Thursday, October 20, 2005

Idaho Game Preview

as posted on the Barkboard

The Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho is the sight for this week’s Fresno State-Idaho Western Athletic Conference game. The Dome has to be the most obscure stadium in Division I-A college football. The goal posts are actually bolted into the walls of the facility, not planted in the turf like most stadiums. With only 16,000 seats the Dome is certainly the smallest venue in Division I-A.

This is the game fans have been waiting for, or at least Idaho fans have been waiting for. Turn the clock back 50 years, and Fresno State would be Idaho and the Vandals would be the Bulldogs. Idaho was a NCAA Division I-A member from 1917-1974. The Vandals were a member of the Pacific Coast Conference from 1922-1958, while Fresno State was still struggling in the NCAA College Division.

The PCC was a precursor to the Pacific 8 Conference and eventually the Pacific Ten. In their 37 years in the PCC, Idaho never went to a bowl game and had only five winning seasons. The Vandals became an independent in 1959 when the PCC folded, and remained an independent until they became a member of the Division I-AA Big Sky Conference in 1975.

Idaho was forced into Division I-AA by the Idaho State Board of Education. They remained in I-AA until the end of the 1995 season. The Vandals made a return to Division I-A in 1996 as a member of the Big West Conference. When the Big West folded up football operations, Idaho jumped to the Sun Belt in 2001. Like Utah State, and New Mexico State, the Vandals are happy to be a member of the WAC.

Now to the game, its 2005 and Fresno State is the Big Bad Wolf. The Bulldogs are huffing and puffing and blowing teams away. Idaho is next, and their house of bricks called the Kibbie Dome, will not be enough to stop Fresno State.

Nick Holt is in his second season as head coach of the Vandals, and has them going in the right direction, but not soon enough. Idaho started the season surprisingly, by outplaying their rivals Washington State in a 38-26 loss. Since, they have gone 1-4, with the only win being at home versus Utah State, 27-13. Two weeks ago, however, the Vandals were pummeled at Nevada, 62-14, in their last game played.

Idaho’s most significant win this year, was off the field. On September 25, the 0-4 Vandals received five votes in the inaugural Harris Interactive College Football Poll. Idaho received more votes than Kansas State and Toledo, which were unbeaten at the time. The screw up won the Vandals a place in college football history.

The 24th ranked Bulldogs will be the first ranked team to play in the Dome’s 30 year history. Fresno State won its last and only game ever indoors, in 1978, 41-28. That game, as well, was in Moscow.

“They’re the best football team as has come to the Kibbie Dome since I’ve been associated with University of Idaho Football,” Holt said, who was also a Vandal assistant coach from 1990-1997.

“We have our work cut out for us. They’re really solid on defense.”

Fresno State leads the WAC in almost every defensive statistical category. The Bulldogs are first in the conference in rushing defense, passing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. This is not good for an opposing team that ranks last in the conference in rushing offense, and second to last in total offense and scoring offense. On paper the game is a statistical mismatch.

Despite the Vandal’s horrendous record, and statistical disadvantage they will come to play Saturday. The Dome is expected to sell out and the fans will be in all black for the biggest home game of the season. The crowd can get loud and the air hot inside the closed doors.

The Idaho players will be able to feed off the crowd, if the Vandals can keep the game close. Idaho gives up an average of 409 yards per game on defense, but their defense gives them the best shot to hang with Fresno State.

Linebacker Cole Snyder leads the Vandals with 74 total tackles. He is first in the WAC and second nationally in solo tackles per game. Linebacker Josh Bousman leads the team in sacks with 4 for -31 yards. Free safety D.J. Dykes leads the team in interceptions, with two, and pass break ups, four.

Snyder, a 5’11 221 lb senior, is a tackling machine. He could start for almost any team in the country. His presence in the middle will be instrumental in Idaho’s attempt to stop the Bulldog’s ground game.

“What makes them go is their running game,” Holt said.

“They have a bunch of good running backs that run hard and fall forward; catch the ball out of the backfield. Their receivers do a good job of blocking, too. I don’t think it really matters which back they give it to. I know they have some leaders. Regardless, of who’s in the game, you have to stop the run.”

Offensively, Idaho is averaging just 60.3 yards per game on the ground, and only 291.2 yards in total offense. Quarterback Steve Wichman is ranked 61st in the nation in passing efficiency, and did earn WAC offensive player of the week against UNLV for his 390 yard and 3 touchdown performance. His main target is D.J. Smith. Smith leads the team with 33 receptions for 434 yards.

Fresno State should be able to do what they want offensively against Idaho. Their defense and special teams have been dominant during the last three games, all blow out wins. Idaho does not look much better than any of those teams, but the Dome just might be the best home field advantage in the WAC.

The Bulldog’s speed will be showcased on the carpet, and that is just one more advantage for the visiting team. If Bulldog fans still have trouble getting up for this game. Idaho leads the all-time series 4 game to 3, but this weekend’s game will be the first ever in the series with both teams competing at the Division I-A level.

Name your score; my fearless prediction is, Fresno State 45, Idaho 7.

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