Idaho in search of breakthrough
Vandals look for WAC win in Louisiana
Of all the positive vibes that surfaced in the Idaho Vandals’ late-game awakening last week, perhaps none topped those created by Lee Smith.
Here was a senior wideout, who had only seen snippets of action this season after a series of hamstring injuries, entering the Fresno State game with zero catches. Yet he was in the middle of Idaho’s surprising fourth-quarter charge with two key receptions.
“It’s been a while,” Smith said this week. “It makes me appreciate it more since it’s my senior year.”
The only thing better would be to help Idaho capture a long-coveted WAC win. The road-weary Vandals (1-6, 0-3) showed promise last week, but they still absorbed a 45-32 defeat to Fresno.
Today, they’re eyeing a breakthrough at Louisiana Tech in their fourth away game in five weeks. The Bulldogs (2-3, 0-2) are 20.5-point favorites for the contest in Ruston, La. It’s been more than two years – Oct. 14, 2006 – since Idaho last won on the WAC stage or on the road. The foe that day happened to be Louisiana Tech.
Since then, the Vandals have dropped 16 consecutive conference games and 22 overall to FBS teams.
Tucked inside the forgettable stretch is a 12-game road losing skid, the fourth longest in the nation.
Nevertheless, Idaho players seemed to carry a bit more energy this week after their encouraging performance at Fresno State. Nathan Enderle furnished one his finest games as the team’s starting quarterback (22 of 39 for 239 yards and three touchdowns), helping UI storm back from a 42-17 deficit to get within 10 points in the fourth period.
The comeback bid ultimately unraveled, but coach Robb Akey was glad to see some “rage” from his players.
“In regards to the way I think this football team went about things, I think we took a big step forward,” the second-year coach said. “I won’t say the corner is turned just yet. I think we’re ready to turn the corner.”
At the very least, today may be the best chance for the Vandals’ soft defense to make inroads. Louisiana Tech benched quarterback Taylor Bennett this week for Ross Jenkins, a sophomore with just 17 career pass attempts.
The Bulldogs are ranked last in the WAC in scoring (16.0 ppg). They toppled SEC member Mississippi State to start the season and began the conference slate with two challenging assignments, at Boise State and Hawaii.
Idaho receiver Maurice Shaw (ankle) is expected back today for the first time since the Western Michigan game a month ago. … The Vandals return to the Kibbie Dome for three straight games after today, starting next week against New Mexico State.