MOSCOW, Idaho – The quarterback play has been nowhere as efficient. The running game is far less productive. And the daring coaching decisions have yet to pan out like they did two years ago.
In almost every respect, this year’s Idaho football team doesn’t stack up to the 2009 Vandals, the gold standard that UI fans use to gauge the health and direction of the program.
But there’s at least one similarity: The Vandals finished ’09 with the 107th-ranked defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the same spot in the national rankings the team occupies entering Saturday’s homecoming date with Louisiana Tech at 2 p.m.
Idaho could rarely hold back opposing offenses two years ago, and until last week, the defense has shown the same hard-to-shake habits this season during a 1-4 start.
More troubling, though, has been the Vandals’ offensive shortcomings. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown until overtime in a 21-20 loss at Virginia last week. And in four trips inside the Cavaliers’ 20-yard line, they came away with six points.
“…That wasn’t so good,” coach Robb Akey said. “Getting down to the red zone, that needs to produce touchdowns.”
The Vandals have fallen from ninth nationally in total offense in 2009 to 55th last year to 114th (out of 120 FBS teams) this season. Injuries at wide receiver and along the offensive line have factored into the steep drop, as has the transition from Nate Enderle to Brian Reader at quarterback.
Reader, a senior and first-year starter, has thrown only three interceptions in 190 attempts. But he’s also completed just 53 percent of his passes and has gone through prolonged stretches where he struggles to hit open receivers.
Still, just after the painful defeat to Virginia, Reader told reporters the Vandals were well-positioned to make a midseason push.
“There is no reason why we can’t go out and win the rest of our games this season,” he said. “We’ve got the rest of the WAC and one out of conference (BYU), so there is no reason why we can’t end the season 8-4.”
In slightly less bold terms, Akey made a similar comment while prepping for Louisiana Tech (1-4, 0-1 in the WAC).
“Our football team has found out that if we’ll go out and play the way we’re capable, play our tails off, leave it all out there, we have the ability to beat anybody we’re going to line up against,” he said.
Idaho starting defensive end Benson Mayowa (knee) will miss his second straight game. Defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove (groin) is questionable after not returning in the second half last week.