Idaho, ACC meet again
There have been glimmers of brilliance and periods of promise.
Idaho coach Robb Akey has been able to seek out the positives, especially after the Vandal football team’s 40-37 overtime loss last weekend exemplified a number of things the team has done well, despite remaining winless heading into October.
“You look at the growth that our team has made and that’s what I’m going to focus on. I’m going to focus on where things are at because the bottom line … The outcome of one play and we’re all excited as can be and life is great,” Akey said.
In reality, the win-loss column is where a team and its framework are judged. For Idaho, that judgment hasn’t been positive — and signs that positives will translate into victories are few and far between, especially considering the fact that Akey’s troops will be marching into ACC country Saturday for a match-up with North Carolina.
Larry Fedora and the Tar Heel athletic department have guaranteed Idaho one thing — they will walk out of Kenan Stadium $800,000 richer. For Akey and the Vandals, a win isn’t out of the question, especially considering Idaho’s 2011 near-upset of another mid-tier ACC squad, Virginia.
The 2-2 Tar Heels are by no means exceptional, with wins against FCS opponent Elon and East Carolina. UNC had shots to upend Wake Forest and No. 19 Louisville but fell to the two by a combined six points.
Still, Idaho’s inability to close out fourth quarter battles has led to six losses by eight or less points in the last two years. Last Saturday was no different
“Is 0-4 good? Absolutely not, there’s nothing good about it. You play the game to win,” Akey said. “We need to get it over the top and we need to make that one more play to be able to win the game.”
If the Vandals plan to brew an upset of any sort, the secondary play will have to be the best it’s been all season. Tar Heels gunslinger Bryn Renner has thrown for 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, with almost of half of those coming against the nation’s 19th ranked team.
Wyoming’s Brett Smith hurled the ball for more than 20 yards on five separate occasions, punishing the Idaho secondary often.
“We’ve got to pay more attention to detail. I think we’ve done a fairly good job in most parts of the game and then we usually have lapses,” cornerbacks coach Torey Hunter said.
Not only does Idaho have to stress about the efficient North Carolina offense, defensive injuries may force two starting linebackers out of Saturday’s game. With a face fracture, senior starter Conrad Scheidt may not see field time for the remainder of the season. Senior Sua Tuala suffered a hamstring injury Saturday and didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday.
Junior college transfer Matthew Willis could step into a starting role as early as Saturday.
Despite the adversity they’ve fought with injury, senior Rob Siavii remains confident in the versatile line backing corps.
“We’re really not even playing positions, we’re playing sides. We all know each position so we know Will and Sam,” he said. “It’s just cool that we know both positions because when we’re tired in the game, we don’t have to run. We just say on our own sides and catch our breath.”
Willis, who spent time at the Air Force Academy before transferring to Los Angeles Harbor College and then Idaho, took the majority of the first team reps at practice this week.
“He’s been coming in for extra film, and that’s what we kept pressing on him,” Siavii said. “He’s just done a great job of getting that extra in and not only attending and focusing on our meetings, but he’s been coming in on his own time, sacrificing his own time to learn his position.”
The high-scoring, explosive Tar Heel offense has averaged 37.5 points-per-game. Seven different players have caught touchdown passes and four have rushed for touchdowns thus far.
However, UNC coach Larry Fedora won’t be solely focused on his own offense ahead of Saturday’s game. After a Wednesday practice in Chapel Hill, Fedora expressed his concerns with the Vandal offense, and especially quarterback Dominique Blackman.
“They get the ball out quick, it’s always frustrating for your defensive line and that’s the thing — he’s got a great release and he can get the ball out,” Fedora said. “He can spin the ball really well, so it’s definitely a problem for us.”
A quarterback duel will likely be on display, and both offenses have the firepower to light up the scoreboard early. Idaho’s defensive depth may prove an issue and UNC’s inability to handle the Vandals’ quick pass, short gain offensive schemes could force one team to win it late in the fourth quarter.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org