All the preseason talk, the speculation, the questions — they can finally be put to rest. The first Saturday of the season is here, and the Vandals aren’t looking at just a run-of-the-mill opener. No, this one holds some weight.
Read on for thoughts on Idaho’s matchup with New Mexico State.
As UI coach Robb Akey pointed out earlier in the week, tonight’s game is the season opener, conference opener and the road opener rolled into one. It’s important, and the Vandals have done everything to distances themselves from what happened last year in Tucson.
If the Vandals win, they’ll be on top of the WAC -- and above .500 for the first time since October 2006. For more on the matchup, check out the Idaho Statesman’s preview and a piece by the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Now, onto some thoughts about what to expect from the Vandals and Aggies:
- Judging by some of the early Week 1 action, don’t be surprised to see a good share of rustiness. Especially from the offenses. It’s been ugly so far (e.g. Boise State-Oregon, Oklahoma State-Georgia, etc.) from an offensive standpoint.
- Projecting how things are going to play out for the Vandals is of course hard, but a key barometer for how things are going to unfold will be the running game. If Idaho can’t find traction through the ground against an NMSU defense that was abysmal last year against the run, it might not be a pleasant opener. But I expect the trio of Deonte Jackson/Princeton McCarty/DeMaundray Woolridge to crank out yards, particularly behind the left side of the line. McCarty in particular has to be feeling good heading into this one after running for 160 yards in last year's win over the Aggies.
- This is the debut for DeWayne Walker at NMSU, and everyone in the program will certainly be jazzed. So the Vandals are going to have overcome the Aggies’ initial wave of energy.
- How will Idaho's Nathan Enderle start his third season under center? This is a critical question, and it will be interesting to see if what appears to have been a productive, positive offseason will rub off on the redshirt junior. Decision-making and the ability to be accurate down the field (deeper routes are a renewed emphasis this year) will be two things in particular to watch.
- Who will step up as a playmaker on defense? That was one glaring deficiency of last year’s club — outside of a few rare moments, no one stepped up defensively and created turnovers, sacks and other momentum-swinging plays. Prime candidates this year are Aaron Lavarias at defensive end, Shiloh Keo (back healthy at safety) and Jonah Sataraka on the interior of the D-line.
- I expect at least one UI newcomer (outside of the obvious choice: Woolridge) to make a substantial impact. Wideout Justin Veltung is going to get a chance as a reserve, but the defense is where the most true freshmen/JC transfers have looked good in the preseason. Aaron Grymes, Gary Walker and Matt Harvey should play a good amount at cornerback, and Conrad Scheidt and Korey Toomer are linebackers who could emerge.
That's it from me for now -- check back later as we analyze how things transpired in Week 1.