MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho football fans have scrutinized the volatile play of quarterback Brian Reader in recent weeks, and for obvious reasons. But it’s not just the Vandals’ passing attack that is languishing.
Running the ball has proven even less fruitful for Idaho through the first half of the season.
The Vandals, on a four-game losing skid, are second to last in the nation in rushing heading into Saturday’s WAC matchup at New Mexico State (5 p.m. PDT, ESPN3.com). Part of the problem can be traced to a makeshift offensive line that has made quicker strides in pass protection than run blocking.
Still, Idaho players and coaches know a more effective ground game – the Vandals are averaging 69.8 rushing yards per game — will help solve many of the offense’s lingering issues.
“I think we just need to get running the ball better right now,” said right tackle Tyrone Novikoff, when asked about the offensive woes. “As the O-line every week, we’re getting better and better. And the offense just needs to click.”
This week might be the Vandals’ best opportunity for a breakthrough from their stable of veteran tailbacks. NMSU (2-3, 0-1) has given up 200 rushing yards per game, last in the WAC.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the points,” said Idaho coach Robb Akey, whose club is 1-5, 0-2 in the WAC. “It matters (that) the points get scored. And right now we definitely need to generate some points and finish. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”
Akey insisted that Reader is “absolutely” the Vandals’ starting quarterback, despite the senior’s 47-percent completion rate in five losses to FBS teams this season. But Akey also acknowledged that Reader is pressing.
“And he’s putting pressure on himself,” the fifth-year coach noted. “Right now we need to back that pressure off of him and help him back that off.”
After their bye next week, the Vandals have Hawaii at home before finishing the season with three of four on the road. A victory today for UI, which would be the first since beating North Dakota on Sept. 10, will help put the team in the right frame of mind for the final stretch, Reader said.
“A win this week would do more than great things for us,” he said. “It would do great things for our fans, our community and everything. We need this win.”
NOTES – Idaho senior receiver Preston Davis has elected to redshirt after breaking his foot before the season. He started practicing a few weeks ago, but never saw game action. …UI’s ground offense could get a lift today with the return of Ryan Bass, who’s missed three weeks with an internal injury … Defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove (groin) is expected back today after missing last week.