Two weeks ago, the Vandals started fall camp. And two weeks from Thursday, they’ll be opening the season at the Kibbie Dome against Eastern Washington. Where are the Vandals halfway through the preseason? The third scrimmage of fall camp gave some answers. Read more after the jump.
Obviously the big news of the day related to Idaho’s future as an independent in football (see here). Still, there were some noteworthy items from the final preseason scrimmage:
- Stats can be deceiving, particularly in scrimmages. Newly named starting QB Dominique Blackman was 14 of 21 passing for 114 yards and no interceptions. Solid numbers, but he looked off with his timing and accuracy during a couple of drives (a few times, he was bailed out by receivers who caught balls that were behind them or in the turf). Meanwhile, Logan Bushnell was just 2 of 7, but he had a nice pass to Camryn Harris fall incomplete when corner Christian Whitehead poked the ball away at the last moment.
- It was easy to tell the running game was a big emphasis for offensive coordinator Jason Gesser. In the 13-play first drive, the Vandals ran 10 times — including Ryan Bass’ 1-yard dive into the end zone. Bass (11 carries for 68 yards) and James Baker (6 for 22) looked strong. Even more importantly, the first-team offensive line opened up some big holes. “I think we made some big plays in the running game, and I obviously would like to see that grow for us,” Akey said. “… Standing back behind (the offense), I saw some holes offensively I liked. We got some big runs out of some of them; some I thought we might have got some bigger runs. But that’s good, that means the defense got some things closed down. Defensively, I’d like to see some of those not get open like they did.”
- While the first-team offensive line appears set — Cody Elenz at LT, Dallas Sandberg at LG, Mike Marboe at C, A.J. Jones at RG and Jordan Johnson at RT — the second team looked shaky for much of the afternoon. In particular, LT Ben Westrum (before he hurt his ankle) and LG Aaron Lazaro struggled. The other second-teamers were walk-on Trent Rodgers at C, Spencer Beale at RG and Niklaus Von Rotz at RT.
- Injuries are starting to become more of an issue. Middle linebacker James Randall went down with a broken ankle earlier in the week — he could miss the season — and tackle Ben Westrum was carted off late in the scrimmage with what Akey termed an ankle injury. Meanwhile, tight end Michael LaGrone missed the scrimmage after a team stepped on his back in practice earlier in the week. Akey said he should be fine.
- With LaGrone out, Jake Manley — a walk-on who played 8-man football at Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho -- saw considerable time at H-back with the ones. Said Akey, “He’s doing some good things. I’ll tell you what, that kid has had a good camp. He did some good things for us in the spring. He’s in on some special teams for us. And he’s really hitting well at that H position and making some good blocks.”
- Defensive end Benson Mayowa sat out again because of academic issues, as did tight end Taylor Elmo. Bass returned this week after missing the first two scrimmages for the same reason.
- Defensive coordinator Mark Criner wanted to see better play from his linebackers and D-line on Thursday, but he’s still happy overall. “We’re a better football team that we were obviously a year ago, I really believe.” Criner said the Vandals have more speed and athleticism in the secondary at and linebacker than they’ve had in his time at UI. The only open starting position on the D, he said, is at outside linebacker, where he considers Conrad Scheidt, Robert Siavii and Homer Mauga as starters — even though only two will start. Matthew Willis will back up Su'a Tuala at MLB with Randall out. Said Criner, “The more I can get the twos to pressure the ones, the better. I think we’ve got quality players at corner that are not going to be necessarily pushing for starting time, but will get a lot of playing time. And that goes for safety too. … Thaad (Thompson), he’s playing multiple positions. He’s playing nickle, he’s playing safety and he’s doing multiple things where he’s going to be on the field as well. I think we’ll have more guys able to play. You’ll see a fast style of defense, a pressure style defense that is going to be fun to watch.”