Can Idaho get right in the mountains? Vandals travel to Wyoming

If Idaho is going to take massive steps from its week one 40-6 loss at North Texas it will have to hope that Saturday’s football game highly resembles the one it played with its upcoming opponent at the Kibbie Dome last season. With the caveat of a Vandal victory, of course.

The week two opponent is a trip into altitude to face the Wyoming Cowboys, who took down Idaho 40-37 in overtime last season.

The Vandals, who gave up 404 yards passing to North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson, now face the test of junior Wyoming gunslinger Brett Smith. Smith accounted for 475 total yards of offense and four touchdowns last Saturday at Nebraska, coming up just short of upsetting the B1G opponent 37-34.

“Very, very talented quarterback. He makes you not sleep very much, to be honest with you,” coach Paul Petrino said.

Defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee might not get much sleep this week either. Idaho’s secondary is thin and inexperienced, having relied on playing a true freshman in Jordan Grabski on Saturday. It didn’t help that the defensive line didn’t get to Thompson, forcing zero sacks. That will have to improve in Laramie if Idaho is going to have a shot.

“There was a lot of good things but there was a lot of things that we have to correct and we have to improve on,” Lee said. “The one thing we believe and preach on the defense is no excuses and no explanation, so you can’t take a play back and improve on it and get ready for the next one.”

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The Game

Idaho (0-1) at Wyoming (0-1)
War Memorial Stadium at Laramie, Wyo.
Kick-off: 1 p.m. PST/ 2 p.m. MST
Media: ROOT Sports, Vandal Radio Network (ZFun 106.1 in Moscow/Pullman)

Key match-up

Idaho’s defensive line vs. Brett Smith. Last season Idaho was able to get penetration into the Cowboy backfield, but still allowed Smith to throw for 365 yards and five touchdowns in Wyoming’s victory at the Kibbie Dome. If Idaho is to pull the upset there will have to be havoc in the backfield for all four quarters. Smith will hold the ball longer than Thompson did, but he won’t be sitting in the pocket, he’ll be rolling out and looking down field for the big plays.

“We better hit him, we better get in his face and we better make him uncomfortable. If he’s not uncomfortable it’s going to be a long night,” Petrino said.

On offense the best defense will be offense. Little improvements will count for something. Not committing penalties on third down, converting on third down and just for Chad Chalich to become more comfortable in the offense will be what Petrino is looking for. Idaho has to make this a shootout to make it competitive, sustaining long drives will be important. Chalich will have to recognize his pockets and be able to read the defense on read-options.

“The O-Line gave him some good pockets to throw behind and I just think he got happy feet at times and didn’t keep his eyes dwnfield to throw to open receivers. He also has to do a better job of seeing the defense and making some blitz checks when he has an opportunity to do that,” quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson said.

Idaho against the Mountain West

Against schools currently in the Mountain West, Idaho has lost its last five. Its last win was a 2011 come-from-behind win against then-WAC opponent San Jose State. Idaho will host Fresno State on Oct. 5.

Other practice notes

– The band and distraction was a point of emphasis for Petrino, inviting the Sound of Idaho to practice to play and yell during team drills against the scout team.

– Idaho will be playing at over 7,200 feet above sea level, something Petrino doesn’t want to pay much attention to.

“Don’t talk about it, don’t worry about it, in my opinion, just go play. Some teams came in and worried about (when Petrino was an assistant at Utah State), some teams didn’t worry about it and I don’t think it was any advantage.”

– Petrino didn’t think getting blown out wasn’t a complete negative, considering the amount of players he traveled to the lone star state who took their first ever Division I snaps.

“That’s not making excuses, a couple of them played like it. We just have to get out there and get better every week. I said it at the beginning of the year, there’s going to be some games where we go out there and we’re going to take our lumps.”

– Junior quarterback Josh McCain could see a bigger role on Saturday. He’s seen continued work with the first team and presents a different dimension to the offense with his strong arm and athleticism.

Quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson said: “I think Josh is a tremendous athlete, it’s just for him it’s continuing to study more football away from football and understanding what we’re doing offensively. The more reps he gets the better he gets at that and we can put him in there and he’ll make some thngs happen with his legs but he also has to be consistent in the passing game and in his blitz checks as well. He’s getting better, he’s getting better everyday, it was good to see him in there for the short period of time and I look forward to see him continue to improve as the season goes on.”

Even more quotes!

Running back Jerrel Brown on freshman Richard Montgomery’s tough debut: “I told Richard to keep his head up. We know Richard could make plays all over the field at any given time. Unfortunately in that game didn’t benefit well, but we believe in Richard. We believe when a running back doesn’t get a good play, come right back out and run again. I told Richard we have another game coming up, come back out and run a good game.”

Wide receiver Najee Lovett on if scoring 37 points on Wyoming last year is a confidence boost: “Definitely gives us a little bit of confidence because we went head to head with those guys last year but we also know that this is a new team that they have and it’s also a new team that we have so we can’t focus too much on last year, we have to focus on this year.”

Sean Kramer is a 24-year old University of Idaho student majoring in Journalism. He's been a sports writer at The Argonaut since the fall of 2011.
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