We've had a chance to blog swap with Vandal Nation, the blog of the student newspaper out there about the upcoming Humanitarian Bowl. They have an excellent site, and I encourage you to check it out for news about our opponent. I answered some questions from him which should be up this afternoon.
The University of Idaho's sports teams didn't have a mascot or nickname for about the first 20 years of their existence. Then, in the late 1910s, Harry Lloyd "Jazz" McCarty, a sportswriter at The Argonaut, the student newspaper, wrote that the Hec Edmundsen-coached Idaho basketball team was "vandalizing" its opponents, and the tag stuck. In 1921, a student and faculty-led campaign led to the Vandals being officially adopted as Idaho's sports nickname.
In a word, health. Nate Enderle got hurt, meaning we had to rely on sophomore backup Brian Reader at quarterback and it was a rough introduction to Division I football for the juco transfer. Reader showed flashes of brilliance, perhaps never more so than in leading Idaho to a stirring comeback win at San Jose State, but he also showed that rookies make lots of mistakes. Enderle, though oft-maligned by the fanbase, is a three-year starter, intimately knows the offensive system and is the best shot-caller we have. Without him, the Vandals' scoring machine couldn't run on all cylinders. We also had guys get banged up on the defensive end, and given our struggles there even with everyone healthy, even minor injuries had a major impact on our ability to get stops.
I'd love to tell you I was prescient enough to see this coming, but I'd be a liar. Anyone who says they saw it coming is a liar. Honestly, if this team had gotten four victories (a doubling of last year's win total) I'd have called it a success. That's why... well, yes it's disappointing that we faded down the stretch, but if you'd have told me in August that the Vandals would have a winning season and a bowl berth, I'd have had you committed to a mental institution. The turnaround is nothing short of a miracle.
I think what happened this year was a culmination — Robb Akey finally has his recruits in place, he's had three years to develop his system and the pieces all came together. We had a solid quarterback, a diverse set of receivers with different strengths and three quality running backs ready to run opponents into the ground. When everything was working together, our offense was able to score almost at will.
That's a good question, and I think the game will hinge on how we answer it. Our DBs are great guys but we just don't have the speed necessary to go stride-for-stride with most receivers. So we sit in zone reads and rack up tackles, but it very often looks like pitch and catch out there for opposing quarterbacks. We're going to have to go for broke, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some totally different, never-before-seen looks on defense, more blitzing perhaps... it's clear we can't go with the same old same old, because it's not working. If we let Freddie Barnes run wild, it's going to be a long, long afternoon for fans of the Silver and Gold.
Enderle's health is key to this team's success because he's our proven, consistent starting quarterback. We hope his arm is back to full strength, but of course we won't really know until after kickoff. The waiting game is underway. We're able to pass or run with a variety of different looks and a diverse array of weapons, starting with a bunch of wideouts who score — Max Komar, Maurice Shaw, Daniel Hardy and Eric Greenwood, to name a few. On the ground, it's a three-headed running monster of DeMaundray Woolridge, Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson. Woolridge started the season nearly unstoppable, but it seems opponents have gameplanned him better and slowed him down of late. If he can break out against the Falcons tomorrow, Idaho will take a big step toward victory.
Moscow is a great little college town of 22,000 on the eastern edge of the Palouse, a farming region of steep, rolling hills in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. In fact, it's quite literally on the border — university property stops at the state line. There's a thriving, walkable downtown business district, plenty of bars and restaurants and a vibrant arts and culture community drawn in by the university. Just to the east, the Rocky Mountains begin to rise up, so there's also outdoors activities close by. The University of Idaho is the oldest in the state, established as the territorial land grant institution in 1883, and its 10,000 students are mainly residential. In a quirk of geography, Washington State University is just 8 miles west in the town of Pullman, making for a region dominated by academics and packed with college sports.
The best place to eat, in my opinion, is West of Paris, an expensive but indulgent French restaurant in the heart of downtown. For everyday eats, you can't go wrong with the Bagel Shop, which is open until 3 a.m. to catch the bar crowd.
Academically, UI is the leading university in the state and one of the best in the Pacific Northwest. Class sizes are relatively small and the residential, college-town atmosphere leads to good academic focus. I'm sure I'm leaving some out, but particular areas of excellence include forestry, engineering, an AACSB-accredited business school, pre-medical education and the state's only College of Law. The undergraduate School of Journalism and Mass Media isn't bad, either, and that's why I'm a Vandal.