Idaho hoping improved offense and new-look WAC schedule can lead to first bowl appearance since 2009.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/5/12, 12:58 PM EDT
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HEAD COACH: Robb Akey, 19-43 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jason Gesser | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Criner
Big changes are in store for a unit whose struggles led to an overhaul in the coaching staff. Only one offensive coach returns, and head coach Robb Akey is hoping the shakeup will lead to more points and production. Jason Gesser, who coached running backs last season in his first season as a college coach, will handle quarterbacks and call the plays this season.
Speaking of quarterbacks, that position remains unresolved as the Vandals head into fall camp. Juniors Dominique Blackman and Taylor Davis spent the spring battling for the starting position, but neither created enough separation to win the job. Davis started three games last season but completed only 28-of-62 passes. Blackman, a transfer, hasn’t played at the Division I level.
For the quarterback to have any chance to succeed, he’ll need the offensive line to improve. Three starters graduated, including both tackles, but sophomore center Mike Marboe is a good place to start in that rebuilding process.
As far as weapons, running back Ryan Bass, who began his career at Arizona State, is healthy and will be the featured back in Idaho’s one-back offense. He averaged just under 4.0 yards per carry in seven games last season.
Receivers Mike Scott (55 receptions, 691 yards) and Justin Veltung (20 receptions, 231 yards) are the top receiving threats, while Mike LaGrone and Taylor Elmo are top tight ends who will be expected to play a big role this season.
The Vandals have made strides in Akey’s five seasons, but the defense needs to be more productive for the 2012 season to be a success. Idaho managed only 17 sacks a year ago and gave up 33.3 points and 436.8 yards per game — numbers that won’t help the Vandals become bowl-eligible.
Idaho has become bigger and faster in recent years and should show improvement over a year ago, particularly if it can avoid the injury bug.
An experienced secondary returns, as does senior linebacker Robert Siavii, the team’s leading tackler in 2010 who missed last season with a knee injury. The Vandals have built some depth on the front line but desperately need end Benson Mayowa (three sacks last season) to have a monster season.
The special teams again are expected to be a strength, considering that the top performers all return. Punter Bobby Cowan is among the best in college football. He finished second nationally in 2011 with a 46.4-yard average on a whopping 88 punts. Kicker Trey Farquhar returns for his fourth season as a starter. He’s got a strong leg, as evidenced by his 55-yard field goal last season.
Veltung is one of the league’s most dangerous returners, too. He averaged 16.8 yards on punt returns with two touchdowns and 21.5 yards on kickoff returns.
After a pair of disappointing seasons, the pressure is on Idaho to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2009. A watered-down WAC should help, as the Vandals drop Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii from their schedule and add FBS newbies UT-San Antonio and Texas State. Still, with only five home games and two games at BCS conference schools, the schedule isn’t exactly easy.
Idaho will need its offense to improve significantly and for its defense and special teams to carry the load until the offense starts clicking. If things do fall into place, the Vandals could contend for a top-four finish in the WAC.