Last season, Mike Leach’s first at Washington State, the Cougars went 3-9. This season, Paul Petrino’s first at Idaho, the Vandals are 0-3 with a daunting schedule ahead of them. Most Idaho fans would probably take a 3-9 record, all things considered.
Last season the Cougars played 17 freshmen (including redshirts), as Christian Caple notes. The Vandals played eight true freshmen last week alone.
So, yes, there are similarities between this year’s Vandals and last year’s Cougars -- something Paul Petrino drew attention to this week. “They’re probably a little ahead of schedule," he said. "They probably went through a little bit last year what we’re going through right now."
The two Palouse teams play in Pullman at 7:30 tonight. We’ve got a primer, focusing on Idaho’s perspective, after the jump.
Before we get to the primer, I wanted to pass along my story on Pullman High's 42-40 win over Moscow last night. Why mention a prep game here? Well, Petrino's son, Mason, quarterbacked the Greyhounds to the victory. And former Idaho coach Robb Akey, who I profiled this week, watched as his son, Jack, returned a Petrino interception for a touchdown to set up a wild finish.
Petrino was behind the Pullman sideline after the game, and he was smiling about his son's performance. "Pretty good for a sophomore, huh?" he said.
One more note: Pullman High senior David Ungerer, a Idaho commit, had a monster game. He's not very big, but he has great speed and showed good elusiveness against Moscow.
KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m. At Martin Stadium
RECORDS: UI 0-3; WSU 2-1
TV: Pac-12 Networks
OVERVIEW: The Vandals aren't just young. They're also banged up at key spots on the defense heading into their first game with WSU since 2007. Safety Trey Williams, a stabilizing force as a senior safety in an otherwise green secondary, left the game last week and didn't practice early this week (though he was suited up). Defensive end Quinton Bradley, arguably the Vandals' most talented defensive player, sustained a shoulder injury last week; he had a brace on and was in shorts on Tuesday. The status of both players is up in the air, but if they can't go, the Cougars' offense will have an even bigger upper hand. Without Williams, the Vandals started true freshman Jordan Grabski in the first two games. They could also start two sophomores at cornerback (Solomon Dixon and Jayshawn Jordan), while true freshmen Desmond Banks played CB last week, too. Even with all the younth and injuries, the Vandals took a giant-sized leap last week in a 10-point loss to NIU. But they'll need to cut down on lost fumbles and sacks allowed -- they're last in the nation in both categories -- to make it interesting against a WSU team that has taken big strides from Year 1 to Year 2 under Leach.
LINE: Washington State by 31
KEY MATCHUP: Idaho O-line vs. WSU D-line. The Vandals have allowed 21 sacks, the most in the nation, and have been physically dominated up front at times this season. But they haven't seen a defensive line as good as WSU's yet. Petrino said WSU’s defensive line is the strength of its defense, and he raved about Cougars’ nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole, a key member of the improved unit. As Petrino watched WSU’s upset of USC, he was especially impressed that the Cougs were able to pressure QBs Cody Kessler and Max Wittek with a three-man rush. “If you can get after the quarterback with three men rushing, that makes it pretty tough,” he said.
INJURY REPORT: As we mentioned above, Trey Williams and Quinton Bradley might not play for Idaho. Offensive tackle Cody Elenz returned last week and looked fully healthy vs. NIU.
WHAT IT MEANS: The return of the rivalry comes at a bad time for the Vandals. These teams didn't play in 2009 and 2010, when Idaho combined for 14 wins and WSU was struggling under Paul Wulff. But now that the game has returned, the Cougs are an upswing, and the Vandals are searching for the first win in 10 games dating to last year. Petrino would love to get the Idaho contigent at Martin Stadium into the game with a start like last week's. If it happens, the big question will be whether the Vandals can sustain it. UI has been outscored 59-17 in the second half of games -- and 42-0 in the third quarter.