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Idaho Football

Things to watch: Run defense crucial in Idaho’s matchup with UC Davis

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – After dispatching Eastern Washington University 48-16 last Saturday and ensuring a winning record for the first time since 2016, the Idaho Vandals (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky Conference) are tightly focused on their biggest goal, gaining a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The highest hurdle remaining, the team on the Vandals’ heels, they face Saturday in the their final home game. UC Davis (5-4, 4-2) is riding a four-game winning streak.

Get by the Aggies, and Idaho concludes the regular season at Idaho State (1-8, 1-5).

But defeating UC Davis is no sure thing. Idaho coach Jason Eck was the offensive coordinator at South Dakota State University when it steamrolled the Aggies 56-24 in the playoffs last year. The Aggies, however, are on a tear. They are third in the BSC in scoring offense (36.7 points per game) and third in scoring defense (20.7 ppg).

Here are three things to watch as the Vandals try to finish off a streak. They are 4-0 at home and keeping a perfect record in the Kibbie Dome gets them that much closer to the FCS playoffs.

Can Idaho slow down Ulonzo Gilliam and Miles Hastings? The Vandals’ defense was exposed somewhat in their lone BSC loss, 31-28 to Sacramento State. The conference’s leading rusher, Cameron Skattebo (116.7 yards per game), ran for 134 yards in that game. Hornets quarterback Asher O’Hara ran for 129 yards and a touchdown. UC Davis running back Gilliam trails only Skattebo in the BSC and is averaging 107.6 ypg. He also has nine touchdowns. Hastings is the Big Sky’s leading quarterback, averaging 281.7 passing ypg. He has thrown for 19 touchdowns against only five interceptions. Idaho counters with the Big Sky’s fourth-leading tackler, Fa’Avae Fa’Avae, averaging 8.6 tackles per game and with two sacks. Idaho’s Tommy McCormick and Paul Moala have four interceptions each.

Can the Aggies slow down Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson? The two Vandals are the second- and third-ranked receivers in the conference, respectively. Hatten is averaging 89.5 receiving yards per game on 6.5 catches and has scored 12 touchdowns, including a Vandals record-tying four against EWU. Jackson is just a whisker behind in ypg, 86.7, on 4.4 receptions per game. He has also caught four touchdown passes.

Who wins the ground game? The Aggies are third in the conference with 193.6 ypg and they have rushed for 18 touchdowns. Idaho follows in fifth, rushing for 178.4 ypg with 14 touchdowns. Anthony Woods, with 648 yards on the season and a pair of touchdowns; Elisha Cummings, 354 yards and four touchdowns; and Roshaun Johnson, 337 yards and eight touchdowns, do the heavy lifting for the Vandals. If the Aggies sit in a zone with deep safeties to try to contain Idaho’s receivers, the running backs could have a day. In any event, somebody is going to have to have one, according to Eck. He suspects whoever wins this game will score more than 30 points.