Idaho Vandals Story lines

THURSDAY, AUG. 30, 2012

Offensive improvement?

Following an abysmal 2011 for the Vandals’ offense, Robb Akey hired three new assistants and promoted Jason Gesser to coordinator. In just his second season as a college coach, Gesser will guide an offense with a quarterback who hasn’t played a game since 2009 (Dominique Blackman), a revamped receiving corps and at least two first-year starters on the offensive line. It’s hard to know what to expect from so many newcomers, but the Vandals will showcase more four- and five-receiver sets and should at least be more entertaining.

Adversity a motivation?

Few programs had a rougher offseason than Idaho. Wide receiver Ken McRoyal was shot and killed in May. The Mountain West opted against offering UI a spot in its conference, and the Sun Belt wasn’t interested either. All the bad news and low expectations on the field could end up galvanizing the team. The Vandals are hoping to avoid the fifth losing season in Robb Akey’s six-year tenure.

Punch at RB?

The Vandals’ ground game ranked 102nd in the nation last year, and tailback Ryan Bass wasn’t nearly the factor that many expected after transferring from Arizona State. But the senior is finally healthy (and in the clear academically). James Baker and Todd Handley will get carries, but Bass needs to be a go-to back for the Vandals to thrive.

Promise on young OL

In Idaho’s season opener, the left side of the offensive line will be manned by Cody Elenz and Dallas Sandberg. Both are promising, sturdy linemen. But both are also redshirt freshmen who have yet to take a snap in a game.

Does that worry first-year offensive line coach Gordy Shaw? Perhaps, but he’s not going to let youth dictate his approach.

“It wouldn’t be fair to the university or the fans or the football team if I wasn’t playing the best guys,” Shaw said. “And the players on the offensive line understand that. There’s no dispute – we talk about it every other day. (I ask them), ‘Is there anybody who disagrees with who’s starting, who’s playing the best?’

“… That whole left side right now,” Shaw added, “that will be their first college football game come (tonight). And I’m sure they’re going to be excited, and I’m sure they’re going to make some mistakes. But they’re the best players right now.”

Elenz, the Vandals’ left tackle, is a Texas native who had offers from UTEP, North Texas and other Texas schools, as well as Louisiana Tech. But he felt comfortable on his visit to Moscow, and he vaulted to the top of the depth chart this spring with three other UI tackles hurt.

Because of injuries, it ended up being a “double-dip spring,” as Shaw put it, for Elenz and Sandberg. “They basically had probably two springs in one just because of all the snaps they had to take,” the coach said.

Academic issues

The Vandals had relatively few injuries in fall camp, especially compared to last year, but they were still without key players for some or most of the preseason. The culprit this time: academic issues.

Defensive end Benson Mayowa, tailback Ryan Bass and tight end Taylor Elmo – all former or projected starters – missed practice time because of grades. Bass was back with the Vandals last week and is expected to be a key part of the offense. But Elmo has not been around the team and Mayowa had yet to finish the necessary schoolwork last week.

Coach Robb Akey wasn’t optimistic late last week that Mayowa would be cleared for the season opener.

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