The Idaho Vandals football program has been a disappointment in the past couple of years with only one win in each of the past three years and not a single bowl appearance since 2009. After last week's loss to Ohio, Idaho comes in as heavy underdogs against USC. We talked to Nicolas Lewis, the managing editor of Underdog Dynasty to find out what is wrong up in the Gem State.
1) Idaho has won only one game in each of the past three seasons; what is wrong with the program?
NL: Boy is that a long story. A big part of the issue is that a certain blue-turfed football team also resides in Idaho, and thanks to a much longer and more prominent run of success they have a bit of a stranglehold on the state. That said, Idaho has never appeared to have a solid plan to either attempt to bridge that gap or instead try to find a different way around said Broncos. Paul Petrino in his two-plus seasons has attempted the JUCO stockpiling technique for getting better fast, and the team has gotten better. The progress has just been so gradual that it has yet to show up in the form of wins.
2) The Vandals came out extremely flat against Ohio last week (21-3 after the first quarter), what went wrong?
NL: Kind of the same thing that went wrong last season. They repeatedly got dominated to a man, which resulted in seven plays of 20+ yards (including passes of 50 and 65 yards) for the Bobcats. Paul Petrino knows how to coach up some offense, and having a QB who is the son of an NFL-caliber offensive coordinator is great. But when they're always playing catch-up, and that quarterback is in year #2 of a game called "Meet Your New Receivers" it's hard to do much more than attempt to build a rhythm and start slinging the ball once garbage time arrives. Last week was supposed to be one of their easier games, and that didn't turn out well, so this might be another long year.
3) Dezmon Epps had a fantastic game last week after missing all of the 2014 season, what makes him so special?
NL: His skill in the open field, I think. His fumble last week not withstanding, he has good field vision and the kind of agility and shiftiness that can make multiple guys miss. I think his skills at getting open and gaining after the catch actually benefit from a line that occasionally struggles to maintain the pocket and therefore results in regular opportunities to catch a ball on the run from a quarterback who is on the roll. Those broken plays serve his speed and open-field agility well.
NL: I'm not sure that anyone on Idaho's defense is truly good enough to be feared per se, but one who definitely deserves respect is defensive end Quinton Lashley. You can see him here recording his first sack of the season after tallying six last season. He's got good strength and an understanding of how to get to the ball. I'm sure that Idaho's defensive backfield weakness keeps Lashley from being as disruptive as he could (have a great pass rusher do you? well, we'll just complete a pass to that gaping hole in your zone defense before he can get there), but he is definitely the guy all eyes should be on.
5) Does Idaho have a chance against USC and what needs to happen for a upset?
NL: No. Idaho has absolutely no chance. They were barely in the game against Ohio, and USC could dance circles around the Bobcats, so no. Linehan might eventually put up some respectable numbers as the score gets lopsided and the Trojan defense sags a bit, but that's about as positive as things get. This game for the Vandals is all about continuing to develop the pieces they will need to have in place for a win the following week against Wofford.
6) Score prediction?
NL: USC 63, Idaho 21
Thank you to Nicolas for taking time to answer a couple of questions. Make sure to read up on all your AAC, Conference USA, and Sun Belt news at Underdog Dynasty.