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Sports >  Idaho football

Things to watch: No. 21 Idaho must avoid upset against Idaho State to keep playoff hopes alive

Nov. 18, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 18, 2022 at 7:15 p.m.

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

The Football Championship Subdivision playoffs remain a goal for the Idaho Vandals, who made the tournament in 10 of 11 seasons between 1985-95 and reached the semifinals in 1988 and 1993, before embarking on a two-decade run in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Since returning to the FCS and the Big Sky Conference in 2018, Idaho could not post a winning season, until now.

At 6-4 overall, and tied for third place in the Big Sky with Weber State and UC Davis at 5-2, the Vandals, ranked 21st in the FCS STATS poll, remain in contention for a playoff berth, and Selection Sunday will be a must-watch affair for them if they can go to Pocatello, retain the Battle of the Domes Trophy they won last year and get by rival Idaho State. As a rival, with a trophy at stake, the Bengals are not guaranteed to roll over in their final game. But they have struggled mightily this year and are just 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the league.

For the Vandals to avoid an upset and take care of business to keep their season alive, here are three things to watch.

Will freshman quarterback Jack Layne get into this game if Idaho gets control of it early? Vandals coach Jason Eck at his weekly press conference Monday, said Layne, from Lake Oswego, OR., would be the first quarterback off the bench, behind starter Gevani McCoy. Layne has caught the eye of coaches from the first day of preseason camp, and in his lone action, against Drake, he completed six of eight passes for 113 yards. Playing against the Bengals would not put a redshirt year at risk, and Eck has apparently been as good as word, since Layne got plenty of practice reps with the first team offense this week.

Who will the Bengals start at quarterback? Tyler Vander Waal, a junior, seemed like he was staking a claim on the job before injuries sidelined him last year and limited him to two games, so far, this season. He has been cleared to play against the Vandals. But sophomore Sagan Gronauer, who has completed 57 of 103 passes for 557 yards with six interceptions and three touchdowns, and sophomore Hunter Hays, who has thrown for 1,2512 yards with 125 completions on 198 attempts with six interceptions and five touchdowns, could also get the start, according to ISU coach Charlie Ragle. Hays also has some ability as a runner, having rushed for 328 yards and a touchdown this season.

Can ISU slow down the Vandals’ ground game? Defense has been a glaring weakness for the Bengals. They are 109th in FCS in scoring defense, giving up 36.4 points per game. They have given up 1,944 yards rushing, 4.9 yards per attempt, and 23 touchdowns on the ground. Vandals’ runners like Anthony Woods, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt while gaining 692 yards overall, Elisha Cummings, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt on 368 yards overall, and red zone specialist Roshaun Johnson, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, with 360 yards overall and eight touchdowns, must be salivating to get a chance to play against that defense.

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