2013 Idaho football's 10 things to know: More than underdogs

USA TODAY Sports

Paul Petrino seems to play the underdog well. At least, he better, because there might not be a bigger underdog in FBS this fall than his first squad at Idaho.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Paul Petrino is a pretty good underdog

I wasn't blown away by Idaho's hire of Paul Petrino as head coach. He has made his name as an offensive coordinator, but his 2011 offense at Illinois fell from 51st in Off. F/+ to 117th, and his 2012 offense at Arkansas fell from 11th to 43rd. He showed every single bad tendency you can show in Arkansas' loss to UL-Monroe last year, and his sideline demeanor is a little too Pelini-esque for my tastes.

That said, when forced to get resourceful with a lack of resources, he has done so pretty well. While it fell off in his second year, the work he did in nearly coaxing out a Top 50 offense in 2010 with Illinois was staggering. He took a unit with a limited redshirt freshman quarterback (Nathan Scheelhaase) and no depth whatsoever (two players caught more than 17 passes) and crafted a competitive, unique offense. The Illini were competitive against good teams early in the season (they lost to Ohio State by 11, Missouri by 10) that year and showed seriously explosive potential, averaging 42.1 points per game over the last seven contests.

Two years before that, he had again nearly coaxed a Top 50 performance out of an Arkansas offense that not only had to learn a new system but also had to go through life without Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. With the Dick brothers at quarterback, Michael Smith at running back, and a lot of youth in the receiving corps, Arkansas struggled early (17.4 points per game in the first five games) but began to figure things out late (27.5 per game in the last four).

I cannot say I'm impressed with Petrino's offensive performance as a favorite, but as a resourceful underdog he seems to pass muster. And it probably goes without saying that he will have plenty of opportunities to be a resourceful underdog at Idaho.

Petrino is a Montana boy, and he patched together an interesting staff in taking over for Robb Akey in Moscow. Arkansas receivers coach Kris Cinkovich, a Northwest native, agreed to be Petrino's offensive coordinator; Ronnie Lee, a Washington State grad and former Idaho defensive backs coach who spent two recent years (2009-10) as defensive co-coordinator at Minnesota (the Gophers improved to 67th in Def. F/+ in 2009, their best defensive rating of the Tim Brewster era), signed on to run the defense. The coaches know the area and understand the task ahead of them. Yesterday, I called the New Mexico State job the hardest in FBS. But while I stand by that, let's just say that Idaho can give any job a run for its money in that regard.

2. The exact same team, twice in a row

While Petrino was struggling to make everything come together in Fayetteville, Robb Akey was pulling off something impressive in Moscow. It wasn't the good kind of impressive, mind you, but it was a difficult accomplishment: He put together a team in 2012 that was almost exactly like the one he put together in 2011.

Idaho's Off. F/+ rating was minus-17.7 percent (115th in the country) in 2011. It was minus-16.5 percent (121st) in 2012.

Idaho's Def. F/+ rating was minus-7.9 percent (86th) in 2011. It was minus-8.7 (92nd) in 2012.

Idaho's Special Teams F/+ rating was minus-0.7 percent (80th) in 2011. It was minus-0.2 percent in 2012.

Considering what Idaho lost following 2011 -- the Vandals had to replace their starting quarterback, their top two rushers, two of their top three receivers, their three most experienced offensive linemen, two of four on the defensive line, four of six at linebacker, and two of four at defensive back -- that is actually an admirable feat. But it wasn't nearly admirable enough to save Akey's job. That Akey engineered a bowl season in 2009 and almost did so again in 2010 was damn impressive; but he had done what he was going to do at Idaho. It was a good time for a change.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 120
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
30-Aug Eastern Washington 3-20 L 8.8 - 30.9 L
8-Sep at Bowling Green 13-21 L 41.7 - 31.9 W
15-Sep at LSU 14-63 L 16.6 - 46.6 L
22-Sep Wyoming 37-40 L 29.0 - 33.1 L
29-Sep at North Carolina 0-66 L 9.0 - 33.3 L
6-Oct New Mexico State 26-18 W 16.3 - 30.2 L
13-Oct at Texas State 7-38 L 20.1 - 42.6 L
20-Oct at Louisiana Tech 28-70 L 19.7 - 40.8 L
3-Nov San Jose State 13-42 L 17.5 - 28.1 L
10-Nov at BYU 13-52 L 27.1 - 38.1 L
17-Nov UTSA 27-34 L 31.9 - 29.8 W
24-Nov at Utah State 9-45 L 14.7 - 18.1 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 15.8 123 42.4 122
Adj. Points Per Game 21.0 117 33.6 109

3. If you squint, you can find November improvement

When you lose 11 games, and when you lose seven by at least 29 points, then it is pretty pointless to look for optimism or improvement. But for Idaho in 2012, it was there if you looked hard enough. The Vandals faced a brutal finish to the 2012 season, facing Utah State (17th in F/+), BYU (23rd), San Jose State (32nd), and Louisiana Tech (52nd) among their final five opponents. And accordingly, they were blown out four times. But adjusting for opponent, their level of play did at least improve in November.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Opponent 36.2, Idaho 20.2 (minus-16.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 28.5, Idaho 22.8 (minus-5.7)

Going from more than two touchdowns worse than the average team to just under one touchdown worse is indeed improvement, even if it's of the "Who cares? They still stunk" variety.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 116 106 101 110
RUSHING 120 114 112 110
PASSING 69 90 74 96
Standard Downs 91 56 102
Passing Downs 115 124 96
Redzone 115 113 119
Q1 Rk 123 1st Down Rk 82
Q2 Rk 99 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 102 3rd Down Rk 124
Q4 Rk 68

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Dominique Blackman 167 265 1,610 63.0% 9 13 9 3.3% 5.5
Logan Bushnell


55 107 638 51.4% 2 5 9 7.8% 4.9
Taylor Davis 6'3, 232 Sr. ** (5.1) 38 70 330 54.3% 3 4 3 4.1% 4.1
Austin DeCoud 6'3, 216 RSFr. ** (5.4)






Chad Chalich 6'0, 205 RSFr. NR






Anthony Neyer 6'3, 215 Jr. ** (5.3)






Joshua McCain 6'2, 190 Fr. ** (5.3)






4. No face (of the offense)

No. 1 quarterback Dominique Blackman was kicked off the team mid-season, and No. 2 quarterback Logan Bushnell has graduated. Leading rusher Ryan Bass is gone, as is No. 1 receiver Mike Scott. It probably isn't a bad thing for Idaho to have to start over, but the faces involved in the 2013 offense will not only be different on the sideline.

For what it's worth, it appears the leading candidate for No. 1 receiver is Jahrie Level, who had a lovely spring and finished it with nine catches for 169 yards in the spring game. On a per-target basis, he was the best wideout on the roster last last year at 7.6; but 7.6 isn't that impressive, and he'll probably need to bump into the 8s or 9s for Idaho to improve significantly. In all, three returnees posted at least average numbers last year; we'll see who else Petrino and Cinkovich can find for the rotation. And at running back, it appears two JUCO transfers -- Kris Olugbode and Jerrel Brown -- had the best spring sessions.

Meanwhile, local boy Chad Chalich outplayed Taylor Davis in the last couple of spring scrimmages, but we'll see if that's a good thing. My friend Paul Myerberg tried to turn the competition into a positive (which I admire)...

If Petrino and Cinkovich do opt for Chalich, having a player like Davis in reserve provides a bit of a safety net. That's perhaps the greatest positive from this alignment: Davis might not preferable as the Vandals' starter, but he's totally viable as the team's backup quarterback.

...but unless Chalich is a diamond in the rough, Davis' sack and interception troubles this year were probably in no way a good thing.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Ryan Bass RB 129 469 3.6 4.2 0 -17.8
James Baker RB 6'2, 228 Sr. ** (5.3) 95 385 4.1 3.1 2 -9.8
Todd Handley RB 32 135 4.2 3.5 0 -3.8
Justin Parkins RB 5'9, 198 So. NR 17 91 5.4 5.7 0 +0.9
Taylor Davis QB 6'3, 232 Sr. ** (5.1) 13 60 4.6 2.3 0 +0.7
Logan Bushnell QB 13 57 4.4 2.7 0 -0.4
Dominique Blackman QB 13 58 4.5 4.4 1 -1.0
Andrew Williams RB 5'11, 185 RSFr. ** (5.3)




Kris Olugbode RB 5'9, 200 Jr. ** (5.2)



Jerrel Brown RB 6'0, 220 Jr. ** (5.2)



Isaiah Saunders RB 5'10, 210 Fr. ** (5.3)





5. Three rushing touchdowns

Idaho scored three rushing touchdowns in 2012. That isn't a misprint. Three.

Three!

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Mike Scott WR 89 60 666 67.4% 7.5 21.1% 61.8% 7.5 75.4
Najee Lovett WR 5'9, 168 Sr. ** (5.4) 85 50 543 58.8% 6.4 20.2% 62.4% 6.4 61.5
Jahrie Level WR 6'0, 187 Jr. ** (5.3) 77 46 538 59.7% 7.0 18.3% 51.9% 7.6 60.9
Roman Runner SLOT 6'0, 185 Sr. NR 32 18 218 56.3% 6.8 7.6% 46.9% 7.0 24.7
Justin Veltung SLOT 29 16 166 55.2% 5.7 6.9% 65.5% 5.8 18.8
Michael LaGrone TE 6'2, 273 Sr. ** (5.1) 28 15 127 53.6% 4.5 6.7% 82.1% 3.3 14.4
Todd Handley RB 23 17 84 73.9% 3.7 5.5% 69.6% 3.9 9.5
Ryan Bass RB 18 16 97 88.9% 5.4 4.3% 50.0% 5.9 11.0
James Baker RB 6'2, 228 Sr. ** (5.3) 9 8 76 88.9% 8.4 2.1% 33.3% 9.2 8.6
Marquan Major WR 6'2, 183 So. 8 2 25 25.0% 3.1 1.9% 0.0% 3.3 2.8
Clayton Homme TE 6'5, 241 Sr. ** (5.2) 7 4 34 57.1% 4.9 1.7% 71.4% 4.7 3.9
Camryn Harris WR 5 1 64 20.0% 12.8 1.2% 0.0% 12.7 7.2
Justin Parkins RB 5'9, 198 So. NR 5 4 30 80.0% 6.0 1.2% 0.0% 2.4 3.4
Eric Lemke TE 6'4, 246 RSFr. ** (5.3)








Dezmon Epps WR 5'10, 175 Jr. ** (5.2)








Reuben Mwehla WR 5'10, 173 Fr. ** (5.3)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 93.6 2.63 2.86 33.1% 67.7% 19.0% 94.0 3.9% 7.8%
Rank 96 103 90 116 61 64 69 48 83
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Mike Marboe C 6'2, 296 Jr. *** (5.5) 23 career starts
A.J. Jones RG 20 career starts
Jordan Johnson RT 6'6, 323 Sr. *** (5.6) 18 career starts
Cody Elenz LT 6'4, 287 So. ** (5.2) 12 career starts
Dallas Sandberg LG 6'5, 311 So. ** (5.2) 11 career starts
Spencer Beale RG 6'5, 319 Jr. ** (5.2) 4 career starts
Guy Reynolds, Jr. C 1 career start
Kyle Salm LT 6'6, 292 Jr. ** (4.9)
Larry Dugan LG 6'2, 360 Sr. ** (4.9)
Niklaus Von Rotz RT 6'5, 292 Sr. ** (5.3)

6. The line could be pretty strong (relatively speaking)

All told, the line was easily the strength of the offense last season. It was good in power situations and prevented negative plays on the ground, and while there were some blitz issues, it protected the passer well on standard downs. Five players return with starting experience (68 career starts), including two-year guy Mike Marboe at center. With a Petrino offense, we know that pass protection will be the primary concern, and it appeared that Idaho QBs got sacked a lot this spring (assuming tackling the QB was allowed, however, it's probable that these were one-hand-touch sacks), but we'll see. The line is the least of my concerns.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 111 108 86 111
RUSHING 99 104 84 111
PASSING 109 102 78 105
Standard Downs 108 86 114
Passing Downs 100 81 103
Redzone 97 97 87
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 93
Q2 Rk 104 2nd Down Rk 97
Q3 Rk 89 3rd Down Rk 97
Q4 Rk 88

7. Opponents knew to pass

Really, you had plenty of options in facing the Idaho defense last fall. The D was quite a bit stronger than the O, but it wasn't particularly good at any one thing. Idaho's efficiency numbers were decent, which, when paired with poor big-play numbers, suggests a pretty aggressive approach. But the Vandals still ranked worse than 100th on the ground and in the air. Still, it probably says something that Idaho opponents had no problem passing, passing, and passing. Opponents threw four percent more than the national average on standard downs and 10 percent more on passing downs, and while there were some pass happy opponents on the schedule (Louisiana Tech), the slate was also full of LSUs, Utah States, UTSAs, and BYUs. Teams didn't have to even slightly fear Idaho's blitz, so they passed with reckless abandon on the rare second- or third-and-long, and the odds were good that they converted, too.

Ronnie Lee's background is a weird one -- after his Co-DC years at Minnesota, he ended up as Indiana State's running backs coach -- so I can't say I know what his general approach is going to be. But with almost an entirely new linebacking corps and secondary, it's probably going to take some trial-and-error to figure out what will work.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 91.4 3.16 2.80 41.5% 68.2% 18.7% 68.6 3.8% 3.3%
Rank 101 94 26 95 63 74 106 90 114
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Maxx Forde DE 6'3, 261 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 27.5 4.1% 5 4 0 4 0 2
QuayShawne Buckley DT 11 19.0 2.8% 6 4 0 0 0 0
Benson Mayowa DE 11 17.5 2.6% 7 3 0 1 3 0
Vince Keener DE 6'4, 262 Sr. ** (4.9) 12 16.0 2.4% 6 2 0 0 0 0
Quinton Bradley DE 6'3, 240 So. ** (5.2) 11 15.0 2.2% 3.5 1 0 1 0 2
Marius Burgsmueller DE 6'5, 273 Jr. NR 12 10.5 1.6% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Jesse Davis DE 6'6, 286 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 10.0 1.5% 3 0 0 1 0 1
Ryan Edwards DT 6'2, 294 So. ** (5.2) 12 6.5 1.0% 0.5 0 0 0 0 2
Karel Kearney DT 6'2, 301 Jr. ** (5.2) 10 5.5 0.8% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rice DE 6'3, 260 Jr. ** (5.4)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Su'a Tuala MLB 12 57.0 8.4% 7 1 0 4 2 0
Homer Mauga SLB 12 52.5 7.8% 8 1 2 1 1 0
Robert Siavii WLB 11 45.5 6.7% 3 0 1 1 1 0
Matthew Willis MLB 6'0, 230 Sr. ** 11 24.5 3.6% 2.5 0 0 0 0 0
Conrad Scheidt LB 3 16.0 2.4% 2.5 0 0 2 0 0
Elan Richard WLB 11 14.0 2.1% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Nik Landdeck LB 8 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jeremiah Walters SLB 8 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Palomino LB 6'3, 220 RSFr. ** (5.3)

Russell Siavii LB 6'2, 185 RSFr. NR

Marc Millan LB 6'1, 215 Jr. ** (5.3)

Juan Martinez LB 6'3, 235 Jr. ** (5.3)

Eric Tuipulotu LB 5'11, 215 Jr. ** (5.3)

Broc Westlake LB 6'3, 235 So. ** (5.2)






8. No linebackers

Only one current Idaho linebacker saw the field last year. Yikes. This unit was typically the strength of an Akey defense, but it will completely and totally hit the reset button in 2013. Hell, even Petrino's hire as linebackers coach -- former Vandals linebacker Mike Anderson -- left the program this spring to "pursue opportunities in the private sector." Double yikes. (It appears that former Indiana State linebackers coach Eric Brown will be taking over for Anderson. Hey, ISU was pretty good last year, so there's that.)

Lee won't have to trot four true freshmen out onto the field or anything -- Matthew Willis showed some level of competence last year, and four JUCOs join the rotation. But with so many unknowns, it's hard to get too excited about this former strength.

And this says nothing of the fact that UI must also replace its top two safeties and two of its top three corners. The secondary wasn't good enough in 2012 to fret too much about this, but any experience would be welcome int he back seven.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gary Walker FS 12 78.0 11.5% 2 0 1 6 1 1
Aaron Grymes CB 12 59.0 8.7% 4 0 0 1 0 0
Thaad Thompson SS 11 37.5 5.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Bradley Njoku FS 6'1, 202 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 32.0 4.7% 0.5 0 1 0 0 0
Solomon Dixon CB 5'9, 164 So. ** (5.4) 12 31.5 4.7% 3 0 3 3 0 0
Tracy Carter CB 11 29.5 4.4% 0 0 1 4 1 0
Trey Williams SS 6'2, 206 Sr. ** (4.9) 11 25.0 3.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Jayshawn Jordan CB 5'9, 175 So. *** (5.5) 10 15.0 2.2% 0 0 0 1 0 0
D'Mario Carter S 5'10, 215 Sr. NR 10 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 1
Christian Whitehead CB 5'10, 173 Sr. NR 8 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Delancy Parham CB 5'11, 180 Jr. ** (5.2)

Armond Hawkins DB 6'0, 170 Fr. *** (5.5)






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Bobby Cowan 70 43.1 2 18 13 44.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Trey Farquhar 44 60.8 12 27.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Trey Farquhar 19-19 11-13 84.6% 8-12 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Todd Handley KR 26 20.0 1
Justin Veltung KR 8 17.2 0
Najee Lovett KR 5'9, 168 Sr. 6 13.7 0
Justin Veltung PR 15 2.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 68
Net Punting 51
Net Kickoffs 92
Touchback Pct 91
Field Goal Pct 43
Kick Returns Avg 119
Punt Returns Avg 122

9. A brand new special teams corps

By ranking, the special teams unit was the strength of Idaho's team last year. The Vandals were strong in the punting game and had a strong kicker in Trey Farquhar, who made eight field goals of 40 yards or more. (Just imagine how many points Idaho would(n't) have scored without him.) But the Vandals also find a total reset in this unit; Farquhar and punter Bobby Cowan are both gone, as is just about every return man. (The return losses aren't as big a deal, as they mostly stunk last year.)

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at North Texas 112
7-Sep at Wyoming 109
14-Sep Northern Illinois 50
21-Sep at Washington State 97
28-Sep Temple 66
5-Oct Fresno State 60
12-Oct at Arkansas State 64
26-Oct at Ole Miss 29
2-Nov Texas State 107
9-Nov Old Dominion NR
23-Nov at Florida State 15
30-Nov at New Mexico State 123
Five-Year F/+ Rk 113
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 120
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -17 / -11.7
TO Luck/Game -2.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (7, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin** +8.6

10. You better beat Texas State and ODU...

I'm generally a hopeful kind of guy. I was, after all, able to come up with quite a few encouraging things to mention about New Mexico State this week. But when it comes to Idaho, it's pretty difficult. The Vandals will have a strong offensive line and, potentially, a decent defensive line. They might have some interesting receivers for the system at hand. But they're starting over at quarterback, running back, linebacker, defensive back, and special teams. And the schedule isn't particularly forgiving: While Idaho does face six teams projected 97th or worse, they play four of those teams on he road. Home games versus Texas State and Old Dominion appear to be the most winnable available, but a) Texas State might actually be pretty damn good in 2013, and b) ODU has gone 21-5 at the FCS level over the last two years.

I'm not going to predict an 0-12 season, but I'll just say that Paul Petrino has his work cut out for him. The underdog role might look good on him, and he may end up a perfectly fine hire, but he probably has some work to do just to get Idaho up to underdog status.

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