MOSCOW, Idaho – JoJo Dickson was taking in the merry scene after Idaho’s home-opening win last month when San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley approached him.
Lindley had a simple message, one that apparently couldn’t wait.
“I gave you a free one,” he told Dickson, referring to the linebacker’s gift interception and 74-yard touchdown return that afternoon.
Those words were in Dickson’s mind as he tried to explain how he came up with another tide-turning interception at San Jose State last weekend. Yes, the junior was in the right place again, but this time it wasn’t just a stroke of good fortune.
“It just happened the way I planned,” Dickson said of his pick of Jordan La Secla. “I was kind of anticipating my route and the ball fell right into my hands.”
Dickson’s second interception of the Vandals’ charm-filled season was merely another sign that things have finally fallen into place for the ponytailed Hawaiian. He put on close to 25 pounds in the offseason and has strength to match his blistering speed.
Dickson insisted he hasn’t lost a trace of quickness after bulking up from just shy of 210 pounds to 230.
“I feel just as fast, if not faster as I did last year,” he said. “So yeah, I’m feeling good.”
After an injury-riddled 2008 campaign, Dickson knew he needed to add weight to his 6-foot-2 frame to fight off offensive linemen and remain durable. So he stayed in Moscow and went through an intense training and eating regimen.
Looking back, Dickson can think of only one real downside to devoting his summer to getting bigger.
“I spent a lot of money on food,” he said.
The third-year contributor is second on the team with 33 tackles after his best performance of the season last week. But more important, he’s become a heady playmaker for a defense that has made startlingly few game-altering plays the past few seasons.
“JoJo’s got some good playmaking ability,” coach Robb Akey said. “He’s played pretty well for us this season. He had a very good ballgame (against SJSU).”
Come Saturday, Dickson would no doubt be overjoyed to replicate his effort. The first-place Vandals (5-1, 2-0) host Hawaii, his home-state school, in a Western Athletic Conference game.
Pass defense under gun
The Idaho defense isn’t hemorrhaging yards and points like it did last year. But there are still reasons for concern, and at the head of the list is the shaky secondary.
Idaho is 99th in the country in pass defense and 105th in pass efficiency of opposing quarterbacks. Akey pinned the problem on poor technique from defensive backs and an inconsistent pass rush.
When asked how to solve the issues, Akey had a simple answer.
“Don’t give up as many damn big passes,” he said.
The Vandals’ secondary will be tested this week against the Warriors, who average a WAC-best 372.2 passing yards per game.
The WAC is ranked ninth in Jeff Sagarin’s computer conference power rankings, just behind the Mountain West Conference and ahead of Conference USA. … After yielding 274 ground yards to Idaho last week, San Jose State has the unfortunate task Saturday of trying to slow down Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews. He is second in the nation to Stanford’s Toby Gerhart in rushing yards (741) and averages 6.7 yards per carry. … Aside from the job Akey has done in Moscow, another candidate for WAC coach of the year has to be to New Mexico State’s DeWayne Walker. After topping Utah State last week, the Aggies (3-3, 1-1) have matched their win total from a year ago.