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 squares off with Idaho wearing purple and gold after spending 13 seasons with Boise State as both an assistant and head coach. During his time with the Broncos, Petersen led his team to 10 straight victories in rivalry meetings with the Vandals from 2001-2010.
Petersen’s familiarity with the atmosphere of Idaho athletics provides the coach with a distinct advantage. However, Petersen has yet to square off with Vandal head coach Paul Petrino, who has recruited a squad boasting an offensive firepower that is unmatched by programs of previous years.
The Vandal defense also appears to be on the rise after holding Montana State to 110 yards rushing in a 20-17 victory last week, with redshirt sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley returning from an injury to record nine tackles.
Idaho (1-0) faces a difficult task in containing the offense of one of the top-ranked teams in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning tossed three touchdowns in Washington’s season opener against Rutgers, while sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin returns following a record-breaking 2015 season when he accumulated over 1,300 yards rushing.
For the Vandals to remain competitive in the matchup, the team will need to rely on sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan. 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 afternoon, Petrino said he noticed Linehan was leaning back on his throws and was not following through with his release. The Idaho head coach said Linehan looked good during a team practice Sunday night in preparation for the weekend.
If Linehan can regain his form, he has the potential to frustrate the Husky defense Saturday by targeting an array of receiving options, including seniors Deon Watson and Trent Cowan.
Fans will also be keeping 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 keep an eye on Saturday is freshman guard Noah Johnson. The Fayetteville recruit joined the first-team offense during spring camp, and earned the starting nod from Petrino last week against the Bobcats.
With just one collegiate game under his belt, Johnson will be tasked with protecting Linehan against one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation in perhaps the most challenging test of his career.
Although Washington (1-0) is favored by 37.5 points according to ESPN, the game allows Petrino the opportunity to provide team members with valuable playing experience against a national contender.
The Vandals take the field for a 2 p.m. matchup with Washington Saturday at Husky Stadium. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom