Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Sports >  Idaho football

‘It’s great for our region’: Washington State, Idaho to launch into new eras with season-opening Battle of the Palouse

Sept. 2, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 2, 2022 at 10:09 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – The two college football teams that share the Palouse are coming off similarly significant off-seasons.

Washington State and Idaho spent the past nine months building their programs. The fan bases in Pullman and Moscow are feeling comparable levels of optimism and anticipation ahead of the 2022 season.

The Cougars and Vandals are both revitalized and will debut fresh schemes under first-year coaches when they open their seasons Saturday in a renewed rivalry game.

WSU and Idaho will launch into new eras – against each other, fittingly – when they kick off the Battle of the Palouse at 6:30 p.m. at Gesa Field. It’ll be the first Cougars/Vandals matchup in six years and only the third game between Palouse foes in the past 15 years.

“I love to have it back,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said of the rivalry series. “I think it’s great for our region. It’s a unique part of this world that we have two flagship institutions 10 miles apart in this agricultural area.”

Dickert, hired as head coach last November after guiding WSU to a winning season on an interim basis, will square off against his friend and former co-worker in Jason Eck, who was tabbed the boss at UI in December after the Vandals fired longtime coach Paul Petrino following a fifth consecutive losing season. Dickert and Eck were defensive and offensive coordinator, respectively, in 2014 at Division II Minnesota State. They shared the sideline as assistants in 2016 at FCS South Dakota State.

Both happened to land the first head coaching jobs of their careers on the Palouse.

“Coach Eck brings a smile to my face,” Dickert said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. I think he’s one of the better offensive minds that I’ve ever been around.

“We’d sit in those chairs at Mankato (Minnesota) and South Dakota State, knowing that we both wanted to be head coaches. So, ironically, to do it against each other is something that will be special for us on Saturday.”

Of course, it’ll be less enjoyable for one of them. The FCS Vandals have “our work cut out for us” against the Cougars, a solid Pac-12 team.

“We’re looking at this game as an opportunity,” Eck said. “No one really expects you to win a game like this. So, we’re kinda playing with house money.”

The Vandals must play an exceptionally clean game to have a chance. They are four-touchdown underdogs, according to Draft Kings, and will face major disadvantages at almost every position.

“We’re going to be aggressive,” Eck said. “We’re going to go out there and let it hang and play loose. That’s the message to the kids – it’s an opportunity for us. It’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity more than anything else.”

The Cougars are looking forward to showcasing their revamped version of the Air Raid offense, which features a talented group of receivers and will be led by quarterback Cameron Ward.

“A lot of explosive plays, everybody having fun – you’re gonna see a new offense come to town,” Ward said.

WSU’s passing game and veteran-laden defensive front are the most glaring mismatches for Idaho.

“We have one of the most fast and physical defenses the Cougs have had in a while,” slot receiver Lincoln Victor said.

The Vandals’ team strengths appear to lie with their defensive front and their skill players – they boast All-Big Sky-caliber talent at receiver and running back.

“We’re not going to have a ton of great matchups, but if we do a good job as a staff, we’ll be able to find some,” Eck said.

There’s an element of unpredictability that comes with playing against a new staff in Week 1. The Cougars and Vandals have had to piece together film from several programs while also studying tendencies of the returners. But Dickert is familiar with Eck’s offensive style, and Eck knows what to expect from Dickert’s defense.

“Our coaching staff has a bit of a connection to the coaching staff there, so that’s more insight,” WSU linebacker Daiyan Henley said.

Yet the schematics might not matter much, given the Cougars’ clear edge in speed and physical play – and the usually lopsided nature of this rivalry game.

The Cougars have mostly dominated the Battle of the Palouse series throughout its 128-year history. WSU can extend its winning streak over Idaho to 10 games with a victory Saturday.

“There’s gonna be a huge energy in the stands,” WSU edge Brennan Jackson said. “I hope all of the Palouse is out there.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

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.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.