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Idaho Football

Things to watch: Idaho must contain Northern Arizona’s pass attack

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho (1-2) secured the year’s first win (42-14) against Drake a week ago. Now the Vandals take to the road and try to get their first Big Sky Conference victory, against Northern Arizona (1-2). Here are three things to watch as they take on the Lumberjacks.

1. No one has lit up Idaho in the passing game. NAU comes off 324 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 27-24 loss against North Dakota. But Idaho has given up an average of only 191 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in its first three games, including 228 yards and three touchdowns in the opener against Washington State. “Both Indiana and Washington State wanted to be in ‘11 personnel,’ with three wide receivers and a tight end (and one running back),” Vandals coach Jason Eck said. “That has prepared us well for a lot of what we’re going to see in the conference.” The Lumberjacks have some talented wide receivers, according to Eck, who also praised the job quarterback RJ Martinez is doing in the wide-open Big Sky. “We’re going to have to play our best game to get a win,” Eck said. But Idaho has shown an ability to cover receivers and pressure quarterbacks. Senior defensive end Leo Tamba exemplifies a Vandals team committed to defense, with four tackles and 1.5 sacks going into the NAU game. “He’s a highly accountable dude,” Eck said. “He does what he’s supposed to do and does it really hard. I can’t say enough about that young man.”

2. Idaho’s offensive line could make its best showing of the year. Against Drake, Eck said the Vandals struggled on third down. The Vandals started three newcomers in freshman center Elijah Sanchez, redshirt freshman guard Jerry Dotts and redshirt freshman tackle Logan Harris. Senior guard Beau St. John and graduate transfer tackle Jason Hahlbeck are expected to return from injuries against NAU. They could lend stability to the offense.

3. The Big Sky is hard on quarterbacks. Idaho, however, looks to have a deep corps of competent offensive leaders. Redshirt freshman Gevani McCoy emerged from a three-way quarterback competition in preseason camp. In three games, he has thrown for 591 yards, with five touchdowns against two interceptions. Against Drake, freshman Jack Layne got in for a couple of series and completed 5 of 7 passes for 49 yards. If the Vandals need a long-term replacement for McCoy, they would be comfortable with either redshirt freshman CJ Jordan, who played five games for Idaho in the spring and fall 2021 seasons before being knocked out by injuries, or redshirt junior J’Bore Gibbs, a transfer from South Dakota State, who was on the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer Team in 2019 but has battled injuries since. “We haven’t had issues with guys pouting or hanging their heads,” Eck said. “Spring ball and fall camp are for defining your roles. Now it’s about accepting your roles.” If McCoy is either hurt or retires to the bench early because Idaho has the game in hand, Gibbs, Jordan or Layne could get an opportunity to show what they can do.