From North Dakota, in just its third year removed from the Division II ranks, to playing at Nebraska. Talk about a massive step up in competition for Idaho from last Thursday to Saturday, when it will be at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium to square off with the Cornhuskers.
We’ve got some thoughts on the matchup (the Vandals are 28.5-point underdogs), and some comments from NU coach Bo Pelini and Robb Akey.
Yes, this is a new year and the Vandals have an improved defense. But they struggled last year containing dual-threat quarterbacks — Colin Kaepernick of Nevada and Jake Locker of Washington in particular — and they’ll take on another one in Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. The redshirt freshman was electric in his debut last week against Western Kentucky, rushing for 127 yards on seven carries and passing for 136 yards.
“He’s a really explosive athlete,” Pelini said of Martinez. Later in Monday’s Big 12 teleconference he said, “I think he’s got tremendous upside. I thought he performed well. He’s a guy with a real steady, mature approach.”
The prime target when Martinez and NU’s other QB, Cody Green, drop back is Niles Paul, a wideout with lots of NFL upside. SI.com ranks Paul as the top senior receiver in the country. (Scouts also think highly of offensive lineman Marcel Jones.)
With either Martinez or Green, Akey said the Cornhuskers’ offense doesn’t vary too much. “I look at both those quarterbacks and those guys have a ton of talent.” Then he added: “They’re still running that Nebraska offense.”
As for Nathan Enderle, who returns to his home state, his success against an athletic, sizable NU defense will depend in large part on the Vandals’ offensive line. It gave up four first-half sacks against North Dakota, and on each occasion, the defender wasn’t touched by the O-line.
“With our offense, we’ve got to protect our quarterback better than we did in that opening ballgame,” Akey said. “… We didn’t take care of our quarterback well enough.”
Akey said most of the communication issues against UND were taken care at halftime and he expects them to be fixed against the Huskers.
Idaho fared well on the injury front after Week 1. A decision on Deonte Jackson (ankle) will be made later in the week, Akey said. He could have come back in against UND, according to Akey.