The Idaho Vandals try to follow up an ranked Texas A&M in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on the gridiron.
After opening the 2011 campaign with a disappointing 32-15 loss against Bowling Green in Moscow, the Vandals turned around and dismantled North Dakota last Saturday in a 44-14 final, evening their season record at 1-1 despite being held scoreless in the first quarter and having just three points late in the first half.
"I'm glad to have a finish like we expected to have," Idaho head coach Robb Akey said after the game. "We came out and performed better in the second half - more like we expected to; more like our players expected to."
As for the Aggies, they've been waiting to get back onto the field since Sunday, September 4 when they crushed SMU in their one and only game thus far, a 46-14 romp at home. Texas A&M, a program that appears destined to join the SEC in the near future, gets to play its first three games of the season at home, with Big 12 Conference foe Oklahoma State slated to arrive on September 24. The Aggies don't play their first road date of the campaign until they clash with Arkansas on October 1.
The Vandals started out slow against North Dakota last weekend, a 50-yard field goal by Trey Farquhar accounting for their only points through almost 29 minutes of action, but then the offense came alive and beat up the visitors rather easily. Quarterback Brian Reader threw for a career-best four touchdowns, converting 27-of-39 passes for 299 yards in the process.
Idaho receivers Mike Scott and Armauni Johnson both had eight catches and a score for the hosts, while Ryan Bass posted a game-high 57 yards and a TD on 11 carries for the offense.
From a defensive standpoint, the Vandals clamped down on the North Dakota running game, permitting a mere 29 yards on 20 attempts, the pass defense giving up 168 yards and a score while registering one sack and a couple of interceptions. One of those picks came near the end of the meeting as Bradley Njoku returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to cap the 30-point victory.
While it is still early, the road only gets harder for the Vandals from here on out and already they've demonstrated an inability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, averaging a mere three tackles for loss through two games. At the end of the 2010 campaign, Idaho was one of the best in the business in that department with close to seven TFLs per outing, ranking second in the Western Athletic Conference and 19th in the nation, clearly something coach Akey needs to address.
Reader is off to a fast start now that he owns the starting job, already having tossed six TDs and just a single interception on 82 attempts. Now what the Vandals need to concern themselves with is getting the rushing attack into gear since it is averaging a mere 84.5 ypg. Then again, the group floundered in 2010 as well when it ranked 118th in the country with just 88.2 ypg on the ground.
Certainly, one game does not a season make, yet the Aggies had to be pleased with the manner in which they kicked off this new campaign, rattling SMU in a 32-point triumph in the first of seven home games. Texas A&M started out strong with 20 points in the first quarter and then gradually tapered off once it became obvious that they were heading for the lopsided victory against their in-state rival.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill ran a tight ship as he missed on just five of his 26 pass attempts, leading to 246 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Swope stepped up his game as well with eight catches for 109 yards and a score. On the ground the squad leaned heavily on Cyrus Gray (132 yards, two TDs) and Christine Michael (85 yards, two TDs) as the team averaged close to five and a half yards per carry.
From a defensive standpoint, Tony Jerod-Eddie was the star of the show as he recorded three sacks on his way to being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. As a whole, the Aggies registered eight sacks and that left the Mustangs with just 79 net rushing yards in the meeting.
"We had a great scheme against (SMU's) pass protection," said Jerod-Eddie of his unit's performance. "Coach (Tim) DeRuyter dialed up the plays, the outside linebackers did a great job threatening and I came free and made the tackles I had to make. I just try to take it one play at a time and do the best I can on that play."
Last season, the Aggies were fifth in the conference and tied for 40th in the nation with just 2.23 sacks per game, posting four such tackles a couple of times but never higher than that so it appears the squad is off on the right foot in that respect.
Tannehill, who took over midway through the 2010 campaign and finished with 13 TDs and more than 1,600 yards passing, will be leaning heavily on his running backs moving forward, especially after they showed how well they can carry the load on the opener.