MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho fended off Central Washington 41-31 last Saturday with a football strategy time-tested from the days Bronko Nagurski was lowering a shoulder and scattering leather-hatted defenders for Chicago’s Monsters of the Midway nearly 90 years ago.
A big, determined back behind effective blocking trumps most things.
Aundre Carter in the early stages, Roshaun Johnson in the fourth quarter, and Carter again late in the fourth with a 27-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach for the Wildcats.
Carter finished with 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Johnson added 111 yards and a score. It was the first time Idaho had a pair of 100-yard rushers in a game since 2004.
The Vandals’ potent rushing recalled Idaho’s waning days in the Sun Belt Conference when the league’s leading rusher, Aaron Duckworth, and hard-hitting Isaiah Saunders lined up in the backfield two years ago.
Against the Wildcats, however, it was all in Saunders’ style, as Carter and Johnson are both listed as 240-pounders. Behind them are many smaller, elusive backs, but Vandals running back coach Brian Reader is pleased with the bulk.
“Speed is always great,” Reader said. “But it’s good to have power, too. … Which do you need on a particular play? (Carter and Johnson) are both smart kids. They understand it, and they feed off each other.
“They are both extremely strong in the weight room, and they understand, ‘This is what I am best at.’ ”
“I love running between the tackles, hitting the tacklers,” Johnson said.
Exploding through the A gap to stagger linebackers is not all Reader expects of his big backs, however. He is anxious to expand their portfolios.
“My big thing is, do not be a one-dimensional running back,” Reader said.
During early season practices, Johnson and Carter have caught passes out of the backfield and taken on cornerbacks.
“It makes you better,” Carter said. “It sharpens your skills.”
Both running backs praised the Vandals’ blocking against CWU.
“The O line did their thing,” Johnson said. “It seemed like they were blocking everything right. Once it’s easy to see the big holes, it’s easier to see the smaller holes.”
Carter, a redshirt freshman from Florida, and Johnson, a redshirt sophomore from Arizona, were drawn to Idaho and Moscow for similar reasons.
“It’s a small town,” said Carter, who spends time away from football on simple things such as bowling in Pullman with friends. “You don’t have to adjust to a big city.”
“I really liked the environment,” Johnson said. “It’s a family-oriented team.
“At the end of the day, we’re all competing for starting spots, touches in a game. But we’re still a brotherhood.
“(Moscow) is nice, quiet. I don’t need a car.”
Johnson’s official visit was in January. Having spent 10 years in St. Paul, Minnesota, before moving to Arizona, he knew what to expect from hard winters. As the nephew of former Detroit Lions defensive back Levi Johnson, the demands of college football similarly held no surprises for him.
Their respective big games against CWU paid a dividend in increased confidence, Reader said.
“They are winning the one-on-one battles,” Reader said.
Maintaining that dominance as the Vandals prepare for Wyoming’s traditionally tough run defense Saturday is the next big challenge facing Carter and Johnson.
“Now we’ve got a win under our belt,” Johnson said. “We’re ready to get more.
“Momentum is everything.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.