The Idaho football program spent an entire summer dealing with uncertainty. Who would be the starting quarterback? How well will the new offensive coaches mesh? And whether Idaho will even have a conference home next season.
The latter question is one that is largely out of the hands of players — and one that players will be glad to get away from Thursday evening when the 2012 season gets underway.
Big Sky foe Eastern Washington will drive down the road from Cheney for Idaho’s Kibbie Dome opener.
The decision on the field Thursday will be decided on talent and execution, and showcase the talent differential between upper tier Big Sky and struggling WAC.
“Generally speaking your starters at that level are capable of being starters at this level as well. There are different paths of how everybody ends up where they end up,” coach Robb Akey said.
Looking past EWU’s 6-5 record last season this is still the same team that gave the Washington Huskies a ride at Husky Stadium that year, walking out of the stadium with only a three-point, 30-27 loss.
“We are very aware of that,” starting middle linebacker Su’a Tuala said. “Especially with what happened to us last year with Bowling Green. We came in to the game, and we took them lightly.”
Underdogs Bowling Green thrashed Idaho 32-15 during their season opener last season. Idaho took a 7-0 lead early before the Falcons tied it up on their next possession. The entire season was downhill from there.
“And Bowling Green is (an FBS) school,” Tuala said. “(Eastern) is a top school in their division so we can’t take them lightly, so we have to come in and treat them like they’re LSU.”
The Eagles of Eastern Washington aren’t devoid of talent. Kyle Padron, the former Southern Methodist starter, was recently named the starter in Cheney. At his disposal will be three FCS All-American receivers in Brandon Kaufman, Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd. The three combined for 29 receptions, 335 yards and two touchdowns against Washington last season.
“I think it’s pretty obvious when you have the receivers it definitely has to be a strength, but we still want to be balanced,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said.
It will be up to Idaho’s experienced yet questionable secondary to stop them. The Vandals’ defense ranked in the bottom fifth in the nation last season in pass defense, allowing opponents to complete more than 64 percent of their passes, and giving up 28 touchdown passes last season.
“These receivers are going to have a chance to play at the next level, and this is the best competition we could ask for,” cornerbacks coach Patrick Libey said. “We look forward to it, we are going to step up to that challenge.”
Libey believes that Idaho will come into this match-up with more depth in the secondary, giving the Vandals a better chance to match up with Eastern Washington.
“Obviously offenses now are going more to skill type sets, four or five receivers out there. We’re going to match that, skill to skill,” Libey said. “We’re going to match their speed with our speed. There’s no doubt that coach Criner has done a great job putting together a plan to be able execute against those guys so that we do match up … So that we aren’t necessarily lining up linebackers against their best receivers.”
It could help for Idaho to get pressure on Padron. The Vandals will be counting on Vince Keener and Maxx Forde on the edges, with Quayshawne Buckley and Jesse Davis manning the defensive tackle spots. Stopping the Eastern offense will be a team effort, senior safety Gary Walker said.
“I think there’s pressure on all of us, because we all have to do our jobs at a high level,” he said. “The pressure is to do the best we can, the pressure is on all of us.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com