WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer piece with Colton Clark, who covers Idaho athletics for the Lewiston Tribune in Lewiston, Idaho, about Saturday’s game against the University of Wyoming.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. MT at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised online on ESPN3
Follow on Twitter: @ClarkTrib
What are your overall impressions of this Idaho team after two games — a blowout loss at Penn State and a close home win over Division II Central Washington?
Underwhelmed might be an understatement. A nuking of a loss at Penn State was expected, but the Vandals just kept shooting themselves in the foot against a D-II team, enough to permit Central Washington to hang around until the end. Granted, Central Washington is one of the nation's top D-II teams, but Idaho had a palpable talent advantage and squandered it.
The defensive line was supposed to be the team's top facet, but hasn't really shown up, save some inside-run stuffs against Central Washington. The secondary has looked muddled and the offense, well, appears about the same as last year’s where it finished in the Big Sky's bottom-tier. I will say, wide receiver Jeff Cotton has been stellar. He had 16 catches -- one off the program's all-time single-game mark -- against Central Washington and managed over 80 yards at Penn State.
The Vandals have played two quarterbacks, with one having a very good game last week against Central Washington. Who do you see starting Saturday, and what do both guys bring to the table?
It appears Idaho is doing a quarter-by-quarter platoon until next week, when coach Paul Petrino said he'll name a starter. In the first quarter it'll probably be Mason Petrino, who had one of his best games as a Vandal last week (and they needed it). Petrino’s listed at 6-foot, 208 pounds, but I'd figure he's closer to 5-10, 185. He's physically limited, so Idaho’s passing offense which basically relies on short and intermediate throws. But Petrino’s relatively crafty. He can read pressure and flow where it isn't, and perhaps his best trait is that he understands his limitations. If something isn't there, he rarely will try to force it. Colton Richardson is no parallel. He's 6-4, 285 and has a cannon of an arm, but has struggled with decision making over the past season-plus. Sometimes he trusts his arm strength too much, and forces throws that just aren't there. With Richardson, the Vandals can stretch the field, but it can sometimes look ugly. With Petrino, the offense's capabilities are limited, but self-inflicted wounds aren't as common.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Idaho defense, and who are some players to watch Saturday?
The linebacking corps have been the team's top group, with middle linebacker Tre Walker Christian Elliss outside. Both are hard-nosed, physical players who operate quickly and can make tackles in open space. The defensive line boasts two 350-pounders in Noah Elliss -- a former four-star Mississippi State commit and son of defensive line coach Luther Elliss -- and Jonah Kim, a junior college transfer. Those guys are surprisingly mobile, but also raw in their technique. Buck (an edge-rusher, basically) Charles Akanno has pressured opposing quarterbacks the most. The secondary is still chock-full of question marks. It was arguably Idaho’s worst group last year. Three of four starters are new, but I have no reason yet to believe it's any better. Overall, the Vandals' defense has eight new starters. It's a little improved from last year's at this point, only because of its play on third downs and with the inside-run game.
How has the move down from the FBS to FCS effected the program, and what are the biggest changes you’ve seen with the move?
First and foremost, it's caused a divide in the fan base, but I think most people have begrudgingly accepted that it won't change any time soon. For the players, it seemed like 2018's team was confused with the conference and caught off guard with its new opponents. Perhaps there was some apathy floating around, or the team simply thought they were superior to the Big Sky. They quickly learned that's not the case, and had a humbling reality check right out of the chutes. Petrino has said he's striving to evolve the team into a speed-oriented, open-field tackling bunch that's more conducive to playing with Big Sky teams. It felt like Idaho was content to just act like a Sun Belt team last year -- that is, loaded up front, stop the run game first. Recruiting took a big hit over the past two years, but Petrino said it's coming around. For example, because of the drop, parents of recruits would question how much Idaho really cares about football, but not anymore, since the Vandals are now cemented in the Big Sky.
How do you see Saturday’s game unfolding, and who wins?
After what Wyoming did to Missouri, it's not looking good for the Vandals. I'd be genuinely surprised if it's at all close by halftime. But who knows. I've heard Wyoming's struggles are in its intermediate pass defense, and that's where Idaho’s offense has been okay. And because the Cowboys are primarily a ground-and-pound team, Idaho’s defensive line might not look too shabby there, if most runs are going inside. Even if Idaho can clamp down in those aspects, there will probably be enough shooting itself in the foot to boost the Cowboys.