Spring 2011 - Key
What's happening this spring season? Several Scout
publishers provide their insider info on the key
questions that matter to the real world of college
football. Scroll down for the links to all the
Q: Will there be any semblance of defense on Idaho this year?
From Larry Johnson and Pat Hauge, GoVandals.net …
The gains Idaho's defense made in 2010 were remarkable. The Vandals historically have been a team with a potent offensive attack, but it was actually the Vandal defense that kept them in most of the games last year.
Yes, the passing attack was ranked 10th in the country, and Idaho averaged 26.6 points per game (60th in the country). But the more salient statistic defining what head coach Robb Akey is building in his fifth year at Idaho, is the fact that Idaho gave up an average of less than 30 points per game (28.3 to be exact) for the first time in a decade. In 2009 Idaho won eight games and the Humanitarian Bowl, but gave up 36 points per game along the way. In their six wins during 2010, the Vandals gave up 63 points total (yielding about 10 points per game, including pitching their first shutout since 1992). They lost road games at Fresno State and Colorado State by a combined five points, and lost both on the last plays of the game.
The Vandal defense still has ground to make up against the more potent offensive attacks in the country, as Nevada (63 points), Boise State (52) Hawaii (45), and Nebraska (38) showed last fall. But for 2011 Idaho returns all but four starters on defense. Replacing three-year team captain and All-WAC safety Shiloh Keo and All-WAC defensive end Aaron Lavarias will be challenging, but the Vandals have a solid stable of talent moving up through the depth chart to fill the voids and build on what has been developed in recent years.
Q: Is the program taking on a different attitude now that Boise State is out of the WAC? What's the one big thing you're looking for this spring?
It obviously doesn't help Idaho's situation as it works to rebuild its athletic programs to lose four marquee teams out of the Western Athletic Conference: Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada. The loss of any one of those four would have been difficult enough to replace, let alone replacing all four at once.
But the rebuilding process that Idaho is engaged in today is beyond what the teams in its league do now and in the future. Idaho has lost and gained many rivals over the decades. Athletic director Rob Spear has led Idaho in an unprecedented transformation of its athletic facilities - with more on the way. The attitude of the Idaho athletic department has been focused on growth in all facets. Idaho has been in four conferences in 15 years, and it is possible there will be more conference shuffling on the horizon.
The WAC will continue to rebuild itself, and Idaho's attention remains focused on positioning itself to be at the head of the class in future WAC configurations.
Idaho's top priority from last year is to assemble an offensive line that can get a push in short yardage situations and balance the offensive attack.
In 2009, with a senior-laden offensive line and behind First Round NFL Draft pick Mike Iupati (San Francisco), the Vandal offense did a good job keeping opposing defenses off balance. Idaho had a variety of tailbacks that could exploit defenses, but the Idaho O-line could gain a tough yard on the ground when needed.
That wasn't the case in 2010, struggling at times when the field was shortened having to go to the pass in the redzone way too often rather than driving in for a touchdown on the backs of the line. Idaho had to turn to four new starters on the O-line in 2010, and it showed.
For 2011, Idaho returns three starters (seniors Matt Cleveland, Sam Tupua, and Tyrone Novikoff), as well as a fourth (sophomore Jordan Johnson) who played significantly in 2010. Idaho must find a starter at center, and reliable depth backing up the starting unit.
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Florida State's E.J. Manuel Ready?