The Idaho football team left Moscow on a chartered airplane Friday morning and landed in Siberia in the early afternoon.
The Vandals were greeted by biting winds, headlines in the Logan newspaper that read “Weather Woes” and 5 inches of snow covering the bent bluegrass field at Utah State’s Romney Stadium.
It snowed most of Friday, and depending on which TV weather person you believe - we liked the one who did his forecast live in the snowstorm - another inch or 2 was expected this morning before temperatures climb above freezing.
So the field for today’s 1:05 p.m. Big West Conference showdown likely will be a mess. It rained Thursday, further damaging the turf that was chewed up last week during a band competition as Utah State played in Boise.
Today’s survivor takes command in the conference title chase, barring a North Texas upset of Nevada. Idaho is 3-3 overall, 1-0 Big West. Utah State is 4-4, 2-0.
Naturally, Idaho coach Chris Tormey and Utah State counterpart John L. Smith took turns describing why nasty conditions favor their respective teams.
“Utah State has great team speed and they have flat burners at wide receiver,” Tormey said. “I’m going to be optimistic and think this will be the great equalizer.”
“If it gets real sloppy, it may end up favoring us,” Smith told the local newspaper, implying that he believes his secondary can stick with Idaho’s receivers.
Both coaches agreed that the conditions make pass coverage even more critical than usual.
USU officials were debating whether to spray snow-melting chemicals on the field or risk further damage to the grass by using a snow plow.
Next to a scrimmage, this is the closest either team will get to an intrasquad game. Both offenses feature one-back, spread passing games. Both defenses use the “Flex,” a pressure-inducing scheme.
Tormey had his No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense square off more in practice this week to take advantage of the similarities to Utah State.
USU, though, probably has an edge in terms of inside information. Smith was Idaho’s coach from 1989-94. He and several members of his staff coached eight of UI’s current offensive starters and six defensive first-teamers.
“When you have a chance to work with and against guys like (defensive linemen) Barry (Mitchell), Ryan (Phillips) and Tim (Wilson), you know what upsets them, what they like,” said Aggies assistant Art Valero, the Vandals’ offensive coordinator under Smith.
Perhaps the best factor in Idaho’s favor is its tendency to perform in key games - case in point was last week’s 24-15 upset of Nevada. Idaho also defeated Montana, Northern Iowa and Northern Arizona last year in important contests.
“We’ve won a lot of big games and lost a lot of little ones, though none are really little,” Tormey said. “Some games are bigger than others.”
For Idaho, it doesn’t get much bigger than today.
Former UI quarterback Doug Nussmeier is taking advantage of New Orleans’ bye weekend to attend today’s game. Nussmeier is the Saints’ No. 2 quarterback… . USU officials said the weather might limit the homecoming crowd to 15,000-20,000 at the 30,000-seat stadium… . On a dry field, an offensive shootout would figure. USU is eighth nationally in total offense; Idaho fifth… . Idaho’s injury report is light. Phillips and Mitchell, both bothered by hamstring injuries, terrorized Nevada last Saturday and practiced all week. Idaho is expected to start the same 11 players on offense for the seventh consecutive game. The Aggies were dinged up during their demanding early season schedule - Utah, Southern Mississippi, Texas Tech and Brigham Young - but a couple of defensive linemen should be back for today’s game… . USU has impressive skill-position players. Senior Abu Wilson is USU’s all-time rushing leader - and he was benched last week and replaced by freshman Demario Brown. Quarterback Matt Sauk won the starting job over Patrick Mullins, No. 2 in USU history in completion percentage. Sauk has a better arm and is more mobile, Smith said. Nakia Jenkins is fifth nationally in receiving yardage (119.8).
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Vandals at Utah State
MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition
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