MOSCOW, Idaho – Robb Akey’s first game as Idaho’s football coach was at the Los Angeles Coliseum against USC, then the nation’s top-ranked team and a dynamo under Pete Carroll.
In the five years since, the Vandals have played at Nebraska and Texas A&M – two programs with legendary college football traditions – and walked into hostile environments at Boise State, Washington and elsewhere.
None of those sites, however, rivals what Akey’s team will encounter today in Death Valley against third-ranked LSU.
“It’s going to be played in a great atmosphere – one of the great college football atmospheres in the country,” said Akey, who is 0-7 against BCS conference teams at UI. “It will be a hell of an experience for our players in that respect.”
The Vandals (0-2) played in front of 27,727 combined fans in their first two games against Eastern Washington in the Kibbie Dome and at Bowling Green. There will be more than three times that at ear-splitting Tiger Stadium, where LSU has won 19 straight overall and 35 consecutive nonconference games.
The Tigers are 42 1/2-point favorites and have been machine-like under Les Miles in dismissing nonconference regular-season opponents – especially ones that are unranked such as Idaho.
Yet Akey pointed to Louisiana-Monroe’s upset last week of No. 8 Arkansas in emphasizing that the unthinkable sometimes happens in college football. In the Vandals’ case, winning at LSU would be the biggest upset of all time based on point spread.
“If we don’t win the football game, then we made everybody happy because they all told us we couldn’t,” Akey said. “Should we play our tails off and make some things happen and you get that opportunity, then we could be the favorite football team in America – with maybe the exception of the state of Louisiana.”
Last week Dominique Blackman threw for the second-most yards of any Idaho quarterback making a debut. Miles called the 6-foot-5 transfer “extremely accurate” and “a talented guy” after Blackman’s 30-of-37 performance at Bowling Green.
But will Blackman have time to look for Vandals receivers? He was sacked four times last week, and LSU is so powerful along its defensive line that Akey said the Tigers don’t have to blitz to cause major problems for UI’s struggling O-line.
The concerns aren’t just in the passing game, either. Idaho is averaging 2.0 yards per rush, one of the worst marks among FBS teams. Its longest run of the year is 11 yards.
“We need to run the football better, more effectively,” Akey said. “And we need to run it more.”
Before the game, Idaho players and coaches will visit the gravesite of former teammate Ken McRoyal, who was shot and killed in May. McRoyal, who moved to California after Hurricane Katrina, was buried in New Orleans.