After escaping a tense game against Wofford in a thrilling 41-38 victory last weekend, the Idaho now turns its attention toward Sun Belt Conference heavyweight Georgia Southern.
The Eagles visit Moscow for the first time in school history Saturday, in a unique matchup that will reveal how well the Vandals stack up against a top conference opponent.
The Sun Belt opener for both teams features a matchup of contrasting offensive styles, pitting the Vandals passing attack against the Eagles bruising running game.
Despite a rocky start to the season, Georgia Southern is still a contender for the Sun Belt title. The Eagles opened their season in embarrassing fashion, losing 44-0 to West Virginia in a game that left many analysts scratching their heads at the lack of competitiveness.
However, the Eagles quickly rebounded by winning their next two games by an average gap of 30.5 points, silencing speculations that the team was not as strong as previously thought.
The Vandals recently had their own turnaround, claiming a home victory over Wofford with a surprisingly explosive game on offense. While the Vandals should gain some confidence following the victory, the team needs to improve upon some key aspects in order to stifle the upcoming opponent’s offense.
The staple of the Eagles offense has long been the running game. Georgia Southern running backs have averaged 6.3 yards per carry and over 330 rushing yards per game this season. Georgia Southern has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, and the combination of three running backs has hindered the defensive effectiveness of opponents.
The Vandals need to formulate a defensive approach that limits the success of Georgia State’s running game. This will prove difficult for Idaho, as the Vandals’ defense has allowed opposing teams to average over 270 rushing yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, the Vandal offense has been productive, particularly in the passing attack. Sophomore Matt Linehan has proven an effective starter at quarterback, completing 70 percent of his pass attempts and leading the Vandal offense to over 400 yards per game.
The Eagles’ defense has been a key factor in the success of the team this season, providing many game-changing opportunities for Georgia Southern. The defensive backs are responsible for intercepting opponents five times this year, while the rest of the defense has recovered 10 fumbles.
The Vandals have only turned the ball over five times this season, but don’t be surprised if the formidable Georgia Southern defense forces several turnovers this weekend.
A final factor in Saturday’s game will be the large crowd that is expected at the Kibbie Dome. As part of Dads’ Weekend, students are encouraged to attend the game with their family members, potentially resulting in one of the largest home crowds for the Vandals this season. Crowd noise could potentially pose a factor in disrupting the rhythm of Georgia Southern’s offense during key drives late in the game.
Ultimately, this weekend’s game will be decided in the trenches, as Georgia Southern’s offensive line battles against the Vandals’ defensive front. If the Vandals are able to smother the Eagles rampant running game, then the final score will be much closer than anticipated.
Josh Grissom can be reached at email@example.com