MOSCOW, Idaho – It wasn’t until October last fall that the University of Idaho football team’s identity – potent, if slow-starting, on offense and vulnerable on defense – fully materialized.
What will the Vandals’ modus operandi be this season? Quarterback Nathan Enderle isn’t sure, but he hopes it doesn’t take as long to find out.
“About midway through last year was when we started to click on all cylinders and put up some numbers,” the fourth-year starter said. “Hopefully we start with the first game and continue with that. Ramp it up a little bit earlier than last year, I guess.”
The first opportunity for Enderle and the Vandals to see how much of a carryover effect there will be from a terrific 2009 campaign comes tonight, when they host North Dakota at the Kibbie Dome.
Kickoff for the season opener – UI’s first time starting the season in Moscow since 1998 – is 6 p.m.
Like Enderle, UI coach Robb Akey is curious to figure out the personality of this year’s club, particularly in light of the late-game theatrics from last year. Four of the Vandals’ eight wins came after they trailed in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got some ideas, but we need to see how we’re going to act in adverse situations and respond to adversity,” Akey said.
Although Idaho returns the bulk of its starters from last year, several key contributors graduated. That includes leading rusher De’Maundray Woolridge (980 yards, 18 rushing touchdowns) and top wideout Max Komar (1,052 receiving yards, 11 TDs).
The offensive line that was dominant at times a year ago has also been overhauled. Mike Iupati is on course to start for the San Francisco 49ers, and Adam Juratovac recently won a championship with the Spokane Shock.
Forced to find four new starters up front, UI now has one of the biggest O-lines in the country. Left tackle Matt Cleveland, the lone returner, is one of four starters who weigh at least 311 pounds.
“For what we do offensively, we’re a downhill running team, we’ve got to have bigger guys who can try to move the line of scrimmage,” offensive line coach Dan Finn said. “Protection-wise, we don’t do a ton of moving the pocket, things like that. So we’ve got to have guys who are stout enough to keep that pocket firm and kind of build your offensive line around what you do offensively.”
Left guard Sam Tupua came to UI from Palomar Junior College in California at 374 pounds. As of early this week, he had slimmed down to 339 pounds after sticking to a stringent weight-loss plan.
“Just smaller meal sizes and more salads,” Tupua explained. “I feel a lot better.”
Even with Tupua’s drop, the average weight of UI’s starting offensive linemen is 318 pounds – almost 50 pounds heavier than the Fighting Sioux’s three-man defensive front.
North Dakota, in its third season as an FCS school after being Division II, returns 14 starters from a club that went 6-5 in 2009. In its lone FBS game last year, it lost to Texas Tech 38-13.