Less than 24 hours now until the Idaho Vandals launch the 2010 season against FCS foe North Dakota. We’ve got lots for you after the link, including a preview of Thursday night’s game (6 p.m., Atlitude TV) and extra notes.
First, here’s our unedited preview:
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – It wasn’t until October last fall that the University of Idaho football team’s identity – potent, if slow-starting, on offense and vulnerable on defense – fully materialized.
What will the Vandals’ M.O. be this season? Quarterback Nathan Enderle isn’t sure, but he hopes it doesn’t take as long to find out.
“About midway through last year was when we started to click on all cylinders and put up some numbers,” the fourth-year starter said. “Hopefully we start with the first game and continue with that. Ramp it up a little bit earlier than last year, I guess.”
The first opportunity for Enderle and the Vandals to see how much of a carryover effect there will be from a terrific 2009 campaign comes tonight, when they host North Dakota at the Kibbie Dome.
Kickoff for the season opener – UI’s first time starting the season in Moscow since 1998 — is 6 p.m.
Like Enderle, UI coach Robb Akey is curious to figure out the personality of this year’s club, particularly in light of the late-game theatrics from last year. Four of the Vandals’ eight wins came after they trailed in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got some ideas, but we need to see how we’re going to act in adverse situations and respond to adversity,” Akey said.
Although Idaho returns the bulk of starters from last year, several key contributors graduated. That includes leading rusher De’Maundray Woolridge (980 yards, 18 rushing touchdowns) and top wideout Max Komar (1,052 receiving yards, 11 TDs).
The offensive line that was dominant at times a year ago has also been overhauled. Mike Iupati is on course to start for the San Francisco 49ers, and Adam Juratovac recently won a championship with the Spokane Shock.
Forced to find four new starters up front, UI now has one of the biggest O-lines in the country. Left tackle Matt Cleveland, the lone returner, is one of four starters who weigh at least 311 pounds.
“For what we do offensively, we’re a downhill running team, we’ve got to have bigger guys who can try to move the line of scrimmage,” offensive line coach Dan Finn said. “Protection-wise, we don’t do a ton of moving the pocket, things like that. So we’ve got to have guys who are stout enough to keep that pocket firm and kind of build your offensive line around what you do offensively.”
Left guard Sam Tupua came to UI from Palomar Junior College in California at 374 pounds. As of early this week, he had slimmed down to 339 pounds after sticking to a stringent weight-loss plan.
“Just smaller meal sizes and more salads,” Tupua explained. “I feel a lot better.”
Even with Tupua’s drop, the average weight of UI’s starting offensive linemen is 318 pounds – almost 50 pounds heavier than the Fighting Sioux’s three-man defensive front.
North Dakota, in its third season as an FCS school after being Division II, returns 14 starters from a club that went 6-5 year in 2009. In its lone FBS game last year, it lost to Texas Tech 38-13.
The Vandals’ final depth chart before the season is out, and the two-deep wide receiving corps looks a lot more familiar. Eric Greenwood and Maurice Shaw are the starters on the outside, and Preston Davis — cleared to play — is No. 1 at slot receiver. Armauni Johnson and Justin Veltung ard behind Greenwood and Shaw, respectively.
As for Davis’ recovery from offseason knee surgery, Enderle had some interesting things to say. Asked if it’s realistic to expect Davis to slowly ease into action the first couple games, the QB said, “You never know. Some people come off injuries differently. It affects some people mentally, and it doesn’t affect some people at all.”
Then he added: “His recovery has been exponential, really. No one can really believe that he’s recovered this fast, but he has and he’s strong.”
Now, more on the offensive line. Coach Dan Finn was very open about the five starters’ progression, which at times wasn’t as quick as he wanted. “I was never worried. I knew they would get. I think there were a couple times were we had to slow some things down for them and make things a little simpler for them. But we’re going to keep running what we’ve been running and doing what we’ve been doing. They’ve done a real nice job of adjusting and learning, and their learning curve has really accelerated this past couple weeks.”
Here’s Finn on starting right tackle Tyrone Novikoff: “Right now he’s going to be our right tackle and he’s got a chance to be a freakin’ really good player. I’m really excited about his future. We’ve got this year and next year. He’s come a long ways since playing 8-man football in Curlew, Wash.”
And more from Finn on the line’s size: “Tyrone and Sam (Tupua) and Tevita (Halaholo), those are 330- and 320-pound guys who can move real well. Their feet aren’t caught in concrete. Those guys can move. You watch Tyrone, he moves around as good as anybody, including Big Mike last year. Matt’s the same way — they’re big, but they can move.”
On North Dakota … The last and only time UI faced UND was 1954. Idaho won 45-0.
Akey mentioned the Fighting Sioux will throw various offensive looks at the Vandals, including a no-huddle offense and the Pistol. Last year, UND averaged 22.7 points per game and 311 yards of offense.