MOSCOW, Idaho – On the first day of fall camp last month, Idaho football coach Robb Akey approached Brian Reader – a senior who bided his time behind a four-year starter – and supplied a clear message.
“I remember the first practice we had out here,” Akey recalled last week. “I said, ‘We gave you the keys (to the offense) back there in the spring and you started driving. I want you to drive the damn thing fast now – and drive it like an Escalade, a fast Escalade.’ ”
Just how well Reader has adjusted to his new role as the Vandals’ top QB – and how the offense has adjusted to him – will start to manifest itself tonight at 6, when Idaho kicks off its season by hosting Bowling Green in rematch of the memorable 2009 Humanitarian Bowl.
Akey likes how Reader guided the offense through camp, and how he acquitted himself the past two seasons with the Vandals.
The 6-foot-3 California native made two starts in ’09 and appeared in 16 games backing up Nate Enderle after he spent a season at Monterey Peninsula (Calif.) College and his first year at Arkansas, where he redshirted as a walk-on.
The experience Reader gleaned shadowing Enderle has proven to be valuable in the weeks leading up to tonight.
“We’ve done a lot of work to be a consistent offense,” he said. “They said they’ve given me the keys to the car. Well, I feel like this whole offensive unit is driving the car. Everybody is prepared. Everybody wants this a lot. Everybody wants to be a good offense.”
Reader’s debut as full-time starter could come with Idaho’s receiving corps seriously depleted. Justin Veltung, the Vandals’ most explosive wideout, seems unlikely to play with a turf toe injury, and fellow would-be starter Preston Davis (foot) will miss tonight’s game and could be out for several weeks.
It was an injury-filled preseason – and spring – for the Vandals, who have nine freshmen and seven sophomores on their depth chart. Two underclassmen, cornerback Dion Bass and safety Bradley Njoku, are expected to be key members of the secondary and special teams unit in their first year out of high school.
But Bowling Green easily trumps Idaho when it comes to youth. The Ohio school has 28 freshmen and sophomores on its depth chart – and 81 on its roster.
“While they’re a young football team this year, that youth got some experience,” said Akey of the Falcons (2-10 last season). “I’m expecting a team that is going to be an improved football team.”
The only other meeting between these two programs came two years ago when Idaho stormed back in the final 8 seconds for a touchdown and two-point conversion – when an extra point would have sent the game to overtime – to win the Humanitarian Bowl.
“If I were in their shoes,” Reader said, “I wouldn’t like us very much. If it had gone the other way, I wouldn’t like them at all.”