[Vandal] D Might Be The Key

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Sat Apr 3 08:23:02 PDT 2021

>From the Daily NewsMoscow, IdahoSaturday, April 3, 2021
D Might Be The Key

Vandals aiming to rattle breakout Bengal signal-caller
By Colton Clark
Idaho State doesn't shy from a shootout. Sometimes the Bengals look at their most comfortable in one.
So, suppressing the high-powered ISU offense's new triggerman will be the priority for Idaho's football team.
“That might be the key to the game, how well our defensive line plays,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said. “They really need to dominate up front.”
No. 24 Idaho (2-1) will seek to stagnate Idaho State’s potent attack and its breakout quarterback when the Gem State’s Big Sky Conference rivals square off at 3 p.m. Pacific today at Holt Arena in Pocatello.
“Any quarterback, the more you hit them, they’re not gonna play as good,” Petrino continued. “If they’re good enough to be in college and have a scholarship, then they’re usually gonna play pretty darn good if they’re not getting hit.”
Idaho State (1-3) welcomed in Wyoming transfer signal-caller Tyler Vander Waal in January 2020. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound junior has exceeded expectations with his powerful arm, accuracy and sneaky athleticism.
Vander Waal is second in the BSC in yards per game (303) and third in passing efficiency. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions on a 57-percent completion rate.
But he’s been sacked 15 times already, a trend the Vandals plan to extend.
“We’re going to have to be relentless with our pass rush,” senior defensive tackle Rahsaan Crawford said. “That’s basically our plan with him: Hit him as much as we can and hope that gets him off his game.”
Idaho’s defensive front struggled in that regard in the first half of last Saturday’s home game against Southern Utah. Thunderbird quarterback Justin Miller was on-target from his clean pocket.
After intermission, the Vandals’ D-line — captained by senior star edge-rusher Charles Akanno — began to rattle Miller, and the Vandals ended up making back-to-back stops down the stretch to set up a clinching, two-minute possession in the 33-32 win.
“He’s coming back from that (Achilles) injury, and I think each week he gets better and better,” Petrino said of Akanno, who forced Miller into an errant throw in the fourth quarter, which was picked. “We really need him to come out there and have a great game this weekend.”
Vander Waal’s favorite target, Tanner Conner (6-3, 225 pounds) — also a standout hurdler/sprinter for the Bengals’ track team — has accumulated 400 yards and three scores, and Jalen Henderson and Xavier Guillory each have double-digit receptions as well.
The three combine for 19.5 yards per grab. The ISU pass-catchers will present a difficult challenge for Idaho’s youthful secondary. The Vandals sit in the league basement in pass defense (347 yards per game).
Malakai Rango leads the Bengal charge on the ground, averaging 79 yards per contest, yet ISU only manages 3.3 yards per carry.
The Bengals’ offense scores 29 points and gains 424 yards per game, comparable numbers to Idaho.
The Bengals lost nine offensive starters after 2019.
ISU squeezed past SUU before a 46-42 loss to No. 13 Eastern Washington and a crushing, 31-27 defeat at the hands of 15th-ranked UC Davis. In both cases, an inexperienced defense was to blame — the Eagles and Aggies marched to victory on final possessions, draining the clock and leaving ISU with no time to answer.
The Vandals are accustomed to tight finishes too. Their wins against SUU and EWU came down to the last drive.
“In the end, it just really shows who’s the tougher team, and who wants it more,” Idaho junior tackle Logan Floyd said. “It’s going to be the same mindset coming into this week. We’ve gotta outwork Idaho State, we’ve gotta outhit them, outhustle them.”
ISU ranks sixth in the Big Sky at 459.3 yards allowed per game, and last at 37.5 points permitted per outing. The Bengals’ secondary is completely new, but their linebacking corps is comprised of vets.
“That group right there, they fly around and they’ll fill the gaps, and they’re always reading run,” Floyd said.
The Vandals will return linebacker Tre Walker, a team captain and All-America candidate who missed last weekend’s game.
Player availability has been an issue during this COVID-19-delayed spring season, but Idaho should have its nationally notable front seven intact.
It’s uncertain who’ll get the nod at quarterback. Grad transfer Mike Beaudry performed reasonably well in Idaho’s first two games, and true freshman CJ Jordan took over in his stead against SUU, only to sustain an injury in the third quarter and watch from the sideline as third-stringer Nikhil Nayar steered Idaho to a win.
Beaudry and Nayar are most comfortable in the pocket, while Jordan can escape pressure and throw well in motion.
Whoever starts will have help in ultra-reliable receivers Hayden Hatten and Cutrell Haywood, and in a three-headed rushing game that’s coming off its best showing of the year. It posted 209 yards versus the T-birds.
The foes from opposite ends of Idaho are 1-1 apiece in the series since the Vandals rejoined the league in 2018. ISU blasted Idaho 62-28 that season, then the Vandals’ defensive front suffocated the Bengals in a 45-21 decision in 2019.
“Any time Idaho State and Idaho take the field, it’s a big game. Period. Done. End of story,” ISU coach Rob Phenicie said. “It’s a rivalry game, and it’s the most important game, it’s the biggest game of the year.
“We got a good, really good team coming in here that has some playoff hopes, and they’re going to be playing at a very high level.”
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