The Idaho football team will play its first Pac-12 team of the season. The Vandals play No. 8 Washington Saturday in Seattle.
The Vandals aren’t strangers to facing nationally ranked opponents. The current senior class has played against big name schools like USC, Auburn, Florida State, Ole Miss and Florida.
“The Auburn game really helped our guys’ confidence,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said. “If we can go out and just play one play at a time as hard as you can and compete your tail off, then good things will happen.”
The Huskies moved to No. 8 after beating Rutgers 48-13 Sept. 3. Junior quarterback Matt Linehan struggled in the second half of Idaho’s home opener Sept. 1. He completed one of five passes in the third quarter.
“He was falling back a bit on his throws and wasn’t following through,” Petrino said. “We can fix that.”
Where Linehan lacked in his arm, he made up for with his feet. He isn’t known for his running abilities, but he made the best of broken down plays by evading pass rushers and gaining valuable yardage. Linehan was the second leading rusher with 43 yards on seven attempts.
Washington’s quarterback Jake Browning went 18-27 against Rutgers Sept. 3. He threw for 287 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He spread the ball around, hitting nine different receivers.
Junior running back Aaron Duckworth made an impact for Idaho’s offense, running for 108 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Washington’s leading rusher Myles Gaskin gained 60 yards on 15 touches.
Idaho’s rush defense will have the edge in Saturday’s game. The Vandals only allowed 110 yards on the ground, while Washington gave up 185 yards to an unranked Rutgers squad.
“Sometimes it comes down to a guy not having his gap, so we have to make sure they all do their own job,” Petrino said.
On defense, the key to success will be in the secondary. Washington’s aerial attack kept Rutgers on their heels the entire game.
Senior safety Russel Siavii will provide essential defensive coverage. He racked one interception returned for 30 yards and three pass breakups against Montana State.
Junior defensive end Aikeem Coleman will need to apply pressure before Browning can complete a pass. Coleman had five quarterback hurries against Montana State but the Vandals recorded just one sack, courtesy of sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley.
“Defensively, (Washington) is going to press you and get in your face and make everything contested,” Petrino said. “Their linebackers run really well and get to the ball.”
Washington head coach Chris Petersen has some experience playing Idaho. From 2006 to 2013, Petersen coached the Boise State Broncos and played the Vandals.
“They are very well coached,” Petrino said. “They know exactly what they’re trying to do and they are not going to give anything easy.”
Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill