LEWISTON – Life is good for the Idaho football team.
The Vandals sit at 2-0 for the first time since 1998 after notching a 33-6 win over Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Nevada on Saturday in Reno, Nevada.
The win over the Wolf Pack was also Idaho’s first victory over an FBS foe as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision since a 45-38 decision over UNLV in 1994.
The Vandals’ strong start to the season has also allowed them to steadily raise up the FCS Stats Perform poll, coming in at No. 5 on Monday.
Idaho is beginning to turn heads, not just as a playoff-caliber team but as a team that could make a deep run come November.
Is this hype justified, though, considering the Vandals’ two wins have come against teams that are considered bottom feeders in their respective classifications?
All of Idaho’s preseason All-Big Sky selections (quarterback Gevani McCoy, receivers Jermaine Jackson and Hayden Hatten, defensive back Marcus Harris, running back Anthony Woods and kicker Ricardo Chavez) have lived up to expectations.
The reason the hype train could continue rolling is because the new and less-experienced Vandals have looked good two games in.
The three most impactful new Vandals have been defensive linemen Jahkari Larmond, Tylen Coleman and Keyshawn James-Newby.
They have been playing with a level of moxie that’s uncanny for players in a new system.
Larmond has been a force in the middle of Idaho’s defensive line, helping the Vandals hold their opponents to 94.5 rushing yards per game.
Coleman and James-Newby have been a breath of fresh air coming off the edge with constant pressure – something Idaho desperately lacked last year.
The edge rushers have been able to maintain this level of speed and pressure because of Idaho’s depth at the position, another thing it lacked last season.
Behind the D-line, the linebackers were the most questionable group on defense for Idaho heading into the season. Now, the it looks like one of the Vandals’ deepest groups.
Junior Mathias Bertram and graduate student Tre Thomas have the most college football experience and have played like it, being first and third on the team in tackles, respectively. But the most impressive thing to watch has been how good the freshmen have looked.
Freshman linebackers Xe’ree Alexander and Dylan Layne both recorded turnovers against Nevada, and Alexander applied the pressure that resulted in Layne’s interception.
Layne and Alexander are both players with the potential to be stalwarts on the Vandals’ defense for a long time.
Layne is all over the field. His best play against Nevada probably wasn’t even the interception; it was the play prior.
Layne played his assignment and was reading the eyes of quarterback AJ Bianco the whole time.
The freshman stepped in front of Bianco’s pass, and it just barely left his grasp.
Alexander is built like a grown man at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.
In his limited snaps played, Alexander is tied for third on the team in tackles and has a forced fumble.
The development of the young players, paired with the consistency of the Vandals’ stalwarts, should give Idaho fans reasons to celebrate.