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Know Your Foe: Idaho Vandals

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If Idaho is anything like they were last year, Saturday’s game won’t be pretty.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

University of Idaho

Location: Moscow, Idaho
Enrollment: 11,780

Idaho Football Facts

Home Stadium: Kibbie Dome (Capacity 16,000)
Head Coach: Paul Petrino, 7th season, 23-48 (.323)
Conference: Big Sky
Conference Titles: 10
Overall Bowl Record: 3-0 (1.0000)
FCS Playoff Record: 6-11 (.353)

Series History

Penn State and Idaho have never met on the gridiron.

Last Season (4-7 overall, 3-5 Big Sky)

The 2018 season for the Vandals was their sixth under head coach Paul Petrino and the first as part of the Big Sky since dropping back down to the FCS level. It was not a great season for Petrino and the Vandals,

The Vandals never were able to find consistency last year and faced a rather tough schedule that featured Fresno State in their season opener, FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington, and Florida to finish off their season. The Vandals ended up going 4-7 overall and 3-5 in conference, it was their second straight losing season.

Recruiting and Offseason:

The Idaho Vandals 2019 recruiting classed ranked 137th in the country and second in the Big Sky. Comparatively, Penn State’s class ranked 12th in the nation and second in the Big Ten. The Vandals also brought in five transfers this offseason, all from FBS level programs.

Offense

Last season, the Idaho offense was below average across the board. Overall, the Vandals averaged just under 25 points per game and 369-yards per game, they should come well under both of those numbers on Saturday.

In 2019, the Vandals return a few key starters but overall shouldn’t expect to be too much better than they were last year. Quarterback Mason Petrino, the son of head coach Paul Petrino, returns in 2019 but will need to show some improvements in 2019. Last year, he completed about 60% of his passes on the season but struggled against Fresno State and Florida, going a combined 23-for-43.

Both of the Vandals backups from last season return and Colton Richardson is the name to know out of the backups. He appeared in six games last season but completed just 51% of his passes for five touchdowns and four interceptions. If something happens to Petrino, he’ll most likely be the option the Vandals decide to go with.

Last year in the run game, the Vandals heavily relied on running back Isaiah Saunders who had 203 carries last year for 911-yards and six touchdowns. This season, they’ll most likely lean on Lousiana native Tyrese Walker who appeared in 10 games last season, carrying the ball 73 times for 388 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Mason Petrino also some running abilities, carrying the ball 77 times last season for 245 yards.

The Vandals returning leading receiver this season is redshirt junior Jeff Cotton who caught 49 passes last year for 656-yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Cutrell Haywood also returns in 2019 after catching 51 passes last year for 489-yards and six touchdowns. Those will be two weapons on Idaho’s offense to watch for on Saturday.

The Idaho offensive line last season was solid, giving up just 20 sacks on the season but will have their fair share of struggles against the Nittany Lions menancing front seven on Saturday.

Defense

The Idaho defense was among the worse in the FCS last year, allowing 37 points per game and and 455 yards per game. For the season, the Vandals allowed over 5,000 yards of total offense to opponents.

Opponents were able to have their way with the Vandals defense no matter how they chose too as the Vandals allowed over 200-yards per game on the ground while allowing 242 yards through the air. They’ll try to improve on those numbers in 2019 but it won’t be easy against a talented Nittany Lions offense that’s looking to make a statement early in the season.

Key players to watch for defensively include redshirt senior defensive back Denzal Brantley (71 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one interception ) as well as senior linebacker Ty Graham (71 tackles, 6.0 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble). All three were among the Vandals top tacklers from last season and are by far their best pieces defensively.

Additionally, redshirt junior linebacker Charles Akanno will be worth keeping an eye on. Despite just 30 tackles for the season last year, Akanno had eight tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Special Teams

On special teams, the Vandals rely heavily on redshirt junior Cade Coffey who handled all kicking duties last year and was strong in doing so. He averaged 44-yards per punt last season including a long of 80 while making 8-of-11 field goal attempts on the season. In kickoffs, he averaged 60.1 yards per kick with 29 touchbacks on 47 kickoffs.

In the return game, Jeff Cotton will be the Vandals primary kick returner after returning 13 kickoffs for 239 yards a year ago, an average of 18.4 yards. When it comes to punt returns, Cotton will once again be an option but did not return a punt last season. Right now, the likely punt returner appears to be junior defensive back Jalen Hoover. Hoover returned two punts last season for 39 yards.