Coach Paul Petrino’s era at Idaho hasn’t quite opened up as planned or hoped for. Following their second straight loss on the road this season, the Vandals finally return to the Kibbie Dome today for their first home game against the defending MAC champions Northern Illinois.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NORTHERN ILLINOIS:
QB Jordan Lynch had a break-out year in 2012, recording 3,138 yards passing and 1,815 yards rushing while totaling 44 touchdowns. Against Iowa, Lynch nabbed 331 yards of total offense and three touchdowns to help NIU get their first win of the season. With a strong arm and some incredibly quick legs, Lynch will be a thorn in Idaho’s side all game much in the same way Wyoming’s Brett Smith was last week.
Lynch isn’t the only weapon that Northern Illinois has. Wide-outs Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis could have big games depending on the play of Idaho’s secondary. Since WR Akeem Daniels will be out for the game, these two may see an increase in use and targets. So far this season, Idaho was allowed at least one wide receiver to have over 100 yards receiving in both of their first two games. Then again, Lynch and RB Cameron Stingily could spend the entire day running the ball and taking yards away from the passing game.
Defensively, Northern Illinois did a great job of forcing turnovers in their opener against Iowa, which included the interception that helped them get the ball and eventually win the game. Along with the turnovers, NIU held Iowa to just 7 of 17 on third down attempts. Although they allowed over 450 yards of total offense, it’s tough to judge whether or not this defense has found their chemistry following all the personnel changes it had over the off-season.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR IDAHO:
For Idaho, the biggest issue they had last week against Wyoming was the play of their offensive line. Allowing too many sacks and not getting a good amount of push up front has killed the Vandals offensively and has prevented them from making any kind of headway in a positive manner. NIU will probably blitz quite a bit in this game and if the offensive line doesn’t step up, Idaho’s offense won’t see much time on the field.
Speaking of offense, one of the most noticeable things about the Wyoming game last week was the very conservative play calling by offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich. After claiming that the offense would look “crisper” following the loss to North Texas, the only thing that really happened for a majority of the game was Idaho really not taking any chances. Chalk it up to Wyoming’s great defensive play early on, but when the Vandals actually tried playing aggressively and allowed QB Chad Chalich to air the ball out a bit, they were actually more productive. Chalich has shown he has an arm and great accuracy, so Cinkovich shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
Despite allowing 40+ points for the second game in a row, it's hard to blame the defense for the loss to Wyoming. Playing a fantastic first half, the team just got run down and exhausted from being on the field too much. As a byproduct, Smith and the Cowboys were able to take full advantage and move the ball at will. With NIU coming to the dome, they must contain Lynch. The team has struggled to defend scrambling quarterbacks in the past, but did a fairly good job with Smith last week. If they don’t contain one of the best duel threat QBs in the nation, it’s going to get ugly quick.
Coming into the season, Coach Petrino probably didn’t figure that his tenure at Idaho would open up with two 30+ point losses. Losing their first two games of the season for the ninth time in 14 seasons, the Vandals have a very big challenge ahead of them in this game against NIU. Lynch is a potential Heisman candidate and the Huskies are virtually the same team that went to the BCS last season.
Although the previous two meetings between these teams were decided by less than seven points, it would take a miracle for this game to be close. NIU has too good of a team for the young Vandals to keep up with. Since Idaho hasn’t shown that they can move the ball very well yet, the defense will probably by completely exhausted by the second half, allowing the Huskies to put up many points on the board. Expect Idaho to drop their home opener for the third year in a row and drop to 0-3 to open a season for the seventh time since 2000.
NCAA 14 Prediction: Northern Illinois 42 Idaho 6
My Prediction: Northern Illinois 52 Idaho 10