Coming off a 16-0 win over the Drake Bulldogs in week one of the 2011 season, the Sioux travel out to Moscow, Idaho to take on the Idaho Vandals. Idaho is the first of two straight FBS tilts for the Sioux, as they travel to Fresno State the following weekend. Idaho (0-1) lost their home opener 32-15 to Bowling Green. They were picked to finish 5th in the WAC by Phil Steele.
UND Defense vs. Idaho Offense
The Vandals offense is coming off a poor performance against Bowling Green in which it only gained 280 yards of total offense. Being they only have 4 returning starters we are not completely surprised. QB Brian Reader, who took over for current NFL QB Nathan Enderle, was 19-43 for 177 yards and 2 TD’s. He also threw one interception. Reader really struggled in the first half with his timing on quick 3-step routes and also made some poor decisions throwing the ball deep into coverage, which resulted in turnovers. The ground game only produced 52 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Their main RB is Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass, who had 49 yards on 12 carries in the BG game. Reader’s favorite targets in the passing game early in the season are WR’s Mike Scott and Marcel Posey, both standing about 5’11″. At 6’3″, Armauni Johnson appears to be their red zone threat, taking over for graduated Eric Greenwood who stood 6’5″. He appears to also be there fastest receiver. They also like to throw to their two tight end/H-backs on the roster, Mike Lagrone and Taylor Elmo. They are both big targets that will be split out wide at times in the passing game.
The offensive line is the strength of the offense with 3 returning starters and averaging 305lbs across the line. They are not as big as last season but appear to be a bit more agile. OT Matt Cleveland is an All-Wac selection and is the anchor of that experienced offensive line. UND’s experienced defensive line will get a serious test this week and will have to play better than they did last week. Overall, they played well but got pushed back at times vs. the run. The LB’s are going to be needed to generate a pass rush in this one as we don’t see the DL getting through very often. Last year the OLB’s in particular came through untouched multiple times and we are sure the Sioux will run those same blitzes this season. Their guards/tackles seemed to be confused at times trying to pick them up.
The Vandals are running the Pistol pro-style of offense. They did not run much in the first game vs. Bowling Green but that was due to falling behind and having to pass to try and catch up. After the poor passing performance last week, we see Idaho really trying to establish the run against the Sioux and playing a ball control offense. Their offense is nowhere near as dangerous as last season but still do have some playmakers. If the Sioux can have success vs. the run they will give themselves a shot to be hanging around in the 4th quarter. UND’s main concern has to be if Idaho “drops the plow” and simply tries to run over the Sioux - and it works. That would make UND commit to different fronts to compensate for it thus leaving the defensive backs without the help they need vs. Idaho’s receivers. They must be able to stop the inside-the-tackles running game and contain the outside running game. Bass will get his yardage off the edge because of his speed and quickness, but they need to stop the big gainers of 25 plus yards. UND is not deep enough on the defensive line to withstand a constant running game so they will need to show early they can stop it and hope Idaho switches to more of a passing offense.
UND Offense vs Idaho Defense
Idaho returns 3 starters from last year’s defense that produced a 5th round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Playmaking safety and secondary leader Shiloh Keo is gone. They now start 5 additional guys who were on last year’s 2-deep depth chart. They still are running the 4-3 with a lot of 2-high looks with cover 2, cover 4 and man-under looks mixed in. This defense got torched a week ago by Bowling Green. While the defense in general looks extremely talented and athletic, they simply were not assignment sharp and blew far too many coverages. Before they knew it, they were down 30-7 in the 2nd quarter. We don’t expect that to happen this week and they may have a little chip on their shoulder after being kicked around in their home opener. They are led by DT Michael Cosgrove, DE Benson Mayawa, and LB Robert Siavii.
The UND offense needs to get on track early. Quick passing to get acclimated to what Idaho is doing defensively will be a big help – screens, boots, rollouts and 3-step could all be helpful in getting the o-line and Bradley comfortable and get them away from pressure and blitzes. We expect Idaho to run a lot of 4-man stunts like Drake did and to also bring a couple extra guys early to get their hearts started on defense and try create turnovers. After last week’s slow start, they will want to give their home crowd something to cheer about early and keep them involved throughout the game. This Idaho defense showed susceptibility to the big play last week. Hopefully, there will be similar opportunities for the UND defense to capitalize on some big plays.
We will be interested to see how aggressive the UND offense is this week, especially if they get down early. We expect Joey Bradley to have a big game if the Sioux are to have success. They cannot afford penalties, missed assignments or any dropped passes in order to have a chance in this one.
Until the Sioux can show us some consistency on offense and the ability to stop good teams on defense we are going to have a hard time picking them against the best teams. Being this is an FBS team in Idaho, the Sioux are going to have to play a near perfect game to win. We like the athletes they are putting out on the field but it’s going to take time to put it all together. We would like nothing more than to see the Sioux pull out the upset in Moscow and we hope we are wrong but looking at this objectively they are going to need to play much, much better than they did vs. Drake. Can they? We will see at 4pm central time on Saturday.