As with anything in life, taking that first step or hitting that first mile marker is the hardest thing to do. For this young Idaho football team, last week’s win against Temple was that first step. Playing some of the best football they’ve played all season long, the Vandals may have given us a glimpse into the future and what we may be able to expect next season in the Sun Belt. Riding high on momentum, Idaho will look to shock the nation as the #23 ranked Bulldogs of Fresno State come to town.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FRESNO STATE:
If you aren’t familiar with QB Derek Carr, you will be on Saturday. The senior QB has been receiving a lot of hype this season on the back of Fresno State’s success with talks of Heisman candidacy buzzing. On the field, Carr has thrown 14 touchdowns on 1,445 yards thus far this season. He has thrown at least two touchdowns a game to open the season and has only had one game (win over Cal-Poly) where he didn’t throw for over 300+ yards. Carr also has one rushing touchdown to his name this season.
Ranked 97th in the nation, Fresno State doesn’t run the ball as effectively as they have in the past. Going to the ground 38% of the time on offense this season, the Bulldogs are led by junior Josh Quezada yard-wise with 213 on the season and two touchdowns. Quezada is a dual threat though as he has 114 yards and one touchdown receiving out of the backfield. The Bulldogs have yet to have a player rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season, but that could change in this game. Sophomore Marteze Waller had 95 yards last week against Hawaii and could get more carries today.
Defensively, Fresno State has been struggling to a certain extent keeping opponents out of the end-zone. Currently ranked 114th in the nation for points allowed at 38.3 per game, last weekend almost saw this undefeated giant fall when they allowed Hawaii to score 34 unanswered points. They have forced seven turnovers this season, but there really hasn’t been anything special about this defense. Their greatest strength might be in the sack department as they are currently tied for 12th in the nation with 13.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR IDAHO:
If we learned anything from the Temple game it’s that QB Chad Chalich owns this offense and his success will determine the success of Idaho’s production today. Chalich with every game looks more and more comfortable and last week he showed a lot of growth. Even though he is still struggling a little bit with some of his passes, both on a strength and accuracy level, he’s able to really mix it up and keep defenses guessing, not to mention he has the best play-action moves in the NCAA right now. If Chalich can get hot early, this team could have a good day.
For Chalich to get hot though, the offensive line needs to do its job and protect him. Against Temple, the offensive line only gave up two sacks, which is mind blowing figuring they’d been giving up at least eight a game. Fresno State likes to get after the quarterback early and often so if the offensive line doesn’t step up and protect Chalich, the offense as a whole won’t go anywhere.
Defensively, it’s all about stopping Derek Carr. The guy is a phenomenal quarterback and has been lighting teams up all season long. Idaho’s secondary has shown a lot of potential and skill with passing quarterbacks so far this season, but having to spend an excess amount of time on the field has left them tired and mistake prone. Shutting down Carr would put the brakes on Fresno State’s offense and would force them to go to the ground, which hasn’t been easy for teams who have faced the Vandals this season.
Remember the song “The Letter” by The Box Tops? I only ask because if you were alive in 1967 and remember hearing that little ditty on the radio, then you were also around for the last time the Vandals beat the Bulldogs. Yes my friends and fellow fans, it has been 46 years and nine games since Idaho has defeated Fresno State with the last win in Moscow coming in 1963. The last time these two teams played was 2011 when both were members of the Western Athletic Conference and that game ended 48-24 in Moscow.
Fast forwarding to today, the Vandals have come a long way progress wise since the beginning of the season. Chalich is getting praise left and right by coaches and teammates. The defense is stepping up and proving their worth. The offensive line didn’t give up 40 sacks to Temple. Things seem to be moving in a very positive way. With all these things considered, it’s hard to see Idaho winning this game with how well Carr is playing for Fresno State. The Bulldogs are a really good team overall and this one will probably show it in spades as Idaho takes a small step back progress wise.
NCAA 14 Prediction: Fresno State 42 Idaho 17
My Prediction: Fresno State 45 Idaho 20