The Vandal football team enters Saturday’s matchup with No. 8 Washington facing a familiar opponent on the opposite sidelines.
Third-year Husky head coach Chris Petersen will square off with Idaho after spending 13 seasons with Boise State as both an assistant and head coach.
With the Broncos, Petersen led his team to 10 straight victories in rivalry meetings with the Vandals from 2001-2010.
Petersen’s familiarity with Idaho athletics provides a distinct advantage. However, Petersen has yet to square off with Vandal head coach Paul Petrino, who has recruited a squad full of offensive firepower unmatched by previous years.
The Vandal defense is on the rise after holding Montana State to 110 yards rushing in a 20-17 victory Sept. 1, with redshirt sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley returning from an injury with nine tackles.
Idaho (1-0) faces a difficult task in containing the offense of a nationally ranked team.
Washington sophomore quarterback Jake Browning tossed three touchdowns in the Huskies’ season opener against Rutgers.
Sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin returns after a record-breaking 2015 season when he accumulated over 1,300 rushing yards.
The team will need to rely on junior quarterback Matt Linehan to remain competitive Saturday. The Idaho standout threw for almost 3,000 yards last year but completed only eight passes Sept. 1 against the Bobcats.
In a press conference Tuesday, Petrino said he noticed Linehan was leaning back on his throws and not following through with his release. However, Petrino also said Linehan looked good during Sunday’s practice.
If Linehan can regain his form, he could frustrate the Husky defense Saturday using an array of receiving options, including senior tight ends Deon Watson and Trent Cowan.
Fans should keep an eye on junior running back Aaron Duckworth, who recorded his first 100-yard rushing night at the collegiate level against Montana State.
If Duckworth can break off several big runs Saturday, he could surprise the Washington defense if the focus shifts to pass protection.
Another Vandal to watch Saturday is freshman guard Noah Johnson. The Fayetteville, Arkansas, recruit joined the first-team offense during spring camp, and joined the starting lineup against Montana State.
With one collegiate game under his belt, Johnson will be tasked with protecting Linehan against one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation. It could be the most challenging test of his career.
Although Washington (1-0) is favored by 37.5 points by ESPN, the game allows Petrino to provide team members with valuable playing experience.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom