This week’s Pick Six feature is with Idaho beat writer Troy Warzocha of the Lewiston Tribune. This is Troy’s second year on the Vandals’ beat:
Idaho managed only a field goal in its season opener but improved on offense with the return of quarterback Dominique Blackman. Why was he out and what dimension does he bring to the Idaho offense?
Sixth-year coach Robb Akey never said explicitly what the reason was for benching Blackman for the EWU game. He just said it was something that “would stay between (Blackman) and I.” As far as what the quarterback brings to the table, it starts with his confidence. At 6-foot-5, UI hasn’t had a QB with this much pocket presence since Nathan Enderle in 2010. As far as sheer ability, Blackman isn’t terribly mobile, but he can navigate through the pass rush and complete passes under duress – again, that’s something Idaho hasn’t had in a long time.
Najee Lovett and Jahrie Level have emerged as Idaho’s two most productive receivers in the first two games but are listed at the same position. What makes them top targets and do you expect this to continue?
I think what really sets Lovett and Level apart from their peers is their athleticism and ability make the catch. That doesn’t mean that Mike Scott, Justin Veltung, Marquan Major or Roman Runner don’t possess those qualities, it’s just that it seems that both Lovett and Level have caught on very quickly since transferring to Idaho ahead of this season.
It sounds crazy, but at 5-9 Lovett does a really good job of finding space and making plays on the outside. Level, on the other hand, has the speed to make guys miss after the catch.
I think both receivers have proven themselves and built a solid rapport with Blackman throughout the summer and early fall. I do expect them to remain top targets as long as the Vandals keep running four and five-wide sets. With a new offensive coordinator in Jason Gesser this season, Idaho has really opened up the playbook and plays much more wide open than it did in the past.
The Vandals are averaging just a net 47.0 yards per game rushing. LSU is allowing 51.0 yards per game on the ground. How can Idaho make the running game work?
Good question. To be honest, I don’t know if they can make it work (at least against LSU). The main problem I see with the run game this year is the offensive line. The left side of the line has two redshirt freshman who have been going through some major growing pains over the last couple weeks.
Against Bowling Green, it seemed as if the Vandals’ problems on the line were compounded by some suspect play calling. For example, the Vandals were running in downs they probably should have been passing and vice versa. If I was Idaho this week, I’d just air it out with Blackman and use a run or two to keep the LSU defense honest.
Tell us about the Idaho tradition of carrying the axe onto the field. I understand a player is chosen each week and it’s considered an honor, but something of a secret as well.
This is a tradition that was brought back by Akey in 2009. That year, the Vandals started 6-1 and won the Humanitarian Bowl over Bowling Green. The player chosen to carry the axe is supposed to be a warrior and will lead his team into battle. The criteria for carrying the axe varies from week to week. The Vandals also carry out an American flag that was flown in Afghanistan, which is carried by the player who best epitomizes unity. New to this season is a flag remembering Ken McRoyal, a wide receiver from New Orleans who was shot and killed in Los Angeles in the offseason. The Vandals chose to do a flag instead of a helmet decal or patch. The player who carries the McRoyal flag signifies passion.
Idaho goes to North Caroilna on Sept. 29, but this looks like the highlight of the Vandals’ schedule. What is the impression you have from their players about making the trip here and playing in Tiger Stadium?
I think they’re all very excited. Last year, many of these players made the trip to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and remember that game and atmosphere very fondly. I’m sure it sounds pretty daunting, but I haven’t had one player admit yet that they’re scared. After practice on Tuesday, Akey made it clear that he was looking forward to seeing Mike VI.
Obviously every team goes into a game expecting to or thinking it can win, but barring a historic upset what kind of result do you think the Vandals could accept that would allow them to feel the game helped their season in the long run?
I think for them, scoring a touchdown or two would be pretty sufficient. The thing here is that Idaho knows LSU isn’t going to run its best plays at the Vandals. Knowing that, Idaho will try to execute as much as it can and hopefully avoid injuries. If the Vandals can build a little momentum (even against LSU’s twos and threes) that might bode well heading into the next week against Wyoming. The only thing that would really hurt their season moving forward would be to lose Blackman or any key defensive player to an unnecessary injury.