MOSCOW, Idaho – Reporters from all over the state this week asked Idaho players and coaches variations of the same question: What’s it going to take to finally bring down one of the nation’s most consistent programs?
For the Vandals, the answer begins with something that’s been painfully absent against elite competition all season.
“Execute well,” said quarterback Nate Enderle, relating one of his keys for tonight’s showdown with BSU at the Kibbie Dome.
“We need to play, I’m not going to say flawless or mistake-free, but we really need to minimize those big errors – turnovers, blown coverages,” he said. “It just can’t happen against a good team like that.”
In the Vandals’ three games against teams ranked or receiving votes in the national polls – losses to Nebraska, Hawaii and Nevada – they piled up 14 turnovers. Most of the mistakes and the poor execution have come early, effectively wiping out any chance of an upset.
Idaho (4-5, 1-3) was buried at then-No. 6 Nebraska after back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns. Two weeks ago, three turnovers in rapid succession gave Hawaii a 31-3 halftime advantage. And last week, Nevada vaulted to a 35-3 lead.
None of those opponents has operated as smoothly this season – or in recent years – as the fourth-ranked Broncos.
Boise State hasn’t just prevailed 11 consecutive years against Idaho, each time by at least two touchdowns. It’s also won 22 straight games since the start of 2009 – the longest FBS winning streak – and has the nation’s best winning percentage since 1997 (.820).
In the last five seasons, BSU has dropped one WAC game.
“This is probably the best team we will face or have faced in some years,” UI tailback Deonte Jackson said. “… We’re going to have to execute. Everybody’s going to have to be sound in their assignments, do their job.”
The Vandals’ defense in particular has regressed after a string of encouraging performances early in the year. UI is now 103rd out of 120 FBS teams in total defense after allowing 48, 45 and 63 points in three of the last four weeks.
Tonight the Idaho defense will try to hold up against a Boise State offense that is typically only slowed by self-inflicted errors – which are rare.
Vandals coach Robb Akey noted that quarterback Kellen Moore, after getting Heisman consideration last year, might be BSU’s most-improved player from a season ago. The junior quarterback has two terrific receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis and powerful running back Doug Martin.
The Vandals’ best stretches of play have come when defensive end Aaron Lavarias and others have made opposing QBs uncomfortable with consistent pressure. But BSU has surrendered just three sacks in eight games, and Moore has the highest passing efficiency among FBS quarterbacks.
“He knows exactly where all of his reads are, where he feels pressure, where he needs to get the ball to,” Lavarias said. “… He gets the ball away so quickly and he knows where’s he’s going to take the ball every time he takes a snap.”
This is the 40th meeting between these schools and perhaps the last for a few years after BSU settles in the Mountain West Conference next season. With the rivalry on hold after tonight, the Vandals understand this is the best time – with an ESPN2 audience watching – for a breakthrough.
“… Certainly the bragging rights that come with this one are going to last more than 365 days,” Akey said, “so I think that’s something that’s pretty important right there.”