As we continue to maybe, sorta, kinda turn our attention back to actual football today, let’s add on to Brian Anderson’s Pre-Snap Read of Idaho by getting some answers from an expert on the Vandals — Moscow-Pullman Daily News sports editor Michael-Shawn Dugar — to questions from a noted non-expert on the Vandals (me).
CougCenter: Coming off a campaign in which the Vandals showed signs of life under Paul Petrino, would you describe the Vandals’ play so far this season as in line with expectations, better than expectations, or worse than expectations?
Certainly worse. I’m sure they expected to be 1-1 at this point in the season, but not with just 34 total points to their name. They failed to score in the second half against Montana State, and the starting offense didn’t manage any points against Washington’s first-team defense (which I know they expected to do, especially since they scored at least a touchdown at USC and Auburn, against both teams’ starting defenses).
This is supposed to be an explosive offense and they haven’t been that thus far. Holding MSU to 17 points is a good sign for the defense but that was against a Big Sky offense and Idaho isn’t in the Big Sky...yet.
CougCenter: I know there were high hopes for Idaho QB Matt Linehan, but he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire so far. What’s been behind his struggles, particularly against Montana State?
Against MSU he was short on nearly every throw, which could be due to injury -- he had foot surgery this offseason, though he says he’s fine -- or first-game rust and an overall off night. I’d lean toward the latter since he appears to be moving fine and he wasn’t as off target against the Huskies.
At the same time, Bad Matt Linehan usually throws behind his receivers or overthrows them on deep balls (don’t tell Petrino I said that). Because that hasn’t been the case through two games, I wouldn’t rule out his health being a factor.
CougCenter: Who’s one guy -- on either side of the ball -- who could legitimately give the Cougars trouble?
Deon Watson. He’s a TE/WR hybrid with good size (6-4, 222 pounds) and is probably the only Vandal receiver capable of drawing anything resembling a mismatch. He lines up all over the field so he’s pretty versatile, and if given one-on-one coverage, he can beat WSU’s defensive backs. If any Vandal finds the end zone, it’ll most likely be Watson.
CougCenter: How well equipped is Idaho to defend WSU’s Air Raid?
Short answer? Not very. WSU likes to exploit space and there’s usually plenty of that in the Vandal secondary. Dorian Clark is probably UI’s best corner and he’s out with a shoulder injury. Idaho also didn’t tackle very well last year, so those yards after catch that WSU loves will probably be available.
Aside from the talent gap, Idaho tends to have a lot of miscommunications on defense. They have moments where everyone goes “how did that guy get so wide open?” or after giving up a touchdown, the defender immediately turns around and looks to his teammates, as if he was supposed to have help on the play.
CougCenter: You think Mike Leach and Paul Petrino have buried the hatchet after what happened last time these teams met in Pullman? Or is there the potential for more fireworks, particularly considering WSU is likely to be emotionally on edge after this week?
Buried the hatchet? Eh, maybe. It’s more likely they stopped thinking about it because they’ve had other stuff to worry about. Will they be chatting at midfield before the start of the game? Probably not. There’s definitely potential for another entertaining postgame exchange because pettiness knows no bounds and it certainly doesn’t have an expiration date. If Idaho wins -- and that’s a Titanic-sized ‘if’ -- then I don’t imagine that handshake going any different than it did last time.