MOSCOW, Idaho – In the buildup to Saturday’s Idaho-Washington clash, one plot line has dwarfed all others: the story of eight Husky assistants with deep Vandals roots.
But for current Idaho coaches, even those close to Joel Thomas, Johnny Nansen and the rest, the reunion might as well be in Shanghai instead of Seattle.
They’re too preoccupied by other matters to think about it.
“Johnny, he’s a good friend of mine,” UI defensive coordinator Mark Criner said of Nansen, the Vandals’ former defensive line and special teams coach. “But we haven’t even said his name. I’ve said, ‘Locker’ a lot of times.”
Criner was referring to Jake Locker, UW’s superb quarterback. The junior is one of the nation’s premier dual-threat QBs, and he’ll be a chief concern for an Idaho defensive line that showed signs of promise in a 21-6 win at New Mexico State last week.
Not only will Vandals linemen try to duplicate the pass rush they produced against the Aggies, but they also must worry about a now-healthy Locker’s knack for scrambling for big yardage.
Criner compared developing a strategy to contain Locker to what NFL coaches used to fret over before facing the Michael Vick of a few years ago.
“The guy is fast, man,” Criner said. “The one thing you’ve got to be careful of is your pass-rush lanes. … That can be a first down in a hurry. I mean, the guy can flat-out run. He’s an impressive guy.”
Idaho last week allowed the fewest points in a game since holding Utah State to a field goal in October of 1999. A key part of the success was the stout play of the D-line.
Aaron Lavarias and Andre Ferguson applied consistent pressure from the edge – though the Vandals’ defense only came up with one sack – and coaches praised the play of Jonah Sataraka and Faleoga Faumui in the interior.
“We didn’t have quite as many sacks as I would like us to have, but we got much better pressure on the quarterback,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said.
Against a much more potent UW offense, the Vandals’ goal is to make the Huskies as one-dimensional as possible. If Criner has his druthers, Locker will be relegated exclusively to the pocket.
“Oh, I don’t want them running the football at all,” he said. “That puts everybody on their heels.”
The Huskies (0-1) last won in November of 2007, a stretch of futility that spans 15 games. But UW played well against No. 11 Louisiana State last week, and impressed Akey in the process.
“They don’t look like a football team that hasn’t won a football game in over a year,” the coach said.
McCarty makes no excuses
Easily the most explosive and entertaining play in Idaho’s win last week came on Princeton McCarty’s 67-yard dash in the first quarter. The tailback escaped NMSU’s secondary but stumbled before the end zone and landed at the 1-yard line.
Asked by reporters what happened, McCarty didn’t skirt the issue.
“I just tripped, man,” he said. “That’s all I can really say. My foot got caught. I don’t know … I tripped.”
Around the WAC
The shakiest Week 1 win by a WAC member came from Hawaii, which rallied to edge Central Arkansas 25-20. This week the Warriors handed off play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Nick Rolovich. Offensive coordinator Ron Lee and offensive line coach Gordy Shaw will also give their advice. … Aside from Boise State, which topped Oregon last week, the WAC has yet to be remotely competitive against a BCS conference school. The next chance is Saturday, when UI is at Washington, Fresno State travels to Wisconsin and Hawaii plays Washington State in Seattle.