For any team to move up through the ranks of college football, improvements have to be made in all parts of the game. While dropping to 0-3 following last week’s loss to Northern Illinois, Idaho looked nothing like the team that only managed to score a total of 17 points in their first two games. Walking into Martin Stadium for the first time since 2007, the Vandals will look to embrace an old rivalry and try to get their first win of the season against Washington State in the “Battle of the Palouse”.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE:
WSU comes into this game with the 17th ranked passing attack in the nation led by junior QB Connor Halliday. Through three games, Halliday is averaging 314 yards passing a game with a 64.6% completion rate, six touchdowns and six interceptions. Halliday distributes the ball fairly well, but primarily looks for sophomore Gabe Marks and junior Kristoff Williams. These two wide-outs contribute for 36% of his completions for far this season.
When it comes to running the ball, the Cougars aren’t big fans of it. Through three games, WSU has only rushed the ball 62 total times. This makes sense since Coach Mike Leech installed the “Air Raid” offense the moment he got to campus. Rushing attributes for just 29% of WSU’s total plays offensively for the season. As a team, they have rushed for 181 yards, which is currently less than 99 individual players in the nation.
Defensively, the Cougars are allowing only 16 points per game this season, but this may be a byproduct of taking on teams who offensively weren’t great at the time. In their two big games against USC and Auburn, they could only force a total of three turnovers, but did hold them to a combined three down conversation rate of 29%. WSU did mirror these numbers in their last week’s game against FCS opponent Southern Utah.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR IDAHO:
If we continued to learn anything from last week’s game against Northern Illinois, it is that the Vandals need a lot of work on their offense line. Idaho QBs were sacked nine times against NIU and have fallen prey to defenses 21 times so far in 2013. The productivity of this offense hinges on QBs Chad Chalich and Josh McCain having enough time in the backfield to operate. For most of the first half of the NIU game, the line looked to have it together with a lot of good blocking and push on NIU’s defensive line. They need to improve on that and stay consistent to prevent Idaho’s offense from stalling out and giving the ball back to WSU.
One of the biggest issues the Vandals have had this season is holding on to the ball. All eight of Idaho’s turnovers this season are the result of fumbles, a majority of which are attributed to Chalich and McCain. If Coach Paul Petrino is going to give these two the authority to scramble to make a play (their combined 75 carries in three games would indicate he will), then they need to work on not fumbling it. Both of these young players are talented runners and have made big plays and pushed big drives with their feet, but have all too often seen a fumble ruin it and kill Idaho’s momentum.
Defensively for Idaho, it’s all about stopping WSU’s “Air Raid” offense. The Cougars are a pass first then pass again offense and the Vandals haven’t shown great success in the past stopping the pass game. Showing improvements every week, the Vandals need to get at Halliday early and often. The Vandals did well locking down Wyoming’s Brett Smith and NIU’s Jordan Lynch before the fatigue of being on the field too much caught up to them. If they can force WSU to run the ball and lock down their passing game, Idaho could be in good shape.
Located just eight miles from each other, the rivalry built between Idaho and Washington State can be traced back to the fact that these two programs are incredibly similar. Both teams have been widely considered the laughing-stocks of their conferences for the better part of a decade. Both have seen minimal success recently with Idaho being the last of the two schools to have a winning season and win in a bowl game. Since 2004, these two schools have combined for 17 losing seasons (Idaho 8 WSU 9).
Outside of football, this is a natural rivalry based on location and mutual appreciation. Sharing the expansive Palouse area of North Eastern Washington and North Western Idaho, the schools have partnered to offer their students courses at the other school’s facilities. Students and residents from Pullman travel to Moscow and vice versa to take advantage of the other’s many stores, restaurants and services.
Going back to football, while these two teams have played each other 88 times since 1894, the rivalry has taken its share of breaks. The two teams played consistently from 1901 through 1942 until World War 2 broke out in Europe (the longest streak in the rivalry), but due to a variety of reasons, the two schools have not been able to play each other consistently for more than ten years at a time. Earlier this week, the schools announced that they will play each other again in 2016 with the possibility of the rivalry restoring to its yearly glory still available. Since the two teams play in different conferences, using up a non-conference game every year takes away an opportunity monetarily from bigger games, a factor that sadly comes into play.
As for today, the game could go one of three ways: WSU blows Idaho out, WSU barely escapes from Idaho, or Idaho sneaks away with a win. The Vandals showed a massive amount of fight and potential last week against a much better and offensively dangerous NIU team and hopefully that translates over to this game. Halliday, while good, gives up the ball too much and WSU is incredibly one-dimensional offensively with a defense that is kind of suspect. WSU’s win over USC is looking less and less impressive with Lane Kiffin driving that team into the ground.
In the end, the Vandals are still a much younger team and this game will probably go in favor of WSU (unless they decide to "Coug It" at the end, allowing the Vandals to walk away with the W).
NCAA 14 Prediction: Washington State 45 Idaho 14
My Prediction: Washington State 35 Idaho 27