MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho football team opens a new era tonight, making its Western Athletic Conference debut against Hawaii.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson will be on hand, the Kibbie Dome might be packed and one of these two winless teams will be the undisputed conference leader for at least one week since this will be the only WAC game played thus far.
“We approach every game the same, they’re all very important, but it’s a really nice deal with our conference opener at home,” Idaho coach Nick Holt said. “We’ve been traveling the last three weeks, so it’ll be good to get back in front of our fans.”
Some old questions persist.
Can Idaho (0-3) shake its habit of slow conference starts? The Vandals dropped their Sun Belt opener three of the last four years.
Can the Vandals establish a running game and protect quarterback Steven Wichman? They didn’t do either very well in last week’s 34-6 drubbing at Washington.
“It was this guy on that play and that guy on the next play,” Holt said of the multiple breakdowns by linemen, backs and tight ends.
The Warriors’ defense is under the direction of former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, who told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that he intends to simplify his schemes for tonight’s game.
“He’s running a very aggressive package,” Vandals co-offensive coordinator Nate Kaczor said. “They’ve played two of the best offenses in the country. Michigan State (which beat Hawaii 42-14) just put 44 on Notre Dame. USC (which beat Hawaii 63-17), it’s just ridiculous what they’ve been doing.”
Can Idaho’s defense contain with a potent passing game? The Warriors (0-2) hammered Idaho 52-21 in November as Timmy Chang threw six touchdown passes.
Chang is gone, but Colt Brennan has completed 69.8 percent of his passes and has a 144.9 efficiency rating through two games. Receivers Ross Dickerson, Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen and Ian Sample average between 44 and 70 yards per game. The four receivers are all listed at 5-foot-10.
Hawaii uses a run-and-shoot offense, which often features four receivers in a shotgun formation. The ground game isn’t an afterthought, though, as the Warriors picked up 152 yards rushing against Michigan State.
The Vandals should have a thorough scouting report on Hawaii, which is coming off a bye week.
Not only did the two teams square off just 10 months ago, but Holt has close ties to Southern Cal, his former employer, and Michigan State, coached by John L. Smith, Holt’s former boss at Idaho.
Both teams have injury concerns.
Hawaii starting linebacker Ikaika Curnan and running back Bryan Maneafaiga didn’t practice Thursday. Offensive linemen Brandon Eaton and Dane Uperesa are battling injuries, but they’re listed as starters.
Idaho will probably be without offensive tackle Nate VanderPol (knee), but bookend tackle Hank Therien (neck), defensive tackle Siua Musika (knee), guard Kris Anderson (knee) and linebacker Mike Anderson (shoulder) are expected to play.
Tonight’s game is one of the stops on the WAC’s Play Up Tour, which coincides with the launch of a new marketing campaign designed to improve perceptions of the conference. Commissioner Karl Benson, a Pullman High graduate, will present Idaho president Tim White and athletic director Rob Spear with a commemorative WAC Play Up helmet. … For the first time this season, Idaho is listed as the favorite – by 1.5 points. … There are tickets remaining, but roughly 15,000 had been sold as of noon Friday, according to the UI ticket office. The ticket office opens at 3 today. … Last week was the first time Idaho failed to score a touchdown in a game since losing to Eastern Washington 8-5 in the second game of the 2003 season.
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