For several weeks now, the Idaho football team has been plagued by poor tackling. If that issue pops up again, Louisiana Tech tailback Daniel Porter could have a field day on Saturday at the Kibbie Dome. Click below to read my story on Idaho's tackling -- and concerns about facing Porter.
MOSCOW, Idaho – Late in fall camp, Idaho defensive coordinator Mark Criner was tending to last-minute Week 1 details when his phone buzzed. On the line were members of Auburn’s coaching staff, hoping to gather intelligence on Louisiana Tech tailback Daniel Porter.
Auburn was prepping for its season opener with La. Tech, and Porter was clearly the No. 1 focus of the SEC school.
Criner’s message to the coaches: Good luck bottling up the Bulldogs’ workhorse – it rarely happens.
“I said, ‘Guys, it doesn’t matter who he’s playing, get ready to bring your lunch pail because that guy breaks more tackles than anybody I’ve ever seen playing running back,’” Criner said.
Porter’s penchant for slipping through defenders’ arms has been a focus of the Idaho defense all week – and not just because the Vandals (6-2, 3-1 WAC) host La. Tech (3-4, 2-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
After absorbing a 70-45 shellacking at Nevada last week, Idaho hopes to shove aside its nagging tackling concerns.
“We struggled with tackling last week, we struggled against Hawaii,” linebacker JoJo Dickson said. “This week we’re really emphasizing on wrapping (Porter) up and making sure we gang tackle instead of making the highlight reel (play).”
The issue first surfaced against Colorado State but became more prevalent against Hawaii and Nevada. Criner was quick to point out that both programs operate wide-open styles of offense.
Yet that doesn’t take away from where the focus should be, he said.
“The bottom line is the emphasis is on (improving our) tackling,” Criner said. “And if there is a guy you’ve got to tackle, it’s this guy (Porter) right here. This guy, he is one heck of a running back.”
Porter is just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds. But the senior is coming off a 2008 season with more than 1,000 rushing yards and is on pace to eclipse that mark again this year.
Criner wasn’t the only Idaho coach to rave about him. Robb Akey also marvels at the tough yards the tailback consistently scraps out.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anybody break as many tackles as he’s been able to do,” the third-year head mean said. “And he does that against everybody. He’s a very talented young man.”
The goal for the Vandals is to keep Porter confined by swarming to the ball, Criner said. The Bulldogs are eighth in the WAC in passing yards per game, so Idaho could have a nice bounce-back defensive performance if it can derail Porter.
“We’ve got to jump on them fast and make sure that they try to look elsewhere besides what they know best,” Dickson said.
With Idaho’s assortment of big-play receiving targets, Maurice Shaw hasn’t seen as much playing time as he might have expected. But that’s all changing, especially after last week.
The 6-3 junior wideout had a monster day, snaring a pair 73-yard TD bombs and finishing with five catches. He has three touchdown grabs of more than 60 yards in the last two games.
“He has hit some big home runs for us in his time here and certainly had a couple nice home runs for us on Saturday,” Akey said.
The Vandals haven’t beaten Louisiana Tech since Akey took over, but they appear to be catching the Bulldogs in the right venue and at the right time. Not only is La. Tech 0-4 on the road, but it will be playing for the first time since receiver and starting punter Adrian Linwood left the program for personal reasons.
Earlier in October, receiver Houston Tumenillo also quit.