MOSCOW, Idaho – Members of the University of Idaho defense trudged off the team plane Sunday morning, groggy after an all-night flight from Hawaii, and already Mark Criner had started to pick up on a theme from his players.
“We landed and they were talking about getting after (Nevada),” the Vandals’ defensive coordinator said. “I don’t think it’s a revenge factor. I think it’s a challenge … to have a good football game.”
It’s no wonder the Vandals want a redo with the Wolf Pack. Last year Nevada blitzed Idaho for 484 rushing yards and five touchdowns of at least 35 yards in a 70-45 trampling in Reno.
The UI defense did all it could to brush off the nightmarish outing, but the memories were hard to shake.
“Things got rolling last year and it was a bad situation,” Criner said. “We didn’t play very well, obviously. We had a lot of missed tackles.”
Today the Vandals (4-4, 1-2) have another weighty task when they go up against the 25th-ranked Wolf Pack at the Kibbie Dome. UNR (7-1, 2-1) has the No. 3 offense in the FBS and the WAC’s top two rushers – quarterback Colin Kaepernick and tailback Vai Taua.
Working out of the pistol offense that fits him to a T, Kaepernick has rushed for 52 touchdowns in his career. The senior is averaging 7.3 yards per carry this season – while improving his completion rate to 68.1 percent from 54.3 percent in 2008.
“It won’t break my heart to see him gone,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “I told him last year he was ready for the NFL. He should have left, but (Nevada coach Chris) Ault got him to stay around for another year.”
Idaho generated enough big plays from Nate Enderle and its passing game to stay within range of the Wolf Pack into the third quarter last year. And the Vandals will probably have to rely on Enderle’s arm again this time.
UI has yet to get consistent output from senior tailback Deonte Jackson or Princeton McCarty, the No. 1 back coming into the season. McCarty missed last week’s loss to Hawaii and has logged just 10 carries since breaking a finger at the end of September.
“It’s not like we have to go in going, ‘Oh, we need 42 points at least,’ because you never know,” Enderle said. “The defense has played some really good games this year, and if they come out to play, it could be a lot more low-scoring than people think.”
The Vandals have allowed a total of three touchdowns in three home games. Yet each of their home opponents – North Dakota, UNLV and New Mexico State – was limited on offense.
That changes today with UNR – and next week when No. 2 Boise State comes to Moscow. The Vandals’ two most difficult home dates will be followed by trips to Utah State and Fresno State before the season finale with San Jose State at home.
They’ll need three wins in their remaining five games to nab a bowl berth.
“One of things I’m looking for is consistency (in) the program,” Akey said. “We’ve got the thing turned and I’m still telling you this is going to be a bowl team this year.”
UI last won a game in November in 2004. … A loss today would send it below the .500 mark for the first time since the end of the ’08 season.