Idaho is opening its football season with a robust schedule reminiscent of its days as a member of the old Pacific Coast Conference, which ended in 1959.
The Vandals head to Martin Stadium Saturday to face Washington State. A week later they are at Indiana. Idaho is doing this with a new coach, Jason Eck, with questions at quarterback and other positions, and after coming off a 4-7 record a year ago, which included a 56-14 loss to the Hoosiers.
“We’ve got to embrace it. That’s our situation,” says Eck.
He said he asked a graduate assistant to review teams that made the Football Championship Series quarterfinals and determine how many had played two Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Out of approximately 80 teams that reached the quarter-finals, only six did it in years where they faced two FBS opponents.
Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for the Vandals who hope to play professionally to showcase what they can do against Power 5 Pac-12 and Big 10 teams, according to Eck.
Eck said one of his former South Dakota State University players, an All-America, told him he’d “love to play two money games.”
“He’s got the right idea,” Eck said.
Idaho has been evaluating three quarterbacks throughout preseason camp, C.J. Jordan, Gevani McCoy and J’Bore Gibbs. McCoy seemed to be getting the majority of practice repetitions recently. However, Eck declined to name a starter at a Monday press conference.
Whoever is at quarterback against the Cougars will look for standout receivers Hayden Hatten and Terez Traynor and will hand off to the Vandals’ deep corps of running backs, Eck said. If Idaho can get favorable one-on-one coverage with its playmakers “we want to see guys respond. We’ve got to win the one-on-ones if we get the matchups,” said Eck.
The Cougars are likely to enjoy both size and speed advantages all over the field. To counter that, “we’ve got to play really, really hard. We’ve got to get a lot of hats to the ball,” said Eck. He lauded WSU’s perimeter blocking and said “we’ve got to do a good job of getting off the blocks and running to the ball.” The Vandals are dressing 11 defensive linemen and expect 10 to play, in an effort to keep pressure on the Cougs.
Idaho also has to guard against breakdowns in kick and punt coverage, Eck said. Those could break open the game for WSU.
Overall against WSU and Indiana, Eck said he will be watching most closely to see whether the Vandals are playing good football, regardless if they are winning or losing. During fall practices, he said, his players are improving on offense.
“I see more plays run the way they are supposed to look on tape than I did in the spring,” he said.
Questions about this Vandals team will begin to be answered Saturday, Eck said.
“There are always suspicions in your head” during practice, he said, adding if the offense has a good drive during practice “is that because we’re really good on offense or because we’re struggling on defense?
“We’re going to find out in the first game.”
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