NCAA Football Preview - Idaho Vandals
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From The Sports Network By Ralph Lauro, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Idaho Vandals have had just five losing seasons since 1982, but coach Tom Cable was at the helm during four of them. Cable's team finished the 2003 campaign 3-9 overall and 3-4 in the Sun Belt Conference. With another disappointing finish Cable was let go and new head coach Nick Holt was brought in. Holt inherits a team that dropped its first five games last year, including embarrassing losses to Division I-AA members Eastern Washington and Montana. The Vandals eventually snapped the losing streak with a 35-31 triumph over New Mexico State, but they followed that with four straight losses. With just one win and two games remaining it would have been easy for Idaho to throw in the towel, but it didn't. The team pounded UL- Monroe (58-20) and followed that up with a 20-13 triumph over Utah State for its only home win of the season. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Last season, Idaho's offense ranked a respectable 59th in the nation, but its lack of consistency was often a big problem. Although the team managed 379.8 total ypg it resulted in a less than adequate 20.7 ppg. Coach Holt plans to use more of a spread offense this season which should cause Sun Belt foes a ton of problems. Junior Michael Harrington, the younger brother of Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, is expected to run the show in 2004. He started five games for Idaho last season, throwing for 996 yards and five touchdowns. Harrington should have even more success this season with the return of wideouts Orlando Winston and Jeff Stowe. Winston, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, has been the team's primary target over the last two season, making 105 catches for 1,431 yards and eight touchdowns. In the backfield Cliff Mason is expected to get the starting nod. Mason is coming off a decent freshman year, finishing third on the team with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2003. Depth on the offensive line is a concern for Idaho this season, but a trio of 300-pound sophomores in Jade Tadvick, Hank Therien and Nate VanderPol should help ease those worries. Tadvick and Therien were starters as freshmen last season, while VanderPol saw some action off the bench. DEFENSE: The Vandal defense yielded 416.1 total ypg last season and with just two starters returning things will probably be worse in 2004. One of the biggest problem areas on defense in 2003 was stopping the run, as Idaho ranked 108th in the nation in run defense. Brandon Kania is the only returning starter from an undersized line that allowed a whopping 216.8 ypg on the ground in '03. Kania is a solid all-around end, who made 46 tackles and eight TFLs a year ago. Lining up opposite Kania will be Mike Anderson, who is considered one of the best players in the league. Anderson has moved over from linebacker where he led the Vandals with 97 tackles last year. With Anderson switching positions it leaves a big whole in the linebacking corps which now has no starters returning. Nate Nichols, Cole Snyder and Robert Davis will likely get the starting nods, but none has an abundance of experience. The trio combined for 96 tackles in '03, with Nichols accounting for 40 of them. In the secondary there are no returning starters either, but several players have experience. J.R. Ruffin, a juco transfer, played in only five games for Idaho last season because of academic problems, making 32 tackles during that time. He has good size and speed and will be counted on to shut down the opposition's top wide out. Strong Safety Jarvis Huff started five games last season, while free safety Simeon Stewart made 18 tackles in a reserve role. SPECIAL TEAMS: Mike Barrow will get first shot at all kicking duties this season with Sam Parry and his big leg pushing for the placekicking job. Barrow hit on 5-of-8 field goals last season as an occasional starter. He had a solid spring and should give the kicking game a much-needed boost. OUTLOOK: With a tough non-conference schedule and more games on the road than at home, Idaho will have a difficult time making a big improvement from last season. However, since the SBC is so tight, the Vandals might be able to finish in the upper half depending on the play of the defense. There is no question about the offense's ability to score points, but stopping opponents from doing so has been a problem in the past. Holt has a winning attitude, but expecting Idaho to win more than four games may be asking too much.