Battle of the homeless — Idaho takes on struggling New Mexico State as both look for WAC win
Before the fall season started, before the Vandals and Aggies had combined for one win in 10 games, Idaho versus New Mexico State was a highly anticipated match-up.
Five games into the season and the lack of a conference may not be the only thing the two have in common. Record-wise, the only thing that separates them is an Aggie victory over Big Sky side Sacramento State during week one.
Conference-wise, NMSU also has the slight advantage. While both have fallen back on plans to go independent next season, NMSU athletic director Boston McKinley has announced that the program has scheduled nine games for the 2013 season, including all five of the required home fixtures.
Idaho and athletic director Rob Spear have four contracts signed.
On Saturday afternoon though, conference business will be thrown aside and for the third time in three Kibbie Dome games, the Vandals will have an opportunity to depart the infamous indoor site with a win.
It will mark a fresh start for Idaho, which hosts NMSU not only for Homecoming, but also for its first WAC game of the season.
“Certainly now, we’re going into week six looking for our first win but we’re also 0-0, untied, un-scored upon, undefeated going into conference play,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “It’s kind of our last new beginning, let’s take advantage of that, let’s get it going.”
A heartbreaker in Las Cruces last season left a bitter taste in the mouth of Idaho’s returners. On Oct. 15, 2011 at Aggie Memorial Stadium, the Vandals ate up more than 12:30 in the fourth quarter but Brian Reader and the offense hit a brick wall when they reached the one-yard line. Reader threw incomplete to Justin Veltung, despite having multiple receivers open in the end zone.
First-year starter Dominique Blackman relishes the opportunity to do what Reader couldn’t.
“I remember I said I wanted to be the guy to go out there and beat that team so I have that opportunity and we all have the opportunity to go 1-0 in the WAC so that’s what we want to do,” Blackman said.
The Aggie win broke a three-game streak Idaho held on its newest conference rival.
A year later, fans in silver and gold or crimson and white may not be all that surprised if Saturday’s game also comes down to a final play or drive.
Though the Vandals remain 10-point favorites, the Aggies have scored more points and allowed fewer points than Saturday’s hosts. In both categories, Idaho is the 121st ranked team in the FBS.
Idaho’s points total took a massive hit a week ago in Chapel Hill, N.C., when it was shutout for the first time in four years.
Blackman claims it may have been the only time in his career one of his teams has been shutout.
“It shocked our offense because even in our other losses, we were right there,” he said. “To actually see a goose egg on the board, just put a big “woah”, especially on myself. I’ve never played in a game and not had a touchdown or at least three points.”
The Aggies are No. 75 in the nation in terms of points scored, and much of that is thanks to a balanced offense led by sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley and running back Tiger Powell.
Still, NMSU has struggled as of late, managing just two touchdowns in each of its last two games. The Aggies will attempt to rebound from defeat in their WAC-opener, a 35-14 beat down courtesy of new conference member and new FBS member Texas-San Antonio.
The Tar Heels’ annihilation of Idaho last Saturday once again proved holes within the Idaho secondary need patching. Those holes allowed North Carolina to capitalize on three touchdown plays of 35 yards or longer.
Junior safety Trey Williams said the lack of substitutions played a big role in the secondary’s performance. Williams, who suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago against Wyoming, will be healthy for the Homecoming game.
“We only had two safeties really but I think they did well just having two, and I think if we would’ve had Thaad (Thompson) and myself we would’ve done a little bit better because we would’ve have somebody to sub in just when people get tired,” Williams said. “You can only allow so much when you’re tired.”
With a week to completely erase the 66-0 obliteration of last Saturday, Idaho, newly rejuvenated seeks revenge against NMSU in a home atmosphere.
The annual Homecoming game kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Kibbie Dome.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org