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Vandals’ spring comes to close

The evening started with a video replay of former Idaho lineman Mike Iupati going 17th overall in the NFL draft. Before the 49ers plucked the left guard, the Vandals knew they were going to miss the All-American — along with three other departed seniors on the offensive line. But their absence was especially noticeable Friday in the Silver and Gold game.

Read on for my story from Moscow.


*****

By Josh Wright
Correspondent

MOSCOW, Idaho – Packaged neatly in a two-hour showcase Friday night, the Idaho football team gave some 3,000 fans a glimpse of what coaches had seen all spring.

True to form, the Vandals’ first-team offense produced few plays of consequence behind an inexperienced offensive line. The defense took another confident leap forward, and a lanky second-string receiver made a big splash – again.

Those were the dominant story lines as UI culminated its monthlong spring session with the Silver and Gold game at the Kibbie Dome.

The Vandals broke in four new starters on the O-line during the offseason camp, but nagging injuries prevented them from getting a true read on the new faces. Center/guard Sam Tupua (knee bruise) missed the final week while left guard Tevita Halaholo (hand) was out for the first week-plus.

The two upperclassmen figure prominently in Idaho’s plans for the fall.

“I think we found out almost as much as I would have liked,” coach Robb Akey said of the offensive line. “And I say ‘almost’ because Sam Tupua, he bruised his knee up so he didn’t get this week of preparation. I really wanted to find out more how we was going to look playing center.”

Tupua’s replacement on Friday, Clell Hasenbank, went down in the first half trying to clear a lane for tailback Deonte Jackson. Hasenbank, who was carted off and didn’t return, sustained a possible broken left ankle, Akey said.

The first unit, with third-string true freshman Mike Marboe at center for much of the evening, failed to score a touchdown until its fourth drive when Eric Greenwood vaulted for a TD catch in the corner of the end zone. But even that score came after punter Bobby Cowan’s shank gave the offense the ball at the defense’s 35.

“We’ve just got to execute,” quarterback Nathan Enderle said. “Catch balls and take what they give us. The first couple series we had a couple drops and we weren’t executing like we should. So obviously (the defense) is going to win those reps.”

Backup QB Brian Reader looked sharper than Enderle, largely because he was throwing to impressive newcomer Armauni Johnson. The 6-foot-4 junior from West Los Angeles College hauled in a nifty touchdown and finished with seven catches for 103 yards to cap a sparkling spring.

Johnson said it took time to get comfortable with the Vandals’ offense and operating at this level. By late in the 15-practice spring, though, the transfer had become a go-to threat on the outside.

“Everything’s a lot faster at this level than the junior college level,” Johnson said. “Guys are bigger, faster, stronger. I can’t just bully my way now. I have to work now, but it’s cool. I like it.”

Thanks to Johnson and a 17-of-19 passing effort from Reader with the second string, the Silver team prevailed 27-14.

The first-team defense gave up just one TD with Enderle on the field to end what’s been a spring full of progress. The Vandals lost only one starter from last year – safety Jeromy Jones – and seem to be benefiting from more competition for playing time in the linebacking corps and secondary compared to last year.

“I think we gained a lot of ground on defense this spring,” Akey said. “… You’re seeing a swagger in themselves in the way that they’re playing. So I’m very happy about that. And it’s on schedule too. This is the time where those guys, they’ve got some game experience. We’ve got some older guys on defense and we ought to be in that scenario where we’re performing better.”

NOTES — Before the scrimmage, Akey announced that Enderle will be the offensive captain while Jonah Sataraka and JoJo Dickson will be defensive captains. Shiloh Keo and Brandon Artz will fill the same role on special teams. … Also before any action, the Vandals showed an ESPN video replay of former guard Mike Iupati getting selected Thursday night by the San Francisco 49ers. Iupati was the 17th pick in the NFL draft.


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Jim Allen 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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Jim Meehan Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Josh Wright Josh Wright is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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Vince Grippi is the online producer for SportsLink, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

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