headaches. Wimberly, the Wolf Pack’s No. 1 receiver, has 433 recieving yards, four TDs and is averaging 16 yards a grab.
If the Vandals were to topple the Wolf Pack, it would be the biggest coup of Akey’s young coaching career. It would also give the Vandals a huge rush of momentum — not that they don’t already have lots — going into two straight home games against La Tech and Fresno State. In fact after today, Idaho finishes with three of four at the Kibbie Dome.