Bring it Bowling Green — Vandals will face difficult rubber match, need to convert on third down consistently
The mini rivalry that has become Idaho versus Bowling Green will make its third and final stop, for now, on Saturday when the Vandals visit the Falcons for what will be the rubber game of a unique rivalry the two have shared since 2009.
An ESPN Classic-worthy Humanitarian Bowl showdown initiated things in 2009. Idaho snuck away with a prized silver trophy, but Bowling Green out-muscled the Vandals 32-15 last season.
The second leg of a home-and-home series the programs agreed upon will take place in Bowling Green, Ohio, Saturday. A “revenge-minded” rivalry could come to its conclusion Saturday, as the two haven’t scheduled future games past the 2012 season.
While Idaho tries to prove its worth following a loss to Eastern Washington in the home-opener, coach Robb Akey is aware of the situation with a Bowling Green team that had opportunities to close out SEC powerhouse Florida last weekend during a 27-14 Gator victory.
“This is the rubber match, there’s no doubt about it. That can add some of the excitement to the deal, which is good. It got a lot of national attention with the bowl game,” Akey said. “That was a different team, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to last year… This team needs to take it over and say, ‘hey we’re going to take care of what last year’s guys didn’t, we’re going to carry the torch and move it forward’.”
Since the 2009 Boise showdown, the Falcons and Vandals have ventured down two very different paths in their respective conferences.
Idaho, from a win-loss standpoint, showed life in 2010, winning five games and coming a play short of what would’ve likely been a second-consecutive bowl berth. The Vandals took a turn for the worse last season, and their season-opening loss to Bowling Green would be one of 10 on the year.
Dave Clawson’s Falcons struck immediate misery following the bowl loss, recording wins against Marshall and Central Michigan en route to 2-10. Two out-of-conference victories in 2011 helped Bowling Green to 5-7, despite going 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference.
The Vandals look forward to a new test, with new personnel and a new face under center. Junior Dominique Blackman, who was unavailable in the loss to the Eagles, is once again slated to make his first Division 1 start.
If Idaho plans on posting its first touchdown of the season Saturday, Blackman says third down conversions will be essential.
“We were 2 of 16 on third down. I don’t think Florida could’ve beat Bowling Green going 2 for 16,” Blackman said. “It was more of the performance in key moments, that’s when big plays have to come out, so just try to convert on third downs and move the chains.”
Moving the chains may be easier said than done against the Falcons. In Gainesville, the Gators found the majority of their offensive prowess within the rushing attack. While experimenting with two quarterbacks, they attempted just 21 passes, completing 16 for 145 yards.
Blackman remains a question mark, having never played a Division 1 snap. Idaho compiled just 73 rushing yards on 28 attempts against an EWU team that allowed 21 rushing touchdowns last season.
In terms of the passing game, Akey has pinpointed technique as something that may have been lacking last Thursday.
“Finishing our technique so that we are doing what we’re supposed to in regards to our assignment. There’s an urgency. You’re trying to get open for your quarterback but there’s a spot that you need to be to get there, so just trying to execute your technique,” Akey said.
The Falcon defense employs a soft coverage scheme, where cornerbacks give opposing receivers cushions, something that could allow Idaho to pitch and catch more often.
Still, Blackman must be wary of the athleticism their cornerbacks bring.
“We have to be careful because they’re that for a reason — they’re very aggressive,” Blackman said. “We just want to be able to take advantage of that and pitch and catch, things we could’ve done last week.”
Idaho’s secondary won’t be as concerned with short routes as they will be with the long ball, something that haunted them during game two of the Vandal-Falcon series. Idaho jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but at-the-time junior quarterback Matt Schilz found a wide-open Eugene Cooper for the 76-yard touchdown pass.
The trend continued Thursday as Eagles quarterback Kyle Padron had little trouble seeking out his three All-American wide receivers downfield for multiple 30-plus-yard gains.
“As a secondary, we’re trying to take away the deep balls, make them have to throw short balls so we can rally to them,” defensive back Tracy Carter said. “As a defense, we’ve got to come together and talk more on the field as far as assignments go.”
Idaho’s shot to one up its MAC rival will take place at 4:00 p.m. PT at Perry Doyt Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN 3.
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com