MOSCOW, Idaho – Robb Akey was scanning through Texas A&M’s offensive formations on film the other day when something caught his eye. Lined up on the outside for the Aggies, where receivers usually roam, was what appeared to be a nimble tight end.
Akey stopped the tape and looked at the play again. Only then did the Idaho coach realize he had been wrong the first time – he had actually been watching 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout Jeff Fuller.
“On film he looks like a big tight end, but he can run,” Akey said.
Fuller has already set an A&M record with 28 career touchdown receptions and delighted Aggies fans in January by opting against early entry into the NFL draft. Yet he’s just one of many weapons the high-octane Aggies will showcase today against the Vandals at Kyle Field in College Station.
Ninth-ranked A&M (1-0) is favored by 351/2 points and has one of the premier homefield advantages in the nation. Idaho, meanwhile, got off to a bumpy start the last two weeks and has lost its last 21 meetings with Bowl Championship Series teams since 2000.
But neither No. 6 Nebraska last year nor top-ranked USC in 2007 – the two most well-known programs the Vandals have played out of conference the past five years – stand out to Akey like the Aggies.
“It will be the best nonconference team we’ve played since I’ve been here,” he said.
A&M returns quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a 6-4 senior who led the team to six straight wins last year after taking over midseason. He guides a fast-tempo offense loaded with big-play threats – Fuller, receiver Ryan Swope and productive running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael.
The Aggies also have a harassing defense – led by Tony Jerod-Eddie – that racked up eight sacks in a season-opening beatdown of SMU.
“Their size is just a lot different than anything we see in the Western Athletic Conference,” Vandals quarterback Brian Reader said. “They’re just bigger guys and they run a different style on the D-line, where sometimes they won’t really rush. They’ll read, see what’s going on and move and make a tackle.”
The Aggies’ disguising defensive front will be matched against a patchwork Idaho offensive line that’s allowed seven sacks in two games. Starting left guard Sam Tupua broke his right hand early against North Dakota last week and fellow guard Jordan Johnson also sat out with an injury.
UI swapped four guards in and out throughout the game and could keep an active rotation again this week, even with Johnson expected back.
“In the offensive line, one of the No. 1 things you always want to build is continuity,” Vandals O-line coach John McDonell said. “And we had a really good camp. The game of the football, guys get nicked up …”
Another focus for UI will be finding ways to pressure Tannehill. The Vandals have just two quarterback sacks, and none from their defensive ends.
Akey touted Benson Mayowa before the season as a speed rusher who could lead the WAC – and possibly the nation – in sacks. But Mayowa has only one quarterback hurry so far.
“We’re two games into it and I’m kind of expecting him to be a little more productive,” Akey said. “I told him that coming into practice (Tuesday). I still believe in him but we got to start producing too.”
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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