MOSCOW, Idaho – The opening week of conference play, the dad’s weekend crowd, the fact that Fresno State will ditch the WAC after this year – all these factors should help make for a lively scene Saturday afternoon in the Kibbie Dome.
And if Idaho dispatches the Bulldogs for the first time in nine tries, the Dome will really pulsate.
But instead of dwelling on what a win over Fresno State might mean for this season, the Vandals are all about making up for what happened late last November.
“We’re still red-hot after that loss,” senior defensive end Andre Ferguson said of the 23-20 defeat to the Bulldogs. “It was a deciding factor not only for a win but a possible bowl game.”
Idaho, 5-6 at the time, needed a victory over FSU to stay in contention for a postseason bid. It regrouped after falling behind 13-0 and took an unlikely lead with 2 minutes left. But Fresno State drove 60 yards for the decisive touchdown – a 1-yard run from A.J. Ellis with 14 seconds remaining.
The final moments still gnaw at UI coach Robb Akey, who has mentioned the loss repeatedly to point out how close the Vandals came to back-to-back bowl bids for the first time in program history.
“I like playing the Fresno game,” he said. “It’s a physical game. It’s a get-after-it game. And I think there’s a little something extra on the table when you look at what it cost us last year.”
Idaho and Fresno State, both 1-2, have each lost to top-10 opponents – UI to Texas A&M last week and FSU to Nebraska on Sept. 10. And both teams’ only wins have come against North Dakota at home.
The Bulldogs have been hard to figure through the first three games. They were a failed two-point conversion from tying the Cornhuskers in the third quarter, yet they also trailed North Dakota, an FCS team, last week in the fourth quarter.
Coach Pat Hill said the problem has been big plays – Fresno gave up a 100-yard kickoff return and 46-yard TD run to Nebraska in the second half.
“I thought we played very, very well in 80 percent of the snaps,” Hill said of games at NU and Cal. “We’ve given up some big plays.”
FSU has dealt with an onslaught of injuries to its secondary. The team’s top three safeties are either out for the year or dealing with health issues. Defensive back Charles Washington, a true freshman, might see time against Idaho, Hill said.
The Vandals could use a pick-me-up on offense against a Fresno team that ranks 100th in the nation in points allowed. UI has been outscored 71-17 in the first half this year and is averaging 2.5 yards per carry on the ground behind an offensive line that’s inexperienced and beat up in the interior.
“It has to get going,” offensive coordinator Steve Axman said of the Vandals’ ground game and offense in general. “We’ve just got to do a better job of getting going early so that we’re not … putting ourselves in a deep hole, where all the sudden we have to be one dimensional.”
The first thing that stuck out to Axman about Fresno’s defense has been the play of 275-pound senior Logan Harrell, who had 41/2 tackles for loss last week. The defensive tackle is “an extremely effective player,” Axman said. “He’s a dominant player.”