[Vandal] Big Sky Is QB-driven Conference

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Fri Jul 24 09:03:46 PDT 2020

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoFriday, July 24, 2020
Big Sky Is QB-driven Conference
Petrino talks team, challenges during virtual media days
By Colton Clark
Now two full seasons into Idaho football’s Big Sky Conference reassimilation, coach Paul Petrino has gotten a feel for which aspect of this league is most challenging to prepare for on a weekly basis.
“There’s so many highly-talented quarterbacks, and the offensive coordinators and head coaches do such a good job with ’em,” Petrino said, responding to a question posed during Thursday morning’s prerecorded conference media days on Pluto TV. “Every team you play, it seems like there’s just another tough quarterback you’re playing against.”
While it's true the Big Sky has seen a surge of playoff contenders riding physical, grind-it-out approaches, steady quarterbacking remains crucial in a league that's long been defined by such.
To some extent, the coaches' and media preseason polls released early in the broadcast reinforce Petrino’s answer — every program predicted to ­finish in the top half has either a recent history of quarterback success, or reeled in transfers of intriguing potential.
Weber State, an overwhelming favorite in both polls, hasn’t predicated itself on superb quarterback play as of late, but the Wildcats did land one with Football Bowl Subdivision experience in June to support an already back-breaking ground game, and a suffocating defense. Similar goes for Montana State, the No. 3 pick in both polls.
The Vandals, tabbed ninth by the coaches and eighth by media members after a 5-7 season, are hoping one of their under-the-radar signal-callers will turn some heads come next season, which has become increasingly tenuous as the coronavirus figures climb continually in the region — particularly in this immediate area.
The media days, which continue at 9 a.m. Pacific today on Pluto TV Ch. 530, were moved up about a week, presumably because of uncertainties with the pandemic. Every Big Sky coach spoke Thursday as the league trudges forward, with several other Football Championship Subdivision conferences beginning to shut seasons down.
The coaches were interviewed in smaller groups by Big Sky media personality Mariluz Cook, who distributed presubmitted and fan questions. There were enough for each head man to get some air time.
First up for Petrino, of course, was what characteristic of the Big Sky he thought presented the most difficulties, to which he replied its quarterback play.
“Any time you have a good quarterback, you can recruit good receivers,” he said. “The team that can run the ball enough, and have an offensive line protect him — keep him from getting hit too many times — that’s usually the team that wins.”
It prompted a follow-up regarding the Vandals’ situation under center. Petrino reaffirmed it’ll be a three-man race to decide who’ll succeed his son, Mason.
The competition will be between 6-foot-5, 250-pound Mike Beaudry, a pro-style UConn grad transfer and former Division II national runner-up at West Florida who has been plagued by injuries; Caleb Jordan, a multifaceted product of Union High School in Camas, Wash.; and Nikhil Nayar, a balanced signal-caller who has gotten some reps at Idaho, albeit in garbage time.
Lewiston’s Colton Richardson, expected to contend for the job, will be off of the team for a year because of a credit hours issue stemming from a medical withdrawal in 2019.
“I think it’ll be a really good challenge,” said Petrino, who spoke alongside first-year Cal Poly coach Beau Baldwin and Eastern Washington’s Aaron Best. “We have one young man back, a transfer from UConn — he’s big, has a strong arm. ... and we have a freshman that I hope looks like Eastern’s quarterback (Eric Barriere) two years down the road.”
Arbitrary questions concerning team expectations and the league’s competition were followed by candid discussions on the Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest in the country, and the pandemic.
The conversation on the latter among the 13 coaches was defined much by themes of listening, understanding and support. The diversity of locker rooms was cited a handful of times.
“I think one of the biggest things I need to do, and I’ve tried to continue to do, is be a good listener and try to listen to understand,” Petrino said when asked how his team has broached the subject of racial injustices. “A lot of our players grew up different than I grew up. They went through things I didn’t have to go through, that my kids don’t have to go through.
“Just really listen to each other, and be there for each other. It’s affected people in different ways. ... Reach out to people, really try to help.”
Petrino said he was present at a BLM protest in Moscow not long ago, and mentioned a unifying talk given recently to the team by former bowl-winning Vandal cornerback Kendrick Trotter, who shared experiences and urged the players to talk through any troubles they might have together.
In adapting to COVID-19 limitations, Petrino said he’s picked up something new. Since he and the team and staff mostly have been separated the past few months, he began to include himself on every position-group text chat, something he says he’ll continue to do.
“It helps you stay in touch with all the different groups, in a quick manner,” he said.
But overall, he said he’s anxious to see the players again. Right now, Idaho trainer Chris Walsh is “kind of the king of the school,” in that he is responsible for making sure the Vandals adhere to coronavirus guidelines. But Petrino noted Idaho’s staff is tentatively set to get more on-field time with its players, starting next week.
“It’s kinda a day-by-day, seeing how things go,” he said. “The biggest thing, it’ll just be nice to see them in-person, and just with how much they miss being around each other.
“The first thing you really understand is why we do this, why we coach, and that’s being around them.”
Coaches spoke of the mental toll the pandemic has taken on their players. All essentially recognized that “half measures” wouldn’t cut it in limiting the virus’ spread, but none really voiced concerns about the season potentially being canceled.
“We either go or we don’t,” Montana’s Bobby Hauck said. “We shut the country down, which I don’t think is feasible financially. ... If you’re uncomfortable, don’t play, don’t coach, don’t go to the games. If you’re comfortable, let’s roll.”
Extra Points
Petrino said defense will be Idaho’s strength, “for sure,” especially its front seven. The eighth-year boss said “we’ll be led by” the star linebacking trio of Christian Elliss, Tre Walker and Charles Akanno. He expects a boost from defensive end Kayode Rufai, and said Post Falls product Nate DeGraw, a defensive tackle, was “our most improved player.”
“I think we’ll be pretty strong up front, it’ll just be how we play in the secondary.”
Petrino when asked of the family-oriented vibe for the Vandals, who boast six sets of brothers:
“It speaks to our community, the people on our campus. ... Probably the biggest thing we can sell at the University of Idaho is our people — we have a lot of great people. ... You know you’re getting old when you’re recruiting sons of the dads you already coached.”
Petrino, a former option QB at Carroll College, when asked what position he'd play if he could alter reality:
"I'd be a great big 6-6, 320-pound offensive tackle."
Big Sky Preseason Polls
1. Weber State (7) 1352. Montana (3) 1283. Montana State (1) 1214. E. Washington (1) 1185. Sacramento St. (1) 996. UC Davis 837. Northern Arizona 688. Portland State 679. Idaho 6610. Cal Poly 4611. Idaho State 37
12. Southern Utah 3313. N. Colorado 13
1. Weber State (28) 546

2.Montana (8) 496

3.Montana St. (6) 493

4.E. Washington (1) 438

5.Sacramento St. 389

6.UC Davis (1) 325

7.Portland State 274

8.Idaho 273

9.Northern Arizona 238

10.Cal Poly 206

11.Idaho State 133

12.Southern Utah 105

13.N. Colorado 88

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