By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Despite having an infectious spirit and boundless optimism, Idaho head coach Rob Akey was on the proverbial hot seat as he entered the 2009 season. Akey and his team were coming off a 2-10 campaign in
2008 and had won just once in 12 tries in 2007, so the pressure was on the
coach to get his team on the right track and fast.
Right out of the gate the Vandals took care of New Mexico State in the season
and Western Athletic Conference opener on the road in Las Cruces, 21-6.
Unfortunately, that triumph was followed by a 42-23 setback at Washington in
front of a crowd of nearly 60,000. The home opener at the Kibbie Dome on
September 19th was celebrated with a 34-20 victory against San Diego State,
the first of five straight wins for the program. By the end of October, thanks
to a narrow 35-34 win over Louisiana Tech on Halloween, the Vandals found
themselves with a record of 7-2, stunning the rest of the WAC as they remained
just behind heavily-favored Boise State in the standings. Unfortunately, the
good times did not roll with the Vandals through November as they dropped
their last three regular-season dates against the likes of Fresno State
(35-21), sixth-ranked Boise State (63-25) and Utah State (52-49).
Nevertheless, because the team was bowl eligible they were rewarded with a
date at the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise and used the opportunity to slip by
Bowling Green, 43-42, in what has been described as the most exciting
postseason game of the 2009 season.
The Vandals' 8-5 record represented the second-best turnaround in college
football in 2009 and because of the success, coach Akey and his crew get to
celebrate with their first season opener at home since 1998 and their first
non-Saturday games in a half century. In the middle of June coach Akey was
rewarded with a contract that will keep him in Moscow through the 2014 season.
OFFENSE: "I think Nate Enderle is a very, very good quarterback," coach Akey
says of his senior leader who tends to get lost in the shuffle when the WAC
also includes Kellen Moore of Boise State and Colin Kaepernick of Nevada.
"Nate, he's a big, strong-armed kid, he's sharp as can be. He's handled a lot
of things at the line of scrimmage for us his whole career...I think he's got
an opportunity to have a future after he's done with us."
Clearly, coach Akey has high praise for his signal-caller and he's not alone.
Enderle, who ranked fifth in the nation in pass efficiency in 2009 with a
rating of 157.28, has been put on the watch lists for both the Johnny Unitas
Golden Arm award and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award which means
all the attention he gets on his team is well deserved. Enderle completed 61.5
percent of his pass attempts last season for an average of 264.2 ypg and 22
touchdowns, with only nine of his 312 attempts being picked off.
The loss of top receiver Max Komar (63 catches, 1,052 yards, 11 TDs) means
someone else will have to step up and take more of an assertive role in the
offense for the Vandals. There are three returning starters who could fill
that role in Eric Greenwood, Maurice Shaw and Preston Davis. Greenwood and
Shaw, both seniors, both had 32 catches a year ago, but it was the latter who
averaged almost 21 yards per grab and made it into the end zone six times.
Davis actually had 33 catches, yet he scored just once in 2009. Daniel Hardy,
a former walk-on, is actually the top returning receiver for the Vandals after
collecting 39 balls for 691 yards and three scores a year ago.
The offense will have to find a way to get along with out DeMaundray Woolridge
who was a scoring machine with an astonishing 18 TDs on 171 carries last year.
Princeton McCarty and Deonte' Jackson will both get their time lining up
behind Enderle, but it will still be tough to match the production of
Having Matt Cleveland as the lone returning starter along the offensive line
might be an issue for ball carriers and could put Enderle in the crosshairs,
but expect coach Akey to find the right pieces to complete the puzzle in the
DEFENSE: It is nearly impossible to listen to coach Akey and not be moved by
his enthusiasm for the game and his players. By all accounts he should be
excited after suffering through two years in which he and the Vandals won a
total of just three games and were 1-15 in WAC play. Last year he celebrated
with a postseason appearance and a bowl win and with as many as 12 returning
starters on defense he sees even more potential for this year.
"I saw that defense start to develop a bit of a confidence, a swagger, so to
speak over the course of spring ball. That's something we've been working for
a long time...we should be improved on that side of the ball."
It is nearly impossible not to be improved on defense in 2010, given how
poorly the unit performed in 2009 when it ranked 116th in the country in pass
defense, allowing 278.1 ypg, and was 114th in scoring defense (36.0 ppg).
After defeating Hawaii in the middle of the season, the last of the five
straight wins for the program, the Vandals watched the next opponents score no
less than 31 points in any one of the final six games. Its understandable to
see titans such as Boise State and Nevada drop 63 and 70 points, respectively,
on Idaho, but then Utah State delivered a whopping 52 points in the regular-
Thankfully, with plenty of returning starters to lean on, Idaho is set to have
a much better performance on defense, thanks in large part to a front line
that brings back a guy like senior end Aaron Lavarias who led the team in
tackles for loss with eight and also accounted for four sacks. However, while
Lavarias has already shown an ability to make plays behind the line of
scrimmage, it's the rest of the unit that has to step up its efforts for a
team that ranked 114th in the country in sacks (1.15 per game) and 115th in
Another key ingredient for the Vandals is the return of senior safety Shiloh
Keo who, after redshirting in 2008, paced Idaho in tackles in 2009 with 113
stops and tied for the team lead with five passes defended.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Now a year older and more experienced, sophomores Trey Farquhar
and Bobby Cowan are back to handle the placekicking and punting duties,
respectively. With the Idaho offense picking up the pace last season, Farquhar
didn't make too many appearances in terms of field goal attempts. He did
finish the campaign 13-of-19 and nailed all but one of his 51 PATs, while
Cowan had to shake off a couple of blocked punts as he averaged a solid 43
yards per effort. Because he is such a strong athlete, Keo will be performing
double duty for the Vandals, first stopping opponents on defense and then
setting up to return punts, which means he'll be motivated that much more to
put a little extra effort into his pursuit and tackles.
OUTLOOK: Based on the enthusiasm coach Akey brings to the sidelines alone,
that should be enough to give the Vandals a leg up in most of their meetings
this season, but still a lot has to fall into place to get the squad back to
the postseason. Nevertheless, with so many returning starters it would be
great to see Idaho give a team like Nebraska a run for its money after taking
out North Dakota in the season opener on September 2nd.
Sizing up both UNLV and Colorado State in consecutive weeks shouldn't be a
problem for the Vandals, nor should the team's fifth and final non-conference
battle against Western Michigan, even though the latter is on the road at the
start of October. Idaho has the good fortune of getting both Nevada and Boise
State at home, the downside is that those contests come in back-to-back weeks
and just six days apart in November, and that's after the Vandals make their
way back from Hawaii.