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1. There's no time like the present
I guess it fits the stereotype that a Petrino doesn't have a lot of patience.
Despite being separated by nearly 1,500 miles, Idaho and New Mexico State will long be linked together, both as conference mates and as kindred spirits that nearly lost their places in the Football Bowl Subdivision. When the WAC dissolved in 2012, other conference mates found landing spots in the Mountain West (Utah State, San Jose State), Conference USA (Louisiana Tech, UTSA), and the Sun Belt (Texas State).
But nobody took Idaho and NMSU. Both programs spent 2013 as independents, where scheduling nightmares indicated the programs weren't too terribly long for the FBS universe.
The Sun Belt, however, eventually threw out a pair of life preservers. Idaho and NMSU were each original members of the SBC when it began football play in 2001, and, geographical issues aside (Idaho is now conference mates with schools from Boone, NC, and Statesboro, GA), it welcomes the two schools back in 2014.
Idaho and NMSU have also shared something else in recent years: pretty bad football. This was obviously one of the leading causes of their initial conference censure. NMSU has gone 23-88 since 2005 and 12-50 since 2009. Idaho had a two-year burst of relative success under Robb Akey -- the Vandals went 14-12 in 2009-10 -- but omitting those two years, they've gone just 22-108 since 2001 and 4-32 since 2011. They ranked 109th and 113th in the F/+ rankings in 2011, 120th and 123rd in 2012, and 116th and 122nd in 2013.
Recent history has been anything but kind to these schools, but that's basically where the similarities end. Both hired new coaches before the 2013 season. One (NMSU's Doug Martin) is taking the long road to success and attempting to build mostly through high school recruits, redshirting, and development. The other (Idaho's Paul Petrino) is taking a path that is almost 180 degrees different. Of the 25 players NMSU signed in its 2014 recruiting class, 23 were high schoolers. Meanwhile, of the 24 non-grayshirts Idaho signed, eight were high schoolers. Petrino brought in 16 junior college transfers, seven of whom signed in December and are already enrolled, in an attempt to immediately change the Vandals' faded fortunes.
Neither approach is correct or incorrect, mind you, but there's no question that Petrino's approach is risky. If JUCO transfers don't create immediate improvement, then they're just going to result in another quick-fix JUCO recruiting class two years later. And the approach itself is in no way guaranteed to work; Charlie Weis brought in 15 JUCO transfers at Kansas last year, and his Jayhawks improved all the way from 104th and 1-11 to 101st and 3-9. Ron Prince brought 20 JUCOs to Kansas State in 2008, and his Wildcats went from 59th and 5-7 to ... 83rd and 5-7.
It could pay off, though. Petrino's new-old blood will mix with a roster full of experience in the trenches and at least one intriguing skill position player. Not every JUCO has to be a hit for Idaho to improve, but we'll see if the reward matches the risk.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 116|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at North Texas||51||6-40||L||30.9 - 41.7||L|
|7-Sep||at Wyoming||102||10-42||L||15.5 - 37.8||L|
|14-Sep||Northern Illinois||60||35-45||L||27.9 - 25.0||W|
|21-Sep||at Washington State||53||0-42||L||6.8 - 46.8||L|
|28-Sep||Temple||98||26-24||W||25.9 - 26.7||L||-14.2|
|5-Oct||Fresno State||49||14-61||L||15.0 - 37.8||L||-16.6|
|12-Oct||at Arkansas State||90||24-48||L||19.6 - 40.7||L||-16.4|
|26-Oct||at Ole Miss||28||14-59||L||16.4 - 41.9||L||-22.1|
|2-Nov||Texas State||107||21-37||L||24.8 - 34.6||L||-16.0|
|9-Nov||Old Dominion||N/A||38-59||L||17.2 - 42.1||L||-20.8|
|23-Nov||at Florida State||1||14-80||L||29.1 - 30.1||L||-16.5|
|30-Nov||at New Mexico State||122||16-24||L||15.8 - 28.8||L||-14.8|
|Points Per Game||18.2||117||46.8||125|
|Adj. Points Per Game||20.4||117||36.2||116|
2. If you squint, you can see improvement
Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Opponent 37.3, Idaho 19.8 (minus-17.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 33.9, Idaho 21.7 (minus-12.2)
Over the last four games, Idaho's adjusted scoring averages improved by about five points per game overall. Of course, the fact that this improvement includes an 80-14 loss at Florida State, a 21-point home loss to Old Dominion, and a loss, period, to New Mexico State probably tells you more about Idaho's first eight games than its last four.
Still, while the offense was still terribly below average, defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee's aggressive defense was more successfully aggressive late in the year, and while a star defensive tackle is gone, the unit could potentially build off of that.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.6%||108||Succ. Rt. +||81.6||115|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||34.2||123||Def. FP+||90.6||125|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.5||113||Redzone S&P+||70.3||123|
|Q1 Rk||105||1st Down Rk||120|
|Q2 Rk||112||2nd Down Rk||110|
|Q3 Rk||120||3rd Down Rk||104|
3. Bailout options
Despite woeful inefficiency in doing so, Idaho really wanted to pass the ball in 2013. Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich began the year as a starter and proved adept at three things: completing short passes, running for six-to-eight yards, and taking a ton of sacks. He was lost with a shoulder injury midway through the season, and the less mobile (and more frequently upright) Taylor Davis took over most of the quarterbacking duties after that.
No matter who was behind center, Idaho's passing game didn't really take it anywhere. The output remained about the same when Taylor Davis was in charge of the offense, but his more explosive passing tendencies were tamped down by his inability to complete more than 46 percent of his passes.
The Vandals had a couple of bailout options, however. First, Chalich really was solid at picking his spots and getting upfield. Petrino had to rely on Chalich more than he wanted to from a playmaking perspective (he took a lot of hits because of it), but when Davis took over at quarterback, then-junior Dezmon Epps began to emerge in the receiving corps. He caught five passes for 89 yards against Ole Miss, nine for 175 against Old Dominion, and even seven for 126 against Florida State. For the season, he averaged a solid 8.1 yards per target despite being mainly a passing downs weapon.
If one or both JUCO signees at the receiver position can bring some reliability to the table, and if perhaps another youngster (perhaps sophomore Rueben Mwehla?) is able to step up a bit, Epps could be the leader of a downright strong receiving corps. Regardless, he should continue to be a decent second- or third-and-long option.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Chad Chalich||6'0, 205||So.||N/A||113||184||1238||5||3||61.4%||30||14.0%||4.9|
|Joshua McCain||6'2, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||26||204||2||3||46.2%||6||18.8%||4.9|
|Gunnar Amos||6'1, 196||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jake Luton||6'6, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
4. If the arm catches up to the legs...
Chalich certainly showed hints of high-caliber quarterbacking last fall. He dominated in August scrimmages and passed Davis atop the depth chart, and he completed 40 of 68 passes for 546 yards, three scores, and no picks against NIU and Temple. He also rushed for 114 yards against Temple and, even in bad games, tended to pick his spots well in the running game. If he had played the entire season, he'd have easily been Idaho's leading rusher.
If Chalich is able to hold off senior Joshua McCain and some youngsters and remain Idaho's starter, the key for his success will be in slowly figuring out how to avoid disaster. In games not against NIU and Temple, he still completed 60 percent of his passes, but with three interceptions and only 9.9 yards per pass. He was torn between the desire to force passes into tighter windows and the need to flee the pocket to buy extra time, and like a lot of mobile quarterbacks, he struggled with sacks. Well, "struggled" is an understatement. He took 30 sacks in 214 pass attempts; by means of comparison, NIU's Jordan Lynch took 10 in 414 attempts.
|Chad Chalich||QB||6'0, 205||So.||N/A||63||400||0||6.3||4.3||55.6%|
|Richard Montgomery||RB||5'8, 180||So.||2 stars (5.2)||59||196||2||3.3||2.6||37.3%|
|Jerrel Brown||RB||6'0, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||55||216||0||3.9||4.1||34.5%|
|Joshua McCain||QB||6'2, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||47||259||1||5.5||5.2||46.8%|
|Kristoffer Olugbode||RB||5'9, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||28||96||0||3.4||1.3||32.1%|
|Dezmon Epps||WR||5'10, 170||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||8||15||0||1.9||7.5||25.0%|
|Isaiah Saunders||RB||5'10, 216||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Elijhaa Penny||RB||6'2, 245||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Rivals||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target Rate||%SD||Yds/
|Dezmon Epps||WR-W||5'10, 170||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||120||77||971||64.2%||31.5%||45.1%||8.1||37||6.7||90.1|
|Deon Watson||WR-X||6'4, 213||So.||N/A||44||24||279||54.5%||11.5%||50.0%||6.3||-38||8.4||25.9|
|Richard Montgomery||RB||5'8, 180||So.||2 stars (5.2)||24||17||176||70.8%||6.3%||53.3%||7.3||-20||10.2||16.3|
|Justin Podrabsky||TE||6'6, 256||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||7||104||58.3%||3.1%||75.0%||8.7||15||8.3||9.6|
|Jacob Sannon||WR-X||5'11, 177||So.||2 stars (5.2)||9||5||84||55.6%||2.4%||33.3%||9.3||19||6.1||7.8|
|Kristoffer Olugbode||RB||5'9, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||6||4||55||66.7%||1.6%||0.0%||9.2||7||5.3||5.1|
|Jake Manley||FB||6'0, 237||Jr.||N/A||5||3||11||60.0%||1.3%||100.0%||2.2||-27||1.1||1.0|
|Jerrel Brown||RB||6'0, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||5||4||32||80.0%||1.3%||0.0%||6.4||-12||0.0||3.0|
|Buck Cowan||WR-W||6'3, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||4||2||20||50.0%||1.0%||100.0%||5.0||-8||3.3||1.9|
|Jared Klingenberg||TE||6'4, 246||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Rueben Mwehla||WR-Z||5'10, 198||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Jermaine Johnson||WR||6'4, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Kenny Torrence||WR||5'9, 165||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Michael Garner||WR||5'10, 167||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Mike Marboe||C||6'2, 296||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||35|
|Cody Elenz||LT||6'4, 287||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||20|
|Dallas Sandberg||RG||6'5, 311||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||15|
|Nick Von Rotz||RT||6'5, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||11|
|Steven Matlock||RG||6'2, 276||So.||N/A||8|
|Jesse Davis||RT||6'6, 286||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||5|
|Mason Woods||LT||6'9, 333||So.||N/A||4|
|Sione Maile||LG||6'1, 293||Sr.||N/A||2|
|Calvin White||LT||6'5, 258||So.||N/A||0|
|Brett Thompson||RT||6'5, 318||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Jerett Olson||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jeff Travillion||OL||6'3, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Kato Fawkes||OL||6'4, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
5. The line should be a strength
We don't know what the skill position roster will have to offer in 2014; Epps is exciting, there are JUCO transfers at both running back and receiver, and at the very least, Richard Montgomery and Jerrel Brown won't provide much of a drop-off (if any) in the absence of starting running back James Baker. There are options and no guarantees there.
Up front, however, is the closest thing to a guarantee on the offense. Idaho's offensive line wasn't amazing, and it benefited occasionally from timely runs by Chalich and McCain, but it did a pretty decent job of both keeping defenders out of the backfield (against the run) and creating some downfield running opportunities. As importantly, it returns four starters and 100 career starts and adds three JUCO transfers to the mix.
Three-year starting center Mike Marboe leads the way, and there's a pretty good chance that this is the best unit on the offense, and not totally in an it's-the-least-bad kind of way.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.3%||112||Succ. Rt. +||93.4||87|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||27.2||110||Off. FP+||95.5||101|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.0||119||Redzone S&P+||97.7||67|
|Q1 Rk||105||1st Down Rk||112|
|Q2 Rk||73||2nd Down Rk||63|
|Q3 Rk||112||3rd Down Rk||108|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Maxx Forde||DE||6'3, 261||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||49.5||6.5%||10.0||4.5||0||3||1||0|
|Marius Burgsmueller||DE||6'5, 273||Sr.||N/A||9||16.0||2.1%||2.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Quinton Bradley||DE||6'3, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||7||13.5||1.8%||2.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Ryan Edwards||NT||6'3, 291||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||13.0||1.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Anthony Rice||DE||6'2, 251||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||7||7.0||0.9%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Tueni Luepamanu||DL||6'1, 263||So.||2 stars (5.2)||3||4.5||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alfonso Hampton||DT||6'5, 315||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Max Martial||DT||6'5, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kaylyn Ayers||DE||6'4, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Glen Antoine||DT||6'4, 325||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
6. Miss you, QuayShawne
I'm not going to try to convince you that Idaho's defense was good. The Vandals ranked 103rd in Def. F/+ and allowed 7.0 yards per play in eight of 12 games. Nothing about that is good. But its struggles were based in part on facing some pretty good offenses, and the unit as a whole really did improve down the stretch.
The question for 2014 is how much of that improvement was due to tackles QuayShawne Buckley and Vince Keener. Idaho's line stats were downright solid -- 51st in Adj. Line Yards, 28th in Adj. Sack Rate -- and while Buckley was not alone in his productivity, he was the leading playmaker, with 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Idaho returns six of eight linemen, but the top two tackles are gone, and we'll see how much of an impact that has on a couple of solid attackers: end Maxx Forde and linebacker Marc Millan. (Yes, Maxx with two x's. He's your new favorite player.)
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Marc Millan||SLB||6'1, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||76.0||10.0%||11.0||4.0||0||4||0||0|
|Eric Tuipulotu||WLB||5'11, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||11||43.5||5.7%||1.0||0.0||1||0||1||0|
|Juan Martinez||MLB||6'3, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||11||37.0||4.9%||1.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Broc Westlake||LB||6'3, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||9||21.0||2.8%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Wells||LB||6'0, 257||Sr.||N/A||1||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Daniel Peterson||LB||6'0, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Irving Steele||LB||6'1, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Ronald Perry||LB||6'1, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
7. The front seven will still attack
You can see coordinator Ronnie Lee's intentions in the stats above. Idaho wanted desperately to attack and pulled off decent efficiency ratings (87th in Success Rate+) and drive-finishing ratings (67th in Redzone S&P+) because of these aggressive tendencies. The problem was that there wasn't enough talent on the defense as a whole to make the aggression pay off. For every successfully aggressive play, there was a devastating breakdown.
With Forde and Millan leading the way, the odds are good that the aggression isn't going to go anywhere. The question might simply be whether the massive influx of junior college transfers here -- four on the line (including three enormous tackles vying to replace Buckley), three at linebacker, four in the secondary -- can upgrade the overall talent and athleticism to the point where the risks pay off. If they do, Idaho could see a boost in three-and-outs, turnovers, etc., and put its offense in much more favorable situations.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bradley Njoku||FS||6'1, 202||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||73.5||9.7%||2.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Jayshawn Jordan||CB||5'9, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||70.0||9.2%||3||0||1||9||0||0|
|Jordan Grabski||SS||6'0, 171||So.||2 stars (5.2)||8||21.5||2.8%||3||0||0||1||0||0|
|Delency Parham||CB||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||9||17.0||2.2%||2||0||0||2||0||0|
|Tom Hennessey||SS||5'11, 193||Sr.||N/A||5||7.0||0.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Desmond Banks||CB||6'3, 192||So.||2 stars (5.2)||3||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Armond Hawkins||CB||5'10, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Chris Edwards||DB||6'2, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Marquis Hatcher||DB||5'11, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Doyin Sule||DB||6'2, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Dennis Rufas||DB||6'1, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Dorian Clark||DB||5'10, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
8. The secondary will still be shaky
You get used to reading stat lines after a while. Or I should say, you get used to understanding what they mean. A defensive lineman with a lot of tackles for loss is probably a good thing. A linebacker with a ton of tackles and minimal havoc-related stats might be good or bad thing or nothing at all. A defensive back with quite a few passes defensed might be a good thing, unless he has too many tackles to go with it.
That corner Jayshawn Jordan defensed 10 passes (one pick, nine break-ups) could be good, but the fact that he also had 70.0 tackles, third on the team, either means he was great in run support (he did have three tackels for loss) ... or the guy he was covering was catching a lot of passes. Add it to the total defensed passes, and you get the impression that defenses might not have been afraid of Jordan too much.
Regardless, Jordan and Bradley Njoku are the leaders of a secondary that, for better or worse, gets a facelift. Four of the top (well, "top") six are gone, and if JUCOs are going to have an immediate positive impact somewhere, the secondary might not be a bad place for it. When your pass rush ranks 28th in Adj. Sack Rate and your defense still ranks 109th in Passing S&P+, your secondary probably needed a facelift.
|Austin Rehkow||6'3, 202||So.||75||47.8||7||15||24||52.0%|
|Austin Rehkow||6'3, 202||So.||46||61.2||16||3||34.8%|
|Austin Rehkow||6'3, 202||So.||26-27||8-11||72.7%||2-6||33.3%|
|Richard Montgomery||KR||5'8, 180||So.||15||21.8||0|
|Dezmon Epps||PR||5'10, 170||Sr.||21||5.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||109|
|Field Goal Efficiency||101|
|Punt Return Efficiency||71|
|Kick Return Efficiency||82|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||69|
That is one mighty good punting average. That Idaho still got dominated in the field position battle is almost a crime against Austin Rehkow.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|8-Nov||at San Diego State||83|
|TBD||New Mexico State||124|
|TBD||at Appalachian State||N/A|
|TBD||at Georgia Southern||N/A|
|TBD||at Texas State||114|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-21.2% (117)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||0|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-8 / -7.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (6, 6)|
10. The Hawaii of the Sun Belt
Adj. Points Per Game (Home): Opponent 33.2, Idaho 22.2 (minus-11.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (Away): Opponent 38.3, Idaho 19.2 (minus-19.1)
America's Sun Belt either stretches through the Southeast or South, depending on your definition. Moscow, Idaho, is neither South nor East, with far-away Las Cruces representing its closest in-conference stop. A few years ago, Idaho was a conference rival with Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, and Utah State. Now, it is the Hawaii of the Sun Belt, the strange, far-away stop that other conferences have to make every couple of years. The Vandals will travel to Georgia Southern for a conference road game this year, also hosting South Alabama and Troy.
That's nuts. But for an iffy team, long travel and a unique home field advantage might not be a bad thing.
If the JUCOs take hold to any degree, there are enough other interesting pieces here -- Chad Chalich, Dezmon Epps, a decent offensive line, Maxx Forde, Marc Millan -- to turn the Vandals into perhaps a team in the No. 95-110 range. And if they get to that level, they are looking at winnable home games against WMU, NMSU, Troy, and perhaps either South Alabama or Arkansas State. And despite the distance, none of four conference road games are out of reach.
Petrino took a hard swing at immediate improvement with his 2014 recruiting class, and there's a possibility that he could manufacture a four- or five-win season with it, with the promise for more in 2015. But if they aren't able to make much of an immediate impact, then we're looking at basically the same team and a perpetuated rebuilding job.