September 5, 2013 in Sports

Vandals square off against familiar faces

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Follow Idaho Vandals correspondent Josh Wright on Twitter for news @SR_JoshWright

MOSCOW, Idaho – On Saturday afternoon in Laramie, Wyo., Paul Petrino will go for his first win as Idaho football coach. And on the other sideline, Chris Tormey and Jason Gesser will be part of a staff that will try to outwit him – after both were bypassed for the job that Petrino wound up getting.

Three of the five finalists for the Vandals head job will be at War Memorial Stadium for a nonconference matchup between Wyoming and Idaho (1 p.m., Root).

Tormey, in his second year as Cowboys defensive coordinator, coached the Vandals from 1995 to 1999. Gesser, Wyoming’s quarterbacks coach, was UI’s interim head coach when Robb Akey was fired last October and served two years on the Vandals’ staff.

Both interviewed to be Akey’s full-time replacement before Petrino was selected.

“That’s pretty cool,” UI senior receiver Najee Lovett said when asked about facing Gesser’s new team. “(He) was our head coach and offensive coordinator last year, and it’s going to be pretty cool to play against him.”

Aside from Lovett and a few other holdovers, the Vandals’ roster looks far different than the one that Gesser oversaw the final month of last season. More than 30 players who had eligibility left did not return and eight freshmen are listed on Idaho’s depth chart this week.

Gesser is familiar, though, with Idaho quarterback Chad Chalich. As offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, he helped mentor Chalich last year when he redshirted.

Now Gesser is shepherding Brett Smith, Wyoming’s talented junior quarterback who had 475 total yards last week in a near-upset at No. 18 Nebraska.

Asked about Gesser’s influence on this week’s game, Petrino said, “Nah, he ain’t playing.” After pausing, he added: “Look at the quarterback. He was a good player before he ever met (Gesser).”

Focus on timing

Idaho offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich expects to see a different-looking offense – and dramatic improvement – on Saturday after the Vandals unraveled in their season-opening 40-6 loss at North Texas. But the progress, he said, has to start before the ball is snapped.

“We’re spending a lot of time this week in between plays, because that’s what we weren’t very good at,” Cinkovich said.

“We know what to do and we can execute during the play, but we had to make improvement there because that’s really not what our offense will look like.”

After executing crisply in fall camp, the Vandals were stymied by 11 penalties (three in their first two drives) and three lost fumbles. They also burned their three first-half timeouts in the first two minutes, 40 seconds of the game because of trouble relaying plays from the sideline to Chalich.

“We were always bleeding too much time off the clock,” Cinkovich said. “And some of that falls on the receivers usually because they’re the ones that have got to go the farthest to line up. So we’re making sure we get that fixed so we’re not running all the play time off the clock like we did.”

Altitude indifference

Wyoming’s home field sits at an elevation of 7,220 feet, the highest of any Division I stadium. But Petrino isn’t concerned about how his team will operate in the thin air, just like he’s not focused on the officials, weather or anything else he can’t control.

“You don’t talk about. You don’t worry about,” he said. “In my opinion, I think you just go play. I coached at Utah State; it was the same thing. Some teams came in and worried about it and it was a big advantage to us. But some teams didn’t worry about it and I don’t think it was any advantage.”

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