The second leg of the Idaho football team's three-game road trip that encompasses four weeks starts in just a few hours. The Vandals will take on Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference (11 a.m., SWX), and we've got a preview here and much more below.
For other stories on the game, check out this nice piece from the Kalamazoo Gazette on the Vandals' turnaround and the Idaho Statesman's look at Aaron Lavarias, who's the WAC's sack leader. Also, here's the Gazette's prediction on the game (UI 38, WMU 37).
Earlier in the week, Robb Akey was asked if this is a must-win game for the Vandals. After all, if they lose another road game against a solid MAC program in Western Michigan, they'll be 2-3 going into a bye week -- with another trip to Lousiana Tech coming up on Oct. 16 before their next home game (vs. New Mexico State). And after NMSU, their schedule starts to really get challenging.
So, is this a must-win?
"As a football coach, if you’re doing things the right way, I think you look at every week as a must-win," Akey said. "You must do things well every week, and that’s the nature of how everybody looks at us also."
Earlier in our conversation on Thursday, he said this, "It is (important), and at the same time it’s not any more important than last week’s game was or the next one will be. And I know people will say, 'Oh you damn coaches.' It’s the only game we get a chance to play. You can’t change anything that’s happened in the past. We can’t change the fact that we’re sitting at 2-2 right now. Well, we can have an impact on this week’s game."
If anything, the Vandals would like to taste some success on the road. They got flattened at Nebraska (a somewhat respectable showing at the No. 6 team in the nation) and were embarrassed by their performance at Colorado State last week.
Idaho has four more road games after this, but it is hard to see the club being favored (as it is today, by three points) if it loses this one.
But this game is also vital in terms of putting "smiles back on faces," as Akey said. "(A win) gets a new streak started. We have an opportunity to get a bye next week so we can get bodies feeling good again. When you can go into that with positive feelings, I don’t think, I know that carries over. Positive feelings always cover over."
So, here are some keys for Idaho:
- Get pressure on WMU's young but athletic quarterback Alex Carder -- and sustain that pressure throughout the game. Carder has proven to be mobile and fairly accurate (64%). And the Vandals' secondary is wounded after last week. But the Broncos are 111th in the nation in giving up sacks (3.33 per game, just ahead of Idaho, actually). In WMU's last game against Toledo, Carder attempted 64 passes for 403 yards -- but also four interceptions.
- Have success running the ball -- especially in short-yardage situations. The Vandals, without a bruiser like De'Maundray Woolridge, have struggled getting first downs or touchdowns on third-and-ones for goal-line situations. Said offensive coordinator Steve Axman, "We’re running the ball decently. It helps to loosen the ball up, especially when we’re throwing the ball decently. Where we’ve shown our colors a little bit is on the goal line and in third-and-short offense. We have not done a great job of being able to slam the ball in there for a yard or two. Sure, do we miss De’Maundray Woolridge? Yeah, he was a special kid. He was a 250-pound tank. We do not have that type of person this year. But at the same token, starting up front and being able to knock people off the ball and get a push and allow a back to get into an end zone. That’s the first thing Sunday night I had our staff evaluate. We watched every one of our short yardage and goal-line plays. What can we do to make this better? That’s certainly one of our main focuses as we go into the middle of the season."
- Win the special-teams battle. WMU has already blocked two kicks this season – but also has not attempted a field goal yet. UI place-kicker Trey Farquhar is 7 of 9 in field goals on the year.
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