What has the Idaho football team learned about itself after two weeks? Hard to say. The Vandals are 1-1 after thrashing North Dakota and faltering at Nebraska. The first opponent was vastly inferior to UI; the second was a top-10 team. But Saturday night vs. UNLV, aside from being the last home game in more than a month, should be telling.
We’ve got more after the link, including an early look at our story for tomorrow’s paper.
Let’s start with the UI-focused notebook. Check out below for some thoughts from practice.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho offensive coordinator Steve Axman is a self-described worrier, even over fine details. So of course he spent the past few days stressing about the Vandals’ error-filled passing game at Nebraska.
It wasn’t just that quarterback Nate Enderle threw five interceptions, or that Idaho’s receivers were overwhelmed by the Cornhuskers’ polished secondary. Axman was bothered by more than that.
“As I told our players, ‘You know, if you’re executing well and getting beat, that’s one thing. But if you’re not executing well and getting beat, then that means a lot of it is on us,’” Axman said. “We’ve got to make some improvement there quickly.”
After the Vandals’ 38-17 loss at NU, another worrisome development emerged: The club’s newfound depth at receiver – once a clear strength – is quickly deteriorating. Slot receiver Marcel Posey was lost for the year Saturday with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the Vandals were without three other wideouts during parts of the second half in Lincoln.
Barring setbacks, Preston Davis, who’s recovering from an ACL tear, and Justin Veltung are scheduled to play Saturday night versus UNLV at the Kibbie Dome (7:30, ESPNU). Maurice Shaw also missed time last week but is expected back.
“We have four guys who are out right now, so you’re going to see with all those injuries that other guys are going to have to step it up,” said Davis, held out of the second half of UI’s first two games to rest his left knee. “You’re going to see different receivers out there than you are used to seeing.”
Running back/returner Kama Bailey, among others, should log more time at slot receiver with Posey out for the season. The junior from Hawaii has proven to be valuable because of his speed and ability to hop between multiple positions.
Axman said Bailey has picked up slot-receiving duties so quickly that he now “looks very natural at the slot spot.”
In practice this week, the Vandals (1-1) also experimented with Landon Weaver, true freshman Mitchell Crockrum and John Roberson with the first two offensive units. All three have little or no experience, a sharp contrast to last year when Enderle leaned on senior Max Komar and others to make difficult catches.
Last week coach Robb Akey was particularly disturbed with the receivers’ lack of aggressiveness in going after balls in the air. At least two of Enderle’s interceptions, he said, were not solely the quarterback’s fault.
“I’m on the receivers to be more disciplined and run the routes well,” Akey said. “That’s our ball. We need to go get it. I’m on the quarterback … to make the right decision with the football. And when you’ve done that, it’s on the receiver to get it done for ya.”
Hauck, Akey go way back
Bobby Hauck is just two games into his tenure at UNLV after leaving Montana, but it’s not surprising that he’s already bumping into an Akey-coached team.
The two coaches each spent time at Big Sky schools during similar stretches early in their careers. And their paths crossed later on, with Akey at Washington State and Hauck at Washington.
Last year, they even went to Afghanistan together as part of a coaches’ tour.
“I’ve put up with him for a long time,” Akey said. “He was playing at Montana when I was playing at Weber State. We’ve coached against each other. We’ve gone against each other quite a lot.”
Hauck, 80-17 in seven years at Montana, was hired in Las Vegas after Akey’s name was reported to be in the mix for the job.
A recruiting hotspot
Las Vegas in recent years has been a fertile recruiting ground for Idaho. Four Vandals – most notably Davis and Michael Cosgrove – hail from the area, while Deonte Jackson also lived their at one time.
A key to the pipeline, Davis said, has been developing strong connections with high school coaches. He and linebacker Korey Toomer went to Shadow Ridge High in Las Vegas. Their coach grew up in New York, where Axman is from as well.
“If we’re able to play it well and able to have success against (UNLV),” Akey said, “I think it does continue to help our recruiting efforts in Las Vegas.”
Judging by how Tuesday’s practice unfolded, the Vandals should have most of the players back who were injured at NU. I mentioned the wideouts in the story, but starting right guard Tevita Halaholo was also suited up. He didn’t take any snaps with the first team, however. Jordan Johnson and Guy Reynolds filled in. Earlier this week, Akey said he was pleased by how Johnson stepped in Saturday when Halaholo went out.
Nevertheless, the offensive line continues to be the most unsettled spot for the Vandals. At the end of Tuesday’s practice, the Vandals simulated an end-of-game scenario — 40 seconds left on the clock, down by five points with the ball around midfield. Nate Enderle completed the first pass at the sideline, but was then “sacked” — the QBs aren’t touched in practice, but the defense definitely reached him before he threw — three times to end the scenario. There was some obvious frustration by other members of the offense.
Here’s what Axman said about the O-line: ” I thought that we made good improvement from the first to second game, but we also went up against an excellent defensive front Saturday. That had a lot to do with it. I see signs of us coming together. But we need to do it real quick. We get a good challenge UNLV coming in, and we’ve got to be able to handle their rush pressure. I’m expecting them to try to put some pressure on us. They don’t have any sacks in two games, so I’m sure they feel they’ve got to pick it up also. I think Saturday against UNLV will be a very big measuring stick of where our progress is.”